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This is a simple box. It’s just a small piece of veneer, some quiet wood for the sides, and a bit of milk paint as an accent. But it’s stunningly beautiful. I think this is because of the balance struck between them. It certainly helps that the proportions are spot on—good bones are always beautiful. (It’s less than 2 in. tall, 4 in. wide, and 8 in. long.) And the box is an excellent example of using woods (and colors) that compliment rather than contrast with one another. Sometimes, a plan comes together. And like Hannibal, I love it when that happens.
Let’s start with the burl veneer I used on the top. I have no idea what species of wood it is. I was given three flitches of this veneer by a friend. The color is fantastic. So, too, is the figure. But what really makes this veneer work on this box is that the individual “burls” are small. It’s super intense, but it’s also well-proportioned for a small box. Big, loose burl wouldn’t have looked right. It would have been out of scale to the rest of the box, and that would have disrupted the box’s harmony. That might sound silly—or even overly precious—but when you design a box or piece of furniture, you must give thought to every detail.
I chose riftsawn madrone for the sides. I could have used cherry, but cherry has too much red and pink in it. I could have gone with walnut, but walnut is too dark for this veneer. Madrone is a finely grained wood with a lovely earthy brown sapwood. The grain on the piece I used was straight and tight. It’s quiet—the perfect compliment to the muscular burl on top. There can be only one dominant wood in any one piece. The others should serve to bolster its strength. (By the way, this piece of madrone was small, an offcut from a wall cabinet I made years ago. It’s been hanging out in the shop, waiting for the right box to come along. It finally did. It’s wonderful how little pieces of wood, long forgotten, pop up from the depths of memory at just the right moment. And this piece did. I remembered everything about it: dimensions, color, and grain. Perhaps I grow too attached to the lumber I own.)
The green milk paint was easy to pick. The madrone is close enough in color and the fineness of its grain to apple that I knew that this green (which I used on box 25) would work well as an accent. Deciding to paint just the edges of the top (and bottom) was easy, too. I’ve done that before and it works well to separate the box sides from the top. Here it emphasizes the shape and figure of the top. Figuring out what to do on the inside of the box was harder. At first, I was going to paint the bottom and the dividers (and have more dividers), but that seemed too busy for such an understated box. I eventually worked my way to a bottom made from plywood and shopsawn veneer (riftsawn madrone), and just two dividers painted green. By the way, in the past, I would have joined the dividers to the sides with a bird’s mouth joint, but here I went with a simple dado. I gambled that painted dividers would look better with a squared end in a shallow dado. I think the gamble paid off. The joint emphasizes the distinct difference between the sides and dividers. In this case, that’s a good thing.
Here’s something that struck me after I had completed the box. It was easy to design and even easier to build. That sounds tremendously arrogant, I’m sure, but let me explain why I say it. The design part was easy, because I was pulling together several design details that I knew worked: the top that’s a bit proud of the sides (and has painted edges), a top that slides over the bottom, tightly figured veneered set against riftsawn lumber, dividers used to create a cool geometric pattern. I’ve used all of the design details in this box before. I just put them together in a fresh way. This excites me, because it means that maybe, just maybe, I’m getting to the point where my design aesthetic has a well-define grammar and vocabulary that can be relied upon to produce beautiful work. The danger is that I’ll be lulled into an aesthetic slumber and get lazy with my design, rehashing the same details over and over. I think I can avoid that, at least for now. The making was easy because, hell, I’ve done it all before. There are no new techniques here. I made the box quickly. I didn’t have to figure anything out. I could just work. In fact, it took me longer to finish it (because of the paint).
Thoughts of a random nature:
1. The burl veneer looks a lot like tormented souls, the type one might find while venturing down the way that is shut. I’m pretty sure that of all the people I’d be willing to piss off (and those are plenty), a dude (Ilsildur) capable of severing the one ring from Sauron’s hand wouldn’t be among them. It also calls to mind the gloriously freaky right hand panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.
2. The inside face of the top is veneered with the same burly veneer. I thought about painting this surface, but I figured that the milk paint would have a stronger impact if I used it sparingly.
3. I believe that this is my first use of madrone during the 52 box challenge. I love madrone and would use it far more often but for the fact that it grows only in the Pacific Northwest. At the moment I have one full board (about 8 in. wide and riftsawn) in my rack. I need some more!
4. I often feel awkward extolling the virtues of my own work, but then I recall the great Dizzy Dean: “It ain’t bragging if it’s true.” Of course, thinking that you back it up requires a bit of confidence. I’ve never been short of confidence, even in the clutches of failure.