some box questions addressed

Bookended hawks today. Here’s #1
red tailed hawk AM


 I have had a lot of questions lately about wood selection for the carved boxes. Let’s tackle the whole issue here, rather than trying to answer individual queries.  First off, 17th-century English boxes are mostly made of sawn oak throughout, most often from what I have seen flatsawn stock. Carcass, lid & bottom. Usually the construction is nailed together. I can’t recall if I have ever seen English ones that are glued & pegged versus nailed. Here’s one I have used here before, but a real beauty. All oak, Devon, England, c. 1660-1690.


New England ones most often have their carcass made of riven quartered oak, either white or red. Bottoms are often watersawn pine; some white pine, some yellow. The latter mostly Connecticut. Tops are sometimes also pine, sometimes glued-up riven oak boards. Here’s a detail of a Thomas Dennis box, Ipswich, Massachusetts, c. 1660-1690. Oak box with white pine lid & bottom:


 For my carved boxes, that leaves a lot of options. Depending on what stock is at hand, I will most often use an oak carcass with white pine top & bottom, like this one:


 The next most common variant in my shop is to substitute riven glued-up oak for the lid, like this next one. This is the best scenario, some extra work compared to making the lid from pine. Plus you need plenty of good oak on hand. but it’s worth it:

 I dislike flatsawn oak lids, they need to be done in real dry stock to have a chance at not cupping in use. I have even had some white pine lids distort, one of them just recently – I took a box to the Northeast Woodworkers Association in Saratoga Springs, NY and hotel woodworking did it in. The box is two years old, and has been in my house all that time with a flat lid. The hotel was so dry that the lid deflected overnight.

For any who might have missed it before, or for the new folks these days, here is a PDF of an article I wrote about how I make a box. I hope to expand on this article this year, we’ll see.

 Now, by request an off-woodworking topic. Everyone in our house enjoys Daniel Phelps’ website  – but half of our house’s population is five years old. Today my son Daniel & I took some shots as an homage to the other Daniel



And here’s the back-end hawk, just at the end of the daylight.

Hmm.  many glitches tonight trying to get this to work. My apologies if things are weird.


5 thoughts on “some box questions addressed

  1. Sorry for the shorthand. 17th-century New England sawmills were run with water power, thus “watersawn” boards…you can see one operating sometimes at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.

    “hotel woodworking” is just that, demonstrations that take place at conferences, sympoisia etc in hotels and conference centers. It’s like real woodworking, except the lighting is worse, the floor is wall-to-wall carpeting and as in the most recent case in my experience, it was as dry as a bone.

  2. Newbie here, with a summer project in mind:

    I recently acquired a mandolin for cheap, and I would like to build a case for it.

    The case itself would be simple enough, but if I wanted to carve a design like a large coat of arms into one of the large faces, what species would be best to do it into? No easy-to-carve material seems very durable. The box would not need to be made of the material, I could simply glue and frame a panel of the stuff to a stronger base.

  3. Thanks for the link to the Daniel Phelps web site. Legos were my first experience with building (in my 70s plaid pants), and my son loves them too. He was inspired by Daniel’s creative photos and captions on the website.

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