Steps to Making Small Boxes

My Padauk and Teak top box

I have talked about making boxes in other posts and yet go on about them - just shows how fascinated I am with them. Someday I hope to make heirloom quality boxes. As of now, it remains a long learning process.

As in most woodworking projects, box making too has many design approaches, methods and so on. While there are no limits on design possibilities there are some basics on which permutations and combinations are based on.

The seven main steps to box making are as follows:

1. Milling the six sides of the box (four sides, top and bottom).
This is the obvious part.

2. Joining the four sides
The box sides could be joined by a variety of methods including butt joints, mitred joints, box joints and so on. I prefer dovetail joints as I had explained in my last blog post, but this is merely a personal preference.

Stack of box sides waiting for assembly

3. Adding the bottom
The bottom and the top can be fixed in a variety of ways. The most common is by simply gluing them on. Expansion and contraction are not a problem because boxes are relatively small pieces and the wood movements are small in comparison to larger pieces. However, many woodworkers, including myself, prefer to fix the tops and bottoms inside grooves which effectively makes them panels that are free to expand and contract with the seasons. With plywood one need not worry at all about wood movement but even then the aesthetics matter.

Grooves cut into the insides for the top and bottom

Fitting the plywood bottom

4. Adding the top
The top is added very much like the bottom but usually is made of wood rather than plywood. This is largely for aesthetic reasons. I prefer panelled tops.

A panel for a box top

5. Separating the lid
Often the top is a lid separate from the box which can be added on later by attaching a hinge. In other cases, the lid is integral to the box and is later sawn off.

The lid being sawn off

6. Adding Hardware
Adding hardware is a tricky business, especially the hinges. Even a slight misalignment will cause the lid to shift and stick out from the sides, ruining the look of the box. Go about this process slowly and carefully. Measure twice for certain and be absolutely sure before cutting, mortising or drilling.

Adding hinges on the outside as the material is somewhat thin

Adding conventional mortised butt hinges

7. Finishing
This is the best part and essential to make any box come alive. Different wood species take to finishes differently and often it is impossible to tell what the project's final look will be.

For instance, I found that Bengal Mahogany (see the post "The Mystery of Bengal Mahogany") takes on an astonishingly beautiful lustre once it is finished with Shellac. The Ray patterns in the wood give it a three dimensional quality.

Rubber wood tool box

Plain old Rubber wood too looks quite attractive after a few coats of Shellac. The only problem with Rubber wood boards is the variation in the individual finger-jointed pieces that make up the board. Because of this variation the hue and quality of the finish is often not consistent. This is of course not a problem with utilitarian items like the simple tool box I made with Rubber wood.

This Rubber wood tool box entailed cutting dovetails, grooves for the top and bottom and a panel for the top. In all it was good practice; even fixing the hinges turned out well and the fit of the lid was perfect.

I have three more boxes with dovetailed sides to complete but before that need to fix a few things in the house including a half rotted shutter for the kitchen sink area which leaked rather badly and spoiled the woodwork.

Otherwise the weather is wonderful out here in Greater Noida; it has been raining off and on for the past few days, it is cloudy, cool and ideal for woodworking.

Indranil Banerjie
12 July 2015


  1. I like your Padauk and Teak top box. Looking very impressive. How do you cut box joints? By hand tools or have any special tool or jig. I am also interested in making boxes, they attracts me. Weather is wonderful out here in Jodhpur too, its not raining but clouds help me to keep working all day. My friends are planning to a picnic and I am planning to woodworking....

    1. Thanks, Kishore. As for box joints, I ususally use a router but these joints are dovetails which I cut by hand. Best wishes.

  2. The Padauk and Teak top box looks amazing. Lovely hardware on the tool box!

  3. Anonymous14 July, 2015

    Thanks for the post. A great woodworking project for beginners.

  4. Hi Indranil, Am a woodworking hobby Enthusiast. Have been following your posts. Great posts. Keep going. Proud that these are picking up in our country too. I have a question, where do you get your box hinges and fittings? The small decorative handles, latches and hinges literally not to be found at least in Hyderabad and Chennai. Those found on-line like AliExpress, only ship bulk quantity and prices are too high. Where do you get them?. Thanks

    1. Thanks for your comments. Indeed hardware for boxes are difficult to come by. I have found a small hole in the wall shop in Delhi's Chawri Bazar that stocks most of these items (small hinges, clasps and so on). I suspect the Chwari Bazar reatiler gets most of his stocks from someone who imports from China. Moreover, I have imported some from aliexpress - and no they are not that expensive and you could buy in small quantities (20 or so pieces at a go). I am sure this kind of hardware is available in Chennai and Hyderabad as well but the problem is locating a re-seller. Best of luck.


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