Creating a Bandsaw Box
This style of box, with its curves and multiple drawers, can seem a bit intimidating at first glance. Once you realize how simple this style of box is to make, you’re likely to start creating your own designs. And once you start, these little pieces are very addictive.
Start by Selecting Material
One of the joys of box-making, and indeed woodworking in general, is the diversity of wood selection to choose from. You can choose a single species of wood or multiple species. You can use woods that complement each other or contrast starkly. For my bandsaw box, I chose a board of curly maple and later decided on cherry and cocobolo for the base and pulls. Here are some basic guidelines to help you with selecting the wood for your bandsaw box:
Decide on the size of your box. I’ve seen bandsaw boxes come in a wide variety of sizes, from small, single drawer boxes, to large complex, multi-level pieces. The most important aspect to keep in mind is the depth. You probably don’t want drawers that are too deep.
Decide on a design. If you already have a design in mind, it may help to select the material that complements the design. Small pieces of highly figured woods are great to use for more simple designs. But a more subtle-looking wood may be appropriate for highly detailed designs.
Ensure your wood is dry. Like any project, once you start cutting the wood, you may experience some movement. Try to limit the amount that any movement will affect the project by choosing wood that is dry and well acclimatized to your area.
It doesn’t have to come from one large block. If you have access to a large enough single block of wood, they can certainly be desirable for this type of box. You will avoid glue joints, and grain interruptions. But ensure that you pay special attention to the above point on movement.
Map Out The Design
Draw the drawers and overall shape out on paper. It will probably take a few tries to get something that looks pleasing to the eye, so be patient.
Remove the Back
Before you cut out the drawers, resaw the back off the body.
Cut out the Drawers
With your drawing pasted on your body, start to make the bandsaw cuts that will define the drawers. After this stage, you will get a pretty good idea of how the overall design looks.
Square Things Up
When you’re dealing with drawers that are not 90°, you will have to use a square to draw layout lines onto the drawer bodies. These lines will guide you in creating the drawer cavity.
In order to remove the material inside the drawer, resaw the fronts and backs off.
Hollow out the Drawers
After removing the waste, carefully glue the drawer fronts and backs onto the drawer body. If you’re after a natural wood look, sand the parts before assembling them.
Define the Overall Shape
Cut the outside of the box to shape on the bandsaw.
Add Some Pulls
There are lots of options for creating small drawer pulls. Sparreboom machines small dowels, which he glues to the drawer fronts, but you can add pulls however you like.
A Final Flocking
Adding flock to the drawer interiors brings a classy touch to your box.
Prepare your Material
The preparation for a bandsaw box is really no different than any other woodworking project; you most likely want to start with wood that is straight, square and the proper size. For this box, I started with a single board of curly maple that was 41″ long by 5 ¼” wide and 1″ thick. I jointed and planed the material square before cutting it into equal 10″ lengths for glue-up. Ensure that any snipe from the planer is cut away; you want nice flat faces to glue to each other. If you’re using a single block of wood for your box, you really only need to ensure that you have the face and back parallel to each other, and the bottom of the box square to those faces. This makes it easier to register the block on the table of your bandsaw once you start to cut.
Once the material is dressed, you can go ahead and cut the board to the lengths required and glue them up. When you glue up the block, pay attention to grain orientation to get the nicest look in the final block. I make the glued-up block a little bigger than necessary and I don’t worry too much about perfect alignment during the clamping process. It can be squared again after glue-up.
Now the Fun Begins
Draw out your final box design, to the actual size, on paper. Once I have the design set, I then glue that design to the front of the block of wood. I use a spray adhesive for this task. This template will serve as your cutting pattern.
When you are drawing out the design, pay close attention to where you will start and end the cuts for your drawers, and ensure the curves or angles you choose can be done with the machine and blades you have. For my box, I chose to make the entry points of my drawer cuts a feature, rather than try to hide them later. With the drawers cut in the shape of leaves, the entry cuts are positioned to mimic the stems of the leaves. With a different design, you may choose to hide the cut lines by gluing and clamping them shut after the drawers are removed. There is nothing wrong with this method either and it can work quite well. If you’re going to do that, I suggest starting the cuts along the grain of the wood, instead of across the grain; the glue line will be less noticeable. Another consideration when drawing out your drawers is that some designs, like mine, will require you to stop the cut and back the blade all the way out, before starting the cut for the other half of the drawer. Make sure you are comfortable with this process; otherwise, stick with a single flowing line to encompass the drawer so it can be cut without interruption.
