It’s been over a month since my latest blog and that’s partially due to our summer schedule but also my latest Etsy commission is one that my client didn’t want to see until it was complete. Here’s a picture of the completed box, let me share the backstory and creation of this piece. I connected with a friend of mine from high school (50 years back!) on Facebook. He likes my work so asked me about creating a keepsake box for him and his wife to replace a sterling silver one they lost in a fire, along with pretty much all of their other worldly possessions. He gave me approximate size and a few things he’s like to have but then gave me artistic license to create something suitable. This has happened a few times before and in a way, it puts a bit more pressure on my design and esthetics. I knew I wanted to use hand cut dovetails since they are a benchmark of woodworking and something I incorporate in much of my work.
I looked around through the meager wood supply I had (much was given away prior to our move) and found a choice piece of Spalted Maple and also some Wenge. The size of these pieces determined the size of the box but also added some stress to the project knowing that if I made a mistake or the wood decided to crack or show some flaws there was no extra material or back up plan. The Spalted Maple yielded enough 5/8″ thick pieces for the sides and top — awesome seeing that figure appear with each slice! After running it through the planer the surface was finished off with a smooth plane. The Wenge was then cut in half and; you may notice, a slight chamfered cut was made on the outside of each piece. This created a little bit of cathedral grain on the sides of the box. That wood tends to splinter and not plane cleanly no matter how sharp the blade was or how tight the mouth of the plane was adjusted to — sanding required on this piece of wood.
Once the pieces were prepared and sized it was time to begin the joinery. As is my habit, I employ the Stanley 140 trick for the sides, that was cut with the skewed rabbet plane. Then a groove was made for the bottom with the plow plane. Planing a wood like Spalted Maple is different since the “splatedness” is really fungous so no real grain direction to be had. Luckily on these pieces a groove was formed.
Now it’s time to cut the dovetails, since I’m a “tails first” person that was the first step after figuring out how the layout should be. The challenge was knowing the areas that had a lot of that “spaltedness” weren’t the strongest the layout had to be designed with that in mind. Too much trial fitting could lead to failure of the joint which encouraged me to be as accurate as possible. Cutting the pins on the Wenge was tough, needless to say the chisels all needed to be sharpened after this project.
After preparing all of the joinery it was time for glue up — always stressful right fellow woodworkers? I believe it was Tage Frid who said a dovetail should only go together completely once and that was during final assembly. Fitting bottoms usually finds me completely assembling a project more than once but due to the fragile nature of the Spalted Maple I controlled myself on this project. My glue of choice is generally Old Brown Glue which is a liquid hide product. Due to the oily nature of the Wenge, Gorilla glue was used instead. Glue up was successful so I’ll leave the final details for my next blog.