sliding lid boxes
lid boxes
© 2009 August Home Publishing Co.
Sliding Lid Boxes
Finger joint boxes aren’t
all that common anymore. But they’re still
attractive, strong, and
{ The lid on this
box slides into
shallow grooves
cut in the sides
and back.
efore plastic and cardboard,
people stored and carried
things in wooden boxes. The smaller
of these boxes were often joined with
finger joints. It’s a quick joint that’s
easy to mass produce, and with a little
glue, it’s quite strong.
I use finger joints for the same reason. I can build a box quickly with a
table saw and a simple jig. In fact, I
can build a lot of boxes quickly, as
you can see in the photo at right.
LID. The other thing I like about these
boxes are the lids. They’re irresistible.
As soon as you pick up a box, you just
have to slide it open and shut.
Because the lid fits inside rather
than on top of the box, the fingers
are cut a little different than explained
in the article beginning on page 3.
Basically, you just cut fewer fingers on
the front corners (margin photo).
Note: The step-by-step drawings
here feature the short pine box in
the photo above. Overall dimensions
for the other boxes in the photo are
included in the box on the next page.
SIDES & ENDS. The boxes start out as
1/ "-thick front, back, and sides cut
about 1/8" oversized in width. After
the finger joints are cut, the box can
be assembled, as shown on pages 3 to
6 — except for a few differences.
FRONT ENDS. When laying out and
marking the pieces, I also labeled the
front end of each side piece so I would
Cut pieces
to final width
after cutting
finger joints
remember to cut them differently.
The fingers on these pieces aren’t cut
all the way to the top edge, see photo
in margin and detail ‘a’ below.
What I do is start with the back end
of these pieces and count the number of passes I make over the blade
(thirteen for the box shown below).
Then when cutting the front end, I
simply make two fewer passes over
the blade (eleven, in this case).
Note: The thirteen slots on the
back end will become twelve after the
waste is trimmed off the top edge.
for lid
(3!!/16" x 5!!/16")
All pieces
!/4"-thick stock
© 2009 August Home Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved.
GROOVE FOR LID. Before trimming the
front piece, I cut the groove for the lid
on the top inside face of the back and
side pieces. This groove is identical to
the one for the bottom (1⁄8" x 1⁄8").
TRIM FRONT PIECE. After the grooves
for the lid were cut, I raised the blade
and trimmed off the top edge of the
front piece. This way, it lines up with
the bottom of the groove perfectly,
see detail ‘a’ on page 1.
Now, a 1⁄4"-thick hardwood bottom
can be added, and the box can be
glued together, refer to page 3.
LID. With the box assembled, work
can begin on the lid, see Fig. 1. The
lid is nearly identical to the bottom of
the box. But it’s 3⁄16" longer so it ends
up flush with the front of the box. And
instead of cutting a 1⁄8"-wide rabbet
along all four edges, the lid only has
three edges rabbeted.
I sized the tongues created by
these rabbets so they would just fit
into the grooves in the box. Then I
sanded the tongues on the sides of
the lid so it would slide in and out
easily. But leave the back edge tight
so it’ll hold the lid in place.
FINGER PULL . At this point, the lid
will fit into the box, so next I added a
small recess so I could pull it out easily with the tip of a finger, see Fig. 2.
Figuring out just how to cut a clean
recess took some experimenting. But
I found a quick and easy method using
a drill press, a 1"-dia. Forstner bit, and
an angled scrap block, see Fig. 2.
First, I laid out the position of the
pull, see Fig. 2b. Then to prevent
chipout, I scored the pull’s straight
edge 1⁄2" from the front of the lid.
Now to support the lid, I trimmed
one end of a scrap piece of 2x4 at 8°so
it would hold the lid at a slight angle,
see Figs. 2 and 2a. Next, I positioned
the lid so the drill bit would start cutting at the “point” of the pull. Then I
lowered the bit to the scored line.
PLUG GROOVES. All that’s left now is
to plug the holes left by the grooves
at the top and bottom of the box. But
take special care with the plugs at
the top. If they extend too far into
the groove, they could prevent the
lid from closing. You can see what I
mean in Figs. 3 and 3a.
