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Matt Kenney's Boxes #1, 28, 31

author-gravatar blucz Apr 17, 2017

My entries for the Fine Woodworking 52 Boxes Challenge.
Box #1 -- Walnut, Wenge, MDF, Persimmon Milk Paint, Shellac
Box #28 -- Aspen, Cherry, MDF, Green Milk Paint, Shellac, GF High Performance 
Box #31 -- Butternut, Elm Burl Veneer, MDF, Green Milk Paint, Shellac
It's always fun to build someone else's designs. Certainly got me trying some things that I don't normally do, and thinking differently about things.

This was my favorite of the three. The contrast between the Aspen and the Cherry worked out great. The darker green paint color worked with the wood colors, the finish came out really nice. I think it will still look nice after the cherry gets darker, but we'll see.

The green interior is a really nice design detail.

I think my pull is a tad tall, but I really like the Persimmon Milk Paint with the Walnut. These are a lot of fun but way smaller than I thought from the pictures. They're great for storing...1.5 chap sticks.

I should have made the walls 5/16" thick instead of 3/8". They feel a little bit thick, but for a box that's probably not meant to hold anything, the weight helps it feel really solid.

Of course I made four. It's just a lot simpler to batch out stuff like this.

I made box #31 specifically because I had a couple of similar pieces of veneer. I really don't like how the colors worked out on this one. The Butternut warmed up more than expected when I finished it, and the green is too dark. I love the way the lid slides over the box--it has such a nice feel.

The butternut was a real challenge. There was some powder-post damage to be filled/managed/avoided (the wood was cut and air-dried a few decades ago, so this is long in the past), and the wood was so delicate that pulling blue tape off against the grain was tearing out fibers. 

This box has a really neat side profile.

The green dividers are a nice design detail.

I've had this veneer for a couple of years. It was labeled as Elm Burl veneer. It is pretty similar to the veneer that Matt used on his, but obviously not quite as AAAAAA+++++ :)

At the beginning...all three designs require some veneering, so I started going through my pile to see what I could re-use. Some of this is 1.5mm thick veneer that I sliced up for Marquetry a while back. The Elm Burl veneer is commercial 1/42" veneer.

I didn't have any butternut veneer, so I sliced a few sheets of it. For this kind of application, I shoot for a heavy 1/32" since thinner veneer is much more agreeable when hammer veneering.

I got all of the veneering out of the way at first, since there's some setup involved. I used 1/4" MDF as the substrate. Hammer Veneering is great--once you're set up, it only takes a minute or two to do both sides of a panel like this. There are no clamps to mess with (or run out of). Once the veneer is on, set it aside and let it dry. 3-4 hours later you can clean it up and work with it.

I've never actually applied a "delicate" burl veneer before, so I was a little bit concerned. Sometimes when I'm worried, I'll pre-soak the veneer in hide glue and press it flat overnight, but I was ready to go and the veneer was fresh out of the package. Other than being a little bit gentile with the hammer in places that looked a little bit crumbly, it really didn't require much adjustment and it worked out fine.

With veneering out of the way, it's time to resaw the material for the box sides. 

I'm using all air-dried material for this. The Walnut was milled in 2005, and the others were milled in the 1970s. What does that mean? It's stable as can be. Almost no movement after resawing. Makes my job a lot easier.

Believe it or not, I haven't had a router table till very recently. I set this one up in place of the right extension on my table saw. Still getting used to it and working out the best way to set up each cut. Note the huge feed direction arrow drawn on the fence! Here, I'm cutting the rabbets for Box #28. This felt safe, but I have no doubt that there was a better way to do it. 

One or two of the rabbets weren't perfectly level--I think I leaned on the parts a little bit with the push block and lifted them up. Simple enough to correct with the shoulder plane.

All done!

The veneer had a few voids. I considered using black wax to fill them, but was worried about finishing implications since I was planning on a film finish I decided to use tinted epoxy instead.

After cleanup..nice.

This ugly sled used to be my small cross-cut sled. It's not quite as dead nuts as my large one, so I stopped using it for crosscuts, glued a sheet of 1/4" ply onto it, and converted it into a miter sled for box-making. With the sled and an 80t blade, the miters come out perfect.  At some point I'll re-build a new one that is less ugly.

Stupidly, I cut the miters for the small walnut boxes before routing the rabbets. Don't do this! Thankfully, the gripper and router table made these cuts safely and accurately, even on the <2" long pieces.

I've had these setup bars on my shopping list for about two years. When I picked up the router table, I ordered them too. They are everything I ever dreamed they would be.

Ok, so now that I have the miters and rabbets done in the Walnut boxes, it's time to size the top/bottom panels. The top ones want to have a small amount of give so they aren't too tight once paint/finish is applied. The bottom ones should be a nice friction fit.

Then commenced with the pre-finishing. One of the reasons I decided to work on six boxes at once is because I knew that there would be a ton of this. Milk Paint and Shellac both dry in 20-30 minutes, so it's very easy to walk over and apply a little bit more finish in the middle of other tasks. And it's a lot easier to stay on task if there's always something to do.

