Treasured chest: Build a jewelry box

Build a box that matches the luxury of its baubles

By Rick Campbell

Photo by Felix Wedgwood

Don’t be deceived by the compact size of this elegant jewelry box: hidden within the gracefully curved drawers is an abundance of convenient space for keeping precious treasures and family heirlooms organized and secure. Open the etched-glass doors at the sides and you will find plenty of room to hang long chains and necklaces. Lift the hinged lid on the top for ready access to favourite trinkets that are worn daily. The underside of the lid even has a bevelled mirror so its owner can check her look before heading out the door. This project combines the rich look of cherry with contrasting ebonized maple to achieve a stunning design that is as beautiful as the cherished valuables found inside.

Mirror
The hinged lid not only reveals the charms stored underneath, but also a mirror for jewelry adjustments.

Instructions

Getting Started

Begin by cutting out blanks for the top, base, back, and drawer compartment sides from maple dimensioned to 1/2" at the thickness planer. Prepare a cardboard pattern to lay out the shape for the base panel and trace it onto the blank. All the information you will require to make the template is included in the plan details. Use a bandsaw to cut out the shape, then sand the edges smooth. Now install a bearing-guided Roman-ogee bit in a table-mounted router and mill a decorative profile on the bottom edges of the front and sides.

Follow the same process to create a panel for the top; but, when you’re done, cut off 2 1/4" from each short side at the tablesaw using a thin-kerf blade. When the project is assembled, these end pieces will be glued permanently in place on top of the cabinet and the centre section will be mounted with two brass hinges to form a lid. Using a thin-kerf blade to make the cuts minimizes the gap between the parts when they are finally installed, creating a crisper look.

Your next assignment is to use a dado blade to prepare 1/2"-wide x 1/4"-deep grooves on the inside face of the back panel to receive the vertical drawer compartment sides. You will also need to prepare 3/8"-wide x 3/16"-deep dados on the interior faces of the drawer compartment sides to accommodate the drawer runners. When all the grooves are made, cut the drawer runners to size and glue them in place. The runners sit flush with the compartment sides’ front edges, but stop 1/4" shy of the back edges to leave room for the back panel.
When this work is done, sand all the parts to prepare for the first stage of assembly. Start by gluing the drawer compartment sides into the back panel slots. Check to see that the sides are square with the back before setting the assembly aside to dry.

Next, attach the side and back panel assembly to the base using 1"-long flathead screws installed from underneath. For appearance, countersink the screws so the heads are flush with the underside of the base. Now, glue and clamp the ends of the top panel to the top of this assembly, using the movable section of the top, which forms the lid, as a spacer to determine the correct positioning. To install the lid, I used a special type of hinge with built-in stops to support the lid in the open position (Lee Valley #00D80.12). This feature eliminates the need for chain restraints.

Next, cut four 1 1/4"-wide x 5"-long blocks from 3/8"-thick material to serve as the tops and bottoms of 
the side compartments, then glue 
in place. Cut a pair of 11/4"-wide 
strips for the front of the side compartments. Make them a little long to start, then mark them in place and cut to achieve a perfect fit between the top and bottom blocks. After gluing these pieces, you’re ready to make the foot assemblies for your cabinet.

 

Fancy Feet

Each foot assembly is composed of two segments joined together with mitred corners. A cove profile is routed on the outside face and the exposed ends are curved to further enhance the appearance. Start by cutting out a blank that measures roughly 3/4"-thick x 3"-wide x 24"-long and mill the cove detail along the length of both sides with a table-mounted router and a 1/2"-radius bearing-guided cove bit. It’s much easier and safer to complete this step on the large blank, before the parts are cut to size.

Rip 1"-wide strips from the edge of the blanks and cut the strips into 2"-long segments. You will need eight pieces to complete the four feet. After cutting a 45° mitre on one end of each segment to join at the corners, use the bandsaw to form a 3/4"-radius curve on the opposing ends. Sand to remove any marks left behind by the tools. Now, you can pair up the segments and assemble the feet with glue. Packing tape works well to hold the pieces together while the glue cures. After removing the tape and giving the feet assemblies a final sanding, glue them to the underside of the bottom panel. You know you have them positioned correctly when the flat edges of the feet are perfectly aligned with the corners of the bottom panel.

Foot detail
A cove profile on the feet elevates the jewelry box.

Drawer Construction

The most challenging part of this project is constructing the curved fronts for the drawers. The measurements for the curved faces are on the plans, but a simple shopmade jig will make your life much easier. The jig serves as a template that also holds the wood blanks securely in place while you use a table-mounted router and a 2"-long bearing-guided pattern bit to mill the curved profile on the outside face. The jig consists of a panel with the shape of the drawer fronts formed on one edge. There’s also a sturdy frame glued on top to support the blanks. A couple of pieces of double-sided tape are all that’s required to mount the blanks in the support frame. Start by constructing the jig from 1/2"-thick Baltic birch plywood or MDF. (See the photo on page 34 for a reference.) Next, cut enough blanks from 3/4"-thick solid cherry to make six drawer fronts. While you’re at it, prepare a couple of extra blanks to use as test pieces. When you’re done, mount one of the blanks in the jig and use a pencil to trace the curved profile onto the edge of the part. Remove the blank from the jig and head over to the bandsaw to cut along the outside of the layout line. Removing most of the waste material with the saw greatly reduces the burden on the router while also minimizing the risk of burn marks on the drawer fronts. Now, return the blank to the jig and fire up the router to finish shaping the part. Repeat the entire process for all the remaining blanks, including the spares.

