Wooden Pencil Box

I saw an article on Dan's Shop a week ago about constructing pencil boxes using only hand tools. I thought this would be a cool little project to try next time I was in the shop. While I don't have a plow plane or a rabbeting plane I do have a router bit with a 1/8" straight bit and a router table.

The night before I picked up two strips of 2" wide by 2' long 1/4" red oak at the Big Orange Retail Giant, so I was ready the next morning to get to work.  I set up the router to cut 1/8" deep grooves, 1/8" away from the edge, lengthwise along both edges of one of the 2' oak strips. Then I set up the router to cut a 1/8" by 1/8" rabbet along the both edges of the other oak strip. This was the simple part.

To make things interesting I decided that I would figure out how to cut and assemble the pieces on my own rather than going back to Dan's site, so my box isn't constructed the same way his was. At the end of the post, I'll explain what I would have done differently.

I wanted to make the box fit my carpenter's pencils, so I grabbed an unsharpened one and added about 1/2" to the length, that would be the length of the sides. I cut the sides from the grooved strip of oak. Then I cut a 1/8" by 1/8" rabbet on each end of the sides to accept the ends (from here on out, my box fits together differently than Dan's).

The bottom needs to 1/4" shorter than the sides, since it fits into the ends, so I cut it from the rebated strip and rebated the edges to fit into the ends. Then from the rebated strip of oak, I cut the top a little long, figuring I could cut it down to size later.

I put the bottom and sides together, measured the width, subtracted 1/4" again, and cut the ends from the rest of the rebated strip of oak. To make them mate with the rest of the box, I cut 1/8" by 1/8" grooves on the top and bottom of one end and the bottom of the other. Since the top would have to clear one end of the box, I cut the top of it off where the groove would have been.

Putting the box together I noticed some of the joints didn't fit together very tightly, so I attempted to tune them at the router table. It was going well until I forgot to tighten down my router fence on one of the cuts. The fence slipped and I cut a crooked rabbet into the bottom. Then when I was attempting to clean up one of the ends, the 1/8" strip defining the groove tore out.

This was my first attempt at building a pencil box and I'm glad I tried to figure it out myself, rather then trying to copy the design. I can appreciate why the one built in the article was constructed as it was. First I should have made the ends out of the same material as the sides, even going as far as cutting them in the order of side, end, side, end so the grain would wrap around the box.  Instead my box had vertical grain at the end instead of horizontal. Second using the grooved strips for the ends would have made the joinery much simpler.

The last thing that would have made construction simpler would have been to use oak strips that were exactly 1/4" thick. Since the strips were slightly thicker, the top and bottom were proud of the sides and ends.  Also, if the stock was exactly 1/4" thick, I wouldn't have had to futz with the joints as much to get them to fit.  

Tools: router table

Tags: joinery

Materials: red oak


Jeff's picture

Nice box, and you are brave to admit to your mistakes, I make them frequently. I have seen two negative comments recently about red oak. I happen to like it if boards are carefully selected for nice grain. I am currently working on a project that combines both red oak and 1/4 sawn white oak and in some cases, it is hard to tell between the two. What are your thoughts on red oak?

Benjamen Johnson's picture

Thanks Jeff.

I use red oak quite a bit because it's cheap and readily available, but to get good looking pieces at a home center you really have to sort. For example I used 3" wide oak wainscoting to finish my kitchen, but I had to go to several different stores over several different occasions to get enough. I was only able to get 5 or 6 bundles at a time out of the 30 or 40 available because there were knots, discolorations, or other defects. I'm that guy who pulls all the boards out of the stack and has them all over the aisle.

Red oak works OK and holds an edge pretty well, I like the fact that it fuzzes less than some other woods. It can look radically different depending how you sand and finish it too.

In hindsight, I wish I would have used some lesser pieces of oak for this prototype. The pieces I used were some really good finds where the end grain was 45º or better and the faces are defect free.

Scott Turner's picture

Dan may have started a whole new fad! My posting about building the same project can be seen here: http://lumberjocks.com/projects/43132

I seem to have copied you fairly exactly, down to buying the 2" strips from the Big Box Store. (Interestingly, my strips turned out to actually be 1.5" wide rather than 2", even though I put 2" in as the measurement. They must rip them from 2x stock.)

Despite your comment, I think your box goes together the same as Dan's; or at least it appears to be the same as mine, anyway.

Benjamen Johnson's picture

You're right the the stock is 1.5" wide. You'll notice in the last picture that I I left the sticker on. I had that in front of me when I wrote the post so I used 2".

Despite your comment, I think your box goes together the same as Dan's; or at least it appears to be the same as mine, anyway.

No, I used the wrong pieces for the ends. Like I mentioned the grain is in the wrong direction on the ends. You and Dan have a 1/4"x1/8" rabbet on the sides to accept the ends, I have a 1/8" x 1/8" rabbet. The joinery is much less complicated, and fewer cuts are necessary.

Your boxes came out very nice BTW.

Steve's picture

Nicely done. Are you going to put a finish on it?

Benjamen Johnson's picture

Thank you Steve.

My original plan was to leave this one unglued so I could take it apart and use it as a model for building more. Since I'm not satisfied with the way I did the joinery though, I think I'll sand it, glue it, (maybe try a little wood filler on my mistakes) and finish it with 2 to 3 coats of tung oil.

With what I've learned I'm going to try again when I get the time. I think I can do a better job.