Fair Woodworking

February 20, 2012

A simple box with only hand tools. Part 1

EDITORS NOTE *** This post is experiencing 3rd party photo hosting “issues”, that will be addressed as time allows. ***


Last winter I gave myself a challenge. Build a simple box, but do it without using any power tools of any kind (I’d never done that before). As I prepared to start, I gave myself a second challenge. Photograph, and document the journey both in the good times and in the bad.

I originally posted this on a forum, but it is safe to say that this was a little experiment that got me on to the road to blogging. This all happened a year ago, but I left it written in the present tense. Click HERE to read the whole story.

What I’m going to build is a simple box with a sliding lid. I needed it to hold Purchase Order (P.O.) books in my work truck (I couldn’t find anything that would work at Staples). It does not need to be pretty, and really there is no need for the quality of joinery that I’m planning but if the boss is paying for the material ($9.00) I see it as free practice wood.

First thing I needed was a set of working drawings. This is critical! You got to plan the work and work the plan.

Errrr…. Ya….. But hey! It’s just a simple box, not the Taj Mahal.


So what does 9 bucks get me? Not much. This is a 6 foot long 12 inch wide ¾ inch thick laminated Brazilian Pine board from Home Depot. I’ve laid out some cut lines on it with a little extra meat on each piece. I’ll want to rough cut all the pieces on the heavy side for now, and then mill them down to size later.


Here we see in practice why I like to lay things out. As you can see, originally the cut lines (there are two but I’ll cover that later) intersected a knot. In the picture above you will see a small set of drawers directly above the wooden mallet. I learned the hard way on that project that dovetails and knots do not work well together.

Also knots on the end of boards can cause problems like cracking and stuff, but again we will cover that later. Knots are not such a problem if they are far enough from the edges. My solution was simply to rearrange the order of the pieces so that the cut lines missed the knots. Now above that freshly avoided knot you will see a couple of arrows pointing to a pencil line. If I cut to that line I’ll have an 8 inch wide board. Yes I’m giving myself an extra inch over the 7 inches the plans require. I don’t think I’ll need that much but just in case this Brazilian Pine explodes under my scrub plane, I’ll play it safe.

Now that I’m happy with my layout it’s time to start cutting.

First I’ll start by cutting off the end. The ends are often a mess anyways, but this one also has another nasty knot.

This end also got a little wet when I was bringing it home. Crack, crack, crack said the wood.

I guess now is also a good time to explain why I marked two lines. For one, neither side is the waste side. This way I can’t screw it up. This is also a rough cut, so there is no need to be pretty. With this cut I’ll be going for speed so as long as I stay between the lines, I can clean it up later.

Once I’ve cut off the two largest pieces for the bottom and the lid, it’s time to do a rip cut. I’ve used my panel gauge with an old fashion pencil (mechanical pencils don’t fit) to mark the line, but you could also just measure it out and use a straight edge or a ruler.



When ripping a longer piece, you may find it difficult to support the far end of the cut as you are sawing.








I discovered that I could use the jaw of my vice as a third hand. It worked great!






With all my pieces cut to rough dimension, I’m done for the day. I’ve found that stickering is critical to allow the wood to stabilize throughout the project. From here on in, any time these pieces are not being worked they will be stacked in this way, even nay especially, once they are worked to final dimension. Now if at any time the humidity changes in my shop, each piece can re-acclimatize evenly.

Before I get to dimensioning, I need to start with getting one face flat. As you can see here, with the plane holding one side down how much the front side is in the air. This simply just won’t do.

For the most part I use 2 planes for dimensioning. My imitation #4 modified into a scrub plane, and my Veritas LAJ (Low Angle Jack). You can see here how I have set the difference of width and thickness of the shavings from the two planes.

As shown above, I have a fairly heavy camber on the scrub plane. Its super crazy aggressive, and must be used with extreme caution lest we remove too much material.

Note the distinctive grooves it leaves along with some nasty tear out where the grain changes direction. Depending on the situation, you may find this tool too rough for some jobs, but not this one. Besides all but the worst of the tear out will be removed by the time I’m done.

In order to find the high points I’ll lay the side I want to flatten on the bench, and tap the corners with my finger. If the board rocks back and forth I can determine where the high points are. I didn’t take a picture of it, but I like to mark an X in the areas I DON’T want to remove material from (AKA the low points).

I do find it easier to flatten work when it has a scalloped surface made by the scrub plane. Once you get close to getting it relatively flat, I’ll move to the jack plane. By rubbing the board against the bench, distinctive shiny burnished marks will show on the high points. They are then easily removed with the jack. Once I’m confident that the board is resting flat against the bench, I mark it with this silly squiggle. The squiggle has no real meaning to me other than that I seem to naturally do it the same each time. This is important to me because it’s easily recognizable even if there are other marks on the board.

For the moment, we will call this the good side.


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