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AW Extra 12/19/13 - Asian-Inspired Humidor


Asian-Inspired Humidor

An elegant box for cigars or jewelry

By Suwat Phruksawan

I love to create projects from my scrap pile. Boxes are my favorites. I built this humidor for a friend to keep his cigars fresh. The humidor will fit Churchill cigars one way and Coronas the other. It’s lined with Spanish cedar; traditionally used to impart delicate flavors to fine cigars.

The box doesn’t have to be a humidor, though. Simply omit the cedar liner and the humidifier to is transform the box to hold jewelry or keepsakes.

The design was inspired by Japanese architecture. At first glance it looks complex, but it’s just a basic mitered box with a few added details to dress it up .

I like small projects like this because the building process moves swiftly and allows for more hand tool work than I can normally afford. I hope you enjoy building this humidor as much as I did.


Build the box

1. Select the woods you want to use with an eye towards contrast and harmony (Photo 1).

2. Cut the box sides and ends (A and B) to size, then cut grooves to house the bottom panel (G) (Fig. A, below).

3. Use a router to create the rabbets on the top edges of the box sides (Fig. A).

4. Glue up quartersawn red oak for the bottom panel. The quartersawn oak will expand and contract much less than a flat sawn panel.

5. The bottom panel is a raised panel with the bevel facing down. Bevel the panel on a router table.

6. Cut the miters on the box parts and assemble with the bottom panel.

7. Cut the Spanish cedar bottom liner (C) to size. Add a couple dabs of water-resistant glue at the center and place it at the bottom of the box. Leave a 1/16-in. gap between the lining and the box sides for expansion.

8. Cut the side linings and glue them in place. (Photo 2).

9. Use a sled to cut slots for the splines (H and Photo 3).

10. Glue the splines in the slots (Photo 4). I used maple to contrast with the bubinga and to tie in with the top.

11. Trim the splines flush (Photo 5) and sand the sides to 220-grit. Be careful not to roundover the corners or it will leave a gap where the feet attach.


Build the lid

12. Cut the lid to fit inside the rabbeted top of the box. I used figured maple to contrast with the bubinga.

13. Plane a bevel on the edges of the lid (Photo 6). I found a 1-in. bevel looks best.

14. Create the lid braces (P) from a 3/8-in. thick x 14-in. long piece of wood (I used scrap red oak). Cut a rabbet along the length (Fig. A). Then rip it 3/4-in. wide, and crosscut it to length.

15. Glue the braces to the lid at the middle only, then use screws towards the ends.

16. Cut the top liner (K) to fit the space between the lid braces.


Make the humidor

17. Create a waterproof box from 1/8-in. Plexiglas (Q, R and S)(Photo 7).

18. Cut the humidifier trim (N ) and assemble to fit the humidifier. Pre-stain the walnut cover.

19. Cut green floral foam to fit the humidifier. Cover the foam with cheesecloth. Cover the cloth with sculpture’s wire mesh (available at hobby stores).

20. I used clear silicone caulk to glue the wire mesh and the cloth on the rims of the Plexiglas box.

21. Rout a hole in the top liner for the humidifier (Photo 8). Glue the liner in place.

22. Glue the humidifier to the under side of the lid with silicone caulk.


Add the legs

23. Edge miter two 1/2-in.-thick x 15- in.-long pieces of walnut to form an Lshaped blank.

24. Crosscut the blank into four legs (F). Ebonize the edges of the leg blank that are adjacent to the box sides.

25. Attach the legs to the box (Photo 9).

26. Plane tapers on all four legs (Photo 10, Fig. A).


Build the handle

27. Cut the handle and its supports (L and M) to size.

28. Lay out and cut angled ends on the handle (Photo 11, Fig. A).

29. Create notches for bridle joints on both the handle and the support pieces (Photo 12).

30. Glue the handle to the supports (Photo 13). Sand the handle smooth and soften the edges (Photo 14).


Ebonize and finish

31. To create the ebonizing stain, soak steel wool in vinegar overnight. Use a coffee filter to strain out the rust particles. The rusty vinegar reacts with the walnut’s tannin and turns it black.

32. Raise the grain of the legs and handle assembly by wiping them down with water and sand smooth.

33. Brush the rusty vinegar mix on the legs and handle (Photo 15). The walnut will turn black almost immediately. Be careful when staining the legs because any spill will color the bubinga.

34. Glue the handle to the lid.

35. I finished the box with a 50/50 mix of mineral spirits and pure tung oil.

Cutting List

Fig. A: Exploded View

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. I mostly used scrap wood for this project: bubinga for the box , figured maple for the lid, walnut for the feet and red oak for the bottom. I bought the Spanish cedar for the linings. The first step is to miter the box’s sides and glue them together around the bottom.

2. Next, line the box with Spanish cedar. The slightly undersized bottom panel is installed first. The side pieces are installed last and cover the bottom’s expansion gaps.

3. Cut the spline slots in the humidor box. Build a sled that straddles your saw’s fence to make accurate, safe cuts. Use a thin kerf blade.

4. Cut splines so their grain runs diagonally across the corner of the box, then glue them in the slots. This method of cutting the splines ensures that they have uniformlooking edges.

5. Cut the splines flush with a pull saw. Use a thin shim between the saw and the box side to prevent saw marks on the sides.

6. Plane a 1-in.-wide bevel around the perimeter of the lid. A panel-raising bit in a router table can do the job too.

7. The humidifier case is made from 1/8-in. Plexiglass that is glued to the bottom of the lid.

8. The lid is also lined with Spanish cedar. Cut a hole in this piece to house the humidifier.

9. Glue the walnut leg blanks onto the box using a band clamp. Prestain the walnut ends and edges adjacent to the bubinga.

10. Use a block plane to taper the legs and ease the sharp corners.

11. Cut the angled ends of the handle with a miter gauge. Lay out the angles and cut to the pencil mark.

12. Cut notches in the handle and supports on the bandsaw. The joint needs to be snug enough to hold together without glue.

13. Glue the handle assembly together. Just a spot of glue is all that’s needed if the joints are snug.

14. Shape and smooth the handle with sandpaper.

15. Ebonize the walnut by brushing on rusty vinegar– a mixture made from soaking steel wool in vinegar.

16. The humidor is ready to charge with water. To moisten, lift the lid and add a few drops of distilled water through the wire mesh.


Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.

Rockler,, 800-279- 4441, 3/8” Spanish cedar, #18392.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker March 2008, issue #134.

March 2008, issue #134

Purchase this back issue.