Lidded Box: How to Build a Wooden Lidded Box

woodworking lidded box
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Lidded Box: How to Build a Wooden Lidded Box

 

lidded box

I’ve always enjoyed building small boxes. There’s something very satisfying about taking just a few small pieces of wood and making an attractive and functional object. There are challenges, though. Small errors in a measurement or angle that wouldn’t show up at all in a kitchen cabinet look like monumental blunders in a small box. I avoided most of those potential pitfalls by taking advantage of certain features found in the Woodpeckers router table system and keeping a collection of Woodpeckers measuring tools close at hand. In this article, I’m going to show you the techniques and tools I used, rather than give you an exact recipe for the box I built. You’ll be able to adapt these to whatever size box you want.

I joined the corners with lock-miter joints cut on the router table. I used a very simple technique that avoids some of the problems I’ve heard people complain about, and you don’t need anything fancier than a roll of double-sided tape and some shop scraps.

The technique for making the rabbeted lid on this box is one I learned from router table wizard Bob Rosendahl many years ago. I’m not sure why it isn’t shared and used more often…in practice it isn’t nearly as complicated as it seems when you read about it. It takes a bit of careful measurement, but that’s what Woodpeckers is all about, right?

I started by milling my stock to thickness. I planed all the stock I needed, plus some back-up material for mistakes. At the same time, I milled some leftover material from my last project to exactly the same thickness as my project stock. You’ll see later that I used the leftover stock for test cuts and to back up my project stock. I made everything 1/2" thick…and checked the measurement with calipers. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to make yours 1/2", but whatever you chose, you’ll want it easily divided by two and very consistent throughout all the material for your box.

Playing around with the stock I had and some samples of different small boxes I liked, I settled on dimensions of 5 inches wide, 8 inches long and 3 inches deep. The technique I used for making the rabbeted lid costs you a quarter inch in depth, so if you’re trying to fit something specific, don’t forget to allow for that.

 

lidded box dimensions

I took one board long enough for the four sides of the box and cut “end-side-end-side”. This wrapped the grain around three of my corners (DISCLAIMER: That’s what would have happened if I hadn’t wrecked one of my sides. I only have a grain match between one side and the two ends).

With the sides cut, it was time to set up the router table for the lock miter joint. A lock miter is a very strong joint, excellent for drawer and small box construction. It gets a bad rep for being hard to set up and tricky to cut, but here are some tips that make it go smoother.

lidded box

Figure A – Workpieces taped to plywood guide block with waste block support.

Making the joint involves cutting one half the joint with the board flat on the router table and the other half the joint with the board flat against the fence. The height of the bit and the position of the fence are critical to getting the fit right. I find the best place to start is to dial in the height of the bit. To do this, I eye-balled the cutter to the center of my stock thickness and roughly positioned the fence so it would intersect the knife edge of the finished cut. Then I took two pieces of my test stock and ran them through the bit, both flat on the table. I turned one of them over, held both flat on the router table surface and slid them together. In a perfect world, the two cuts slide together perfectly. However, in the real world one side will lift as you bring the joint together. If the short point picks up the long point, the bit needs to go down. If the long point picks up the short point, the bit needs to go up.

Having the thumbwheel micro-adjuster on the top of Woodpeckers PRL-V2 router lift makes the process of tweaking in the fit quick, easy and accurate.

plywood guide

Plywood guide block maintains fence contact and protects thin edge of cut piece.

Once the bit height is set, the fence position is set by adjusting it until it just barely cuts a full miter on the stock. You don’t want to remove material from the length of the stock, nor do you want to leave a flat spot on the edge. Keep repeating the cut and making fine adjustments to the fence position until you get that perfect “knife edge”.

While the knife edge is what you want, it also can be the source of failure in a lock miter joint. When that thin, fragile edge reaches the outfeed fence, it can sometimes crumble. It’s even worse when you run the piece that goes vertically against the fence. Now your hands and gravity are both pushing that fragile little edge into the table surface. There are a couple of commercial solutions out there, but I’ve found a simple piece of scrap stock and some double-sided tape to be very effective.

I took a piece of plywood and cut it longer than the width of the box stock and just a bit narrower than the length of the ends of the box. I put a piece of double-sided tape on the plywood, stood it on edge on the router table surface and carefully brought the first end up to it, keeping the end of the stock perfectly flush with the edge of the plywood as I pinched them together. I added a piece of my machined scrap stock behind the box stock to prevent blow-out. The ready-to-cut “tape-up” is shown in Figure A. I flipped that over, with the plywood on top and now as the lock miter is cut and the box stock is cut to a knife edge, the plywood edge is fully supporting everything against the fence. You can see in Figure B that the back-up scrap stock did its job. The maple is perfect, but the scrap predictably blew out as the cutter exited. I repeated the cuts on the other ends.

 

Waste block supports workpiece and prevents tear out.  For the mating sides, the stock needs to ride along the fe

Figure B – Waste block supports workpiece and prevents tear out.

For the mating sides, the stock needs to ride along the fence vertically, so the plywood needs to ride along the table. I lined up the stock and the back-up piece against the fence then brought the plywood and double-sided tape against it as shown in Figure C. Just like the box ends, as the lock miter is machined, the plywood protects and supports the thin edge of the finished cut.

 

 Attaching plywood guide block.

Figure C- Attaching plywood guide block.

 

Position so stock and guide block are flush

Position so stock and guide block are flush.

