Box 38 took a long time to make, at least compared to the first 37. From beginning to end, I spent two weeks on it. Why so long? Six little dovetailed drawers with seven little ring pulls. And let me not forget the drawer bottoms. Those ate up some time, too. I'll get to drawers later. I want to start with with the box as a whole.
What we have here is three separate boxes that are connected by some thin (1/8 in. thick) spacers. They're made from a piece of madrone, and the grain runs up the side, over the top, then back down the other side. It's a dramatic piece of madrone, as it has both sapwood and heartwood. The sapwood, which is a bit lighter in color and on the front of the cabinet, is separated from the heartwood by a dark undulating streak. It's an amazing and striking graphic. This streak is critical to the design's success. It holds the three boxes together, even though they're separated by small gaps. Of course, it also just looks amazing. There's no denying that this particular piece of madrone is spectacular. (And woe is me, because I've now used up all of my madrone. All that's left are offcuts. Perhaps there's enough for a little box.)
The madrone's phenomenal beauty actually made it difficult to make the drawers. The fronts are old growth quartersawn white pine. However, these are the second fronts the drawers have had. The first set of fronts where madrone, cut from the same board as the boxes. The dark streak ran down the center of the middle row of drawers. But it's horizontal run was so in tension with the streak on the boxes, that I cut those fronts off almost completely (I kept the dovetail joinery) and then glued on the white pine veneers that you see. They're thick for veneers, between 1/32 and 1/16 in. thick. The very tight and subdued grain of the white pine works much better with the grain on the boxes. The fronts are really just a nicely contrasting color with a hint of grain. It helps that the grain lines are reddish-brown, which connects the fronts to the earthy browns and reds of the madrone. So, instead of a strong, visual grain fighting against the grain of the boxes, theres just a lovely, warm honey-colored bank of drawer fronts. Many years ago, I made a cabinet from this same madrone, and used old growth quartersawn white pine for the interior drawer fronts. I thought it looked great then, and I still do.
Viewed from the front, the drawers create pleasing geometric pattern that's nicely accentuated by the ring pulls. I made the pulls from small metal rings, wrapping them in a thick thread that's a shade of green much darker (and closer to true green) than the milk painted spacers. The pulls hang from small brass cotter pins. These are, in essence, the same pulls that I used on box 4, but I didn't use hemp twine, because I thought the twine's color and coarseness weren't suitable for this box. The pulls aren't the only similarity between boxes 38 and 4. I used a walnut divider on box 4. This time it's cocobolo, but I set the divider back 1/16 in. and the drawers are flush with it. The divider on box 4 is flush with the front edge of the box and only drawers are inset. Also, the idea of box 38 came from wondering what box 4 would look like if I stacked two more on top of the original. Design is evolutionary, not revolutionary. And it's certainly not ex nihilo.
Back when I was making box 4, I ripped some nice walnut to create narrow strips with very straight grain. They came from the edge, rather than the face, of a board. I did the same here. I ripped several thin strips from a piece of white pine to turn the edge grain into face grain. I glued them up into a panel and planned them to fit into the drawer bottom groove. So, the bottom is just 1/8 in. thick. That's plenty thick for a little box like this, as long as you don't store your Pee Paw's coin collection in the drawers. (And, anyway, dear old Pee Paw would want you to sell that coin collection and buy a few new planes and a colossal bandsaw with the money. Hop to it.) I love the tight, straight grain of the bottoms. It's just as important to be beautiful on the inside as on the outside.
Well, I don't think I have anything else to say, so let's get random.
This is box 37, which I made at the same time I was making box 36. The have the same dimensions and were made with the same construction techniques, but they clearly are not the same box. I like each of them individually, but I think they're better off as a pair. The underlying familial connection makes their individual beauty shine even brighter. When I first got the notion of making 52 boxes in 52 weeks, I envisioned making individual boxes, but I've grown fond of building a pair of boxes around a few basic design ideas (proportions, use of color, etc.), taking each box in a different direction while letting their bones tie them together quietly. I wonder how many boxes I could do this with. I think three would work nicely. More than that and perhaps the magic is gone.
So, this box. It's cherry, with kingwood pulls. It's a great pairing. Kingwood is in the same genus (dalbergia) as cocobolo rosewood, and African blackwood, so it's no surprise that it compliments cherry so well. The pulls are mortised into the lid. I cut a matching mortise in the box for each pull. When the lid is on the box, the pulls register in the box's mortises and hold the lid in place. It's simple and clean. I like it.
