Making Rustic Boxes

I like to express my creativity in many ways. One is to make boxes in my woodshop. I’ve made many of them over the years. I enjoy the variety of styles and techniques they offer. Exploring new ideas for their design and construction is something I find challenging.

Most of them have used milled wood for the sides so they are smooth. Some of the wood I’ve used is highly figured, such as tiger maple or quartersawn white oak. But a friend was tearing out a fence where he works and saved me a small pile of the boards he recovered. Mostly, they are red oak, with a few chestnut oak boards in the mix. Though they had been in place for years, despite having rough exteriors the interiors of the boards are still quite solid. White paint remains on some, while on others it has weathered away completely. I’ve used this wood in the past for several projects, such as picture frames and wine racks, but always I’ve milled and sanded away the rough exteriors.

Still, the rough exterior of the boards has a rustic charm. So, I decided to put this to use making small boxes that display the untouched exterior. The boxes I made are simple in design. They are 6 inches long, 3 inches wide, and stand 1 ½ inches tall. To get continuous grain around most of the sides, I cut the boards to 20 inches long, then ripped them to their final height of 1 ½ inches. Then I took them to the bandsaw and resawed them to 3/8-inch thickness. This left one side smooth and the other side rough.

Next, I cut a groove 1/8-inch wide and 1/8 inch deep 1/8 from the bottom of the board, the edge that was cleanly cut when I narrowed the boards. Then, at the table saw, crosscut the boards into the lengths needed for the sides and ends, first a 6-inch piece, then a 3-inch piece, and the remaining two pieces in the same sequence. This way the grain will match on three of the four corners.

Now that the pieces were the needed lengths, I rabbeted the top edges of the sides using a dado blade on the table saw. This produced a groove at the top edge 1/8-inch deep and 3/8-inch wide. I also rabbeted the ends of the 6-inch sides 1/8 inch deep and 3/8-inch wide; these cuts will house the end pieces for a clean fit. I cut a bottom from a sheet of 1/8-inch thick Baltic birch plywood, which I sanded smooth. After test testing the fit of the sides, ends, and bottom, I glued the pieces together to form a box, clamped it, and set it aside for the glue to dry. After 24 hours, I sanded the bottom of the box smooth on the belt sander. Where the long sides stand out from the ends, I cut them off even with the ends using a flush trim saw.

What remained was the lid. I chose a board with some white paint remaining to give the box a bit of contrast. I cut the board to fit the inside of the top of the box, then resawed the top to ½-inch thick on the bandsaw. The final step was to cut a slight bevel on the underside of one end of the top. Then, when the top is installed on the box, pushing on the beveled end will raise the other end of the lid to make it easy to remove.

I did not sand the interior because my bandsaw leaves a very smooth surface. And I applied no finish to the boxes, which were now complete.

The boxes can be built to other dimensions.  Because the boards are 6-inches wide, I can make much larger boxes of this style if I wish. 

I plan to offer these and other size boxes for sale, both at craft shows and online. I may even teach a class on building these boxes at my local Woodcraft store.

Published by Norman Reid

I worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 27 years in the field of rural community and economic development. I retired a few years ago and have been devoting my time to photography and writing. I've been a semi-pro photographer for more than 25 years and sell my work on the Web. I live in rural Virginia not far from the Shenandoah Valley.

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