I enjoy building boxes for pretty much every occasion since I always seem to be surrounded with things that need a home. This time around, I was looking to do some sort of a bandsawn box with enough parts that would keep the assembly fairly unique.
I've had a massive block of red oak floating around for years after an ice storm took it down on my family's farm and thought this might be the time to take a bite off the end. Mind you, it's three full inches thick and about twelve wide so it's got some weight; by the way, the reason it didn't get turned into lumber years ago was because it was so hard it broke the sawmill. My goal is to attack it with a 1/8" bandsaw blade. (cue ominous music)
I settled on a rounded front resembling an airfoil which will allow me to stack the two blanks fairly close together on the board, then use the scrap to the side as the mounting post. Also, by showing off the side against the grain, I'll be able to highlight a fair amount of figure in the wood which normally remains hidden when flatsawing lumber.
For the finish, I decided to ebonize the entire assembly because it looks totally awesome. If you'd like to join me, read on. You should only need:
- bandsaw capable of chewing through 3+" of hard wood
- tablesaw for the lap joints
- disc or RO sanders
- plenty of clamps
Step 1: Cutting the Blank and the Boxes
Begin by drawing a notional pattern on some 1/4" plywood. As mentioned earlier, I used an 18" radius offset from the pattern to make a rounded front that resembles an airfoil. Cut out the pattern and smooth the radius at the disc sander so that you eliminate any waves. Transfer two (or as many as you'd like) copies of the pattern to the blank, keeping them close together but not touching and allowing for some space when we clean up the ends. Separate the blank from the rest of the board; mine was too large to maneuver safely onto the miter saw so I did it by hand.
At this point, I ran the blank through the planer, since the board had some pretty dicey waves from the sawmill. It cleaned up well and ended up being about 3" thick, with plenty of width even after cleaning up the sides and ends on the jointer/miter saw respectively. Trace the patterns one more time and cut the boxes on the bandsaw.
Now things get interesting. Everything we need for the box is packed up neatly inside each block and it's just a matter of slicing it apart in the right order that we can get what we want. First, set the bandsaw fence at ~1/4" and slice off the front and rear faces of the box. This will form the drawer front and the back of the case. Continue by removing the top, bottom and sides of the case (these can be a little thinner than 1/4"). After lightly sanding the inside surfaces, glue the case back together, keeping the drawer front separate.
From there, continue with the drawer by removing the bottom, the front and the rear. The waste inside can be further split to create dividers or more specialized inner boxes. Like before, glue the drawers back together and reattach the drawer front.
Step 2: The Inner Boxes
Sometimes great ideas don't always pan out. I had intended to reuse all of the inner blanks of the box to create smaller bandsawn puzzles. This would have effectively reassembled the entire block of wood, leaving only a few tiny voids at the center.
As interesting as this would have been, it did not quite work out since red oak is really hard and didn't agree with the tight turns I was attempting to make, and there would have been no good way to remove the boxes once they were loaded in the drawer. To make a long story short, they were loose in places, tight in others, couldn't be removed and kind of burned. Oh, and reduced the utility of the project. A for Effort, time to move on...
Step 3: Making the Stand
Once the boxes are built, you'll need to attach them to the stand. Using the leftover material from the boxes, create a square post and measure out the placement for each of the cases. Mine ended up being offset by about 3 inches. Cut this area away with a dado blade in the table saw or a router, being careful to remove just enough to let the case fit snug.
Once the post is ready, make a matching base from thinner material, using the same pattern to match the curved fronts of the drawers. From there, you can attach the post from the bottom with screws or your joinery technique of choice; I used a pair of screws after dropping in a Festool Domino for easier alignment.
With the base complete, glue the cases into the notches on the post, reinforcing if needed with small screws from the back of the case into the post.
Step 4: Ebonizing...
There are plenty of guides on wood finishing available, and ebonizing in particular. Really quickly, instead of using dye or pigments, ebonizing uses acetic acid to change the chemical compounds in the wood itself, causing it to turn black.
You get acetic acid from a mixture of rust (iron oxide) and vinegar. If you don't have access to some rusty hardware or garden tools, soak some steel wool in water and let it rust up for a few days. Add a half pint or so of vinegar, letting it react for another day before continuing.
With a sponge brush and gloves, apply a thin coat of the acid across the project and you'll notice in a matter of seconds the mixture will turn from nearly clear, to a dull gray, to black... Check out the video if you don't believe me. It's pretty trippy to watch. You can add additional coats every few hours until you get the color you want.
*FYI, this finishing method is very sensitive to any sort of foreign matter on the wood. Glue, filler, wax, etc. will all keep the acid at bay and leave you with very noticeable light spots.
Step 5: Final Finishing!
Once your color of choice is achieved, apply a sealer to protect the assembly. I went with a linseed oil/wax blend to enhance the grain and provide a dull shine across the project so as to not detract from the more interesting grain patterns. You can also add hardware to the front, which I again declined to add since the edges were easy enough to reach.
Another job well done. At this point you can load it up with your favorite treasures and apologize to your bandsaw for taking a few years off of its life.