Box 42 – 52 Boxes in 52 Weeks
By Matt Kenney
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It took longer than I expected, but I finally made a bandsaw box using the techniques set out by Michael Cullen in his recent Fine Woodworking article. What’s cool about his take on the bandsawn box is that he tilts the bandsaw table so that when he cuts the interior of the box, it’s narrower at the bottom than at the top. The waste created is tapered and can later be used to make a plug that becomes a seamless bottom for the box. This solves one of the biggest problems with bandsawn boxes: The blade removes material, and when you glue everything back together, they don’t fit quite right. You get gaps, misalignments, and the like. Cullen’s technique overcomes the kerf. It’s awesome. Of course, there is something far more awesome about his boxes: They are freaking beautiful—lightyears beyond every other bandsawn box that I’ve ever seen. Technical wizardry is always admirable, but aesthetic brilliance trumps it every time.
So, I tilted the table about three degrees for this box and cut out the inside first, leaving the outside square (just as Cullen does) for the glue up. However, my plug didn’t fit back into the box very well due, I am sure, to my inadequacies as a craftsman. There were gaps, and I didn’t want that. But like a lightning bolt, box 41 came to mind. For that box, I used a piece of plywood (with shop sawn veneer on its bottom face) for the bottom.
I rabbeted its top edge and then glued it to the bottom edges of the sides. It struck me that I could do that here, too. Using this style of bottom solved the kerf problem as well. More importantly—at least for me—the box looks like something I designed.
That’s what I like about this box. It’s significantly closer to being a box that fits into my aesthetic domain than the first two bandsawn boxes that I made (boxes 9 and 16). Cullen’s technique partly explains that. The flared body (a consequence of tilting the table) adds elegance to the slightly arced sides. But it’s also due to my willingness to chuck the notion that a bandsawn box has to be made by gluing all the parts back together. In this case, I’ve thrown out the bottom and created a more refined box in the process (by this, I mean it’s more refined than the box I would have made had I used the plug for the bottom). I don’t have to play by the bandsawn box rules when I’m making one. You don’t, either. The result is greater conceptual and aesthetic freedom. I’m now much further down the road to making bandsawn boxes that are truly mine.
This might seem a grandiose conclusion from such a simple little box—and it might seem sad that it took me so long to figure out that I don’t have to play by the rules—but throughout my life, I’ve found that profound insight comes from seemingly innocuous tinkering (be it philosophic or mechanical in nature). The most valuable truths, the ones that are elegant, simple, and far-reaching, are the hardest to find. Like your nose, they are right in front of you but damn near impossible to see. It takes a moment of true clarity and vision to see them. And now that I understand this simple truth (one that I took for granted in other contexts, but not this one), I believe that I’ll be able to tame that foul beast, the bandsawn box. I suppose that what I’m trying to say is that it’s not really the case that I learned that I can break the rules. What I realized is that the bandsawn box is not as limited as I thought it was. I was still getting tripped up by the technique. Well, I now see that I can monkey with that technique more than I was already and still have a bandsawn box. That’s the revelation. It’s a redefining of what makes a bandsawn box a bandsawn box.
OK, some random thoughts.
1. This box is made from ash, which came from the same stash as some turnings I did not too long ago. The stash of ash is a bunch of small offcuts. I’d love to tell you the history of that stash, but I shouldn’t. I’ll just say that I scored it from a school not long after someone helped a bunch of aspiring woodworkers make their own benches.
2. It’s been a long time since I used a color of milk paint other than the custom green I mix up. It’s nice to see my old friend, Marigold yellow. It goes nicely with ash, but only if you put a bit of shellac on the ash to age it’s color.
3. Ash smells wonderful. It’s perhaps my favorite smelling wood. If I wrote differently in the past (about madrone, perhaps), then I’m wrong about one or the other.
4. The piece of ash that I used on the lid is amazing. I love how the bit of brown streaking across the edge. I’m happy that I can still find joy and beauty in such a simple thing. It means that there is still a bit of child in me. And that’s a good thing.