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What discussion of shop-made boxes would be complete without something dovetailed?

A common project for many woodworkers is a dovetailed box. It’s a great warmup for making drawers and larger scale projects. When I was learning to cut a traditional dovetail by hand, one of the first ‘real’ projects after practice joints and the like was making a dovetailed candle box with a sliding top.

dovetailed candle box

Sliding Top Candle Box

A great box to have dinner with…

This very traditional looking box would be at home in any colonial American home and works to keep your expensive candles safe and sound. When I think of a stereotypical colonial home at night I envision a lot of candles burning bright, but from what I’ve learned over the years, in earlier times good quality candles cost as much or more than they do today and were used sparingly. (There were often other cheaper ways of lighting a home — fireplaces, oil lamps etc) In the box above are some fancy beeswax candles my wife got the last time we visited Colonial Williamsburg Virginia which we break out on special occasions. On those evenings the box makes its way from the server over to the table where it serves its purpose well.

dovetailed candle box

Traditional Storage For Expensive Candles

It’s all in the details

The box shown here is made of walnut and joined with half-blind dovetails and finished with shellac and wax. The tails are carefully laid out to hide the dados that capture the bottom. The bottom is a fielded panel and a nice surprise for folks that take the time to look at the bottom. By fielding the panel in a drawer or box bottom, beyond looking traditional, the extra thickness helps make the bottom sound solid. Compare this to the hollow sound of tossing items into a drawer with a 1/4″ plywood bottom.

dovetailed candle box

Fielded Panel Bottom

dovetailed candle box

Two hours of expert instruction from Bill Rainford on hand drafting. Click the picture to learn more about what’s covered and watch an excerpted video.

The sliding top is another place where you can customize the look and feel of the piece. You want to take your time and carefully field the edges of the top to have a firm fit. Too tight and you won’t be able to open it in the summer and too loose and it will fall out in the winter. You can always take a tiny bit more off so play it safe. Tip: very gently chamfer the top aris of the dado — thus increasing the surface area that is in contact with the moving portion of the top — a sharp edge will dig into your top with regular use.

The relieved area for your thumb to grip and open the box top is another area where you can customize the look and feel of the box. On the box above you’ll see a stopped triangular pull which can be made with a bench chisel. The key to executing this detail well is not stabbing in too far.

Next time you are going through the wood rack, grab a few small pieces and build a box for someone special in your life.

Take care,
-Bill Rainford

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    This looks like a great project. My son has suddenly taken up an interest in Japan and with that he has purchased some cool chopsticks, both metal and wood. I think I can retailer this box so that I can make the chopsticks fit in this handy wood craft. Its a lot better than walking into his room and sitting on them! Ouch! Great work on this DIY. You can also visit our online store for tools to build this piece at

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