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.
Select the wood
You’ll need very little wood to make this box. The star
of the show is clearly the lid’s center panel. When you
open the lid, you also see the bottom side of this fabulous
piece. I used spalted big-leaf maple (see “Spalted Wood,” below), but you can use any piece of wood that has a
fabulous curl, wild burl or unusual bird’s-eye pattern.
For the rest of the exterior, it’s best to choose a rich
but understated wood, so as not to detract from the
panel. I chose mahogany for its warm color and lack of
prominent grain. Walnut or cherry would also work well.
If you’re conservative about cutting, you can get all the
parts from a rough 4/4 or 5/4 board that’s 5-1/2 in.
wide and 4 ft. long.
For the interior trays, you’ll need a little 1/4-in. plywood
and some 1/8-in.-thick solid wood that looks elegant,
such as rosewood. I chose cocobolo.
What is it?
Spalted wood is just a fancy name for partly decayed
wood. Its spectacular colors come from different
colonies of fungus, which start the decay process.
Black lines between the colors are actually barrier
walls set up by competing colonies to protect
their territories. Spalting is most prominent in lightcolored
woods, such as maple and beech, but almost any
kind of wood can be spalted. No two pieces are alike.
Where can i get it?
If you’re lucky, you can find spalted wood in any firewood
pile. If green wood isn’t dried in ideal conditions, it can be
attacked by fungus and start to spalt. For use in woodworking,
the trick is to catch the wood at the right stage of decay
and stop the fungal attack by quickly drying the wood to a
fairly dry moisture content, from seven to 12 percent.
One of the best ways to order spalted wood is on the
Internet. Some sites provide a digital photo of an individual
board, so you can see exactly what you’re buying. I bought
my wood from BuzzSaw International, (360) 497-7097,
The firm specializes in figured West Coast big-leaf maple.
It’s a bit spendy ($7.50 to $50 for 1 bd. ft.) but truly gorgeous.
For more standard wood at about $5 to $7 for 1 bd.
ft., try West Penn Hardwoods (716) 373-6434, www.westpennhardwoods.
com. The site doesn’t show photos of individual
What's it like to work with?
The best spalted wood machines just like a regular board,
but some pieces can be a real challenge. Decay is a gradual
process, so some parts of a board can be very hard and others
very soft. Soft spots can peck out when planed or
become dished when sanded. Turners often use cyanoacrylate
glue to penetrate and harden soft spots.
You can best capture spalted wood’s natural look by using
a fast-drying finish, such as
lacquer or shellac. Soft spots
can soak up a lot of slower drying
finishes, such as oil
and varnish, which will unnaturally
darken the wood.
Caution: Fungal spores
can be an irritant. Use
good dust collection and
wear a respirator or mask.
Build the box
1. Resaw boards for the box’s sides (F, G, H) and the
frame pieces that go around the lid (B, C) (Photo 1). It’s
best to start with 1-1/4-in. (5/4) lumber and plane it to
1 in. thick. If you cut a dead straight line, however, and
your wood is very stable, it’s possible to resaw rough 1-in.
(4/4) boards. Make some extra pieces to help with
machine setups later. Plane the lid pieces to 7/16 in. and
the side pieces to 3/8 in. Rip the side parts to rough
width (see Cutting List, below).
2. Cut 3/8-in.-wide box joints on all side pieces (Photo
2). Set the bit as high as the side is thick, so the box-joint
fingers are flush when the joint is assembled. Begin cutting
the box joints from the bottom edge of each piece.
3. Rip the box sides to final size. The exact width doesn’t
matter, as long as each cut lines up exactly with the
joint’s fingers or notches. Note that the back (G) is lower
than the sides by the width of one box-joint finger.
4. Glue the box together (Photo 3). Cut spacers (J) to
length so the hinge fits comfortably between them. Glue
the spacers to the box.
5. Glue the tray supports (K, L) to the inside of the
box. Sand flat the bottom and top edges of the box
Frame the lid
6. The lid’s raised panel (A) is the box’s centerpiece,
so it pays to be particular about how the grain pattern is
oriented. Make a simple window to figure out how to cut
your showy wood (Photo 5).
7. Cut grooves all the way around the panel (Photo 6;
Fig. B, below). Cut the ends first; then raise the bit
1/16 in. and cut the sides. This added depth in the long
grooves leaves room for the panel to expand and contract.
8. Rout a small chamfer around the top and bottom
of the panel. Sand the panel to 220 grit.
9. Plane the frame pieces
to exact thickness, so they fit
snugly in the panel’s grooves. Miter
the pieces on the tablesaw (Photo 7).
First cut the short pieces (C), so their
miters line up with the lid’s corners:
Clamp both pieces in the panel;
then cut the long pieces (B) to fit.
10. Rout grooves on the ends of the
frame pieces using a slot cutter (Photos
8 and 9; Fig. C, below).
