Simple Keepsake Boxes


Simple Keepsake Boxes:
Jason Townsend shows us the meaning of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) – with his simple keepsake boxes.

Jason Townsend shows us the meaning of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) – with his simple keepsake boxes

Everybody loves a wooden box. The tactile nature of wood and the thought of what the box contains make the wooden box a perennial favourite project and possession alike. There are many complex designs for wooden boxes and entire books can be purchased on the art. This, however, is a simple wooden box; a box for the beginner, a box for the thrifty.
This box is simple, quick to produce and effective. There will be no danger of the lid not lining up. All you need is an offcut of wood. Neodymium alloy magnets are employed to retain the lid of this box. They are easily available and cheap; I suggest browsing eBay for a pack of them. These magnets are very strong so please take care when using them.
Uses for this box can include a ring box, or a money box to enhance a gift of money to a child, or a box for tablets. To take this project further you could use chip carving to decorate the outside, use live-edge offcuts to create unusual boxes, or use compound sawing techniques to make fancier boxes. For those with medication or vitamins to take, you could cut seven holes to make a day-of-the-week tablet box.

Tools and equipment
• Bandsaw/mitre saw
• Drill press or a drill to make perpendicular holes
• Offcut of wood – up to 50 x 50 x 50mm
• Clamp – big enough to hold the offcut
• Carpenter’s glue or PVA
• Polyurethane glue or equivalent – not superglue
• Combination square/ruler
• Pencil
• 3mm lip-and-spur drill bit
• Stop collar for the 3mm drill bit
• 30mm wood boring drill bit – or a Forstner bit
• 3 x 3mm neodymium alloy magnets (cylindrical)
• Abrasive paper – 120, 240 and 400 grit
• Danish oil
• Brush and cloth
• Creamed beeswax with cloths for application

Point to note
We are going to make two saw-cuts in the piece of wood, so you will lose wood to the width of two saw-cuts (about 2mm). If you are using a highly figured piece of wood, note the figure may not line up perfectly when the pieces are put back together. We are going to drill a large hole in the wood and some wood will burn easily – cherry (Prunus avium) for example – and may warp under heat.  


1. To start, you will need an offcut of wood; cut it square on a bandsaw or mitre saw. The offcut of wood I have chosen to use is a piece of jelutong (Dyera costulata) and measures 48 x 48 x 40mm

2. Saw a slice off the top of your piece of wood using a bandsaw or mitre saw, in this example a 7mm slice. This slice will be the base of your box

3. Mark out the position of the two holes that will be used to hold the magnets. We are marking the face of the middle part of the box that will be hidden when the base is glued back on, so make sure you use the correct face. Draw a diagonal line from one corner of the box to the other and then mark off 7mm from each corner, these will be the centre points for you to drill the magnet holes

4. Drill the holes for the magnets. The lid of the box will be another 7mm slice off the top side of the box, but the holes for the magnets will be drilled first so the holes in the lid line up perfectly with those in the middle of the box. You will need to use a stop-collar on your drill or other mechanism to prevent the drill bit from penetrating too deep into the lid. We want the drill to create a hole about 2mm deep in the lid of the box, so to do this we need to work out how far the drill bit must penetrate. The middle of the box is currently 32mm high, less 7mm for the lid, less 1mm for the kerf of the saw blade, plus 1mm due to the lip and spur of the drill bit. This means we need to drill holes of 25mm depth

5. Having drilled the holes for the magnets, we must now cut the lid of the box free from the middle. Take care to cut off the face of the box that doesn’t have visible drill holes. Having cut the lid free from the middle, you should now have three pieces of wood, the base with no holes, the middle with two holes right through it and the lid with two holes about 2mm deep

6. The box now needs an interior, so you need to drill a large hole through the middle piece of the box. Drill the hole from what will be the top of the box, this way any breakout will be masked by the base when it is glued on. Mark the centre for the drill bit. The method I used to drill this hole was to put the middle piece of wood in a drill vice with an offcut of wood the same width immediately below it in the vice, this should stop breakout of the drill bit. Use a wood boring bit, in this example I have used a 30mm TCT wood borer, or Forstner-type bit. Hopefully you should end up with a good clean hole in the middle of your box. Now sand down the horizontal faces of your box to get rid of any saw marks. You will particularly want to smooth the faces that will be between the base and middle and between the middle and lid so that it will be difficult to see the joins. Use a 120 grit abrasive paper, followed by 240 grit and then 400 grit

7. Glue the base back on to the middle using carpenter’s yellow glue or PVA. You want the grain to line up nicely on the finished box so make sure to marry up the base and the middle correctly. Clamp the base to the middle while the glue dries, I have used two offcuts to go between the box and the jaws of the clamp so that the clamp doesn’t mark the box in any way

8. Glue the magnets into the lid of the box, one in each hole. The magnets should protrude from the lid by about 1.5mm. Use a dab of polyurethane glue on the bottom of each magnet before seating them in the holes in the lid. Take care using this glue and don’t put too much on the magnet or it will bubble up and may push the magnet out of place

9. Once the magnets have been put in the lid and the glue has dried, you need to insert the magnets into the middle section of the box. Make sure the polarity of those magnets in the lid matches that of those in the middle section of the box. Due to them being so strong, don’t worry if the magnets don’t physically touch. Again, use a small dab of polyurethane glue on the bottom of each magnet and push the magnets into the middle section so that there is a 2–3mm gap above them for the magnets in the lid

10. You should now be able to put the lid on the box. When the lid gets close to the middle of the box it should be drawn to it and make a reassuring ‘clap’ when it closes. With the box fully assembled, sand down the vertical faces of the box. This allows you to sand away any blobs of glue or saw marks. Run the box along strips of abrasive paper, 120 grit first, followed by 240 grit and then 400 grit. When finished the grain on the box should line up nicely

11. This box has been finished with Danish oil and given a light polish with creamed beeswax. Use a brush to apply some Danish oil to the box inside and out, leave it for five minutes and then remove the excess oil with a cotton cloth. Leave it to cure overnight and then using a cloth, apply some creamed beeswax to the wood before using another cloth to wipe off the excess wax and polish

12. Here are some other examples of completed keepsake boxes. A delightful present for anyone  to receive!

Alternative designs

Blue cedar

Spalted holly

Orange agate



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