If you’ve ever been to a woodworking trade show, you’ve probably seen me demonstrating on the bandsaw. I’ve been doing it for, oh, 21 years now–a long run. Last year, I introduced a box whose drawers pop out with the push of a button, and folks have loved it.
It took me a while to figure out how to make the mechanism work, but it’s really quite simple (see Fig. A). There’s a T-shaped piece of bent metal hidden inside the back of the box (it’s just a mending T-plate from the hardware store). When you push the bottom drawer, which I call a push button, the T-plate pivots and pops out the drawers above. When you push in the drawers, the T-plate pivots the opposite way and returns the push button to its original position.
If this is your first time around making a bandsaw box, don’t worry. This one is pretty easy, and the pivoting mechanism really doesn’t complicate things. The main idea is that you’ll be cutting things apart, removing a waste piece, and gluing the parts back together. The pictures on the next two pages tell the story quite well, but I’ve also made a video that shows every step of the process (see Source, below).
Before you begin, make sure that your bandsaw’s table is square to the blade, side-to-side and front-to-back. I use three different blades for making this box (see 7 Tips for Making Bandsaw Boxes, below), and they really have to be sharp to accurately cut wood this thick. Take care when installing each blade; setting the guides properly is essential for you to be able to follow the cutting lines.
Think carefully about working safely. Your hands will often be very near the blade, but make sure they’re never in front of the blade’s teeth. Cut at a slow but steady pace–don’t force the cut. A new or sharp blade will make this much easier.
Make the blank
The blank is 5-5/8" thick, 5" wide and 6" long. It’s composed of three layers of 1-3/4" thick wood and two layers of 3/16" thick wood. I used cherry and walnut. Machine these pieces and make sure they’re flat, then glue them together with plenty of clamps. Joint or saw the blank so the sides are even (they’ll be the front and back of the box).
Saw the case
1. Glue the paper pattern (Fig. B) on to the blank using a spray adhesive.
2. Cut the outside edge of the box. (The cutting paths are shown in red in the photos.) Use a 3/16", 10 TPI blade. I usually cut these and other walls about 3/16" thick.
3. Leaving the box inside the blank, cut off the back, which is 3/16" to 1/4" thick. Use a 1/2", 4 TPI blade and guide the cut with a fence.
4. Switch back to the 3/16" blade and cut the bottom edge of the push button.
5. Cut the top edge of the push button. Remove the button.
6. Cut the inside edge of the box. Stop at the far corner and back out of the cut.
7. Cut the bottom edges of the drawers.
Make the outside drawers
8. Remove the drawer block.
9. Cut the drawer block into three pieces.
10. Cut off the fronts and backs of the left and right drawers. Guide these and similar cuts with a fence.
11. Cut the centers of the drawers.
12. Glue the left and right drawers.
Make the middle drawer
13. Cut off the front of the middle drawer.
14. Switch to a 1/8", 14 TPI blade and cut out the secret drawer.
15. Remove the secret drawer block.
16. Cut the back of the middle drawer.
17. Cut the center of the middle drawer.
18. Glue the kerf in the lower corner of the middle drawer created by sawing out the secret drawer. Glue the same joint on the front of the secret drawer.
19. Glue the front and back to themiddle drawer.
20. Cut the front and back of the secret drawer.
21. Cut the center of the secret drawer.
22. Glue the secret drawer. Sand the outside faces of all the drawers.
Glue the Box
23. Apply glue to the two open joints of the box.
24. Clamp the box.
Make the Push Button
25. Cut a T-plate with a hacksaw (Fig. C).
26. Drill a 7/64" hole in the T-plate. Bend the T-plate by striking the fold with a 3/4" wide cold chisel and a ball-peen hammer.
27. Saw or rout a 1/8" deep notch in the back of the case. Make the notch exactly as wide as the T-plate. Drill a 1/16" dia. hole, 1" deep, in the middle of the drawer divider. Round over the bottom of the notch using a file.
28. Place the T-plate in the notch. Place a 2d (1" long) brad in the hole. Cut the brad with a side cutter so that it’s top is flush with the T-plate.
29. Test the push-button mechanism. Clamp the back to the case and insert the drawers and push button. The T-plate mechanism should swing freely. If it doesn’t, the notch may be too shallow.
30. Insert all the drawers, flush with the outside of the case. Put in the push button, back side facing out. Mark its excess length. Cut the push button along this line.
31. Replace the push button, front side out. Its front should be flush with the case. Test the mechanism. Once everything works well, glue on the back. Sand the outside of the case.
