Back to School Project: Pencil Boxes

Among my projects this summer was a family commission.  My wife asked me to make four pencil boxes for our children’s desks.  The little shoeboxes they had been using to hold their pencils were falling apart (our kids are homeschooled), and they needed some more durable pencil storage.

I picked out some complementary wood from my lumber stash: black walnut for the carcases and spalted pecan for the tops and bottoms.  (Spalting is the result of a naturally-occurring fungus that begins to attack a downed tree within a few weeks of being felled. The fungus dies once the wood dries out. If you saw it up into boards after the fungus has begun to do its work, but before the real rot sets in, the result is spalting.)  I had salvaged all this wood some years ago, and I have been slowly sawing portions of the logs into boards on my little bandsaw.

Pencil Boxes 2014 - - 3

The outside dimensions are 10″ long, 5″ wide, and 3″ deep.  This is significantly bigger than most pencil boxes, but I was asked to make sure each box could hold both regular pencils and a full set of colored pencils, as well as an eraser and a sharpener.  (We finally discarded our electric pencil sharpener, so now we’re all sharpening pencils by hand at my house again.)  All the stock is about 1/2″ thick, except for the bottoms, which are about 5/16″. The bottoms are shiplapped and captured in grooves in the sides.  They are glued to the ends, so all seasonal changes of dimension will occur in the middle.  Yes, I bookmatched the bottoms. Yes, I am a little neurotic about stuff like that.

I finished each box with several coats of Danish oil.

Pencil Boxes 2014 - - 5

I haven’t cut dovetails in probably a year, but these went together pretty well. Of the four sets, three went together off the saw. I shimmed about one little gap per box.  I also had to plug the gaps made by the grooves I plowed for the lids in each end piece.  Fortunately, walnut end-grain is fairly non-descript, so the plugs are nearly impossible to see once planed flush. 

One fun detail was the thumbnail cutout in each lid. With a straightedge, chisel, and gouge, it was the simplest procedure of the whole project.  Here’s how to do it:

Pencil Boxes Thumbnail Carving 2014 - - 1

Lay out the stopping cut. Use a chisel that’s about half the width of the finished cutout. Drive it as deep as you can into the center. Drive it in only a little on each side.

Pencil Boxes Thumbnail Carving 2014 - - 2

With a gouge, cut in toward your line little by little. Try to keep the cutout nice and symmetrical.  You will need to cut a little on each side, as well as in the middle.  Don’t try to take off too much all at once.  Deepen the stopping cut with a chisel or knife as necessary.

Pencil Boxes Thumbnail Carving 2014 - - 3

And there it is. It takes all of two minutes per lid.

Pencil Boxes 2014 - - 4

I think we’re ready for school to start now.

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One Response to Back to School Project: Pencil Boxes

  1. trekfurther says:

    Not everyone can make something equally beautiful, useful, durable, and sentimental. Lovely project. They are very, very nice.

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