How to Make Wooden Boxes With Dovetails, Part 1: Sizing and Marking

One of the great things about woodworking is that you no longer have to rely on the store to provide you with a item that is just the right size for what you need. In the case of storing items, you could go shopping and hope that you find a box that is just the right size. But more often than not, you’ll get a box that’s too big, which means that you have wasted space, or worse, boxes that are too small or the wrong shape. In this short series of posts, we’ll show you how to make wooden boxes with dovetail joints. The end result will feature a sliding lid that will not neatly whatever you want. First up, we’ll look at sizing and marking your custom wooden box.

For me, I needed a place to store the adjustable bowl jaws of my chuck, which I use for turning bowls. I was tired of the pile sitting out in the open by my lathe, but the odd size of the jaws made finding a suitable box difficult. So I decided to make my own.

How to make wooden boxes

Note: This box is going to be made of 1/2” thick pine. The weight and size of the items you want to store will determine the thickness of the wood used to make the box, with heavier items, such as a lot of books, needing thicker wood. Most household items will be able to be held pretty well in a box made with 1/2” pine. In addition, pine is lightweight, so the box itself won’t be too heavy to move around.

Step 1:

I started sizing the box by arranging the jaws and hardware in the configuration that they would be in the box on a piece of 1/2” pine. Then I cut the pine so that I would up with a rectangular piece that provided about 1” extra space around the jaws on each side. This piece wound up being about 10” by 10”.

Sizing the bottom board

Step 2:

Next, make the sides of the box. The sides of my box are also made of 1/2” pine. The height of the sides was determined by placing the board up against the bottom board, and measuring about 2” above the height of the items you want to store in the box. Then the board was cut to that height. The box will likely be shorter than this when we are all done, but it’s good to have a little extra room for error at this point.

Determining the height of the side boards

Step 3:

We need to cut the boards to length. Instead of working off of a predetermined length, we will directly mark the length of each side by using the bottom board. This is going to be much more accurate than using a ruler to measure one of the sides of the bottom and transferring that measure to the side board. Repeat this for all four sides.

Marking the length of the side boards

Step 4:

Now we need to mark our boards so that they don’t get mixed up as we make the joints. The most straightforward way of doing this is lining up the four boards end to end, and writing the numbers 1 through 4 on the ends of the boards that will come together. The side you are writing on will become the inside of the box, so if a board has one side that is more attractive than the other, write on the less attractive side.

Marking the boards for dovetailing

Step 5:

Finally, strike a line on each board that is 3/8” from the bottom edge, which can be seen in the above photo. This line represents the bottom of the groove that will hold the bottom board in place, and will be used in marking the tails of the half-blind dovetails that will be used for the corners of the box. We’ll cover that in our next installment of this series on how to make wooden boxes with dovetails.

Three Essential Dovetails Bluprint ClassLearn three approaches to the fundamental dovetail joint! Get techniques for beautiful and functional through, half-blind and canted joints in the Craftsy class Three Essential Dovetails, taught by expert woodworker Kyle Kwiatkowski.

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