Box 20. Free flow

A story will be told, probably here, about a local bridge of doom. This is not that story.

You see, the floor in the pantry had begun to fall in because the beams beneath it, all save the one pictured, had at least partially rotted. The floor was three layers of wide planks. Those planks cried out that they still had life, that they were not ready for the fire. Sometimes one must go with the flow (probably more often than is often understood). In the kitchen, the trash bag had been domiciling in a cardboard box. The stage was set.

Of course no nails, as has been my method of box making. I cut the the corner runners from some scrap, glued and doweled them into place. I measured not once. I swizzled and re-swizzled, dithered and dithyrambed. In no time at all, and with a very innovative hinge, Box 20 emerged.

Note the irregular placement of the dowels. Their angles are also divergent. This is so that any particular whack/injury cannot call forth a systemic failure. As much as any given dowel may wish to surrender to a given force, it’s brethren will disagree. This is strength by non-alignment. I prattle.

Thar she is, finished with the usual tung oil and limonene. Smells awesome, if you like that smell. Of note, you should be able to see, above, that the hinge is of rope.

At first I wanted to make a classic dowel hinge. This requires a little bit more planning than the flow state usually affords – also, the pride (amount they stick out) of the protrusions on the lid was insufficient to get the drill bit aligned with the line of the would be wooden hinge. Scratch, scratch, scratch… what if the hinge were … not a straight line. Unthinkable! Or not.

An additional benefit of such a hinge is that it’s relatively unbreakable. Whereas, if a person were to casually sit on said trash box, a dowel hinge might break and cause considerable consternation. Not so the go with the flow rope hinge. Simplicity, benefit, joy.

Righteously recycled, deployed.

Box 19

discovered, had been thought to be unfinished, but after perhaps 5 years of quiet rest and self-contemplation decided that indeed, it was what is was, it is what it is, and that by itself it is complete, though lidless, complete, though imperfect, and actually neater than many boxes ever might be.

This probably should have been somewhere around Box 8, if a proper timeline gave the number of the box. Maybe it’s more like a box recognition number. It shows primitive but effective finger jointing at the corner. It features red eucalyptus cut from a great block. Has the standard 3/8 cedar floor. Is holding a nice piece of tiger iron.

No special remarks. It’s a rough piece conceived with ambitions but never gussied. Dignity and utility are likely simple things.

Box 18 Live Oak Tombstone Stress and Warping

which is a lot to say, kind of.

This box is the eighteenth.  It is made of Live Oak, a wood that I have never worked with.  Like Box 6, it is a tombstone planter, which is to say that two ends of it are shaped like tombstones, and not that one plants tombstones there.  Unlike Box 6, which was of a scraggly Oklahoma white oak and held together with metal screws, this one has no metal, is held together by dowels and glue.

You see the trouble, of course.  The rectangular walls were flatly affixed to the tombstone walls.  Dirt was added.  Was the dirt causative of the warping, or the dirt in combination with the subsequent watering?  A simple theory is that the wetness on the inside caused that side to expand and thus the warping.  I was surprised at the strength of the process, though, that it broke the glue bonds on the dowels.  If I should ever perpetrate this design again I’d be inclined to put more dowels in, and at angles, to see how much power the warping has relative to a fastening method designed to prevent it.

The box is quite heavy, as live oak is just heavy, as compared to conventional oaks.  The janka hardness is 2680, nearly twice that of white oak (1360).  Supposedly America owes its successful birth partly to live oak, of which the USS Constitution was made and off which canon balls bounce.  That’s a game changer.  Assuming this planter does not tear itself apart with these powerful stresses, and that some unforeseen bug nemesis does not appear, it could be that these design mistakes will stand illustratively for a considerable time.

It was a nice wood to work with.  A lot of curves in the grain but a very nice smell, a reassuring strength and density, all bringing a sense that one must be doing something serious.

Box 17, the Cincinnati Connection

or maybe it’s the Blob connection.  We’re talking about a big box here, at least compared to the size of any previous box I’ve made.  Greater than 16 cubic feet..  Only two previous boxes (4 + 6, the tool box and the tombstone planter) vaguely pushed at a cubic foot. The idea of it kept whispering ‘Cincinnati, Cincinnati’ to me, as if something that big was meant to consume something even bigger, to grow, a force unto itself.  There was a movie.  Actually, here I was about to insert a hyperlink to a move called “The Blob that ate Cincinnati” – HOWEVER – apparently there never was such a movie. There was a movie about a cockroach that ate Cincinnati, and apparently the Blob was not as vigorous as I’d imagined, eating whole municipalities, so the connection must have to something to do with rational proteins making a memory where none existed.  I could have sworn till moments ago that I could picture said Blob (from memory) overwhelming the skyline of Cincinnati on its way to heaven knows where.  So this connection, this whispering by an idea of a (false) memory.  Subtle are the workings and non-workings in the mind.  First things first though.

