For my box lid Duncan had me make a frame and panel lid. Frame and panels have a frame around a free-floating panel; it’s decorative and yet it allows for expansion and contraction to happen without tearing apart. It is often used for doors and cabinets, etc.
Duncan asked me what technique I wanted to use to join the edges and I chose mortise and tenon. He then helped me figure out the dimensions and sketch it up.
Then again I sorted and picked out a nice 2×4 to use as the frame and went through the whole squaring and straightening process using the jointer, planer, table saw, and chop saw. When it was all ready I cut the pieces to size.
Duncan, and his amazing ability with sizes and measurements, quickly figured out a good size for the tenons. Using the table saw and a scrap piece of wood we cut a practice tenon. When we knew it would work we started cutting the actual tenons on the short pieces of wood. To finish them up, I used a Japanese hand saw and made a cut straight down each end to make it the proper size then used a Japanese chisel to clean them up.
When I had the tenons cleaned up I measured and marked the mortises on my long pieces. To make the mortises I used drill press. Duncan showed my how to do this with the first mortise. He found a drill bit the same diameter as the width of the mortise. Then, to start, he made two holes, one on either side of the mortise with the outside of the drill lined up with the inside of my pencil mark. Then he made slightly overlapping holes all the way from one side to the other. The drill bit went a little lower down than the tenon will be going; he does this because it is very difficult to perfectly clean the bottom of the mortise but if it’s deeper the leftover rough stuff doesn’t get in the way. When this was done he took a wide Japanese chisel to clean up the long edges and a small, thin chisel for cleaning the ends up. He pointed out that it’s important to make sure the chisel is going straight down otherwise you end up chiseling diagonally. He showed me how to position my body so the chisel was centered on me; this makes it easier to see whether or not it’s straight. Duncan also suggested checking how the tenon fits often so as to not make it too loose and take out too much wood. Checking also allows you to find the spots that are too tight and stick. Then he left me to finish the rest. Throughout the process he would check on me and give me tips on how to make the mortise and tenon fit better together and how to make sure the outside edges of the boards lined up.
I would shave a bit off this side then check. It would stick in one spot so I’d take it out and shave a little more off there. I continued to work like this until I had all the tenons fitting as good as I could get them in the mortises. I thought they were pretty good and that I’d be ready to glue them up but when Duncan came to check them they ended up being not as good as I thought. They were all just a little loose due to me chiseling out one side a little unevenly. Oops, I guess I didn’t get that chisel straight up and down like Duncan told me too. Oh well, not so bad, it was a slight mistake which I will try correcting and doing better next time. It was also an easy fix; I just needed to glue a very thin piece of veneer on the inside of the mortise where I had taken too much out. Then I clamped it and let it dry. After it was dry I retested the mortise and tenons and had to repeat the process on two of them that were still a little loose. The reason Duncan had me do this is because the glue doesn’t act like a filler, it needs to have surface-to-surface contact for it to hold strong.
Finally they all fit nice and snug but before gluing them up it was time to make the panel piece for the lid.
Again I found a board, straightened it, and cut it to size. Then Duncan showed me how to use the table saw to make a rabbet on the edge. I did that all the way around the panel. Then, with the frame, he showed me how to make a dado groove that my newly made rabbeted panel would fit into.
We made one cut at a time checking the width of the dado joint on the width of rabbet joint. Again it shouldn’t be too loose. I would saw a little then check it on the panel to see if it fit and make sure it wasn’t too loose. I marked the side that fit together the best so I could make sure to match them up when it was time to put everything together.
Throughout the entire process of making the lid, Duncan would spout out tiny numbered fractions and try to show me on the ruler saying something like, “It’s 3/8 plus 1/32 right?” and I’d just nod. I couldn’t see all the teeny tiny lines and when I did it would take me quite a while to count them and sort it all out. Duncan could just look and know exactly what it was. I will need to sit down with a ruler and study it. So many little lines! However, they are all different sizes, which does make it a little easier to see, but I’ll still need to study a ruler.
Finally I got to hand plane all the sides and edges of of my lid pieces till they were smooth and shiny. With the hand plane I also beveled the top edge of my panel.
Now all the pieces were finished and all I had left to do was glue them together. First I did a dry run to make sure everything went together properly. Yay, they did! Duncan walked me through and helped me glue the pieces up. First we took the two long pieces with the mortises and glued one tenon into each making two L shapes. We clamped them firmly and let them dry for a while. After, we unclamped them then fit floating panel in the dado groove and glued to L pieces together. Then again we clamped all the pieces firmly and let dry.
My box was done and my lid was done. The final step before it was whole was attaching them together. Duncan dug out some brass hinges and picked out two matching ones that were a good size. I figured out where to place them on the top of my box and traced the hinges. I used a knife to score my back line to keep the grain from chipping out. Then I took tiny Japanese hand saw and cut along the outside edges about 1/16 of an inch down. After, I took a chisel and hammer and gave the chisel a firm hit or two moving over a little all the way across the length of where the hinge would go. This loosens up the wood so I could take the chisel and scrape it out neatly. When I finished, I made sure the hinges were flush. Next I did a similar process on the lid only it was a bit trickier because the hinge would be in the center of the wood instead of on the edge. It took me a bit longer to get it even and smooth so the hinge would fit level but I kept at it and finally accomplished it.
I screwed the hinges to the lid then fit it onto the box and screwed it on. I finished by putting two coats of hard oil finish on it. This would protect it and allow me to clean it more easily.
“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” All of the pieces I had worked so hard on and put so much attention on had come together beautifully and I now had a small chest. It was fulfilling to have that sense of achievement after finishing my box. I learned so much with this project and am really happy about it.
Sometime during the next week I finally brought my box home. When I came in the door my three year old son comes up to me and says, “Mommy, what a pretty box you made!” It was so sweet. Then he proceeds to bring his toys out of his room and puts them in my new box. I tell him it’s not his; it’s for all of us to share. He got really mad and insisted it was in fact his box. I promised him it would not be the last box I would make and the next one would be an even bigger box for him that could fit a lot of toys. I can’t wait to make it for him.