Build a Dovetailed Box

Learn some new woodworking skills or use the ones you have to make this unique box for storing knick-knacks or keepsakes.

| June 2018


Woodworker’s Techniques Handbook by Paul Forrester, is a useful tool for any woodworking beginner. Learn about the tools you will use and basic woodworking skills needed for the trade. Try a variety of projects from beginner to advanced, and find what works best for you. This excerpt is located in the chapter, “Practical Applications.”

Dovetailed box Precision marking and cutting are more important than ever when making small objects, because our eyes are drawn to look closely at joints, the way things are put together and the detailing. This box is made with through dovetailing, which acts as both a structural and visual feature. Only a small quantity of wood is needed for small items like this, so take the opportunity to choose an exciting and exotic wood. The prototype is made of yew because, although it is difficult to work, it has a lovely appearance.


Tool list

  • Sash clamps
  • Pencil; steel rule; marking knife; try square; marking gauge; mortise gauge
  • Panel saw; dovetail saw; coping saw
  • Jack or smoothing plane; block plane
  • Power router, or rebate plane or shoulder plane and hand router
  • Small bevel-edged chisels
  • Nail punch
  • Cabinet scraper; sandpaper and sanding block

Cutting list

No.                                        Sawn                                                                     Planed

2 long sides               190 x 85 x 20mm(7-1⁄2 x 3-1⁄2 x 3⁄4in)            180 x 75 x 12mm(7 x 3 x 1⁄2in)

2 short sides              140 x 85 x 20mm(5-1⁄2 x 3-1⁄2 x 3⁄4in)            130 x 75 x 12mm(5 x 3 x 1⁄2in)

1 top                          180 x 130 x 20mm(7 x 5 x 3⁄4in)                      162 x 115 x 14mm(6-1⁄2 x 4-1/2 x 5⁄8in)

1 bottom                    180 x 130 x 12mm(7 x 5 x 1⁄2in)                      162 x 115 x 10mm(6-1⁄2 x 4-1⁄2 x 3⁄8in)

Lining: Measure the insides of the finished box and cut 2 long sides and 2 short sides

Plus: Panel or veneer pins; masking tape; glue; finishing materials; hinges (optional).



Making the box

  1. Mark and cut all the components and plane them square; make the sides about 1.5mm (1/16in) over length. Cut the grooves along the top and bottom of each side piece. Mark and cut the pins on the two short sides of the box. Mark the mitres at each corner, sawing about 1.5mm (1/16in) away from the marked line so that you can fit each corner snugly, paring where necessary. Leave one mitre unsawn until you have marked the tails.
  2. miter
  3. With the long sides on the bench, the inside face uppermost, position the cut pins and mark the tails from them. Use a clamp to make sure that the pieces do not move. Mark and cut the mitres as before.
  4. cut
  5. Cut the grooves in the top and bottom pieces that will allow them to fit into the grooves in the sides. The box top has a curved face; use a plane to shape it. Also plane a bevel on the sides of the top. If you wish, chisel out the inside of the lid; this is often done with small boxes to lessen the weight of the top.
  6. cut
  7. Disassemble the four sides and check the fit of all parts. Sand and finish all inside surfaces, masking the joint surfaces of the dovetails. You can finish all grooves at this stage because the construction allows for a slight movement of the wood. Glue the joints and assemble the box, removing from the clamps when the glue has cured. Plane the outsides from their original rectangular shape; this gives the box some interest, especially in the apparent reduction in the size of the dovetails.
  8. box
  9. Gauge a line around the completed box where you want the lid to separate from the bottom.
  10. gauge
  11. Saw along the gauged line, then plane the joining surfaces, so that the top fits the bottom exactly.
  12. saw
  13. Carefully measure the inside of the box, including the lid cavity, and cut the linings to fit inside; they should fit as tight as possible without allowing them to bow. Mitre them at the corners. Sand and finish the box. Here, the lining is stained a contrasting colour. If you wish, install hinges.
  14. fill

Published By Firefly Books Ltd. 2016

Copyright © 2009 Quarto Inc.



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