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White Oak And Basswood Box

author-gravatar joelav Nov 26, 2018

This was a fun little project using a single white oak board and some basswood for the Asa No Ha kumiko pattern

Finished product first - this is a small tea box made from white oak and features a kumiko panel in the lid Kumiko is a Japanese art form which involves creating intricate lattice work without the use of mechanical fasteners. It's most often found in sliding doors (shoji). This pattern is called Asa No Ha and is one of the most popular and traditional patterns.

Here is a piece of white oak I got for 4 bucks. It's an offcut from a professional cabinet shop. I have a rough idea on the size I want the box to be, but I used the golden ratio (1.61) to get to my final dimensions of 11 1/2" x 6 3/4". The golden ratio isn't necessary when figuring out proportions, but if you use it as a guide, your proportions won't look bad.

I've got a little over 1 3/8" of thickness which will allow me to slice this in half (resaw) and get two 1/2" thick boards. Personally I'm not a fan of chunky boxes so I try to keep mine between 1/2" and 5/8" thick depending on the size of the box and its intended purpose.

Before anything else happens, I need to make sure this board is flat. Here I am using winding sticks to check and see if the board is twisted. I site down the board and check to see if the winding sticks are parallel with each other. They are

Now with a straight edge, I make sure the board is flat. It isn't. There is a slight cup

I'll remove that with hand planes until I get one of the faces flat

Now I will clean up the milling marks and bring the other face parallel with the one I just flattened. I'm going to resaw this so I want to be careful about how much material I am removing here

Once that is done I notice the board has some checking. I make a mark and measure from that mark. I'll saw the checked part off. I then measure out the rough length of 1 long side (11 1/2") and one short side (6 3/4)" plus another inch or so for insurance.

Then I scribe the cut lines with a marking knife, take it to my low saw horses, and crosscut the board. The shorter the board is (to an extent) the easier it is to work with.


Now I need to true up one of the edges. I do this with my jointer plane. I have the board on the bench in a birds mouth - which is just a piece of plywood with a V cut out so I can wedge the piece in. I prefer to joint edges this way over using a vise. The board is fully supported on the bottom so I won't introduce any bow.

I then check to make sure it is flat and square

Now I need to bring the other edge parallel, and get the piece to exactly 4". I do this on the tablesaw with the freshly jointed face up against the fence.

On to resawing. I find the center of the board and go around all 4 sides with a marking gauge. I take several passes here to make a deep scribe. This will lessen the tenancy of the bandsaw to wander a bit and give me a good reference.

Then with a mechanical pencil, I darken the lines

Now I set my fence on the bandsaw. I position it so I split the line. The teeth are "set", or pushed over away from the center of the blade in each direction. I aim for a tooth on either side of the line. Since I have some room to play with here, getting this dead on isn't super critical

After the resaw, I run the boards through my planer clean face down to get to my final 1/2" dimension

Before cross cutting the pieces, I want to make the grooves for the lid and the top. It's easier doing it twice instead of 4 times. I set the saw blade for a 1/4" deep cut

And then cut the grooves. I leave myself 3/8" on the top, and about 3/16" on the bottom. I'm going to use 1/4" plywood for the bottom and top panels, so 2 passes at the saw will get me the right groove. It's easier than putting on a dado stack or setting up the router table

I check the fit with a piece of plywood I'll be using

Now to cross cutting. If you have one of these, you can use it

I prefer to use a tablesaw sled. It's much more accurate and repeatable. I cut one end square, slide that square end up to the stop, and repeat.

Now it's time to lay out the dovetails. I'm using a square, pencil, ruler, dovetail marker (14 degrees) and a small pair of dividers.

The corners are going to be mitered, and the top needs some room after I cut off the lid, so instead of using the edges for baseline references, I draw new baselines. I use the dividers to "walk out" my pin spacing based on 1/8th inch pins. Instead of attempting to explain this here, this is the video that taught me how to do it:
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUiPJF_jNEA

Now with a miter square, I draw a miter on all 4 corners of each piece.

i'm using this benchtop vise to raise the work up to a more comfortable level for sawing while still being low and fully supported in the vise.