Because this box is so small (1 3/4 in. tall by 2 in. wide by 4 in. long) it was critical that I pick the right piece of cherry for the sides. It needed to be riftsawn with straight, tight grain. The grain on the piece I used is proportioned perfectly for the box's size. I think that matching the grain's proportion to the box's is something that many woodworker's do not think about, which is a shame. Let's say you make this box from curly maple—and I think it would look good in curly maple—the curl would need to be very tight, so that you get a lot of little ripples across the sides. This makes the little box look like it was made from curly maple. Big, rolling curls just wouldn't have the same pop. The box might look splotchy or vaguely figured as a result—and it really look like it was made from curly maple.
The same goes for the fabric I chose. Cherry goes well with blue, so I pulled out my blue fabrics. But the visible area of the bottom and lid are quite small. A fabric with a large pattern would look odd, so I went for one that has a small flower (in blue) all over it. It gives the sense that the fabric was made for a box just this size. A big pattern would suggest that I used a fabric meant for something big, like a quilt, and crammed it into this little box. Perhaps I'm odd for thinking about the fabric I use in this way, but I really do believe it's important that all the details of a box be appropriately proportioned to harmonize with the box's proportions (this, I believe, is also true of all furniture—no matter the size). And my attention to this particular detail is only an example of the level of attention one must pay to the details when designing. Everything must be considered.
OK, let's get random.
This box came out of nowhere. As I was finishing box 35, I was a bit frustrated because the quality of workmanship is a bit lower than I'd like. There are a few gaps in the bird's beak joints. So, I decided to make a box and make it as perfectly as I could. For some reason the first thing that popped into my head at this point was a very small ebony box. I thought that if I could come up with a good design and execute it perfectly, then ebony would make the box seem like a little jewel. I don't know if I accomplished my goal, but I really like this box.
For the most part it's a pretty normal box. It's 2 in. wide and 4 in. long. The sides are 1 3/4 in. tall. The top and bottom have shopsawn ebony veneer on the outside faces, and fabric on the inside faces. There's some shopmade poplar plywood between the ebony and fabric. The top and bottom are glued into rabbets cut into the sides. I glued up the sides, glued in the top and bottom, then cut the lid free. And here's where to box takes an unexpected turn. A common approach to keeping this style of lid on it's box is to use an insert on the inside of the box. I used this technique on boxes 12, 28, 29, and 30. When I was designing this box, I decided not to use an insert. Instead, I though that I might inlay some thin circles into the front and back of the box. The inlay would be glued into the lid, but not the box, so you could pull the top off, but when the top was on, the inlaid circle would lock into the half-circle mortise in the box bottom and keep the lid in place. I considered several other shapes, too. But, honestly, all of that seemed like a colossal pain to make. So, I thought some more about it.
Here's what I came up with, and it wasn't hard to do. After cutting the lid free and cleaning up the sawn edges of the lid and box, I routed a small rabbet into the lid and box. I then made some strips of maple that were just wider than the "groove" created when I put the lid on the box. I also left the maple a bit thicker than the groove was deep, so that it was just a few hairs proud of the ebony. My plan was to paint the maple, then glue it into the rabbet in the lid. That's what I did. The green strips are mitered at the corner. The strips automatically fit into the rabbet it the bottom and hold the lid on the box.
There's not much else to say about this box, but I do want to explain why I painted the strips that hold the lid on the bottom. I thought about using solid wood, and quickly ran through the species I have on hand, like cherry, walnut, apple, mahogany, madrone, white oak, maple, holly (It's really not very good holly. I should not have bought it.), etc. None of them were the right color. And then there's the issue of grain. Ebony's grain is so difficult to see, that even a wood with very little grain, like madrone or apple, looks odd against it. I also thought about using curly maple, which can look great with ebony, but the strips are so small that I feared the maple would no longer look curly. Also, ebony is so lacking in variation of color, that other woods look odd juxtaposed against it when ebony is the primary wood. So, I decided to go with milk paint. It shouldn't be a surprise that I think it looks great.
One last point about the strips. I left them proud of the ebony for a few different reasons. First, I wanted there to be a tactile indication of how the lid comes off. When you put your fingers on the lid, you feel the strips slightly and can grasp them to help pull off the lid. Second, it would be damn near impossible to get them truly flush with the ebony. Normally, you'd glue them in place and then plane them flush, but I couldn't do that because it would remove the paint. Of course, you could remove material from the inside face until the outside was flush, but because a bit of the inside face is exposed and painted, I couldn't do that, either. A third option would be to plane the strips flush to the ebony before I painted them, but then they would no longer be flush after I painted them and you would feel that. So, I intentionally made them proud, and they're proud enough that it's clearly intentional. Good design is always intentional.
Alrighty, then, here's some random thoughts.
I love furniture design, and smart techniques. This blog is about both.