Blog, Box Making, Doug Stowe, Fine Woodworking
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Summer Reading: Box Making by Doug Stowe

Nice: a woodworking book and the beach.

Ah, summer. A time when many a woodshop gets too hot and humid to work in, and for me, time for our annual trip to the emerald waters of north west Florida. This usually means a new woodworking book to read while taking in the sun and sun tan lotion laced breezes.

This year I chose Taunton’s Complete Illustrated Guide to Box Making by Doug Stowe. Why? One of these days I’d like to build projects that don’t take six months (or longer) to complete. Hopefully making a box will go much faster than building a bed or creating custom crown molding. Box making will allow me to experiment with woods which are more exotic than pine or red oak, without spending a ton of money. Plus I have seen some mighty creative box designs and wood combinations.

Doug Stowe is big on boxes. He has written seven books for Taunton as well as created a DVD on box construction, and he has written a number of articles for Fine Woodworking covering various aspects of box making. The image at the right is what inspired me to consider boxes. Note the cool design features found in the boxes Doug showcased for his Fine Woodworking article titled “Designing Boxes” (issue 197, page 62, click the image to enlarge). In addition to his work with Taunton, Doug has written articles for several other noteworthy woodworking publications.

He is also a prolific blogger. A quick scan of his blog reveals almost daily blog updates, sometimes more than one in a day. The core theme of his blog is to communicate the benefits of learning a craft like woodworking.

To see some of Doug’s current work, you can take a look at the boxes for sale at his Esty store – click here.

The Complete Guide
His book is laid out to be just what the title says, a “complete guide”. Doug admits a truly complete guide is an allusive thing, but I think the book sure takes a good stab at it. The book has “sections” as opposed to chapters.

Section one is all about the tools needed for box making. Subjects covered include shop layout, marking tools, power and hand tools, and clamping tools among other things. I was most interested to see the hand planes included: a smoother, a couple of block planes, and #4, #5 and #7 bench planes.

Concerning hand tools, Doug writes:

“Hand tools are either a source of frustration or a source of great pleasure, depending on whose hands they are in. I relish the opportunity to work with hand tools but have had my share of frustration in learning to use them well.”

Doug, I know what you mean. Section one also includes drawings of some table saw jigs which are useful in box making. In particular, I liked the keyed miter sled. I’ll be adding that one to my shop.

Section two moves into a discussion about materials useful for box making. There is a ton of interesting information here. In addition to an overview of wood in general (hardwood, softwood, rift sawn lumber, figured wood, etc.), Doug details the process of turning logs into wood for boxes. He discusses re-sawing wood as well as creating a suitable face on such wood.

DIY milling: creating stock from a log.

There is enough information here for me to go out a cut down a tree in my yard and turn it into prized wood for boxes.

Box joinery is next. Doug covers various joints which work well with boxes, most all of them decorative. Until now, I saw myself making boxes using the typical finger joint, but after reading this section, I have become more fascinated by the keyed miter joint. You can make them with veneers, cut them on the table saw where the key is thicker, etc. etc. This part of the book goes into great detail showing well done photos covering various types of joinery, and there are many covered. Section three is by far the most interesting in the book.

Cool joinery – the keyed miter joint.

The next two sections cover box lids and feet and bases; pretty cool really because it is at this stage the box really comes to life. Again, the photography is first rate. Not only are various styles of lids covered, but Doug shows useful lid joinery as well as the critical process of separating a lid from a box.

Feet are next and just as with lids, there are many ways to add creative feet and/or a base to a box. Through photography, Doug shows examples of both traditional designs as well as very artistic ones. Again, nice photography; beautiful wood and a lot of inspiration here.

The remaining sections cover box interiors, hinges and hardware, decorating boxes and a section on shaped boxes. It is box interiors which have me thinking that making a box could take longer than I originally envision. With options like trays, dividers and drawers all made of small, slender pieces of wood, box making can certainly become complex.

Box interiors – fine parts to develop your skills.

If box interiors are not enough complexity for you, then how about specialized hardware? Who would have thought you could get so creative with hinges, lid supports, locks and latches. Hum, maybe I’d better give box building a little more thought (I had never heard of a “quadrant hinge” before – Google that). The creativity continues with Doug giving examples of hardware which is either shop made or shop modified. Doug writes about the vast number of hardware options saying:

“…the range of choices in hardware is staggering. The challenge of learning the various installation techniques is enough to keep both amateur and professional woodworkers on their toes.”

We now come to decorating boxes which is ironic because the whole process of building a box from wood selection and joinery up to this point includes at least subtle shots of decoration. But here, the focus is inlay, veneering and carving; all of which are great learning lessons for woodworking in general. Doug devotes twelve pages to shaped boxes: bentwood, turned and bandsawn versions. I am already familiar with the bentwood box having long ago constructed a Shaker box from a kit, but it was a kit – all the parts already cut for me.

Wrapping it up
Looking back on all of this, you could easily say this book is complete. Doug covers wood selection, a wide variety of joinery options, feet, lids, hardware, etc. Each section includes tips from an accomplished box maker; tons of photography and a variety of drawings. Especially for the box beginner like me, this is very complete. The only thing missing are a few box project plans. I’d like to see a start to finish guide for some of the cool boxes shown in the book. But you can get that elsewhere. Overall Taunton’s Complete Illustrated Guide to Box Making gave me great insight into box building and is a good guide for instruction; well worth the money.


  1. excellent post- boxes are not as easy as they look – Noted a Incra Box joing guide for your table saw at Woodcraft and Rockler. think I may try it out.

  2. David – you are right. As I wrote the post, the difficulty of boxes became more aparent. But, I think my first one will be simplistic in design, so we'll see.

    I'll check out the Incra system.

    THanks for the comment!

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