Remove the drawers and apply a finish to all parts. To make the drawers slide better, and to close the gaps between them, cut and apply pieces of adhesive-backed felt inside the case and push button’s opening.
7 Tips For Making Bandsaw Boxes
Big Slice, Big Blade
When you’re cutting the back off a big box, your best bet is to use a 1/2" 4 TPI (Teeth Per Inch) hook-tooth blade, and guide the cut with a fence. This blade is the widest that most 14" bandsaws can handle. Its extra width helps prevent the blade from bending backwards and twisting, which can result in a bowed cut. This blade's extra-deep gullets have plenty of room for carrying away sawdust, which also helps prevent a bowed cut. A fence, of course, assures that the cut will be straight–which is essential when you glue the two pieces back together later on.
The Workhorse Blade
My favorite blade for cutting curves is a 3/16" 10 TPI. It cuts a curve as small around as a nickel. Sometimes I use a 1/4" 4 TPI blade–but it leaves a coarser surface that requires more sanding. One good thing about the 1/4" blade, though, is that it’s more aggressive. You have to go a bit slower with the 3/16" blade, but the results are worth it.
Both blades require careful setup, particularly with ball bearing guides. The front edge of the guides should be positioned a hair behind the blade’s gullets, so the blade’s teeth won’t contact the guides. Rounding the back of the blade with a dry oilstone will help the blade negotiate tight curves (see Sources, below).
For Tight Curves, An Extra-Small Blade
When a box calls for curves that are smaller than the radius of a nickel, I take the time to switch to a 1/8" 14 TPI blade. It can cut curves down to a 1/4" radius.
A blade this small isn’t easy to set up with conventional guide blocks, unless you’re using phenolic Cool Blocks (see Sources). Cool Blocks won't damage the blade's teeth, so you can set the blade right in the middle of the blocks.
I developed an alternative guide system, called the Carter Stabilizer, for 1/4" and smaller blades (see Sources). It temporarily replaces the guides on your saw and is very easy to install. The Stabilizer is essentially a thrust bearing with a groove down the middle. When you set it up, you spring the blade forward a bit, so the blade remains seated in the groove. Just back off the lower bearings, and away you go.
Smooth Joints with Sandpaper
Before you glue parts together to re-build a box, sand their edges on a full sheet of 80 grit sandpaper. This will make the edges absolutely flat, which helps make the joints invisible.
I put the sandpaper on the cast iron wing of my tablesaw and secure it with Gorilla Tape so the paper doesn’t buckle or shift (see Sources, page 64). I tried masking tape and duct tape, but they don’t hold as well. This stuff does the trick.
Save Elbow Grease
The fastest way to clean up the bandsawn surfaces of a box is to use a combination belt/disc sander. It doesn’t matter what size it is–a benchtop model works fine.
Use the flat belt for convex curves. For the smoothest results, support your work on the machine’s work table. For concave curves, use the belt’s round nose. Be very careful, though, and use only fine grits and light pressure to maintain control as you sand.
Felt Makes the Difference
I line the inside of a bandsaw box with adhesive-backed felt. It makes the box’s pieces nest together much better, because the felt’s thickness is just about equal to a blade’s kerf. The wood you lose by sawing is made up for by the felt. Felt also makes drawers glide like butter. Adhesive-backed felt is available at many craft stores, and is easy to cut with a pair of scissors.
Use a Sub-Table
Sometimes the cuts don’t come out square when making small pieces. I found this out the hard way one day, when a very small drawer turned out tapered from front to back. I discovered that the problem wasn’t my setup or technique.
The problem was the saw’s throat plate. It wasn’t level with the saw’s table, and, being plastic, had some give in it, so the workpiece leaned into the blade.
I solved this problem in a hurry by grabbing a piece of plywood to cover the table. I cut a kerf to the plywood’s center and clamped the plywood to the table. Done deal–this made a perfectly flat work surface.
To protect my fingers, I held the piece in a small handscrew. I cut notches in the handscrew to help hold curved pieces.
(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)
Carter Products, carterproducts.com, 888-622-7837, The Art of Bandsaw Boxes, Vol. 2; Band Saw Stabilizer (many sizes available; inquire for prices).
Woodcraft Supply, woodcraft.com, 800-225-1153, Cool Blocks, (many sizes available).
Gorilla Glue, gorillatough.com, 800-966-3458, Gorilla Tape, (see website or call for nearest dealer).
Highland Woodworking, highlandwoodworking.com, 800-241-6748, Blade Rounding Stone, #486031.
Fig. A: Exploded View
Fig. B: Pattern
Fig. C: Pivoting Plate
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker April/May 2010, issue #147.
April/May 2010, issue #147
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