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Build a Beautiful Recipe Box with Mitered Corners
Tools and Materials
In a previous project plan, I showed you how to build a simple tablesaw jig that allows you to cut slots for corner splines in boxes. In part two, I'll show you how to put your sled to use, as we construct a recipe box that features easy mitered corners and contrasting splines that actually reinforce the joinery and look just great.
This box is designed to come together easily, using simple-to-cut miter joints. The joints are then glued together. Trouble is, when you cut a miter into a piece of wood, you expose a type of wood grain that isn't quite end grain, and isn't quite edge or face grain. It's somewhere in between. Since edge grain (and anything like it) typically doesn't make for a strong glue joint, it's a good practice to reinforce those corner joints with splines, and by using wood of a contrasting color, those structural splines can add great beauty to your boxes.
This humble box is built to accomodate standard 3-in. x 5-in. index cards as well as alphabetical divider cards. Be sure to have a good luck at the project plan to understand how deep the well of the box needs to be. The lid is actually recessed into the box slightly, and you'll need to take that into account--you don't want to squash those alphabetical dividers! As for wood species, I used whatever scraps I had laying around my shop.
The basic box is built of a tropical hardwood called sapele, and the lid lift and splines are maple. The box's bottom is just a piece of 1/4-in. walnut veneer plywood I had laying around, but you should feel free to use whatever scraps you have available to you. My only suggestion is to go for a contrasty look. As for the lid lift, I designed mine with a "kerf cut" along it's length. I simply made a 1/4-in. deep cut using the bandsaw (you couls just use a handsaw as long as you've got a small vise to hold the workpiece in). This cut allows the user to slip a card into the slot, thus, you can easily scan the recipe while cooking.
One final note: After having completed the box, I noticed that the index cards have a habit of sliding around on the smooth box bottom. To solve that problem, I purchased some adhesive-backed felt from a craft store and cut out a piece that fit perfectly into the bottom of my box. Problem solved!
If you have any questions regarding the construction of this box - done's hesitate to shoot me an email. Happy building!
How to Make
Step 1: Mill Your Stock: I began my jointing one face and one edge at the jointer. Next, I planed my stock down to a thickness of 1/2-in. If you don't have a planer or jointer, don't worry, most hardwood lumberyards can plane your material down to final thickness for a small fee.
Step 2: Rip Your Box Side Material to Final Width: Align the jointed side of your board to the rip fence, and cut your stock to a width of 4-1/8-in. Be sure you cut enought material to accomodate four box sides, each about 7-in. in length.
Step 3: Cut Your Miter Joints: I used a tablesaw sled specifically made to cut 45-angles--meaning, the slot that the blade goes through is actually at an angle. That said, these box sides are pretty small, so you could certainly use your miter gauge, with a good sturdy wood fence screwed to it, to make these cuts. The first step is to make the initial angled cut on one end of your sides. You don't need to measure for this - simply make the cuts towards the end of each piece. In the next step, you'll measure out and cut the opposite miter.
Step 4: Cut the Opposite Miter for Each Box Side: You'll want to use a simple stop block clamped to your miter gauge's fence or your crosscut sled in order to do this operation. Start with the longer sides. Place your stop block so that you end up with two pieces which measure 5-1/4-in. from short miter end to short miter end (the interior face of the box side). The long face (from miter to miter) should measure out at 6-1/4-in. See the plan for more details. Next, reposition your stop block to cut the two shorter sides. They measure 4-3/4-in. from short miter end to short miter end, and about 5-11/16-in on the long exterior face.
Step 5: Cut a Groove for Your Box Bottom: Using your tablesaw, cut a 3/16-in. deep groove along the bottom of the inside faces of each of the four corners (photo-left). The groove should begin 1/4-in. above the bottom of each box side. Since tablesaw blades typically measure in at about 1/8-in in width, I had to make two cuts in order for the 1/4-in. plywood bottom to fit. One thing I should mention concerns which faces to use on the inside or outside of the box. When cutting your miters, be sure to cut the joinery so that any faces that have blemishes on them (photo-right) are located on the inside of your box, where they won't be seen.
Step 6: Cut Your Box Bottom: Now it's time to cut your plywood bottom. I used a crosscutting sled but this piece is so small that you could conceivably use your miter gauge to make the cut. The box bottom's dimensions come from taking the interior length and width of the box, and adding 3/16-in. to each bottom side (to fit into those grooves you cut in the previous step). My box bottom was cut to 5-1/8-in. x 5-11/16-in.
Step 7: Sand Your Components: It's a good idea to sand your box parts now, before glue-up. It's a lot easier to sand flat parts as opposed to trying to reach into the interior of an already assembled box. I used 220-grit, and then 320-grit sandpaper, and a simple sanding block.
Step 8: Size Your Miter Joints: In woodworking, "sizing" usually refers to a thin dilute coat of wood glue pre-applied to a joint and allowed to dry for about a minute before the actual layer of glue is applied. The pseudo-end grain of a miter joint absorbs a lot of glue, and sizing the joint ahead of time will allow for a stronger glue bond.
