Box 38 – 52 Boxes in 52 Weeks

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Box 38 took a long time to make, at least compared to the first 37. From beginning to end, I spent two weeks on it. Why so long? Six little dovetailed drawers with seven little ring pulls. And let me not forget the drawer bottoms. Those ate up some time, too. I’ll get to the drawers later. I want to start with the box as a whole.

What we have here is three separate boxes that are connected by some thin (1/8 in. thick) spacers. They’re made from a piece of madrone, and the grain runs up the side, over the top, then back down the other side. It’s a dramatic piece of madrone, as it has both sapwood and heartwood. The sapwood, which is a bit lighter in color and on the front of the cabinet, is separated from the heartwood by a dark undulating streak. It’s an amazing and striking graphic. This streak is critical to the design’s success. It holds the three boxes together, even though they’re separated by small gaps. Of course, it also just looks amazing. There’s no denying that this particular piece of madrone is spectacular. (And woe is me, because I’ve now used up all of my madrone. All that’s left are offcuts. Perhaps there’s enough for a little box.)

The madrone’s phenomenal beauty actually made it difficult to make the drawers. The fronts are old growth quartersawn white pine. However, these are the second fronts the drawers have had. The first set of fronts were madrone, cut from the same board as the boxes. The dark streak ran down the center of the middle row of drawers. But its horizontal run was so in tension with the streak on the boxes, that I cut those fronts off almost completely (I kept the dovetail joinery) and then glued on the white pine veneers that you see. They’re thick for veneers, between 1/32 and 1/16 in. thick. The very tight and subdued grain of the white pine works much better with the grain on the boxes. The fronts are really just a nicely contrasting color with a hint of grain. It helps that the grain lines are reddish-brown, which connects the fronts to the earthy browns and reds of the madrone. So, instead of a strong, visual grain fighting against the grain of the boxes, there’s just a lovely, warm honey-colored bank of drawer fronts. Many years ago, I made a cabinet from this same madrone, and used old growth quartersawn white pine for the interior drawer fronts. I thought it looked great then, and I still do.

Viewed from the front, the drawers create a pleasing geometric pattern that’s nicely accentuated by the ring pulls. I made the pulls from small metal rings, wrapping them in a thick thread that’s a shade of green much darker (and closer to true green) than the milk painted spacers. The pulls hang from small brass cotter pins. These are, in essence, the same pulls that I used on box 4, but I didn’t use hemp twine, because I thought the twine’s color and coarseness weren’t suitable for this box. The pulls aren’t the only similarity between boxes 38 and 4. I used a walnut divider on box 4. This time it’s cocobolo, but I set the divider back 1/16 in. and the drawers are flush with it. The divider on box 4 is flush with the front edge of the box and only drawers are inset. Also, the idea of box 38 came from wondering what box 4 would look like if I stacked two more on top of the original. Design is evolutionary, not revolutionary. And it’s certainly not ex nihilo.

Back when I was making box 4, I ripped some nice walnut to create narrow strips with very straight grain. They came from the edge, rather than the face, of a board. I did the same here. I ripped several thin strips from a piece of white pine to turn the edge grain into face grain. I glued them up into a panel and planned them to fit into the drawer bottom groove. So, the bottom is just 1/8 in. thick. That’s plenty thick for a little box like this, as long as you don’t store your Pee Paw’s coin collection in the drawers. (And, anyway, dear old Pee Paw would want you to sell that coin collection and buy a few new planes and a colossal bandsaw with the money. Hop to it.) I love the tight, straight grain of the bottoms. It’s just as important to be beautiful on the inside as on the outside.

Well, I don’t think I have anything else to say, so let’s get random.

1. In no particular order, here are my five favorite wood species (at least for this week): madrone, riftsawn cherry (don’t like quartersawn), apple, vertical grain Douglas fir, and old growth quartersawn Eastern white pine. I love that I’ve gotten to the point where I’m this finicky about wood. New growth quartersawn Eastern white pine? Forget about it. The old stuff has a color, tightness of grain, and luster that’s intoxicating, and it’s so unlike the new stuff that, at least from the perspective of a furniture maker, they might as well be two separate species. I’m fortunate to live in New England, where old studs (no, not like Pee Paw) and timber frames yield this beauty from time to time.

2. To make the pulls, I called upon the little fly tying experience, knowledge, and tooling that I have. I used my fly tying vise to hold the rings as I wrapped them, and I employed a few techniques to get the thread secured, too. It’s a pretty cool way to make pulls. The brass cotter pins came from an old-school hardware store down the street from the Fine Woodworking offices They are very cool.

3. The spacers are made from strips of white pine that are painted with milk paint. The front strip is mitered, and the side strips are mitered to join it. However, at the back, they are cut straight across. The back strip fits between the two side ones (butt joint) and is inset a bit so that even if the box expands, they won’t ever stick out past the back end of the side strips. The front and back strips run with the grain. They’re glued down completely. The side strips are glued at the front to the box beneath them but not at all to the box above them. This allows for wood movement.

4. Perhaps I should call this the dwarves’ box, as it has seven ring pulls. Those poor dwarf-lords in their halls of stone. But I refuse to name anything that I make except my two children. I named them Thorin and Dis.

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