A little Studley bandsaw box
Words and photos: Kerryn Carter
Bandsaw boxes first grabbed my attention on social media. I find them borderline works of art with their countless forms and clever use of exotic woods. I’m not alone. Photos of bandsaw boxes on social media regularly draw likes, comments and the sort of general fanfare usually only afforded to the woodworking equivalent of Handel’s Messiah. My thoughts were...something this beautiful must be fiddly in all the ways I hate. Right? Wrong.
Fellow woodworkers assured me that bandsaw boxes were not fiddly but astoundingly easy and fast to make. This proposition is indeed borne out by their enduring popularity. Numerous books have been written on the subject over the decades.
So it was with great hope that I launched myself into bandsaw box making mode. A mode that lasted until I realised that bandsaw boxes require a fine bandsaw blade and that meant I had to once again face my greatest fear in woodworking...changing the bandsaw blade. More particularly, performing the potentially lethal bandsaw blade folding wrestle. That’s when I remembered that besides owning a 14" Powermatic, I also have a little Ryobi bandsaw fitted with a 6mm blade...changing my bandsaw blade was for another day!
I was back in business so I launched into reading all the bandsaw box making rules. After this I went ahead and made my first box, breaking every single rule. Which is why there isn’t a picture of it here in this article. So now I can tell you from firsthand experience – heed the rules. What are the rules? I have covered each one in the step by step guide below.
But first, what is a bandsaw box? And what tools do I need to make one? A bandsaw box is a tiny drawer in a tiny carcase that is made easily from scrap wood predominantly using a bandsaw (fitted with a fine blade). Besides a bandsaw you will need wood glue, clamps and sandpaper. I used a disc sander but any sander will help. The inlay I did in my carcase was achieved with a drill press and 5mm drill bit and carving chisels.
Knowing your bandsaw’s limitations will help you create a realistically achievable design. So take some scrap and cut the tightest curve you feel comfortable cutting on your bandsaw (photo 1). A fine blade will achieve tighter curves.
Design (on paper) the outline of the box (the carcase) and the shape of the inner cut which becomes the drawer. Go for it. There are no limits other than the diameter of your smallest curve. An organic design (tear drop or leaf style) with no straight lines is the easiest because any mistakes you make along the way are easily disguised. More difficult boxes use straight lines which show any mistakes made, particularly on the delicate inner cut of the drawer.
Partially dress your wood block. You can work with a piece that is partially dressed i.e. jointed on its face and simply brought to thickness. You can use one single piece of wood or a laminated block of all your exotic offcuts (which is what I did).
Cut out your design and stick it to your block using spray adhesive (photo 2). Also I would recommend that if you are considering an inlay (as I have done) decide now. All the wood supporting the inlay is about to be cut off which makes fiddly inlay work more difficult later.
Cut the outer shape, shown complete here, to form the carcase (photo 3).
Go slowly because this is your practice for the all important inner cut (photo 4).
I used a disk sander to sand the carcase (photo 5)...
...before cutting off the back. I cut about 12mm off (photo 6). Set aside.
Cut the inner shape for the drawer. This is a crucial and delicate step so take your time. The first thing to do is look at your block and figure out the best place to hide the entry cut (which will be a hairline join). I would recommend hiding it with the grain and towards the bottom of the box.
Locate the best position for the entry point and complete the inner cut to separate what will be a drawer within the carcase. Take this cut slowly (photo 7). Any attempt to correct a wayward blade means there will be a gap between your drawer and the carcase in that spot, so try not to reverse your blade. This is where it is easier to find success with an organic design where you just run with any mistakes.
Photo 8 shows the drawer section with both cuts complete and the placement of the entry cut.
Insert wood glue into the entry cut on the carcase and clamp to close the join (photo 9). A business card comes in handy getting the glue into the entry cut.
It is tempting to sand the drawer at this point. My tip is sand the front and back but don’t touch the sides. Photo 10 above shows the carcase with inlay completed and lightly sanded. The more you sand the sides of the drawer the greater the gap between the drawer and carcase. I do sand the sides but I do it sparingly and by hand and towards the end of the process when I can see how the drawer looks in the carcase.
Cut the back and the front faces of the drawer off (photo 11). I cut about 10mm. Set aside.
The central drawer piece needs to be hollowed out to make a U-shape which will form the drawer sides and bottom (photo 12).
Glue the front and back faces onto the U-shape (photo 13). Clamp. Optional face switch: I switched the front and back faces but kept their orientation. This gives you the contrasting drawer look. Glue the back onto the carcase, clamp and leave to dry. Give everything a final sand being careful to not over-sand the drawer.
Use the remaining wood left over from the drawer to make a drawer pull which you can then glue on the face of the drawer (photo 14).
Photo 15 shows the finished Studley box and another variation, the Acanthus Box made from spalted pecan, walnut and eucalypt.
My choice of wood, inlays and drawer pull was a very small nod to the famous Henry Studley and his equally famous tool chest. The woods I used were Tasmanian blackwood, New Guinea rosewood and walnut. The inlays were done in kauri pine. The drawer pull is a simple brass pin. The finish is Danish oil.
The little Studley bandsaw box is my contribution to the bandsaw box genre and I can even hear a very faint Handel’s Messiah playing when I look at it – even if I’m the only one who can hear it.
Kerryn Carter is a Sydney woodworker who has written several articles for Australian Wood Review. This article is republished from issue 96.