Decorative Box: My First Attempt at Box Joints

It's funny, the day that I'm going to post about the decorative box I just made, Tom Iovino over at Tom's Workbench wrote a post about why you should make a decorative box. OK, so there are tons of woodworking blogs and other sites on the net and many of them make projects like decorative boxes, so it really isn't that surprising.

I decided to make the box about a week ago. Buoyed by my success at the pencil box, I wanted to experiment with some more joinery. This time I chose box joints. I didn't start out with any plans or even a rough sketch, my only requirement was that I the depth of the box couldn't be any wider that the 1/4" and 1/2" maple I had on hand. I just chose a length that looked proportional.

To make the box joints, I used a miter gauge on my router table with a 1/4" straight bit set slightly over 1/4" high (better the fingers are slightly to long then to short). The first thing I did was set the miter fence about an inch past the bit. Then I ran the fence though the bit to create a slot that I could stick a 1/4" square stick in to serve as my guide. To set the stop, I placed a 1/4" setup bar between the guide stick and the side of the box. This gave me the perfect spacing.

Using the 1/4" thick sides I had already cut to length, I started with one of the sides against the stop and cut the first finger slot. Then I moved the side over so the first finger slot mated with the guide stick and made another cut. That cut then slips over the guide and you make another cut. For this box I only had to make three cuts, but if you had more you'd just repeat the process until you reached the end.

I flipped the side over and repeated the process making sure the finger would match the ones I just cut. When that piece was done I did all the other sides. If you sides are even multiples of 1/4" it shouldn't matter which edge of the side you start on, but I had matched my sides before I started so I was careful to start on the right side.

I made the bottom out of 1/4" maple. I used the same 1/8" groove and rabbet that I used on the pencil box. Once I had the bottom finished, I glued the box together -- gluing only the finger joints.  Once the glue dried I sanded the box with 100 grit to shave down the fingers so they were flush to the box. After sanding I decided to try to fill a void on the bottom and some gaps between a few fingers. I mixed up some of the maple saw dust with some glue and water to the consistency of peanut butter and filled the gaps. Once that dried I resanded the joints.

I cut the top out of a piece of 1/2" maple slightly larger than the box.  I used a 1/4" bit to route an 1/8" deep rabbet around the edge to fit into the top of the box. I first made a rough pass, then made several passes in very small increments, checking to see if the top finally slipped into the box, because I wanted the fit to be tight. Once it fit, I used a flush trimming bit to trim the top to fit the box perfectly. Finally I relieved the top with a 1/4" round-over bit.

To finish the box I sanded it thought 100, 150, and 220 grits. I applied three coats of tung oil, sanding with 0000 steel wool after each.

Next time I make box joints I plan to make a sled, because the miter gauge fence wasn't riding flat on the table all the time. This resulted in slightly different finger depths depending on how I held the miter gauge. I think the bar it is still slightly bent from the time it kissed the table saw blade. For most projects it doesn't matter, but you can really notice the smallest  errors in a project this small.

Tools: router

Tags: box joint

Materials: maple, tung oil


Jeff's picture

Very nice. I have never cut a finger joint - yours looks very good and alos I have never made my own filler, so your good results have me thinking about trying this myself. Nice work!

Steve's picture

That's a great looking box. I always thought that joint was called a finger joint?