 

Keep stock vertical through cutter with push block.

Keep stock vertical through cutter with push block.

I did a quick dry-fit of the pieces and began setting up the first cut for the rabbeted lid. As I mentioned in the opening of this article, I didn’t invent this technique, neither did my buddy Bob Rosendahl, who taught it to me, but Bob certainly enjoyed showing it off. He used it in his router table demonstrations at the woodworking shows for years, and it always drew “Ooohs” and “Aaaahs” from the crowds. It really isn’t that complicated, once you wrap your head around it. It’s just a dado cut on the inside of the box before it’s glued up, then a second dado cut on the outside of the box aligned so that the edges match up at the center of the stock. When the outside dado is cut, the box comes apart and the dados aren’t dadoes anymore…they’re rabbets and the lid fits on the box like a glove.

 

Set position of dado away from fence.

Set position of dado away from fence.

 

Set depth of dado to exactly half stock thickness.

Set depth of dado to exactly half stock thickness.

 

Waste block from lock miter cuts supports back of stock for dado cut.

Waste block from lock miter cuts supports back of stock for dado cut.

The key to making the “magic” happen is careful machining of the stock to begin with, and careful measurement of the position of the dadoes so the edges intersect precisely. I wanted to keep it simple to explain, so I milled my stock to a perfect half-inch, which meant my dadoes needed to be a quarter-inch deep and quarter-inch wide. I used a spacer block to position the fence 3/4" away from the bit and another to set the height of the bit to 1/4". I took the scrap blocks that backed up the lock miter cuts and fit them into the stock at the end of the cut, again, to prevent blow-out. I double-checked to make sure each piece was going into the bit with the inside face down on the table and routed a dado in both ends and both sides. With the inside dado all the way around the box, it was time to glue it up. I used a band clamp to pull the lock miters together.

 

Glue and assemble the sides and ends

Glue and assemble the sides and ends.

While the glue was drying, I cut the stock for the top and bottom an eighth-inch longer and wider than the assembled box. The router was still set up for a perfect quarter-inch depth…right where it needed to be. I cut a rabbet around all sides of the top and bottom in three passes, starting at the edge and moving in. On the last pass I set the fence with a setup block to be 9/16" to the outside of the cutter. This made my top and bottom fit inside the assembled sides of the box perfectly with a 1/16" overlap on all sides.

 

Bit from inside dado already at perfect height to cut rabbet for top & bottom.

Bit from inside dado already at perfect height to cut rabbet for top & bottom.

 

Top and bottom glued onto sides. Should overlap 1/16” on all sides

Top and bottom glued onto sides. Should overlap 1/16” on all sides.

 

Use flush trim bit to cut top and bottom perfectly flush with sides.

Use flush trim bit to cut top and bottom perfectly flush with sides. Needs to be done before outside dado is cut.

With the top and bottom cut and the glue dry in the lock miter corners, I glued the top and bottom in place. A couple hours later I changed router bits and used a flush-trim bit to cut the edges of the top and bottom perfectly flush with the sides.

Then it was time to make the magic happen. I switched back to the 1/4" spiral straight bit and used the PRL-V2 router lift thumb-wheel to adjust the bit just a couple thousandths of an inch deeper than the 1/4" setup block. I positioned the fence 1-1/4" away from the inside edge of the bit (1" for the box sides plus another 1/4" for the top). Confirming that I had the top against the fence, I cut a dado around one side and both ends of the box. Before cutting the last side, I put the 1/4" setup block in the top dado to keep the box from collapsing on the bit as I completed the cut. As I finished the last side there were just a few spots where I hadn’t cut completely through, leaving just a feather edge holding the top to the bottom. I just gave it a slight twist and it was in two pieces. I trimmed the lips with a block plane and the lid fit the box perfectly.

 

Thumbwheel micro-adjust

Thumbwheel micro-adjust on depth of cut eases critical setups.

 

Run all four sides across cutter.

Run all four sides across cutter. Keep top of box firmly against the fence.

I ran a chamfer bit around the base and the lid and sanded all the outside surfaces through 320 grit. I buffed the box with a three-step buffing process using cotton wheels with Tripoli, white diamond and pure carnauba wax.

 

Slip a quarter-inch spacer into the groove before you make the last cut.

Slip a quarter-inch spacer into the groove before you make the last cut. Hold pressure against it to keep the box aligned as you finish the final section.

The lovely quilted grain on the box convinced me it was destined to hold some very special stuff…so I decided to take another step on the inside. I used a product called Suede-Tex to line the box. I simply painted the inside with the base coat, which looks like a heavy latex paint, then used their cardboard tube pump to blast the nylon fibers into the base coat. It was amazingly easy and left the inside of the box with a very finished look and feel. You can’t over-do it…if you blow too many fibers into your box they simply fall out once the base coat dries.

Paint the inside of the box with the Suede-Tex base coat material.

Paint the inside of the box with the Suede-Tex base coat material.

 

Spray the Suede-Tex fibers into the wet base coa

Spray the Suede-Tex fibers into the wet base coat. Allow to dry for 10 hours.

Whether you build a simple rectangular box or not, I hope now you’re not intimidated by the lock miter joint. While the setup is time consuming to make one box, if you have a stack of drawers to do, the time invested in the setup is more than returned in time saved over other methods. I also hope you’ll try the rabbeted lid box method. It’s quite a thrill when the lid pops off and then fits perfectly on the base.

finished lidded box