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This is definitely not the box I made my grandmother. But you can learn how to make this tea caddy in our “Boxes and Small Projects” special issue.

If you think about it, most woodworking is just building boxes. Chests, cabinets, drawers – all boxes. It’s one of the first things we build when we start woodworking, and a task in which we build our skills.

One of my very first things I made when I started woodworking was a simple box, about the size of the classic El Producto cigar box. I had some 1/4″ x 3′ mahogany and bubinga I had picked up at Woodcraft, and decided one Saturday – while avoiding chores — to make a box.

It came together OK, but I now understand how many things I did wrong. To be honest, there wasn’t much right. It was about 1/16″ out of square; the hinges for the lid were not in mortises; the roundover on the lid was uneven, and overall, it was just an amateurish attempt.

I went ahead and finished it (stain and some poly), and it started to look a bit better. At least I had a couple of hours of woodworking under my belt, and it was better than raking leaves, which was what I had planned to do when I went out to my garage.

The box sat around for a few days, then my wife suggested that I send it to my grandmother. Great idea – I added four brass photo clips to the underside of the lid, put in a photo of me and my grandmother and shipped it off.

That box I had tossed off in a couple of hours became my grandmother’s favorite possession. In the ensuing couple of years, her mind began to fade, but she never forgot that her favorite grandson had made her that box. Every time she would pass by the box, my mother said, my grandmother would give it a pat.

Later, she would show visitors the box and tell them where it came from, even if they had heard it 100 times before. (“Thank God you didn’t make her anything else,” my mother said.)

When she passed away in 2010, the box – holding her glasses, keys and a few other items – was buried with her in the family plot in Minerva, Texas.

So my box made a hit – and while we all work hard to get better at our craft and hobby, don’t discount those projects that don’t turn out as well.

Nowadays, I’d at least do finger joints for my grandmother’s box, and I’d try some inlay or banding for the lid. But mostly, I’m glad I made it at all.

Tomorrow, Nov. 5, is my late grandmother’s birthday – she would have been 93 years old. And, like all grandmothers, she was simply blind to imperfections when it comes to grandkids.

My skills are still building – and you can help build your workshop know-how by downloading our “Boxes and Small Projects” special PDF edition and find seven skill-building articles and great ideas for gifts. You can find it here.

Chances are, your grandmother (or grandkids) will like what you build.

— Mike Wallace


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Showing 4 comments
  • Sawtooth

    Nice story. Last Christmas at a gift exchange I took a box I’d made and put a bottle of rum in it. That gift got traded around several times because people wanted the box. That made me feel good.

  • josborne1946

    Love the story, that is what I love about woodworking is gifting your work to family and friends

  • Mike Wallace

    If you’re a regular reader, you might get a sense of deja vu when you look at this section — the articles originally appeared in the magazine over the last few years. Many newsstand readers are new to the magazine, so we once in a while include a few old articles to them a broader look at the types of things we published, in hopes they’ll join you as a subscriber.


  • pmac

    Hi Mike,
    I noticed that this was included as a 32 page bonus section on the newsstand version of the Nov. issue and not in the subscriber version. Why are there two different versions of the magazine?


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