Making a Basic Jewelry Box

P. Michael Henderson

Boxes are a good woodworking project.  They are good learning projects, requiring design, accuracy, and joinery - and they don't take a lot of wood. In fact, you can often use offcuts from other projects.

And they make good gifts for family members.

There are many, many ways to make a box, limited only by your imagination.  For this tutorial, I had to choose one style, and since it's a beginner's box, I chose a fairly simple design.  But, as you will see, even a simple box has a lot of steps.

To put the box together, you can use a variety of joinery techniques, with dovetails being a popular choice.  However, I cannot include dovetails in this tutorial because it would become a very long tutorial.  I'm going to use a fairly simple glued miter joint.  I have tutorials on dovetails so if you want to do dovetails, please see one of those tutorials.

Miter joints have the advantage of simplicity and are "clean".  That is, the wood flows around the corner, and if you cut the wood properly, the grain flows around the corners.

But let's get into making a box.  I chose some scrap figured walnut that I had around the shop.  One piece was 3/4" thick, nearly 8" wide and about 24" long.  I cut that piece in half to give me two pieces about 3 3/4" wide.  This is a bit narrower than I'd prefer.  I like to use 4" sides - just looks better and gives more storage space.

I had another piece of figured walnut, 3/4" thick, about 3" wide and about 24" long.  I resawed that piece to get two pieces about 1/4" thick, about 3" wide and 24" long.  I glued those two pieces together to use for the top of the box.  I would prefer that the top be thicker but that's what I had as scrap wood so I'm going to work with it.

I'm doing this box for this tutorial.  If I wanted to make a "show piece" I'd choose one long piece of wood for the sides so that the grain would match on three corners.  And I'd have a thicker top.  But I'm going with scrap that I have in the shop.

Just to give you an idea of where we're going, here's the finished product from the outside.

And here's a view with the top open, showing the sliding tray inside, and the hinges.

The box and tray use mitered corners, and the grain of the wood on the body of the box flows around two of the corners.  Like this:

There's a lot to do so let's get started.  Here's the wood we're starting with.

Next, let's consider the hinges.  Hinges can determine how thick to make the sides of the box.  I have three types of hinges here.  A quadrant hinge, a stop hinge and a side rail hinge.  All will only open between 95 and 105 degrees so the top is held upright when the box is opened.

Both the quadrant hinge and the side rail hinge are more difficult to set than the stop hinge.  I'm going to use the stop hinge in this tutorial.  I have a separate tutorial on setting quadrant hinges.

And just as a side note, good hinges are expensive.  There are less expensive quadrant hinges than the Brusso and if you want to tackle quadrant hinges and want a less expensive hinge, search for quadrant hinges and take your pick.

The thickness of the sides of the box are somewhat determined by the hinges.  Let me look at the important measures of the hinges.

For the quadrant hinges, the hinge wing is a 5/16" wide.  But when installing quadrant hinges, you have to drill out space for the stop.  For safety, you don't want the sides to be too thin or you might break through when drilling.  3/8" is probably the minimum and 1/2" is probably safer.


The side rail hinge is similar to the quadrant hinge but the installation is all in the sides.  This side rail hinge is 5/16" wide.  The side rail hinge has a stop arm, just like the quadrant hinge, and you have to drill out for that.  Again, 3/8" is probably the minimum, with 1/2" being preferred.

The stop hinge mounts on the back of the box, and the important dimension for this Brusso is about 7/16".  So the minimum thickness of the sides is 7/16".

I milled the wood for the sides to a bit more than 1/2".  You don't want really thick wood - it reduces the amount of space inside and it doesn't look good.  Too thick wood is out of proportion to the box, which is relatively small.

Since I'm using two boards, I'll have two "breaks" in the grain around the box.  But the break isn't too bad as you can see in the next picture.  I've laid out the four sides on the wood.  I number the places where the corners will be so I don't get confused when it comes time to do the glue up.  The front and back will be about 12 1/2" and the sides will be about 8 1/2".  You can make smaller or larger boxes.  This size is somewhat large.  Think about what the box will contain and build to suit.

I prepare the miter saw for the cuts by using a backer board at the bottom and back.  This is to minimize tearout.

I mark off 12 1/2" on one board and use a combination square to draw the cut line.

Then I cut it.  Note that I've made two cuts, both at 45 degrees, so that the same side stays to the outside, and the grain flows.

Then I cut the 8 1/2" side on that board.  Note:  Keep the offcuts - you'll need them later for setup.

The important thing is not that the sides are some exact dimension - so if the sides are 8 1/4" instead of 8 1/2" it makes little difference.  But it is critical that the opposite sides be EXACTLY the same length.  Here, I show using the 8 1/2" side that I just cut to mark off the 8 1/2" side on the other board.

After you cut the second side, stand the two pieces up next to each other to check that they're the same length.

And a close-up of that.

Continue until you have all four sides cut accurately.  I show the four sides laid out below.

And a close-up of that corner which is made up of the two boards.  It's not too bad of a match,

And here's a close-up of the other non-matching corner.  Not great but not too bad.

Next, we're going to work on putting in the bottom.  I'm going to use 1/4" MDF.  This will eventually be covered by felt so the appearance is not important.  If you want to, you can machine a thin panel of the same wood as the sides, but the bottom will be covered by felt so it will not be seen.

I'm going to cut the grooves for the bottom on my table saw.  Set the blade about 1/4" from the bottom of the sides, and raise it for a cut of about 1/4" deep.  Use some scrap wood and make a cut.  It's better to go too shallow and them raise the blade to reach 1/4".  You can use the same cut to check the depth if you're too shallow but you'll have to make a new cut if you're too deep.

Check the depth.  I'm about at 1/4".  This depth does not have to be exact.

Here's each piece with the first cuts made.

For 1/4" MDF, two cuts will usually make the groove big enough for the bottom.  Use your scrap wood and your previous test cut to sneak up on the correct size, checking against the MDF,

Then make the second cut on all the sides.  Now, we need to trim the MDF to the proper size.  Put the MDF in one side, here I'm using the long side, and slide it almost up to the beginning of the groove.

Without moving the MDF, mark the other side.

This mark will be a bit wide because of the pencil width so take that into consideration when cutting the bottom.  Keep doing trial fits until the MDF is just short of the beginning of the groove on both sides.  If you make the MDF too long, you won't be able to put the box together.

Do a trial fit up to see how everything goes together.

[Side note:  If you want more support on the miters, you can put in an "ff" biscuit on each corner.  I won't describe how to do that here, but if you look at my tray tutorial, I explain how to cut the slots for the biscuits there.  If you do use biscuits, make SURE that the biscuits are put in low enough that you won't cut through them when making the top.  It's embarrassing to have a biscuit showing when you open the box.]

Then take the box apart.  When making a box, you glue the top on, then cut the box to make a recessed top.  I'm going to allocate 5/8" for that recessed top since the wood for the top is only a bit over 1/4".  You can't make this too small or the screws for the hinges will come out the top.

Next, I'm going to allocate 1/8" for the cut of the box.  That leaves me 2 1/2" for the main part of the box.

I'm going to put a tray in this box so I'm going to divide that 2 1/2" approximately in two.  The tray support will be about 1/4"


The tutorial continues here.