Going back to early 2004 I was in Santa Barbara after a long project.  I spent a day collecting seeds, since they have such beautiful things growing there.  One was a palm seed that eventually sprouted and has thrived since.


Of course every year it gets bigger.  The last few years I’ve not re-potted and I guess the roots keep growing, they’ve pushed it up in pot till the soil is over the top of the pot.

Palm Soil

Also the pot itself is crumbling.  Long story short it needs a new pot, but there are not so many pots that would be a fit step up.  Flash now to 2010, in Hawaii, stopping somewhere near Punalu’u at a roadside coffee farm where also there were lots of macadamia trees.  Took a bunch of the nuts home, planted a few, one took and for a few years each year did better and better.  This year though it too was getting tired of it’s pot and something happened too where it dropped most of its leaves.


It too, therefore, was in the new pot market. Maybe a pot big enough for both of them?  Cincinnati, Cincinnati!  The existing pots, truncated cones, were about eighteen inches in height and also 18 inches in diameter at the top.  I wanted not to do this every year or two.  Twenty four?  For each, as cubes, 2 x 2 x 2, x2, or 2 x 4 x 2.  It’s only sixteen cubic feet.  How much could that weigh?  I looked it up…

Weights of Other Materials in Pounds Per *Cubic Foot

Earth, Common Loam    75.00-90.00
Earth, Dry/Loose            76.00
Earth, Dry/Packed         95.00
Earth, Mud/Packed        115.00

Hmm.  How much does a milk cow weigh?  About 1500 pounds, it is reported.  Light dirt would bring it in at 1200.  Packed mud at 1840.  Somewhere in the middle, about a cow’s worth.  It’s hard to believe though.  And the box itself probably adds 100 pounds.  Mud + box plus a few decorative rocks on top?  Perhaps a ton.  Sounds like a realistic plan, so.

Grooved Posts with Pegs

Notched 4 x 4’s for strength.  No screws, so nothing can be screwed up.  Dowels.  Can’t rust either.

Frame Ends

Two end frames.

Frame clamped

I was pleased with this, only having four foot long pipe clamps, that by using the middle bars I could effectively brace the whole thing for assembly.  I had a bunch of  1 x 6 fir tongue and groove boards left over from a dozen years ago, had to supplement a bit.

Clad Frame

Got a feeling of building a barn or an ark.  A mighty thing it seems, initially, but would a cow just laugh at it?  Clearly the design banks on the inertness of the soil.  A ton of earth is not a ton of live and kicking muscle.

Clad Frame Emerging

Here it is emerging from the workshop into the world.  So uncertain, these first steps.

Stops for a sanding

Stood up nicely, first on one side then the other, for a final sanding in a well ventilated area.  The lowest two slats worth of cladding and the bottom are lined with plastic sheeting, to keep water off the wood and to force it to drain out that center opening you see.  A catch pan will sit under that.  During this sanding process it started to snow – this being October 18th, mind you, and the first frost only having been the previous evening.  I had taken the sanding outside both for the open air and also to see what my assistant wanted to contribute.

Assistant sees the snow

The assistant first has gone to get some lumber, but then he saw (see the white streak in the picture) the snow flakes.  He decided instead then to contemplate them

Assistant contemplates

Tonight Box 17 sits outside on the deck waiting domestic blessing.  The palm and macadamia, had they eyes, would be able to see it just on the other side of the window.  I don’t know what they know, if a plant knows it has a mentor.

Another post on this will follow, showing either the rejected box, no doubt angry, hitching a ride for Cincinnati, or a box living a purpose driven life, holding the world together for two trees and probably a ton of smaller experimental plantings.

Until soon


Box 16 is a Turtle

I never would have predicted this – I mean, boxes are generally not turtles.  I guess there is a kind of turtle called a box turtle, but I only knew that in passing and could not tell you much about box turtles before reading the content in the hyperlink you’ve just passed.  This started because my sister recently sent me a wooden turtle that had come from my grandfather’s house.



I vaguely recall this guy from when I was a wee lad, as something in the set of forbidden things one was not to touch.  Anyway, the turtle comes to my house and I’m honored, that across fifty years finally, it has no better place to go, and now I’m good enough.  But really I’m at peace with this turtle, just being a little dramatic.  Anyway, looking at it, suddenly it seemed like a great idea to make a new one – this is what ADD is all about – there is a wild delight in chasing that next squirrel.

