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Keepsake or Keepsafe Box

From my Journal

Tuesday 21st February 2017

A good day thinking through the prototype, which will be a keepsake box that you can keep just about anything you want in from letters to chisels depending on what you hold dear. I finally developed the awkward corner joint and that went well enough without making it too complex. I am making the one for the series from walnut and another from ash. That way people can see two very different woods used for the same project. At least that’s my plan so far but don’t hold me to it. Dovetails with splays are always more awkward. It does make for a greater challenge and that goes for me as well as those learning as something common suddenly gets turned around, in your mind at least, when you present to camera. This box could be used for many things but in this case I will give it to my wife who suggested it as a project for the Woodworking Masterclasses series. I have many boxes I have collected and made through the years and used them mostly for the hand tools I so love.

This box begins with 9/16” stock 4” wide by the length and depth of the box, so 6” and 12” respectively. I wanted more of a visual impact rather than just a square-edged corner and so the curved sides seemed a more unusual option. I also faced expansion and contraction issues for lid and bottom, hence I came up with a method I used when I made the cabinets for the Cabinet Room of the White House, which provides for such wood movement. My maxim is this, anything over 5” wide must provide for wood movement by way of expansion and contraction, otherwise splits are likely to occur if just glued in place.

It is interesting to think through the various considerations surrounding projects like this. Which hinges will I go for? Should a locks or catch and stays  be installed? I could use concealed hinges or recessed ones. What type of lock? The box is jointed and then cut into two. Tricky aligning the saw along two lines. How much to allow for removing saw kerf and keep dovetails to same size? Do these things matter and if so, how much? My drawings usually include notes and suggestions to myself, so I don’t forget ideas.

My drawings always change to some degree as I add new considerations. It can push me up to the deadline for filming and whereas any changes on the pages for me would be fine, that doesn’t work for those following. By the time the project is perfected, the drawings must be redrawn to match the necessary changes that make the project work.
So, yet another project emerges from a few sketches, some pencil lines and then some shavings and sawdust on my bench. Now to pick out the wood, sharpen up my tools and start on the real thing. I think you will like the twist I brought to the dovetails to make everything work. The subtleties are not at all obvious from the outside.


  1. David R on 23 February 2017 at 8:10 am

    Curved Dovetails! Now that’s intriguing.

  2. Jon place on 23 February 2017 at 5:10 pm

    I’m working on a box very similar to this in approach. I based it in a mini version of the Toolchest. I’ll be interested to see how far along I’ve come when I compare to how the Master does it.

  3. Darrel Carson on 23 February 2017 at 8:22 pm

    I think the second picture makes a point that is noteworthy. Notice how the brass saw back and the thumb of Paul’s left hand are aligned. To me, this illustrates the importance of alignment when starting a cut. Or maybe it was just camera angle, but I think not.

  4. Thomas Tieffenbacher on 28 February 2017 at 5:43 am

    Great Idea and demonstration of the P’s of woodworking. Perception (the vision) , Planning, precision, practice, and for me Patience, and of course perseverance, as Murphy is always our master.

    And you sir, have many customers! But one in particular for whom the box is to made!

    Looking forward to this!

    I’ve even set up wifi so I can reference the techniques you share.

    • Thomas Tieffenbacher on 28 February 2017 at 5:44 am

      The wifi is in the shop,

  5. Michael Ballinger on 28 February 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Careful camera angles not revealing the inside corner of the box. The outside has a straight shoulder line for the dovetails, interested to see what happens on the inside.

    • Michael Ballinger on 28 February 2017 at 1:26 pm

      Actually on second closer look maybe those shoulder lines do follow a curve? Intriguing.

  6. Roy on 3 March 2017 at 7:20 pm

    My first thought is to use a thicker board for tails then make standard 90 degree dovetail. Then plane it into a curved shape. Looking closely on the top edge of the tails board it looks like he drew a line guide his planing.

    It would be a similar process to how he makes a bull nose, rounded edge, or raised panel with his plane.

  7. Chris on 12 March 2017 at 3:18 am

    I am new to woodworking. I am looking for a book that I can get on the topic of boxes. I don’t want to use any power tools in my shop. Any suggestions would be great.

  8. Steve Newman on 22 March 2017 at 5:39 am

    Almost done with a version of the, using full blind Box/finger Joints. Milled two 1/4″ beads all the way around the box, and split the lid off, by sawing between the two beads

  9. Rob on 25 June 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Hi Paul
    I’m making a simpler dovetail box (like your mahogany and poplar one). For my first attempt at dovetails I’m happy with the result. I’ve just made the carcass. The box wobbles when resting on a flat (MDF) surface, just a little, top and bottom. My question is, how do I level it off before attaching the base and lid? Would winding stick and fine adjustment planning work? Or is their a better way?

    • Paul Sellers on 25 June 2017 at 1:48 pm

      Planing is indeed the way to go.

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