Done sawing the tails. Notice the new "edges" are a vertical cut. This makes things easier when dealing with the miters, and I like the overall look. When sawing these, it's not critical that you follow the exact angle. It's more critical that you saw straight and plumb. The layout will be transferred directly from this piece to it's mate

Now I remove the waste with a coping saw, staying away from my baseline. Pro tip: Coping saws get a bad reputation. This Eclipse saw isn't high end, but it's nice enough. Use good blades - Pegas or Olson. And Never store the saw tensioned. Unscrew the handle to relieve all the tension after you are done sawing.

Now to clean up the baselines. I do this using a bench hook. Before chiseling, I deepen the scribe lines on just the waste using a knife. Pro tip - A sturdy bench helps a lot with chiseling. If you don't have one, position your work right over a leg. This will eliminate any bouncing or spring and transfer all your energy where you want it. Also I prefer a heavy metal hammer to strike chisels. The less force I have to put into my swing the more accurate I can be.

All cleaned up. What's the paint bush for? To wipe away chips. Any chips trapped under the piece will make a dent in the final work.

Now to transfer the layout. I'm going to use a dovetail alignment board, which is really just half a box with a fence on one side. These are great dovetail practice.

I register the edges against the fence and then line up the baseline on the board I cut with the edge or the corresponding pin board. Notice I have a slight overhang. That's okay and intentional. It leaves me some room to clean up the joint after assembly. It's critical that the BASELINE be used as your reference.

Sawing is much more important here. Stay inside your lines. I am showing this step because it's a bit different than the tails. On the vertical line (my new "edge), do not saw all the way through the board. That would show on the face. From the BACK SIDE ONLY, saw the vertical line on a 45 degree angle. Do not cut into the edge

remove the waste. The pin board is a bit different than the tails. One face will be narrower than the other. Keep that in mind when selecting the right chisel to use. I like to start from the narrow side.

Once complete I put the piece in a vise and then clean up the corners. Crisp inside corners are critical, otherwise you will get bruising when the joint is assembled which leads to gaps

Now to saw the mitered portion. I stay away from my line here and roughly remove some waste

I then clean it up with a chisel and a guide block. The guide block is cut at 45 degrees. I align the edge to my baseline.

Then I use a chisel held firmly against the block to pare away the waste, leaving me with a perfect 45 degree angle. Repeat x 7

Then a test fit. This is perfect

I'll dry assemble 3 sides so I can measure for the plywood top and bottom. I use the inside dimension + 1/2" ( the grooves are each 1/4" deep).

Before I glue this up I am going to pre-finish it. I used black milk paint on the top followed by some satin waterborne poly, and I also applied the waterborne poly to the inside of the bottom, and around where the lid is exposed. The box will have a maple insert so no need to finish it. Pro tip - do not use an oil based finish on the inside of a box. It will smell forever. I generally used waterborne poly or shellac

I marked the location for where I need to cut the lid off. There is a good chance I will plane this mark off when I true up the box. So before I do that. I set my marking gauge to that dimension. 

Now for the glue up. Assemble one long side and 2 short sides like above. Then I insert the plywood panels in the correct orientation, and put the last piece on. I cut my dovetails really tight so I don't use any clamps. If your dovetails are a little loose or need some motivation to say square, now is the time to apply clamps

It's critical that this is square. And it is

Trued up and looking good. With the marking gauge I set before I re-mark with the lid will be chopped off of, and put a triangle on one face so I can align it after I cut it

Before chopping off the lid, I'm going to get started on the Kumiko. This is a huge chunk of basswood. It's wonderful for kumiko. It's very easy to work with and has almost no grain pattern to distract from the piece. Here I am truing up the edge

I primarily work in imperial, but for kumiko it's much easier to put my metric hat on. The gap in the top of my lid is 10mm. I'm resawing these boards to a little over 10mm so I can plane off the bandsaw marks. It's also critical to me that the last tool that touches the basswood is a hand plane. I will not be applying any finish to the kumiko, and a hand plane leaves a very smooth and shiny surface sanding cannot duplicate.

