There comes a time to give your ruler a rest so you can give your woodworking whimsy a chance to tickle your imagination. How do you know when that time is? When your curiosity is captured by your first glimpse of a band-sawn box sculpture, of course! Whether flowing or comical, elegant or a mere blob, a well-executed band-sawn box requires no mind-numbing calculations and is an eye-catching, functional project that anyone can display with appreciation.
Although I design them principally to hold jewelry, these boxes find their diverse places among stone, gem and coin collectors as well as functional art appreciators. My dad has a walnut wave box, drawers gushing with gift golf tees; I haven’t lost my car keys once since making a habit of putting them in the snake-shaped box by the phone. At one arts festival, a Saudi Arabian oil princess bought several of my pricey designs to use as gift boxes for some rather expensive jewels, while students visiting from various European, Asian and South American countries purchased them as gifts for their art teachers back home.
Band-sawn box technique is easy enough for the beginner to tackle, but challenging enough for the seasoned veteran to say, “Hey, that’s cool! How’d you do that?” Plus, if your shop is not equipped to the ceiling with a sampling of every tool, the basic ones will work quite well.
My favorite band-sawn box designs are the ones that convey a theme of movement — ones that make the wood appear to bend and sway and flow. Thus Tsunami (or tidal wave) was born. The radiant ripples of the curly maple drawer pulls complement the splash of light sapwood on this aqueous walnut box. Originally a large four-drawer design, I scaled this one back a bit and simplified it by adapting it to two drawers.
Begin with a block of hardwood 11″ long by 5-1/2″ wide by about 4″ thick. It won’t hurt to be a tad on the generous side of any of these measurements, as absolute accuracy is not required to make this type of box. I recommend laminating 4/4 or 5/4 kiln-dried stock to avoid any cracking you might get with a solid, air-dried block (see “Simple Lamination” on the next page). Choose one of the 11″ x 5-1/2″ faces to be the front of your box, then square the bottom edge to the back of the block. The simplest way do this is to run the bottom over the jointer with the back against the fence, removing only small amounts of material at a time. Alternatively, using the table saw, raise the blade to just over half the thickness of the block, rip a small amount off half of the bottom of the block, then flip the block over front-to-back and do the same so that the bottom is flat. Now you can transfer the pattern onto the face of the block. You can either trace it with carbon paper or attach a copy with a light application of spray adhesive.
Next, tune up the band saw and tension a 3/16″, 10 TPI (teeth per inch) regular-tooth blade. Test the tension on a thick scrap to make sure the blade won’t bow in a thick cut. Re-tension, if necessary. Set the fence to 1/4″ from the blade. With its bottom on the table and its back to the fence, rip a 1/4″ slice off the back of the block. Set the back slice aside, and adjust the blade guide height to just above the thickness of the block as it lies on its back. Cut the drawer blocks out according to the pattern lines. Turn the saw off to back out of each cut.
Once the drawer blocks are removed, use any type of drum sander (an oscillator works best) to soften the saw lines inside the box cavities. Don’t sand too much off the insides though, or else the gaps left when you replace the finished drawers will be too large and unsightly. You can glue and clamp the back slice onto the back of the box once you’re done sanding the inside. Three 10″ handscrew clamps work the best, as they contact the entire width of the box and prevent the wood from sliding around as you clamp it. But any number of other clamp designs will work just as well if you add a flat clamping block on either side of the box to ensure contact with all surfaces. Don’t squeeze the entrance kerf at the bottom of the box closed while clamping the back on. You’ll need room to chisel and sand a roundover there later, integrating it into the design. While that dries, set the band saw fence to 1/4″, readjust the blade guide height accordingly and slice the back off each drawer. Then set the fence to 1/2″ and slice the front off each drawer. Next, mark the cuts that hollow out the drawers, using the pattern as a guide. Alternatively, you can customize the sizes of the drawer sections once you remove the clamps from the box. Do this by setting the blocks (without their fronts and backs) into their respective cavities in the box body. Mark the sections using a square to keep the lines level and perpendicular to the bottom/top and sides of the box block.