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I made this set of four boxes quite some time ago, but I didn’t what to do about pulls for the three small boxes upfront, so they sat. I’m not crazy about the pulls I eventually turned for them, but at least the boxes are done now. If I were to turn them again, I think that I would give them a more pronounced inward taper from top to bottom. The problem is that they are so small that it’s hard to get too much shape on them without risking too narrow a diameter for the tenon and lower section of the pull. OK, enough about what I don’t like. (At any rate, the turned pulls are the only part of these boxes that I’m not thrilled with.)
The idea for this box has been beating about in my head for a long time. I’ve sketched out numerous versions of it, and I might make a few of the other versions, too. (One version I’d like to try involves a set of small round boxes arranged radially around a rectilinear box.) I decided on this particular arrangement because I knew that the boxes would not be hard to make, leaving me to focus on the pedestals beneath them. For me, the pedestals are not just a place to put the boxes, but also a way to create negative space around the boxes. The particular arrangement of the boxes, including the shadow lines between them, makes this set work. This meant that I needed to design them in such a way as to ensure that the boxes always maintain that negative space when the pedestals are fully loaded.
The four sides of the pedestal are made like a mitered box. The bottom fits into a rabbet, and the thin “top” into a groove cut into the sides. To create the defined recesses for the three square boxes, I fit dividers into dadoes cut into the front and back. These dividers also have grooves for the colored “tops.” (By the way, the colored “tops” are just pieces of 1/8 in. thick cherry painted with milk paint.) There was quite a bit of math involved in getting everything sized right so that the spaces between the boxes would be the same size and would put the outside ends of the first and third boxes in line with the ends of the long box in the back. It also took some figuring to determine how thick the sides of the pedestals should be so that the boxes would be inset the amount I wanted. But I was able to manage (and I damn well should be able to, given the amount of education I have! It might have all been in the humanities, but I did well in calculus, too.).
I really like the proportions of the square boxes. I started designing the boxes by determining the width of the rectangular box because I knew that the square boxes would have the same dimension. I then had to do some work to get three square boxes to fit into the length of the long box. In other words, I sketched out different lengths for the long box, trying out various widths of the spaces between the square boxes. Then I worked on the space between the rectangular box and the square ones. After I figured out all the spacing, I turned to the pedestals. I think it all turned out well.
The recesses that hold the boxes are painted to match the lid of the box that fits into each one. For the rectangular box, which has a lid made from some very old white pine (salvaged from studs in my 100+ year old house), I mixed up a custom yellow that’s close to the color of the pine. I like the little surprise you get from the colored recesses when you pick up one of the boxes. I had these boxes in the office today, and I heard several folks ooh and aah when lifting up the boxes. That’s a great response, and it made me happy. And no one said a word about the turned pulls—as woodworkers were always harder on ourselves than we should be.
OK, time for some random thoughts.
- The two pedestals are held together by some very thin and small spacers that are glued between them. I thought about a single pedestal, but not for long. I wanted to have some negative space between them and the best way to get a strong shadow line was to make two pedestals.
- All of the pulls are cocobolo, which is my favorite wood for pulls. But it’s a cruel mistress. For flat pieces like the pull in the back, there always seems to be tearout because cocobolo tends to have annular rings that run in opposite directions (this is called “roey” grain). There’s always some tearout that is hard to avoid, even with a card scraper. Oddly, it turns wonderfully and holds very crips detail. It’s not as good for turning as apple, though. Cocobolo has visible pores, which can affect detail (occasionally you get gaps in details because of the presence of a pore). Apple has no visible pores, so everything is crisp and continuous. Apple rocks. My favorite pie is apple pie, by the way. Blueberry is a close second. Mincemeat is a very distant last.
- I painted these lids before I mixed my first batch of custom green. In this particular instance, the bold color of Lexington green works very well. I would have chosen it anyway.