Once your design has been mapped out and your template glued on to the front of your block, you are ready to start cutting. Don’t make a common mistake and get ahead of yourself here; it’s not time to cut the drawers out yet! Well, not unless you want the drawers to fall out the back of the box. The first cut will be to rip off the back of the box. Set your saw up with an appropriate blade (I used a ⅜” 6tpi blade), to cut approximately ¼” off the back of your block. Make this cut like a normal resaw either with a fence, or by marking and making a freehand cut. Save this ¼” slice, as you will need to glue it back on later. Depending on how smooth of a cut you get with your saw, you may not need to do anything to the surfaces you’ll be gluing back together, or, you may need to sand or plane the faces flat again. Once the back is removed, you are ready to cut out your drawers.
To cut the drawers out, choose a blade that suits the tightest curves you have laid out in the design. The tighter the curves you have to cut, the narrower the blade you want on your bandsaw. Ensure that you tension the blade properly, because you don’t want it cupping in the middle of your cut or you will be left with drawers that won’t fit back in their cavities.
Following your template, with your block on its back on the bandsaw table, begin your first cut for the drawer. Make each cut sequentially until all the drawer blocks are cut out of the main body of the box.
With the drawer blocks cut out, you should take this opportunity to sand the inside of the drawer cavities, before gluing the back onto the box. You may find a spindle sander works for a portion of this task, but for any tight corners, hand sanding will be your only real approach. I don’t strive for a glass-smooth surface on the inside of the drawer cavities for two reasons. Firstly, they’re hidden, and more importantly, the more material you remove by sanding, the more of a gap you will have around your drawers when they go back in. Once the sanding is done, you may want to glue the saw kerfs back together, if appropriate. If you’re skipping this step, like I did, then it’s time to glue the back on. Apply glue to the box body only, and clamp the back on in exactly the same orientation that it came off.
Making the Drawers Useable
The next step is to hollow out the drawers for use. I’ve seen different methods used for this, including forstner bits and plunge routing. But those methods can give you results that are sloppy and inaccurate. Instead, I use the bandsaw. Set your fence approximately ¼” away from your blade then rip the front and back off of each drawer block. This is necessary so that you can hollow out the center portion of the drawer, and then glue the front and back back on again. With the fronts and backs cut off, stop and take a few minutes to line up how you want to cut your drawer cavities. Typically, you want the bottom of the drawer to be parallel with the bottom of your box, and the drawer sides to be at 90°. If your drawers are curvy and intentionally askew, like mine are, then here is a simple method to line up your next cuts.
Take the box body and lay it on its back, then drop the drawer fronts and backs that you just cut off, into their appropriate drawer cavities. Place the drawer centers on top of those in the box. You want to mark the parts you’re going to be cutting, so the drawer centers have to be on top where you can mark them. Now, take a carpenter’s square and draw lines parallel to your box bottom on each drawer for the bottom. Draw lines 90° to the bottom for the drawer sides. When you’re marking out these cuts, make sure that you will have enough material remaining at the corners so that the drawers will still be solid enough. I prefer to stay on the fat side of ⅛” or so. Now you can take these drawer centers back to the bandsaw and cut along your marked lines.
You can now either sand these drawer cavities smooth, or, like I do, leave them as they are. I leave them alone because I flock the inside of my drawers once they’re finished. I think the suede flocking gives the box a very classy look. But you may choose to leave the natural wood look on the inside of the drawers, in which case you’ll need to spend some time here sanding the insides. Either way, when you’re ready, you can glue the fronts and backs back onto the drawer bodies.
Make it Take Shape
You have now reached the part of the project that I find the most fun, cutting out the main shape of your box. With the back glued on, and the drawers set aside, take your box body back to the bandsaw. With an appropriate blade installed in your saw, begin cutting the exterior shape. With the shape of the box cut, the majority of the cutting is now done, and you have lots and lots of sanding ahead of you!
