As we were moving closer to Christmas 2017, I was two years into my hand tool woodworking journey. I wanted to make hand crafted gifts for my family. Given the large number I wanted to make, I needed to find the right kind of project that would tick the appropriate boxes.
One of my favorite channels on YouTube is one called Treebangham. I really enjoy the builds, the way he does it, and the behind the camera banter he has with his wife while filming. In 2015 (before I discovered him), he had posted a three video series on making Japanese Carpenter style boxes.
Link to first video by Treebangham on the Japenese Carpenter Box
I very much enjoyed videos 1 and 2 of the series. All kinds of lights went on in my head in his third videos. Spoiler Alert - in his third video series, he had smaller boxes. The smaller size or two were slightly smaller than a shoe box and looked like a perfect size for Christmas gifts. So, I made up my mind then and there. I reached out to Treebangham, and he was kind enough to share some dimensions of the smaller boxes. Below is what I finally ended up making for my family.
They are made out of walnut and maple (I like the contrast between the contrast between the two woods) and finished with shellac then wax. I made a total of 19 (gave one away before taking the photo). Before making all of them, I leveraged my manufacturing background and decided to make just one first. I started in Oct 2017 so that I would have plenty of time to make them all (I was so wrong). The first one came out nice but it took 10 hours or so. However, I learned a lot in making it. Whenever I finish a project, I write down in my woodshop notebook (an evolution of the lab notebook I had to keep for 18 years when I was a lab based scientist) what I would do differently or any insights I had. That way if I go back and do it again, I am not starting from scratch. In this case, I immediately made a second one. It went easier and I got it down to something like 6 hours. I also had further ideas on how to stream line. Let the production begin.
While the first two were completely done by hand tools, if I wanted to make these on time for Christmas. I borrowed some of my neighbors machine tools - chop saw, band saw, and contractor table saw. The chop saw and band saw (re-sawed 3/4" walnut to approx. 3/8") really helped speed things up. Table saws have always scared me (don't know why and don't really care).
As I was cutting, to keep production mode flowing, I used 5 gallon Lowe's buckets to keep the parts organized. On bucket per part type. That way, I did a single operation per piece as I went. After all the dimensioning was done, it was back to hand tools to smooth and fit pieces. Then came the job of assembly. I was going much faster this time around. However, there were a lot to do and Christmas felt quite close. I was up late several nights close to Christmas finishing and waxing and swearing that I would never make hand crafted gifts again. I got down to a total of four hours per box. A larger improvement over the first one I made. I am sure I could get it down even further if I ever made them again.
They came out quite nice and were a hit with the family. One of the funnier bits was that I didn't tell folks how to open them. There is an angled wedge on the top that you push out then slide the box top one direction and then lift out. It's not that difficult once you figure it out. It was kind of fun watching various folks brains work to sort it out and then the a ha moment.
A few of these boxes were extras that I use to store woodworking items in. Every time I use them, I smile because I think of all of the boxes that I made.