Small gift box created with a waney edged board

This Waney-Edged Box combines some classic box building techniques with an interesting, rustic looking waney wood top.

One man's trash is another man's treasure — or so the old saying goes. In the case of the small piece of wood that was used on the top of this little box, that saying was spot-on. I found a couple of pieces of waney-edged bubinga in the burn pile at work, and I saved them from a sad and fiery fate.

Example of waney edged boards
Waney wood boards have rough, uneven edges that still have bark and natural fibers, they are often scrapped or cut down, but can add a unique look to a project.

In most cases, a woodworker selects specific wood to suit what he or she is building. In this case, I decided to build myself a small box to show off the piece of wood. Its uneven natural edge appealed to me — as did the coloration of its heart and sapwood. While a waney edge might not be everyone's cup of tea, to me, the contrast between the clean lines of the box and legs and the uneven edge of the bubinga was very nice to look at.

Building the Box

Cutting box sides to length with miter saw
To create the sides and ends of the box, simply rip the pieces to width on your miter or table saw.

The sides and ends of the box (pieces 1 and 2) were simply ripped to their proper width and then miter cut to length on my miter saw. My saw has the depth of cut necessary to make these cuts; you may need to set this up on your table saw. Speaking of the table saw, I moved over to mine to plow the grooves that would capture the bottom (piece 3). Go ahead and cut the bottom from 1/4" plywood and you are ready to glue up the box pieces.

Strapping box sides together with band clamp
Once you have the ends and sides fitted and glued up, use band clamps to hold them together without danger of a piece slipping out of position.

Test-fit the pieces to be sure that your miters are tight and the bottom is properly sized. When you have done that, apply a thin coat of glue to the corner joints (no glue for the bottom!) and clamp it up until the glue cures. I prefer band clamps for this task.

Cutting curve for leg for waney box
While the rest of the box is curing, use your bandsaw to cut a gentle curve into one side of the legs.

While the glue is curing, set up a 1/2" dado head in your table saw and make a shallow test cut in some scrap lumber. Surface some maple down so that its thickness fits perfectly into your test dado cut. Now you are ready to mill the legs (pieces 4). Strike a curved line on one of the pieces. Cut the curve on your band saw and sand it smooth to the line. Now use that completed leg to trace the curve onto the remaining leg blanks and repeat the process for each of them.

Rounding off box legs
The author created the template for the channels on the box's side out of 1/4"-thick Masonite using one piece for both sides.

I rounded over the curved edges of the legs using a roundover bit in my router table. Note that I used a screw clamp to hold the leg durning this operation. It would be too dangerous to try to hold the pieces with your hands.

For the Waney Box Diagrams and Materials List, click here.

Once the legs were completely machined, I was ready to move on to forming the corner dadoes. The legs are housed in dadoes on the four corners of the box. I cut them using a sled that held the box at 45° to the dado head. I secured the sled to my table saw's miter gauge with a couple of screws, and it worked like a charm.

Cutting box corner dadoes using table saw sled to guide the cut
Creating this table saw sled will help you get the best, most even cuts for the dadoes on the edges of your box.

I built the sled by gluing together four layers of 1/2" plywood and trimming it into a 5" x 16" rectangle. Then I set my table saw blade to exactly 45° and bisected it across the 5" dimension. I flipped one piece over, and the exposed bevels created two 45° faces. I clamped the bases between two long "fences," gluing them in place. After adding a tall fence in back to clamp to the box, my sled was done.

Go ahead and cut the dadoes for the legs and glue them in place. Once again, the band clamp is a good choice here. When the glue cured, I cut out an opening for the drawer. With a hand saw, I carefully cut down 1" (The cuts align with the inside face of the box ends.) Then I set up my router table with a straight bit and a couple of stops on the fence, and routed the drawer opening. It took a few passes, raising the router bit about 1/4" for each pass.

Building the Drawer and Top

I mounted drawer supports (pieces 5) inside the box, level to the drawer opening. The drawer consists of a solid piece of wood that forms the drawer body and a drawer face made from the same material as the box (pieces 6 and 7).

Securing drawer template to stock with nail gun
Before making your drawer, create this template and fix them together with some small brads do you can route it out without damaging the rest of the piece.

I used a core box bit guided by a rub collar and a template to form the recesses in the drawer body. (You can also create your own shapes if you’d like.) I attached my template with short brads driven into the drawer body, but double-sided tape would work, too. When you've completed the routing, place the drawer body in the box and locate the drawer front on the body. Mark the location with a pencil and then glue the face to the body. Now you can make the drawer handle (piece 8) in the same manner as you made the legs. Locate it in the center of the drawer face, and glue it flush to the top edge.

Routing drawer compartments through template
Use your router to route out the open areas of your template, creating the storage areas in the box's drawer.

With that done, make the drawer blocks (pieces 9) and glue them to the bottom of the drawer body (keep them just far enough from the edge to clear the drawer supports). These blocks and the pull form three legs upon which the drawer sits when it is removed.

Here's a fine opportunity to give the whole box and the drawer a good sanding, taking it up through the grits.

Adding the Top

Now you are ready to make the top (piece 10). As I stated at the beginning of this article, my top was made from a really interesting piece of bubinga. I cleaned up the waney edge of the top with a brass brush, to remove any loose pieces. In truth, this box would look good with a pretty piece of wood of any species — that will be up to you to decide. But there are a couple of important details that you should know about the top.

Drilling out holes for for installing soss hinge
To create mortises for your soss hinge, start by cutting them out with a drill press, this will remove a large part of the waste.

I used Soss hinges (pieces 11) in the top because they are strong and attractive. Sadly, they are also a bit of a pain to install. Drill out mortises for the hinges in the box first. I used a drill press to remove most of the waste and then followed up with a sharp bench chisel for the final fitting.

Cleaning hinge holes with a chisel
Finish creating the holes for your Soss hinges by chiseling out the mortises, then you are ready to mount the top.

When you've got that done, carefully transfer the hinge locations to your top workpiece. Repeat the procedure and then temporarily mount the top. Now mark where the legs meet the underside of the top when it is opened. I used a Dremel tool to carve out two little mortises that allow the top to open to a full 90°. Sand the top and you are ready to apply the finish.

In this case, I applied a wash coat of amber shellac thinned 25% out of the can with denatured alcohol, just to add a bit of amber coloring to the wood and to seal the pores. Then I sprayed a couple of coats of lacquer, de-nibbing between the applications. When the finish cured, I remounted the top and the box was completed.

It is funny how things work out. This little piece of wood from Africa went from the burn pile to becoming the focus of a classy little box. Now I'll always take a second look at waney-edged scraps!