I noticed that quarter-sawn wood would be a very bad choice for this design, as that would taunt the legs to break off at where they join the body.  In fact, selecting a flaw-sawn piece where it was a chord near the edge, such that each of the legs could be with the grain as they came down and out from the body, that would be perfect.  I found a piece of black walnut with just such a grain.  I probably should have taken pictures of some of these intriguing intermediate steps, but I had not thought the exercise would turn out so happily, so my dry text will have to do for a bit.

Getting the face and feet more right seemed somehow important, as if in keeping with my neo-primitive preferences a little worshipful realism might be the thing.  I browsed pictures of turtle tails and turtle feet and turtles faces.  My primary model for the face, just to make sure I was honoring the truth about turtle faces, follows.



And thus memorialized –


My attempt was not to mimic the whole turtle photo, merely to use the face as a way of improving the marginally correct face on the wooden original.  This is a box, and I even stamped the inside using the railroad spike signature stamp I’d made some time back.  The cool thing was, that to make an imprint properly one needs single strong and decisive hammer blow.  I still have lying around my grandfather’s sledge hammer.  I used that.  That made a nice circle, of replicating something he had and applying the signature with the force from his hammer.  Rich and strange are these seemingly desirable associations.


Here he is open before getting the tung and orange oil treatment.



The doing of this went very fast using a jig saw, kutzall wheel via angle grinder, kutzall bits via Dremel, rasp, files, sandpaper.  Ok, that’s not neo-primitive.


There pretty much you have it.  Here he is before donning his shell.


And then two shots of them playing on the kitchen counter.

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It’s one of those things.  I noticed specifically as I was filing the turtle, shaping the neck and head and legs, a certain deja vu, like I’d done this before, perhaps many times before, that it seemed very natural.




Box 15 – Walnut Knuckles

Another finger joint box – I’ll get off this kick soon enough, but it’s been very satisfactory to be able to produce joints with comparatively few flaws.  This one is all walnut, the lid that Bastogne/Claro kind, and the sides just conventional black walnut.  The floor of it is Spanish cedar from the estate of Ed Brodie, a local woodworker who passed last summer and whose family gave away much wood from his workshop to whomsoever desired.

Box 15 Walnut C

You’ll recall that previously I had called these jutting out fingers ‘proud’, as I was and am still a trifle taken with that carpentry use of the word, but I saw another label of jutting fingers recently, as ‘knuckles’ and I like that one too.  I went with also because I had some tear out when cutting the fingers and to sort of enhance the knuckliness of it I decided to groove where the between finger tear outs were, so very much like the space between fingers and knuckles now there’s a bit of an indent there.

Box 15 Walnut B


No metal parts of course, dowels between the lid and right and left walls to create the hinging.  A little overhang left on the back of the lid so that it opens just a hair past ninety degrees and holds there.

Box 15 Walnut A

The box cries out no special utility – it’s hardly airtight enough to be a humidor.  It’s sturdy enough, perhaps holy hand grenades.

Box 15 Walnut D


In any event a very satisfactory endeavor.

Box 14 – Humble Pinned Fingers

Humble wood too, pine and cedar.  The pins are walnut, but that’s really just for contrast, not for fancy.

This box does attempt to be fine in any way, just wants to knock out two ideas with one test, namely the humble fingers bit, opposite of proud, not jutting out, smoothed together as well pinned fingers.  The latter were attractive to me inasmuch as they would seem to possess some mechanical superiority to simple finger joints, being inclined not to pull apart.

Box 14 Humble Fingers 1

I put a groove on the top and lowered the front to use a piece of cedar as a lid.  Went a little thin and the left groove top broke off, but in a test box no biggie.

Box 14 Humble Fingers 3

I like how the pinned fingers look – makes me start to think wooden hinge.

Box 14 Humble Fingers 2a

In the last corner below you see a throw in failure, as I was racing through the execution, which is what I seem to do when a box is just an experiment, I over-rasped some, exposing the pin that I think was too close to the outside anyway.

Box 14 Humble Fingers 4

Nonetheless all to the good.  I like and will re-use the pinned humble finger thing.

Box 13 – Proud Fingers

I’d never heard the word ‘proud’ used to mean ‘sticks out a little bit more than it is supposed to’ before, until I took up carpentry last year.  It’s a usage that provokes some thought – proud is what goes beyond useful.  Hmm.  The corners on this box are proud on purpose, as a decorative element – not sure if that takes the pride out of them – but they need not be ashamed.  It’s so easy to fall into conundrums.

