Boxes are Beautiful with Tails Up Front

Interesting box making

DSC_0003There was a time when almost all boxes were made to contain goods and were made by craftsmen for sale. From sea faring ship’s carpenters tool boxes to tea chests, they were at one time made with dovetails to last the tests of time, awkward handling and stacking and long distance travel by carriage, train and ship. For the main part such boxes have been replaced with cardboard and shrink wrapped pallets. With almost zero handling by hand, these packages are containerised and shipped contained or flown by planes. DSC_0412Most of the boxes made today are in general not for sale but personal use. Few people will pay the price it takes to pay even craftsman’s wages (usually below minimal wage) to make a box that has no functionality, but the challenge of making a seemingly complex joint remains an important aspect of our lives as crafting artisans. The machine router may (or may not) cut perfectly aligned angles in corresponding pieces of wood, but, no matter how they slice it, using a router to cut dovetails means that you didn’t cut them.

It’s been a busy week since I came to Britain. I finished off a table and started working on the tool chest for our next masterclasses series. One of my friends, Bill, has a large antique sale area at the Llandegai car boot sale and it’s filled with 100’s of different furniture pieces, mostly Victorian pine cabinets and chests. DSC_0002DSC_0005Old chests sell well for home furnishing, mostly as blanket chests instead of tool chests and Bill reworks them as necessary to make them suitable for that end. Some are too small for most things and I thought it was funny that he pointed out a split dovetail for the lift-up lid access as that is where I am at on the woodworkingmasterclasses project as of today.DSC_0027 - Version 2

DSC_0630DSC_0636I must make two and sometimes three projects for the filming and presenting. It’s important to make sure the steps work reasonably well during filming and we also need to ensure the quality is going to be effective. Most of the projects we make I have done many times before, but I must think through the phases to make sure they work for those who will be building them  for the first time. Looking at some of the chests there, I noticed a munitions chest draped with bullets. DSC_0011The most common of all joints since the First World War is of course the box joint that was developed to mass-make ammunition boxes similar to but not exactly the same as this one. This one is unusual in that it has hand cut dovetails. DSC_0012DSC_0014Ultimately most of them were made with a smaller saw kerf cutting dead equal and opposite interlocking parts to the corner. These were then wired together with the addition of baling wire and staples. The demise of dovetails and the introduction of the box joint to replace them was mostly attributed directly to this mass-making method from a period in history that progressed the different world wars. DSC_0030Every six months or so, one magazine or another will show one method or another for making this joint on the table saw. There is usually some difference but mostly there are slight variations on the same theme. Boring? Yes, really, but it is fairly practical for making storage boxes if you can’t make a dovetailed corner. The reason they were wired and stapled is that the parts are so tight, when you add glue the fibres swell and you can’t guarantee getting them fully seated together successfully. Remember these things were being cranked out by the thousands and into the millions. The wire and staples worked fine and held boxes together well beyond the war years. Munitions box just need to be strong, not pretty.