Here in Portland I’ve just signed up to a woodworking class, held by the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers. It’s a bit of a challenge as we’re going to make a gift within four weeks and I’ve chosen a pretty complicated one – making a toolbox for specific tools. It’s been a really interesting process and one which I’d like to remember as I’ve never really worked with so many different power tools in one go (!) and in my adult life haven’t taken on a woodwork project yet. Hopefully by documenting the process here it’ll help me next time I have a try.
Just a note on the course - it’s run by an incredibly generous guy named Larry, who is helping me all the way and giving me all of the tips and notes written in this post! It’s a great little course with just three of us. He’s given so much of his time and expertise to this project and I’m very very grateful for all his help and tools - and materials! So Thank You Larry!
Making a Box
There are material choices for aesthetic and basic strength decisions such as the lid style, how tools can be held in the toolbox by magnets, foam cutouts or bungee ropes, and if the box needs a handle. How heavy will the tools be inside the box and how will that affect the strength of these different areas?
From the designs and measurements, find wood which will suit these sizes and your aesthetic vision – dark, light or mid-tone wood. I lucked out and Larry had recently picked up some Spalted Alder wood which has incredible black lines on light-to-medium toned wood, a really beautiful effect of a fungus in the tree – but one which will eventually kill it.
Nb. I’m working with sometimes-strong sometimes-weak Spalted Alder, and on the tray base it’s especially weak. I’ve doused this in a very runny superglue to strengthen it.
The base will be inset into Rabbet Joints so that it lies flush with the ends. This will give maximum area for the glue and allow both an end-grain and long-grain connection. Glue is absorbed more by the end grain and therefore makes a weaker joint.
The Wood Router Table allows you to easily cut these shapes into the wood. Careful – if your box has uneven width sides or has an inset base like mine, the routed notches might not need to go all the way to the ends of the wood (see Base plan, above).
Painter’s masking tape is useful to prevent the glue squeezing into the inner corners, and cut-to-size offcuts provide strength to the inside shape to prevent bowing as the glue dries. Here I used two shorter pieces inside the walls, and one acting as the base slotting into the routed sides. Gluing the box upside down allows me to see exactly how flat the base is – especially as one end is shorter to allow for the sliding lid.
About half an hour after applying the glue, it’s important to check the squeeze-out – ideally there will be some squeezed glue along every edge. Then I used a Chisel to lightly pop off bubbles of glue which were tacky at this stage, careful not to get the soft glue on any other areas of the box.
At this point it’s also a good idea to remove the masking tape so that you avoid glued-in blue corners!
Once the sides are glued, the base is the next step. Again,
here it’s important to sand on a flat board or the Random Orbital Sander so that the inside is nice and smooth, and prepare the area carefully so that you’ll have a good glueing and the box will be strong. The glue actually connects the wood stronger than the wood itself, when done properly.
The base often fits better one way than the other, so a quick line of chalk across the base and side makes it clear which way it goes. Using masking tape along the base and at the very bottom of the side walls will prevent the ‘squeeze-out’ glue from touching the wood here and helps me chisel it off later.
Glue carefully but quickly, as it dries within 5 minutes. Remember to triple check the areas that need to be glued and where the attachments will be. With mine, the base of the main box bows a little and so the middle of that end needed to be extra strong – with more glue. The glueing took quite a bit of time, preparing the clamp placements, considering the weaker areas and glueing the two box bases on. The tray base wasn’t quite as good a fit, and needed some glue-sawdust mix so that the gaps won’t show. I pushed this mixture into the gaps with my fingers and they should appear the same colour as the wood when it dries.
- Vacuum the dust off the box
Wipe with a Mineral Spirit cloth to soak the wood with good oils and remove the final dust particles
Decant a couple of tablespoons of Oil-based Wipe-on Varnish into a container.
Soak up a little into a Lint-free cloth, and wipe onto the wood methodically, making sure to spread evenly and across every corner and bend of the box.
Wipe off the varnish a little to make sure the corners don’t puddle with too much additional varnish. Use a lamp or nearby bright light to check all areas are glossy and evenly varnished.