Step 9: Use Tape Instead of Clamps: Quickly, while your sizing is drying, flip all four of your box sides over so that the exterior faces are facing up, and arrange them so that if you were to fold them up into a box, you'd have all the pieces in the proper order (long side, short side, long side, short side). Next, use clear packing tape and tape each corner to it's mate. Be sure the two pieces are butted up against one another. The tape will actually function much like a clamp (and it's a heck of a lot cheaper).
Step 10: Apply Glue: Now apply glue to all eight miter cuts. Remember not to overdo it when it comes to glue application. Just a thin coat on each miter is fine.
Step 11: Glue the Box Together: To glue the assembly together, simply roll the box sides up, and don't forget to insert your box bottom into the grooves we cut earlier. Since this bottom is plywood, and not solid hardwood, it's ok to add a bit of glue to the grooves. This will give your box added stability. If the bottom were solid wood however, you'd want it to float in those grooves without any glue--solid hardwood expands and contracts depending upon how much relative humidity is in the air.
Step 12: Cut Your box Lid: Cut out a piece of hardwood for your box lid that measures about a 1/2-in. longer and wider than the exterior dimension of your box. This will give you a 1/4-in. overhang on all four sides. My lid ended up measuring in at 6-5/8-in. x 6-1/16-in.
Step 13: Cut Spline Slots in Your Mitered Corners: After the glue has thoroughly dried--at least three hours--you can break out your spline cutting jig and get to work on the spline slots. First, set the height of your tablesaw blade so that it doesn't cut all the way through your box corners (see photo-right). You can lay out the splines however you wish. In my case, I placed two splines - about 3/8-in. apart from one another - in the center of each mitered corner, and then two more on either end. Use a stop block clamped to your jig to cut each slot location on all four corners, then reposition and cut the next slot location, and so on, and so on. In the end, my box had 4 slots in each corner. Note: it's a good idea to use a rip blade, which has flat bottomed teeth. If you use a conventional multi-purpose blade, you may have to come back and sand the bottom of the spline cuts until their perfectly flat.
Step 14: Cut Your Spline Material: I ripped my spline material on the tablesaw from a piece of 3/4-in. maple I had laying around in my scrap bin. The splines should be approximately 1/8-in. in thickness and should just fit in the splines with a bit of friction. If they're too thick, you can fine-tune them using some sandpaper.
Step 15: Cut Out Your Spline Corners: I used a simple miter box and a backsaw to cut 16 splines that look much like triangles (see enlarged photo). You'll want to cut them oversize. Later on, after having glued them in, you'll go back and shave off the excess spline material with a block plane until they sit flush to the box sides.
Step 16: Glue in and Flush Your Splines: Apply just a bit of glue to each spline and glue them into place. You can use a hammer and some gentle taps to fully seat them into their respective grooves. After the glue dries, use a small block plane to plane the oversized splines flush. You can finish off the final "flushing" with some sandpaper.
Step 17: Rout Your Lid Recess: The lid of this box is recessed into the box's interior by 3/16-in. To cut this recess, I used a rabbetting bit on my router table but you could also use a small router with an edge guide and a straight-cutting bit. Just be sure to make your end grain cuts (1) first. Any tearout that occurs will then be covered up when you make the long grain passes (2) on the perpendicular sides.
Step 18: Chamfer the Bottom of Your Box Lid: I used a chamfering bit on my router table (with a bearing guide) to cut an under-bevel on all four sides of my lid. Again, this could also be done with a handheld router and and edge cutting guide, but remember--just like in Step 17--make your end grain passes first. This underbevel could also be achieved using a small block plane--it'll take longer, but will work just the same.
Step 19: A Perfect Fit: Here we see the box upside-down, with the lid attached. As you can see, the underbevel stops when it meets the box sides. A perfect fit!
Step 20: A Delicate Lid Lift: I used a maple scrap to fashion my lid lift. Using a card scraper that happened to have a nice curve on it, I traced a curve and then ripped the stock at the tablesaw, to a thickness of 1/4-in. I cut out the curve at the bandsaw and sanded the curve smooth. Next, I crosscut the handle out from the larger piece of stock. The final step was to cut a narrow saw kerf into the top edge of the handle. This slot allows the cook to place their recipe card into the slot, thus having it visible while cooking - for easy reference. I taped the small handle to a larger piece of wood and put it up on end, then used the bandsaw to carefully cut the slot, but you could also do this with a simple handsaw. While My handle was fitted to the lid with a mortise-and-tenon joint, this box is small, and you could use super-glue glue to attach it directly to the box lid.
Step 21: Apply an Oil Finish: After another quick sanding, I applied a coat of sanding sealer (available at your local hardware store) and then gave it a light sanding with 320-grit sandpaper. Next, I applied a coat of Minwax antique oil (photo-left) and allowed it to dry for a minute or so before wiping off the excess with a clean rag (photo-right). I repeated this process of oil application twice. Finally, a coat of paste wax (after the finish was allowed to cure for several days) and I was done! One recipe box, ready-to-use.