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I’m not sure where to start with these boxes. I could talk about the design, and I certainly will. However, in making these boxes I employed a technique that is pretty freaking brilliant (I developed it with significant help from Mike Pekovich). I guess I’ll start with the design, as that will naturally lead to the technique. There is quite a bit going on with these little boxes (they’re only 6 in. long), but it all started with a desire to make a box with sides that slope gently inward. I don’t know the angle of the slope. I sketched it out on graph paper, and went from there. But it is very slight. Because the sides slope inward, the miters at the corner are compound, and that’s where the technique comes into play. I’ll get to that soon.
I believe that a box needs to be lifted off the surface in some way. The way I normally do this is to have a bottom that is slightly proud (1/16 or 1/8 in. depending on the size of the box) of the bottom edges of the sides. This lift creates a nice shadow line and gives the box a sense of lightness.
With these boxes, I decided to try something different. I cut a gentle curve into the bottom edge of the sides, create “feet” at the corners. The arc suggests that the box lifted up off the surface. All of the arcs are 1/8 in. tall at their apex, but the ones on the ends look taller, because the radius of the arc is smaller than the radius of the arc on the front and back. I really like this technique for creating lift and I’m sure that I’ll return to it.
When I first sketched this box, the lid sat directly on top of the sides. It struck me as odd, as if the lid was a heavy slab holding down the box. I thought some lift would be nice, so I rabbeted the outside edge of the sides. The rabbet gives the tops a bit of float, and I really like the shadow line it creates. The tops have a shallow rabbet on their bottoms, which creates a raised field in the middle of the lid. This field fits into the box and that’s how the lid stays in place. Because the box is rectangular, the sides of the field need to be straight. So, before I rounded the ends of the lid, I cut the rabbets on the bottom. I then formed the round ends with a template and router bit. After the ends were arced, I routed the rabbets on the top of the lid so that the field would be arced on the ends like the lid.
I decided to make the box in three different woods (and I actually made two in each species, for a total of six) for several reasons, some having to do with experimenting with a new technique, but the primary reason was so that I could try out different ways of using milk paint on the box. The walnut box has paint just around the edges of the lid. The cherry box has it only on the top field of the lid. (I like the Lexington green with cherry.) I used marigold yellow on the white oak box, too, but where isn’t immediately obvious. I painted the rabbet on the top edge of the sides. You can see it when you open the box, of if you get down low and view it from straight on. This box got the best reaction around the office at Fine Woodworking.
OK, enough about design. On to the technique. I’ll explain it as best I can, but I’m sure that I won’t explain as well as should be. (I see an article in my future.) Compound miters are a pain to cut. Normally, you angle a miter gauge and then tilt the table saw blade to some angle other than 45 degrees. Because I worked on an article with Chris Gochnour, I know a technique for doing this that doesn’t involve any math. It’s a technique that Steve Brown from North Bennett Street School wrote about 10 years before. It works, and I’ve used it, but I thought there might be a better way. So I went to Mike one day and threw some ideas at him. He came back with the wedge. He said that I should cut a wedge to match the slope of the sides, put it on a crosscut sled, and then tilt the blade to 45 degrees. The wedge would hold the sides at the correct angle to cut the compound miter. I immediately saw that it would work, and it did. The miters were absolutely perfect. And it was so easy. By the way, the wedge I made was actually longer than the front and back, so that it supported the full length of the sides.
But I took the wedge even further. I realized that I could put the wedge in the routing templates for the arcs and that when I routed the sides, the bottoms would automatically be cut with the correct bevel on them. I also used the wedge when I ripped the sides to width, and that cut the top edge at the correct bevel. I even used the wedge to cut a groove for the bottom, and the rabbet not the top edge. Without the wedge, all of this would have been difficult. With the wedge is was dead simple. There was no fussing with the blade angle. For the miters it was at 45 degrees. For all of the other cuts, it was square to the table. There was no hokey pokey with miter gauge fences. I used my everyday box sled for all of the cuts. The routing templates were made as normal and then a bit of wedge of put on them. Freaking awesome.
- I used a Whiteside ultimate trim bit to rout all of the arcs. I know these bits require some serious coin, but I’ll never template rout without one again. I don’t know if you’ve done any template routing with arcs, but you always must rout down the arc. That means flipping over the workpiece or the template, and both of these options introduce problems. Based on my experience, which is still limited, you can rout up arcs with the Whiteside bit and the bit doesn’t catch the grain. And the cut surface is super smooth. Ultimately, I want a shaper with segmented cutterhead for pattern “routing” (do you still call it routing when you use a shaper?), but that’s years off.
- How did I make the wedge? I laid out the slope on a piece of plywood, set a bevel gauge to the slope and the used the gauge to angle my tablesaw blade. I then ran a long piece of poplar through the blade. It was wedge shape across its width. This allowed me to cut short sections of wedge to use in the routing templates and on the crosscut sled.