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School Box

author-gravatar blucz Sep 19, 2016

This is my interpretation of the "School Box" from The Joiner and The Cabinet Maker. The most significant departure in my version is replacing the fixed shelf with a pair of horizontally sliding trays, the use of modern stop hinges, and the omission of a lock.

The box is made from Black Ash--a beautiful but difficult species. It's slow growing, but at the same time moderately soft and not nearly as dense as the more familiar Ash species. The trays are made of some Walnut scraps left over from a recent project. Finished with Amber Shellac, Hinges by Brusso, and Cut Nails supplied by TFWW.

A couple of months ago, I visited a cabinetmaker/lumber-enthusiast who was selling of decades of accumulation. If I recall correctly, he bought this Black Ash from someone about 20 years ago. I hadn't worked with Black Ash before, so I figured I'd pick some up and try it out. This was the perfect project for it.        

Every project begins with some rough cuts. This board is in pretty decent condition, so it's safe for the miter saw as is. If it were gnarlier, I'd be reaching for something hand held.     

One of the distinguishing features of Black Ash is that it grows very, very slowly. Based on the selection of boards that I ended up with, this tree wasn't very large, but it was at least 100 years old. The piece on top is a representative sample of the much more common White Ash to give you a sense of the growth rate difference.    

Like most of the lumber that moves through my shop, this was milled up on a JET combo machine. The earlywood is pretty tearout-prone, but the planer does a good job. It will require care later when I whip out the hand planes.

Laying out the box sides. I did a continuous grain thing, then screwed it up later by putting the molding on the back and making the back into the front. Oh well.

Black Ash is tricky to plane, especially boards like these that reverse grain in the center. It loves to tear out. I was committed to finish this project as straight-off-the-plane as possible, so I powered through.

Laying out dovetails. These are 1:5's, since steeper angles look nicer (in my opinion) when things are chunky like this.

This wood is annoying to dovetail too. It's soft-ish (Janka 800 or so), and not particularly dense (34lb/ft3) but also very stringy. So the forces that you want to apply to the chisel to cut through the stringiness can easily push your layout lines around. As usual, sharp solves everything.

I laid out the pieces overnight, and was disappointed to see that they cupped a bit. I was hoping that "sitting around for 20+ years" would dominate "boards with a hinge in the middle"...oh well. Slight cupping is really not much of a problem when dovetailing, you just need to make sure that the boards are pressed flat somehow when transferring layout, and then clamp the pieces well. The joinery will pull everything flat if it's done right, and it will be like it never happened.

Ok, it's not hard maple (my favorite species to dovetail....holds detail like marble), but these are coming out crisp enough. 

And now the glue-up. I like to use a little brush for getting in between the pins and tails.

Since the pieces were a little bit bowed, they get extra clamps to keep the baselines tight.

For the top, I'm going to slice up the board to make it more quartersawn. This should reduce the chance of problems resulting from the way the molding is attached across the grain.

Then clamp it up to dry and be patient.    

I haven't stuck many moldings. This one was fun, and having a wide vise made it feel like cheating.

For the bottom, I'm also going a little bit more conservative with regard to wood movement, opting for tongue and groove. This is the first time I've gotten a sort of OK result with only medium levels of clogging doing tongue and groove with plane.

Nice fit. 

Back to the case, I'm cleaning up the dovetails. First across the grain with a block plane....

...then smoothing the case. Because of the dodgy workholding setup, I wanted to do this with as little pressure as possible, so I ended up lowering the attack angle and just being really careful about grain direction. It doesn't really matter that I've got a clamp on the other side of the board...I'll need to flip the case anyways before I can touch that side.

Preparing to nail on the bottom.

I used 1" cut brad nails and glue. If I had some slightly bigger nails, I would have used them, but these will do fine for a small box like this.

Once the bottom is in place, I can flush it up to the box sides with a block plane.

Nice. Time for some moldings.

I cut the moldings by sawing to a line with my carcase saw, then fine-tuning the fit on a miter shooting board ( full picture. You can see the corner of it in the upper-right of this shot).

Then I glued on the moldings right where I wanted them.

On the top, too.

After the glue tacked up a little bit, I went back and applied the nails. This way I didn't have to worry about things moving around on me.

It looks like a box! But I'm not done yet.

Still need to do the interior. This is the material that I'll use to make the trays and their guides.

The guides are glued in, using scraps as clamps.

Now I can start the crosscutting party. Sash saw, shooting board, bench hooks, and so on...

All done. I like to use my shooting board to rack everything up and check for identical lengths.

The trays were really quick. Walnut is super-nice to dovetail, and everything is small/fast.

I was trying to get the hang of chopping out the waste without destroying the surface I did it one one of my nicer bench hooks, that's not totally destroyed yet. That went okay

Then I glued the bottoms on. Note that they're a little bit overlong in one dimension--this way the boxes themselves don't rub against the inside of the box when the trays slide around. I thought about putting nails in them, but for such small boxes, there didn't seem to be a point.

Getting close to the end. These are Brusso stop hinges, one of the larger sizes. This is a nice trick--if you turn the hinge up side down, you can use the hinge as a fence to make sure that you're marking out the position perfectly square.

Then I chop up the mortise with a bench chisel, and clear it out, being really careful not to push the lines around.

If everything went right, the hinge should snap in securely without wanting to tip out.

Repeating the procedure for the top. This butt chisel really came in handy. I've never actually used it for its intended purpose before--usually I use it as a speedup when working on long knife lines. I got lucky--it was the exact width of my mortise. Makes me want to order some smaller ones. 

Finally, carefully putting the screws in. 

Last step, finishing. I used amber shellac, around a 2lb cut, brushed, followed by some wax. Finishing with the hinge is conveniently exposes all of the surfaces of the box and its top and supports it during drying, at the small expense of having to be a little bit more tidy around the hinges. Worth it.


Beautiful box! I love the changes you made with the interior and the bottom. Thanks for sharing.

I like the grain on that wood.  It is spectacular.

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