The next step is to mill the beading detail on the lower edges of the curved fronts. I did this using a 1/4"-diameter beading bit and a fence to guide the jig template. As you pass the parts over the bit, you will need to rotate the jig slightly so that the point of contact with the router fence always remains directly in line with the centre point of the spinning bit. It takes a bit of practice, so use those extra blanks you prepared earlier to perfect the set-up and practise your technique.

After all the shaping is done, prepare 5/8"-wide x 1/4"-deep rabbets on the ends of five drawer fronts to accommodate the sides of the drawer boxes. When you do this step, it’s a good idea to use a backer board behind the workpieces to minimize tearout. The false drawer front that conceals the tray at the top requires 3/16"-wide x 1/4"-deep rabbets on the ends to achieve a snug fit with the drawer compartment sides.

The next task is to cut the sides and backs of the drawer boxes from 3/8"-thick maple. Use a dado blade to make 3/8"-wide by 1/8"-deep grooves in the drawer sides to serve as tracks for the drawer runners. It’s very important that these slots end up being perfectly centred from top to bottom, so sacrifice a few test pieces to dial in the set-up. You will also need a 3/8"-wide x 1/8"-deep rabbet on the back end of each drawer side piece for joining the drawer back. The drawer bottoms are captured within 1/8"-wide x 1/8"-deep slots positioned 1/4" in from the bottom edge of the surrounding drawer pieces. Prepare these slots, then cut the drawer bottoms to size from 1/8"-thick plywood.

After applying glue to the corner joints, you’re ready to assemble the drawer boxes with the bottom panels in place. Secure the joints with a couple of clamps and check for square before setting the drawers aside to dry. After the clamps are removed, use a stationary edge sander to smooth the top and bottom edges. When you do this step, remove just enough material to create uniform spacing between the drawers as they sit installed in the cabinet opening. A 1/16" gap should do the trick.

Now you can cut out the parts for the tray at the top. Rabbet both ends of the side pieces and prepare dados for the bottom panel, just like you did for the drawer boxes. After the tray is assembled, you can glue it in place between the compartment walls. Make sure the top edge of the tray is flush with the top of the side and back panels before the glue sets up.

drawer fronts
Constructing the drawer fronts is one of the more challenging tasks in building this box, but worth the effort.

Vertical Columns

The plans show a matching pair of decorative front columns mounted on the fronts of the side compartments. The columns are made from cherry and they have a fluted design routed on their outside faces. Cut the columns to size from 1/2"-thick stock, then mill a 1/4"-wide x 1/4"-deep rabbet along the inside edge on each to accommodate the corner of the drawer compartment sides. To prepare the groove pattern on the fronts, I used my table-mounted router and a 1/4"-diameter fluting bit. When you’re done with the cuts, the easiest way to sand the grooves is to wrap sandpaper around a piece of 1/4"-diameter dowel. Position the columns in front of the side compartments temporarily to see how they look. Glue them later, after the finish has been applied.

Glass Doors

Initially, I designed this project to have solid-wood doors, but I was concerned that a flat panel with no frame would warp over time. That’s when I came up with the idea for framed panels with glass inserts. To add to the appearance, I decided to enhance the glass with some etched designs. If you want to do this for your project, you will need glass-etching cream, stencils, goggles and rubber gloves. All these materials are available from Lee Valley and many craft stores.

With the glass etched, set each piece aside in a safe place while you make the surrounding frames. Cut out the parts for the door frames from wood that has been planed to 7/16"-thick on the thickness planer. When you cut the parts to length, mitre the ends and then cut 1/8"-wide x 1/4"-deep slots on the inside edges to receive the glass. Assemble the frames around the glass panels, using glue and web clamps to secure the joints. I also applied a spring clamp to each corner to keep the surfaces flush while the glue dried. After releasing the frames from the clamps, sand the top and bottom edges of the doors to create clearance in the door openings. I used a pair of brass-plated, no-mortise hinges to mount my doors on the cabinet.

glass doors
Glass doors with etched designs both protect and display necklaces and bracelets.

Finishing

Now, it’s time to remove the doors, lid and front columns to prepare the parts for finishing. To enhance the grain of the cherry parts, I applied some cherry gel stain, followed by three coats of wipe-on polyurethane. When you apply this finish, tape off surfaces to be glued later on the backs of the front columns and the sides of the drawer boxes. Bare, unfinished wood is essential for the glue to work.

