Box 48 – 52 Boxes in 52 Weeks

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I made two of these boxes. One was for the 52 boxes project, and the other was for a friend’s daughter, who has given me a lot of great lumber over the last few years. When he recently gave me some wonderful vertical grain Douglas fir, I decided to use it to make a box for his adorable little girl. The boards were left over from a sideboard he’d made for her room. He and I have very different styles, but the fact that the box and sideboard were made from the same boards holds the two together.

I know that doesn’t say much about the design, but it’s a part of this box’s story. In fact, the wood is the origin of the box. I normally design and then pick lumber, but this time I was starting with the lumber and needed to develop a design that played to its strengths. I also needed more vertical grain Douglas fir, because what my friend had given me was really only enough for one box. Fortunately, I once found a 3 in. thick, 6 in. wide, and 12 ft. long piece of Douglas fir in the corner of a lumber yard. I bought it without a second thought. I’m glad I did because it’s got some figure to it, a lovely, warm color, and super tight grain that’s a bit wavy. (I used its end grain to veneer the drawer fronts on this cabinet.)

At any rate, I was designing with vertical grain Douglas fir in mind. What I wanted was a box that emphasized the tight, straight grain. This is no trouble on the sides. Make them rectangular, with the grain running the length. The lid is a different story. I knew that I wanted the box to have at least three compartments because the three corresponding lids would allow me to play with the fir’s grain. However, a box with overall rectangular dimensions limits the shape, size, and arrangement of the compartments. So, I went square. I think this is the first square box I’ve ever made. It’s 6 in. square, to be exact. The narrow, full-width compartment is 2 in. wide, or one-third of the box’s overall width. The smaller of the two 4 in. long compartments is 2 in. wide. The larger one is 4 in. square. These divisions make for compartments (and lids) that are well proportioned in themselves, in relation to one another, and in relation to the box’s overall dimensions. 

At the risk of putting even myself to sleep, here’s a more detailed explanation of what’s going on. The basic dimension of this box is 2 in. The sides are about 2 in. tall when you take the bottom and lid into account. The box is 6 in. square. That’s three times the basic dimension, so there are three compartments. The dimensions for the compartments are all multiples of 2 in. My good friend Charles Hermann helped me work all of this out. He has a beautiful mind. (Get thee to Google to decipher this reference, my friends.)

Back to the grain. The division and orientation of compartments allowed me to use the grain more boldly. It runs in one direction on the left side and 90 degrees to that on the right side. Yet, because the grain is subtle, there’s no uncomfortable tension created by this redirection of the grain. Somehow it’s a dissonance that creates harmony. I can’t explain why this last statement, which makes the philosopher in me, suspects it is Grade-A bullshit, but I’ll think about it some more and see if I can come to a meat-and-potatoes explanation. I wonder if my old friends, the Pythagoreans, might have something to say about this.

Well, that’s a lot of talk about grain, proportions, and patterns. Let’s talk about something else: the pulls. This is the second time I’ve used this pull on a box. What I like about them is the play between the circular mortise and the thin, rectangular pull. Combined, they create a nice visual set against the background of the tight, straight grain of the Douglas fir. The depth of the mortise allows me to use a very low pull but still gives enough grip (the pull extends down into the mortise). And before you ask: No, I didn’t use the same technique that was recently featured in Fine Woodworking magazine. (Everyone reads Fine Woodworking, right?) I don’t mortise for the pull. Rather, it’s T-shaped, and the horizontal bar fits over the lid.

OK, I’ve written a lot, so I’m going to stop. (Don’t worry, I’ve addressed the major design points of this box.) Enjoy some random thoughts.

1. The green milk paint is a color that I mix myself. It seems to go with just about every species of wood. (It even goes with some non-wood species. It looks particularly good paired with a platypus and field mouse.) What I like about it here is that it’s a nice compliment to the fir and cocobolo, and it’s an intermediary between the two colors. You have the fir lids with green mortises, and the green mortises hold the cocobolo pulls.

2. I love the fabric on the inside of the box. I know it’s not manly for me to like fabrics with flower prints, but I don’t care. I use quilting squares, and there’s something cool about taking a material that’s meant for a very traditional craft and using it in a very nontraditional way. (Hmm. It’s the same story with me and milk paint.) I also like the feminine touch they give to my boxes. A masculine exterior with a feminine interior. What? Our hour is already up. Ugh. Can we start here next week?

3. Counting the primary color of the fabric, I’ve progressed to include four colors in my boxes (this is the first time I’ve done it). This is a good step forward. I think it works because the fourth color is hidden inside the box. Four colors on the outside would probably be too much. Which reminds me: If you ever get the urge to make a box using every scrap of figured and exotic wood in your shop, don’t. It will be ugly, and your spouse will say she or he likes it only because she or he loves you and wants to spare your feelings. I don’t love you, so just burn that crap. I choose my lumber carefully, and I’ll quickly cut up a larger board to get to the grain I want. Be deliberate with every choice, from initial design to finishing.

4. If you’re still having trouble with that Charles Herman reference, chuck Paul Bettany into your Google-foo.

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