Making Fine Boxes

There are many reasons to use a combination of traditional hand-making and contemporary furniture making techniques. Creating fine boxes to the client’s preferred design and expectation is my primary motive. It would be great if each stage of the box making process – from felling the tree to delivering the final box was completed by hand. Unfortunately there are always processes that require more contemporary methods or tools.

Traditional Hand-Making


Traditional hand-making skills develop over the years with practice. These skills allow the proper use of traditional hand tools still used today; chisels, hand planes,
spokeshaves, scrapers, saws and many others. Craftsmen are able to create almost any shape with these tools; some tasks can only be done with them.

Timber smoothed with a hand plane produces surface lustre unmatched by sand paper or a machine. And hand tools excel at trimming components, producing shavings thinner than 0.02mm; this allows for great accuracy and proper fitting.

Joints are hand cut for accuracy and strength, or for aesthetic detail. A dovetail created by machine is very obvious and does not have the finesse or closeness of hand cut dovetails.

Contemporary Furniture Making

vacuum-bagMany modern design requirements depend upon contemporary furniture making skills. Curves and compound shapes are made possible by laminating thin pieces of wood together over shaped forms to produce light, thin and strong components. Long, elegant and flowing lines are only possible using modern methods.

Shaped components are veneered using vacuum bags, enabling professional veneering to be done on almost any surface without the need of expensive factory machines.

Hand power tools enable repetitive jobs to be done, providing more time to concentrate on finer detailing done by hand.

Timber is flattened and prepared by a workshop jointer to produce the lines from which all other measurements are made. The cost of converting rough planks of timber to flat useable timber by hand would be exorbitant for no benefit to the client.

Some designs requiring sunbursts and other complicated juxtapositions of timbers can only be done by veneering over stable substrates such as plywood or MDF, otherwise wood movement would crack and destroy the piece.

The benefits of a balanced approach

A balanced approach to making fine handmade boxes allows a combination of traditional and contemporary skills to be used appropriately. Timber is prepared and then the components are made by hand, jointed by hand and finished by hand. Some aspects of a design may require a component that can only be created with the use of a power tool or vacuum bag, however the box will always be assembled and finished by hand.

A box in the making

To give you a better idea as to how a fine handmade box is made I have described some of the stages below:

Create a design with which the client is happy

Selecting the hardwood timber and veneer

Preparing the hardwood timber

Cutting the components to size

Jointing the components

Finishing internal surfaces

Gluing the box together

Adding edging

Cutting off the lid

Applying the decorative veneers

Polishing with shellac

The finished box