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Treasured Wood Jewelry Box


Treasured Wood Jewelry Box

Make a big splash with a small piece of rare wood. 

By Tom Caspar and Jon Stumbras

I’ll bet somewhere in the dark recesses of your shop you’ve squirreled away a small piece of special wood, just waiting for the right project. No doubt you’ve saved it to become the centerpiece of something well-crafted, small in scale and novel in design. This jewelry box is the perfect project to showcase that dusty board.

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Resaw a straight-grained piece of mahogany to make the box’s sides and lid. This project is a perfect opportunity to make a little bit of beautiful wood go a long way.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Cut box joints using a router table. You could use a tablesaw, but perfect results are surprisingly easy on the router table.

Clamp the box together with hardwood cauls. Tape the cauls’ ends to prevent them from sticking to the box. To pull the box square, clamp a block to one inside corner. 

Level the bottom of the box on 100-grit sandpaper taped to your tablesaw. This eliminates annoying gaps between the box and its base. Level the top edge by sanding, too.

Make the lid’s panel from that stunning piece of wood you’ve been hoarding. To find the best grain orientation, make two cardboard L shapes by tracing a carpenter’s square. Tape them together to form a window the same size as the panel. 

Rout grooves in the panel’s sides. Clamp the panel to a long, thick support board. This works better than a tall fence to prevent your precious piece from accidentally tipping in any direction. 


Miter the small frame pieces that go around the panel. You could use a simple fence on your miter gauge, but I built a long miter box to safely hold the workpiece, a stop block and the offcuts. 


Set up your router table for cutting grooves in the frame pieces. Here’s the arrangement, taken apart. The grooves are cut with a 1/8-in. slot-cutting bit. The cutter sticks through a zero-clearance slot in a 1/4-in. plywood fence. If your router table has a large opening around the bit, use plywood to cover the hole. 


Rout grooves the full length of each miter. These grooves will hold a thin spline, which strengthens the joint and guarantees the frame pieces will glue up perfectly even with each other. 


Glue the frame pieces in stages. Glue the short pieces first, right to the panel, putting glue only in the middle two inches of the groove. Then add the long pieces, one at a time. Here, glue only goes on the miters, not in the panel’s grooves. The panel is then free to expand and contract, just like a raised-panel door.


Glue the base. Thin pieces can be difficult to clamp, so I borrowed a jig that musical instrument makers use. Clamping pressure is applied by sliding together two opposed wedges (carpenter’s shims). Use the same jig for gluing the sides of the trays to 1/4-in. plywood.


Crosscut the trays after gluing on their long sides. The tray’s corners are simply butt joints, so this cut ensures the tray’s bottom and sides are perfectly flush. Use backing boards behind both side pieces to eliminate any chance of chip-out.


Drill holes for the hinges. Use a drill press and a fence with this tiny 1/16-in. bit. Mark each hole with an awl before you drill to keep the bit from wandering. 


Install the hinge and lid. These No. 1-size screws are delicate, so take it easy. Use a very small screwdriver that fits tightly in the screw’s slot to avoid marring its head. 

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker March 2005, issue #113.

March 2005, issue #113

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