11. Make the splines (D). Their exact
thickness is very important. Too tight,
and you won’t be able to slide them in
the grooves after you add glue. Too
loose, and they won’t align the frame
pieces. The spline’s width should be 1/64 in. less than both grooves’ combined depth.
12. Glue the short frame pieces first. Be fussy about
aligning their miters with the panel’s corners. Let the
glue dry overnight. Then add the long frame pieces, one
at a time (Photo 10). Align the miters first; then push in
the spline from the joints’ ends.
13. After the glue is dry, use a handsaw to trim the protruding
splines. Even the frame joints with 150-grit or
finer sandpaper. Finish sanding to 220 grit.
Make the base
14. Make the base parts (M, N) from one or two long
pieces of molding. First, chamfer the outside edge on the
router table (Fig. D, below). Second, cut the rabbet on
the router table or tablesaw. The rabbet’s depth should
match the thickness of the plywood bottom (P). Cut the
pieces to length.
15. Glue the base together with an opposed-wedge jig
(Photo 11). To apply clamping pressure, use carpenter’s
shims—you’ll find them ready-made at hardware stores.
16. Cut the bottom to fit the base and glue it into the
Create the trays
17. Cut the trays’ bottoms (Q, R) to exact width, but
leave them 3/4 in. extra long. On the tablesaw, cut
1/8-in.-wide grooves, 1/8 in. deep, wherever you want to
insert dividers (Fig. A, below).
18. Mill a few long pieces for the trays’ sides
(S, T, U, V) and dividers (W, X, Y). Plane
them to fit into the grooves in the bottoms.
Rip all the sides and dividers to
final width. Cut the long sides 3/4 in. extra
19. Glue the long sides to both trays using
the same opposed-wedge jig you used for the
base. Add shims to span the distance between
the trays and the jig’s sides.
20. Crosscut both ends of each tray (Photo 12).
Measure their length directly from the inside of the box.
When you add in the two end pieces, there should be
1/16-in. wiggle room between the ends of the trays and
the ends of the box.
21. Cut the short sides 1/4 in. extra long. Glue them
to the trays using the opposed-wedge jig. Cut the ends
flush and sand them even.
22. Cut the long divider (W) to fit. Glue it into the
groove. Clamps aren’t necessary. Cut and glue the short
dividers (X, Y).
Install the hinge
23. A shim (E) fits between the hinge and the lid
(Fig. E, below). To calculate the shim’s exact
thickness, place the closed hinge on the back
edge of the box. Measure the distance from
the top of the hinge to the top of the box and
add 1/32 in. Crosscut the shim to fit between
the spacers (J), allowing for 1/16 in. of play.
24. Glue the shim to the lid using spring
clamps. Use a spacer to make sure the shim is parallel
to the lid’s edge.
25. The hinge screws are centered on the box’s back
edge (Fig. F, below). Draw or scribe a line down the center
of the back. Put the hinge in place and mark the locations
of the screw holes with an awl. Set up a drill press with
a fence to drill the holes (Photo 13) using a 1/16-in. bit.
26. Draw or scribe a line down the center of the shim
under the lid. Mark the screw locations directly from the
hinge, as in Step 25. Drill holes for the screws using the
Finish and assemble
27. To accurately mark the screw holes for attaching
the base to the box, set the box on top of the base. Draw
the outside perimeter of the box on the base’s top. Mark
screw locations 3/16 in. inside the lines. Drill and countersink
holes for the screws.
28. Turn the box over, place it on some tall blocks and
clamp the base to it. Drill pilot holes for the screws into
the box. Disassemble.
29. Finish the base, box and lid as separate parts.
30. Screw the base to the box. Screw the hinge to the
lid, and then attach the lid to the box (Photo 14). The
hinge has a built-in stop, so the lid won’t open too far.
Can you believe it? I drilled hinge screw holes all the way
through the top of my box lid! Fortunately, the fix was
easier and more invisible than I could have imagined. First, I
found a piece of mahogany whose end grain was so light in
color that it would blend with the face grain of the piece I
drilled through. (I just wet the piece with water to see what
its color would look like with finish on.) I made some tiny
toothpicks from that wood, tapped them into the holes
with glue and pared them flush. Now, everyone thinks my
box lid is perfect, but I know where the bodies are buried!
Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.
MLCS Woodworking, mlcswoodworking.com, 800-533-9298,
3/8-in. carbide spiral bit, 1/2-in. shank, #7467;
1/8-in. slot cutter with bearing, 1/2-in. shank, #7645;
45-degree chamfer bit, 1/2-in. shank, #7674;
Rabbeting kit, 1/2-in. shank, #8667.
Lee Valley, leevalley.com, 800-871-8158,
Box stop hinge, 200 mm x 9 mm, #00D80.05;
No. 1 brass screws, 1/2 in. long, #91Z01.03X.
Click any image to view a larger version
1. 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.
2. Cut box joints using a router table. You could use a tablesaw, but perfect
results are surprisingly easy on the router table.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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
6. 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.
7. 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
8. 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 zeroclearance
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.
9. 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
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.