I used black aniline dye to colour some of the exposed maple surfaces of the cabinet. If you’d like to do the same, you need to prepare the wood properly. Don’t skip any steps or you won’t be happy with the results. Start by brushing on distilled water to raise the grain. Let the surfaces dry completely, then use 400-grit paper to sand off the fibres that have lifted. Repeat this process a couple of times to be certain the grain will remain flat when the dye finish is brushed on. After preparing the wood, mix the dye according to the manufacturer’s directions.

I find that a foam brush works best to apply the finish, but be sure to wear gloves to prevent a mess on your hands. Stained fingers don’t come clean easily or quickly. Don’t be concerned if you get some of the finish on the inside walls of the top tray or side compartments because these areas will be covered by felt later on. Simply do your best to keep the dye off the sides of the drawer compartments because it may cause the drawer runners to swell, preventing the drawers from sliding smoothly.

After brushing on the dye, wait 24 hours before applying several coats of wipe-on polyurethane. The additional coats enhance the richness of the black finish.

Next, line the drawer boxes and cabinet compartments with adhesive-backed felt. You could use powdered flocking that is dusted onto a glue-covered surface, but I find peel-and-stick felt easier and neater to apply. After lining the side compartments, install hooks for chains and necklaces. I used a pair of brass-plated key-box hooks (Lee Valley #00S03.50) for my jewelry box. They are simply fastened in place with a couple of brass screws. This is also an opportune time to mount the bevelled mirror on the underside of the lid. A couple of strips of double-sided tape is all that’s required.

After all the interior work is done, glue the vertical columns to the front of the cabinet and reattach the doors and lid. You will also need to drill holes to install the drawer pulls and knobs. The knobs I chose are glued in place with epoxy. Finish up by mounting latch mechanisms to secure the doors when they are closed. There are many options, but I settled on tiny rare-earth rod magnets (Lee Valley #99K38.00) recessed into the edge of the compartment frames. A 3/8"-diameter steel washer (Lee Valley #99K32.61) is recessed into the corresponding location on each side compartment front to serve as strike plates for the magnets.

As a final touch, why not write a meaningful message to your loved one on the back of one of the drawer boxes to make this special gift even more memorable?

finishing
A jig, a beading bit and a bearing-guided bit will help you make the drawer faces.

Tools & Materials

Part Material Size (T x W x L*) Qty.

For the main cabinet

Top and base soft maple 1/2" x 6 1/2" x 11 1/2" 2
Back soft maple 1/2" x 10" x 12" 1
Drawer compartment sides soft maple 1/2" x 5 1/2" x 12" 2
Drawer runners soft maple 3/8" x 3/8" x 5 1/4" 10
Side compartments tops and bottoms soft maple 3/8" x 1 1/4" x 5" 4
Side compartment fronts soft maple 3/8" x 1 1/4" x 11 1/4" 2
Top tray sides soft maple 3/8" x 2" x 5" 2
Top tray front/back soft maple 3/8" x 2" x 6" 2
Feet segments soft maple 3/4" x 1" x 2" 8
Top tray bottom panel plywood 1/8" x 4 1/2" x 6" 1
False drawer front cherry 3/4" x 2" x 6 7/8" 1
Front columns cherry 1/2" x 2" x 12" 1

For the drawers

Fronts cherry 3/4" x 2" x 6 7/8" 5
Sides soft maple 3/8" x 2" x 5" 10
Backs soft maple 3/8" x 2" x 5 7/8" 5
Bottoms plywood 1/8" x 4 5/8" x 5 7/8" 5

For the doors

Top/bottom rails cherry 7/16" x 1" x 5 1/2" 4
Side stiles cherry 7/16" x 1" x 12" 4
Inserts glass 3/32" x 4" x 10 1/2" 2

Hardware

Lid stop hinges
(LV 00D80.12)
brass-plated 1 pair
Door flush hinges
(LV 00H51.12)
brass-plated 2 pairs
Drawer and door knobs
(LV 01A01.11)
brass 8
Adhesive-backed felt
(LV 76K04.05)
red 2 rolls
Etching cream
(LV 27K01.01)
3 oz.
Etching stencils of your choosing
Rod magnets
(LV 99K38.00)
2
Oval mirror
(LV 42K04.03)
1
Washer strike plates
(LV 99K32.61)
2
Key-box hook strips
(LV 00S03.50)
brass 2


* Length indicates grain direction

Recommended Tools

Plans

3 comments

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Oldest Newest

Sapper

Feb. 19, 2015

7:43 pm

Are there any plans or information on how to make the shop made jig's. Im about to start but would really love to make the jig first.



gd_law@msn.com

GDLaw

May. 7, 2014

8:11 pm

Great plans and very nice jewelry box. I have completed all the steps and I'm ready to finish the pieces, however, I was just wondering what color you stained the back of the box? Did you use the black dye or the cherry stain - or did you leave it the light maple?

Oh, by the way, the material list only calls for one front column. Other than that, very nice job!



NoviceWoodWorker

Aug. 13, 2013

12:18 am

Is there anymore information available regarding the construction of the 'shopmade jig' for the drawer construction? Any help is greatly appreciated.

Thanks!



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