So, in the midst of the pre-finishing, I worked on, composing and sizing the top/bottom panels for Box#28. I need to do this so I can start pre-finishing their edges. The clamps are just holding things together for my reference.

Before gluing up the Walnut boxes, I used sandpaper to remove the shellac from the glue surfaces. These went together with hot hide glue.

Beginning the pre-finishing dance all over again for Box#28. It's simple enough to sand off the mess after the edges are done.

Back to the Walnut boxes. These are almost done--blue tape is still clamping then, but in the mean time, I can get the lids put together. The pulls are made of Wenge and attached with CA glue. If I could go back, I'd make them a little bit less tall.

First box ready for finish!

Back to Box#28. Gluing it up, again with hot hide glue. This is before I've put the top on. This design is great because the inside can be a total mess--it's getting covered with a liner anyways.

When making boxes/drawers like this, I always cut the rabbets slightly over-sized and plan to trim them flush later.

Marking out for pegs. One tiny regret--the pegs on the lid did not work out perfectly centered/proportional. If I could go back, I'd make the lid slightly deeper and focus harder on centering the peg perfectly.

Of course the pegs need to be made..pounding cherry through a dowel plate to make some 1/4" dowels.

For the last step, when I'm going from a mostly good 5/16" dowel to the final 1/4" dowel, I like to slightly taper the peg in a pencil sharpener--this ensures that it feeds into the dowel plate perfectly centered.

To the drill press to carefully drill the holes.

I pounded in the pegs, and sawed them off as soon as the hide glue set a little bit. You can see that it's still wet on the surface. Easy enough to wash off the saw--I'd rather move on. They're not going anywhere. 

Now I carefully remove the lid at the bandsaw. Here I'm just setting up the fence. For the actual cut, I wrapped blue tape around the box to encourage clean edges where the blade left the work.

Lid off. I lapped it on sandpaper on a flat surface to remove the bandsaw marks. 

In the mean time, I've been putting coats of shellac on the Walnut boxes. They're all done now! 

With the lid removed, I'm ready to cut the liner pieces. This is done via trial/error at the miter sled. The box is on the sled because I need to keep trying them out. 

Once all four pieces were cut, I pre-finished the interior surfaces.

Then glued them in. Between the tight fit and the properties of the hide glue, no clamps were required for this.

I originally intended to use shellac on this box, but changed my mind at the last minute and decided to use a satin waterborne acrylic finish instead. The idea was: I wanted to keep the aspen as white as possible, and minimize amplification of the cherry's natural tendency to "warm up" with an oil-based finish or amber shellac. Really happy with that choice. The aspen is strikingly white in the finished box.

Moving on to box #31. I'm running a little bit short on time now--most of the work on this box happened in one session from about 10pm-4am on a Saturday night. The butternut was extremely fragile. I was having a lot of trouble with tearout, hence the blue tape. In the end, raising the blade completely fixed the problem.

This time, I remembered to do most of the rabbeting before making tiny pieces on the miter sled.

The fit is tight, but doable, with the blue tape in between. I reckon it will be about perfect once everything shakes out.

Next step: sizing the bottom/top panels. The top is veneered on both sides with Elm Burl, the bottom is veneered with butternut from the same board as the box sides.

I experimented with masking off the whole panel while painting the edges this time--nominally, I did this in case the burl veneer had a proclivity for soaking up paint. I'm not sure it would have been a problem, but this definitely worked and I'd do it again.

As I mentioned before, the butternut had some powder-post damage. I mostly managed to locate this on the box's interior. I'm filling it with timber-mate white oak--which is slightly too light, but the closest match I have. It's on the inside of a box, so it really doesn't matter.

Then I pre-finished the insides.

After that, I realized that I forgot to cut dados for the dividers. I thought about doing this at the router table, but a test cut was resulting in too much of a mess with the delicate butternut so I decided to do it by hand. I fully understand why carvers love this stuff now. I cleared the dado with hand pressure in 2 passes before leveling it with a router plane in a third pass. Literally spent more time on marking/layout then actually removing the material. 

Dividers were a tight fit. It's always a challenge to size parts like this so they fit tight but without putting any pressure on the miters. They probably didn't need it, but I put some CA glue in the dado for good measure and clamped it briefly so I could use my hands for something else.

At this point, I did a major cheat. I've done this before, and never regretted it--it's the one-hour beginning-to-end shellac-and-wax finish. About 10 ultra thin coats of shellac applied a few minutes apart with a pad that's sort of set up as if you're french polishing. These coats dry almost instantly. Then 20 minutes to let it dry a little bit more thoroughly, apply some paste wax, adjust sheen with some steel wool and buff with a cloth.

Is it the nicest finish on earth? No. Should you use it for high gloss applications? Definitely not. Is it the nicest finish you can do beginning-to-end in an hour? Probably not too far off. It looks nicer than wax by itself, and it's simple enough to revise/repair later. Do I advise it? Only if you're short on time.

1 comment

Great work man! That GF high performance finish looks amazing on box 28. I love that stuff. Thanks for sharing.

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