Once I have all my 10mm boards cut, I now need to get these to 3.5mm. I use 3.5mm because my thinnest chisel is 3mm and I need a little wiggle room. I cut these to about 4.5mm at the bandsaw. I take a cut from each edge, hand plane the bandsaw marks off (for the smooth finish) and repeat

To get to the final thickness, I use a planing jig. The strips and stop are exactly 3.5mm high, and a tiny bit wider than my hand plane iron so the plane will ride over them but not cut into them

I plane them bandsawn side up until the plane stops taking shavings

A uniform thickness is critical. I check multiple spots on each one to ensure

Now to make story sticks or "master kumiko". These will be used to transfer my measurements. I sneak up on a perfect fit for the vertical and horizontal pieces using a shooting board. I also lay out the marks for the Asa No Ha pattern. Instead of writing a book on how to do it, I'll link this sort video by Des King. Do that. Twice https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQJC7IVOVdo

Now to transfer the story stick to the kumiko. I'm doing the horizontal here. I add in one extra in case something splits during assembly.

Next I gang cut them in a jig. I remove the master kumiko first. The jig is just 2 pieces of maple that are roughly half the thickness of my kumiko (5mm) screwed to a scrap board. I gang the pieces up and saw them all at once staying inside the lines. I like to use a saw with an extremely fine kerf kere.

Once sawn, I knock the waste out with a chisel

Now on to the vertical kumiko. Notice the screw removed so I don't saw into it. This is the same process.

Now to assemble the grid (or jigumi if you want to get neckbeardy about it). I don't normally use glue, but this is a box lid that will be in a lot of different states of orientation so I use a little. Elmers glue-all or school glue is perfect here. It dries clear.

With that done, I take a rough measurement for the diagonals

I use a clamp as a stop block on my bench hook and saw 9 of them (the 8 I need and 1 extra)

Now I use my kumiko jigs. Details on the jigs are in the video I linked above, but they are pretty simple. this is the 45 degree jig. I chisel each face until I have a point. Do this on both sides

Those are done and fit, now on to the hinge pieces

I use the same clamp as a stop process and cut 34 of these (32 + 2 extra). Then on to the 22.5 degree jig for one edge

This is what the final piece should look like. 22.5 degree angles on each face

This one is a little tricky. the other end of the hinge pieces get a 67.5 degree angle, but it's not centered like all of the other ones. This is 1/3 of one face and 2/3 of the other face. To achieve this in the jig, I push the piece away from the stop a bit so I have the 2/3ds on one facet

he hinge pieces are inserted with the 22.5 degree ends in the corners, and the 1/3rd side of the 67.5 degree angles touching each other. Once complete, a small locking piece is inserted into the side where the 2/3rds meet and the corresponding corner. Cutting these is the same as the long angle pieces. There are 16 total

Done! Now to finish up the box

I need to saw off the lid using the mark from before as a reference. Watch your fingers here.

I clamp down a piece of sandpaper to some granite I have and rub the lid and box on it to both flatten it out and remove the bandsaw marks

I am going to line the inside of the box with this curly maple. This will also hold the lid on. I rip these to the width of the inside of the box + the reveal inside of the lid. I thicknessed these to about 3/16"

I am going to miter them. Again I prefer to use a sled over the miter saw, It's more accurate and repeatable

I sneak up on a perfect fit piece by piece. Once I'm happy I pre-finish the inside face then glue them in the box

All done. I then apply a few coats of tung oil followed by some paste wax 

The kumiko panel is inserted into the lid with clamps. I put a few drops of CA glue (super glue) to ensure it stays put

1 comment

That is a gorgeous box, Joe! Thanks for the write-up.

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