An Awfully Tough Build
Last Friday morning, I had to say goodbye to Cleocatra, the sweet kitty who adopted me at the SPCA in 1996. I don’t know how old she was – but I do know she was treated like a queen for 15 of her years. She was the friendliest cat I’ve ever met, bar none. She loved screaming babies, rowdy kids, dogs, other cats – almost every creature with which she came in contact. Except mice. Cleo was afraid of mice. (I had a field mouse get in to my apartment one winter, and both she and I saw it at the same time, jumped at least a foot in the air, then ran in the other direction.)
Cleo had trouble getting around for the last year, and for the last couple months, I had to lift her onto my bed at night. Early last week, she stopped eating. And she stopped coming out to say hello when people came to visit. So I knew it was time to say goodbye.
This little dovetailed box will hold Cleo’s ashes. And while it’s a simple project, it was incredibly hard to build. It’s difficult enough for me to see my layout lines on walnut on a good day; it’s a lot harder through tears.
The walnut (to commemorate her dark fur) was from a half-finished project that’s been languishing under my desk for several years; the maple (which evokes the many white hairs she’s gotten over the last few years) is left over from the chop on my small bench. The size was somewhat dictated by the wood I had available, but also, it just felt right.
It’s made from 1/2″ stock and is approximately 4″ x 5″, 4″ tall, with a 1/4″ nailed-on bottom. The top is 1/2″ maple, with the edges rounded over (I planed a 1/4″ chamfer on each edge, then sanded to create the curve). To keep the top in place, I cut a piece of walnut that fit with 1/8″ or so of wiggle room inside the box, then glued it in place to the underside of the top.
I’ve put two coats of oil/varnish blend on the box proper; the glue needs to fully cure on the insert piece for the top before I can finish-sand, then apply the same mixture to the maple. But I’m at a crossroads with the design of the top – I can’t decide whether or not to put a handle on it.
I shaped a small walnut handle using a block plane and sandpaper, but I’m not convinced it belongs. On one hand, a walnut handle on top would help to visually tie the light top back back to the dark base. On the other hand, this box isn’t really meant to be opened; I don’t want the handle to be an invitation to look inside (and I plan to seal it with wax).
Perhaps it doesn’t matter – after all, this box is likely going on a high shelf well out of reach, where the top of the top won’t be visible. But every time I look up at it, I know I’ll remember how difficult it was to build. And whether or not I’m looking up at it, I’ll miss having Cleo by my side.
I sincerely hope you don’t need to make a box for the same reason I did. Maybe you just like to make boxes – but want something a little fancier (or just prefer to work from plans). If so, check out just some of the many books, DVDs and plans we offer on boxes of all sorts:
• “Box by Box,” a book by Jim Stack
• “New Masters of the Wooden Box,” a book by Oscar P. Fitzgerald (chock-full of inspiring photographs and essays about the artists’ design choices and goals)
• “Box Making Bonanza,” a DVD by Jim Stack and Doug Stowe
• “Sculpted Band Saw Boxes,” a book by Lois Keener Ventura
• “Puzzle Box Magic” a DVD by Jeff Vollmer
• “Creating Wooden Boxes on the Scroll Saw,” a book from the editors of Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts
• “Shaker Box Construction Manual,” from John Wilson (we also offer a “Shaker Oval box Kit” from Wilson, with plans, instructions, bending stock, cherry boards and the hardware to make three nesting boxes)