Project: Stacking boxes

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Terry Martin was given a small section of precious Brazilian rosewood, and just a week to make and document a piece.

Words and photos: Terry Martin

When the Brazilian rosewood arrived at my house, I had a moment of concern—it had been cut from a plank and did not have the kind of dimensions I liked working with, generally big fat pieces that you can do lots of carving into. As I am not much of a spindle turner, I didn’t think I would do this wood justice if I cut it up into long, thin pieces. I like a bit of volume, so I had to think of a way to convert a flat piece into something larger. I don’t like gluing, so I decided I would make a stacking box. I hadn’t made a lidded box for over ten years, so it would be interesting to see if my skills were still up to it.


The board section I received had probably been stored for too long and there were several cracks that worried me. First, I scribed five circles with dividers and cut them out on the bandsaw (photo 1). I felt that four boxes and a lid would give me an impressive elevation.

The piece closest to the end which had the most cracks concerned me, so I started with it—might as well find out right off if the cracks were too deep. After drilling a hole in the centre for the screw chuck, I mounted it on the lathe and started cleaning up the disc. It soon became clear that the cracks were too deep to allow me to continue.

On to the next disc. Because it was cut from further into the board, the cracks were not so bad, so I had to be content with three boxes and a lid. As it turned out, the proportions were just right, so I was better off.


Leaving extra thickness at the base for a bead, I turned the outside of the box down to the same diameter as the backing plate of the screw chuck. It was fortuitously the right size and that meant I wouldn’t have to measure each box to get the diameter the same—a good production trick. Then I turned a bead on the rim of the base and finished the base slightly concave so it would not wobble on the table. As a last touch, I cut a series of fine grooves in the base using a recycled tool. It was once a gouge, but when the usable flute was gone I ground the stub into a pointed cutter that works really well (photo 2).


Once the outside of the base box was complete I reversed it to hollow the interior. In the past I might have done this by mounting it in a jam-fit chuck, but this was my first opportunity to use Vicmarc’s soft jaws. They are made of a plastic material that turns very easily, so I cut a recess slightly less than the diameter of the base of the box so that when the jaws were opened a fraction it fitted snugly. Because the jaws are soft there was no damage to the box when I tightened the chuck. I hollowed the box with my favourite small bowl gouge (photo 3)...


...I reached near the bottom and then I switched to the standard square-nosed scraper (photo 4).


Once the base box was complete I repeated the process with the next two boxes, except that the base of each box needed a spigot to fit into the box below. I measured the internal diameter of the base box, transferred it to the next box and turned to size using the parting tool (photo 5). Using the short-cut production approach again, I made the spigot the same depth as the width of the parting tool, so there was no need to measure. I made the fit slightly loose, as with a stacking box it is better not to have a tight fit so you can lift off sections with one hand, leaving the other hand free to take out objects from the box.

I cut a bead on each of the upper boxes the same size as the base box. This would be the grip by which each of the boxes would be lifted off the others. As I said above, the body of each box was turned to the diameter of the chuck plate—quick and easy. When the boxes were fitted together the walls lined up perfectly.


Lastly I turned the lid. First I mounted the disk in the soft jaws and cut the spigot for it to fit in the box below (photo 6). Then I turned the rim of the lid to the same size as the beads in the other boxes.


Once it was reversed I turned a knob with a spindle gouge and then decorated it with the pointed scraper (photo 7).


I felt the finished box has a lot more presence than something made from a single thickness of the plank and it certainly was a change from my usual more sculptural work.

Terry Martin is a Brisbane-based wood artist, author and curator who has written many articles for Australian Wood Review magazine.

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