Box 13 Cherry Fingers Redwood Top - A

The lid, which slides in and out on routed grooves, is of redwood.  Redwood with what they call flames.  Notice how they are perpendicular (roughly) to the grain.  I see them as waves of energy moving (when it was alive) within the wood.  I wonder if they do move, if one cut the tree at time X or X + N (where X and N are positive numbers) would the flames be in different places?

Box 13 Cherry Fingers Redwood Top - B

The flames are chatoyant, like tigers eye, with the bright lines changing depending on the angle of view.

Box 13 Cherry Fingers Redwood Top - C


All those fingers really are just a test of a very nice finger jig (Incra) I received for Christmas.  By comparison It certainly exposes the imperfection of my hands.  I think I’ll enjoy using it for those times where a piece is not trying to lean at art but where function is first with a few aesthetics thrown in for good measure.

Box 13 Cherry Fingers Redwood Top - D

My grandfather kept his chess pieces in a wooden box with a lid that slid like this.




Box 12

It’s been a long time since a simple box post.  This box has so much wrong with it – I just had to be done with it.  That said though, I like many of the new ideas (new for me) that it holds.

Box 12 B


The bottom is a fatter than two inch slab of pine carved out to about a half an inch of thickness on its base.  Then there’s a strip of cherry, and then walnut, and then redwood rounding out the lower box/bowl thing.  It is very compellingly irregular on close examination.  One thing is if you pretend you are much smaller than it and sailing by in a dinghy then it could look like a big ship that was trying to disguise itself as a fancy picnic basket.  Read that again..




Box 12 A


There it is in a symbolic context – you readers of signs note what warrants noting.

Box 12 0

It began from a lid for another box that, because it was too wide and the handle came to the edge, could not be made narrow enough for that box, so the lid went in search of another box.  The lid too actually angled out a little from the handle, something vaguely like a square-ish butterfly.  The lid was not finding natural mates in boxes to be lid of.  That’s a piece of tineo in the center though, for people who pay attention to things like that, and there’s orange osage and chechen and walnut and mahogany and oak and red birch in the lid, not a lid one would readily abandon.

A little bit of science got involved, about how could an ellipse be constructed such that the mid-points of each side were all that were left of each side?  Loci were located using a string and two pins.  An ellipse was drawn and then cut out.  This ellipse served as the shape of the cutout of the redwood, walnut, cherry, and pine.  And inner ellipse, 3/8 of an inch within, was drawn on the first three and cut out.  Three wooden zeroes.  I was feeling very masterly at this point.  I routed out the pine oval, creating a super-sized soap dish sort of thing and glued the perfectly sized zeroes atop it.

The rest just came together like nobody’s business.  I’ve got this thing now, and probably the market cornered too.  Marketing inquiries welcome.

But really it was fun.  A lot of the time the main missions are saving some work and learning something, and those things were accomplished.  And it could hold marbles, really any sort of otherwise loose dry little dry goods, and do it with style and uniqueness.

Box 12 C Box 12 E


Happy New year once again to all.  When a year begins as auspiciously as this there is no telling the possible upside.


In progress.

First, featuring sustainability (all wood sourced from town wood pile), no metal (no screws or nails, just dowels) and hopefully sturdiness (remains to be seen) begins to take shape.  An Adirondack chair, first chair I’ve ever built, design my own too – I’m really scared it will be a fail.  Most of wood is white oak (there were at least a dozen board feet of it lying graciously atop the pile on Tuesday), then there’s some oak from what looks like was an armoire, really lovely wood, might even be brown oak, and (we have a great scrap pile in this town) some mahogany to hold the back slats.  OK, ok, I confess there’s one piece of hickory that was not dump scrap but it had this cool fire pattern and I did not want to cut it in any way and I wanted a place for that pattern to be displayed so it becomes the back.  The stencil carve outs were in the brown oak already.  Weird spade hearts?

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Second, featuring one of my favored woods (orange osage) the first and second rounds of cuts in what is wanting to become a goose neck ladle.

IMAG0226 IMAG0227


And third, what will become Box 12.  It’s grossly done but not glued or pinned or finished.  I really like the grain on the box (red birch).  The joints are as good as I’ve done yet, all tablesaw and careful measuring.  I am short some 1/4 inch walnut dowels to pin with, so it’s on pause.  The lid has assorted exotic but I am not much impressed, other than it looks fancy, that it’s good design or will endure.




Anyway, that’s July 5.  Reports will follow