Before I got my oscillating belt/spindle sander, I did all of the sanding with a random orbit sander (ROS) or by hand. The belt/spindle sander is much more efficient than either of those methods, but you will have to use what you have. Sand all your parts progressively until you’re happy with the results. If you do choose to use a ROS, I would strongly suggest getting a foam interface pad that goes between the sanders’ plate and the sand paper. This foam pad will allow you to sand the curves of your box and drawers without damaging your sander or the work piece. Take your time with the sanding; it really pays off.
For pulls, you can purchase small brass knobs, or other similar pulls, but I like to make my own. For this box, I chose to use a contrasting wood and a very simple design for the pulls. From a scrap piece of cocobolo, I cut small (¼” diameter) plugs with a plug cutter on the drill press. I sand the plugs to shape them slightly, then to attach them; I used a ¼” forstner bit to countersink a shallow hole in the drawer front. I don’t drill all the way through the drawer front, because I don’t want the pull protruding on the inside; rather, just deep enough to have a little extra glue surface, approximately ⅛”. Then I glue the mini pulls into the countersunk hole. For tiny jobs like this, I prefer to use CA glue; it is easier to control in small amounts and holds extremely well on oily woods like cocobolo.
Make sure you don’t attach the pulls until you are completely finished sanding the drawer fronts.
Depending on your design, you may not want to use a base. For this box, I chose some slightly curly cherry to compliment the maple box. I have used maple and cherry together before on past projects, and love the way the two woods tend to show each other off. First, sketch out a design that complements your box. It will help to cut out your design on paper, and actually sit the box on top of it. This will give you a good idea of size and proportion you want to achieve for the base. Next, position the box on the base drawing and outline the bottom of the box with pencil on the top of the base material. If you are going to give the base some topography, like I did, you want to ensure that you still have a flat area to attach the box. You can use a belt sander to quickly hog away material to give your base the shape you desire. Just make sure you leave that flat area. Finish sanding the base with the random orbit sander, again, I recommend using the foam interface pad for the uneven surfaces.
With the box, drawers and base sanded as finely as you like, you can now attach the box to the base and begin your finishing. I used glue and two countersunk screws to attach the base to the box from the underside.
Finish it up
The last few steps to completing your bandsaw box are really a matter of personal choice. For me, a small project like this is a perfect opportunity to refine my wipe on finishing skills. I like using rub on oil finishes such as Tung oil, boiled linseed oil (BLO), Danish oil, and wipe on polyurethane, especially on figured woods like curly maple. I sometimes choose to make up my own finish, by combining oils, to make the wood really stand out. For this box, I mixed equal parts of pure Tung oil, BLO, wipe on Poly, and mineral spirits. I wipe on a coat of this finish, wait about 20 minutes and then wipe off the excess. I allow at least 24 hours dry time between coats and do about four coats total. Between coats, I give a light sanding with 400- or 600-grit paper dampened with mineral spirits, just to knock away any dust nibs.
After the four coats of finish have been applied, the wood is likely at the point where it won’t be absorbing any more finish, and it will be building a bit of a gloss. When fully dry, I buff the project quite vigorously with a soft cloth such as an old t-shirt to bring out the shine of the oil finish.
A great final touch is to add flock to the drawer interiors. Flocking is a simple process that was a bit intimidating at first, but it is really very easy and gives beautiful results. It must be done after all other finishing is complete and dry for several days. I tape off the edges
of the drawers that I don’t wantflocking on, and then I apply the paint on adhesive as per the directions on my flocking kit. Then it’s a simple matter of spraying the suede flock on with the spray tube. Ensure that you get a full thick layer of coverage on the entire adhesive area; the excess will be knocked off once the adhesive is dry and can be reused.
With the flocking done, reinstall the drawers in the box. Depending on your cuts and sanding, you may have a larger space above the drawers than below. You can adjust for this by adding something like low friction tape or thin adhesive felt from your local craft store to the bottom of the drawers. These boxes make fantastic gifts and can be used for little jewelry boxes or other keepsakes. Now that you have a sense of the process, you’re ready to create other designs. Don’t be afraid to experiment.