Finally, with the plugs glued in
and trimmed flush, I sanded the box
smooth and wiped-on an oil finish.
alternate box sizes
I like these boxes because I can
turn out two or three in no time at
all. In fact, I found myself trying
different woods and changing the
size of the boxes, see the photo on
page 1 and the drawing at right.
One note of caution, though.
Since the stock is only 1⁄4" thick,
don’t make your boxes much
wider than 5". Otherwise, the lid
will more than likely cup.
© 2009 August Home Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved.
Finger Joints
The nice thing about building boxes with finger joints is that you don’t
need any special tools. And you can start and finish a box in a day.
inger joints always remind me of
two hands clasped together. A set
of “fingers” on one piece fits between
the “fingers” on the other. But what
provides the “muscle” here is glue.
These interlocking fingers create a
lot of edge-to-edge surface area for a
really strong glue joint — which, in
turn, makes for a solid box.
And while cutting all those tiny
fingers might seem tedious, it’s
really a snap. All you need is a jig
that you can build in about fifteen
minutes with a few shop scraps.
Plus, you don’t need a shop full
of tools. To make the fingers, I use a
table saw with a miter gauge and a rip
blade (or any other blade that cuts a
flat-bottomed kerf).
To build a box with finger joints, a
series of kerfs are cut with the table
saw. The pieces are supported and
positioned with the help of a simple
jig — basically, just an auxiliary fence
with a key to index the fingers.
FENCE & LEDGE. My auxiliary fence is a
piece of stock temporarily clamped to
the miter gauge, see drawing below.
But I also add a 1⁄4"-thick hardboard
ledge under this fence. This way, the
workpiece doesn’t ride directly on
the table (and over the blade insert
that may not be flat and level).
KEY. While the fence and ledge support the workpiece, a small key added
to the fence is really what makes the
jig work. It’s cut to match the width of
the kerf left by your saw blade. And
this key is positioned so the distance
between it and the blade is identical
to the width of the key itself.
To add the key, I clamp the fence
to the miter gauge and cut a notch in
it (Step 1, page 4). Then I cut the key
from a scrap to fit tight into this notch
(Step 2). A tight fit is critical — you
don’t want any “play” when fitting the
kerfs of the workpiece over the key.
SETTING UP THE JIG. With the key glued
in place, the jig is built, but it’s not set
up. There are two things to do: position the key by adjusting the miter
gauge fence and raise the blade to the
right height (box on page 4).
up the fence, the distance from the
© 2009 August Home Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved.
finger joint jig: step-by-step
key to the blade has to match the
thickness of the blade (and the key).
Otherwise, the fit of the fingers will
either be too tight or loose, see box.
I start by positioning the key with a
second, identical key (Step 3). Then I
check the setup by cutting a series of
finger joints on two test pieces, (Step
4). But I don’t just use any scraps that
happen to be lying around. Instead,
I make my test pieces identical to
my final pieces in width and thickness (but not necessarily length). I
even use the same type of wood. This
way, I can use these test pieces later
when plugging the holes left by the
grooves for the bottom.
Using a second key to set the first
will get you close. But you’ll probably
still need to “tweak” the fence one
way or the other, see box and tip in
margin at right. It’s important to be
patient; it will probably take several
adjustments (and test cuts) before
the fit is perfect.
I like to end up with a snug fit so
that when dry assembling the pieces,
I have to work the pieces a bit to press
the fingers together and pull them
apart. This way, I can usually avoid
using clamps when gluing the boxes
together. But more on that later.
SETTING THE BLADE. After the key is set
and the fence has been screwed to
1so it’s slightly below the thick- 2 that will fit tight in the notch
After setting the blade height
Next, you’ll need to size a key
ness of the stock, cut a notch in
the fence (and the ledge).
that was just cut in the fence.
Then glue it in place.
Now, using a spacer the same
width as the key, move the
fence so the spacer fits between
the key and the blade.
Test the setup and make
needed adjustments to the
fence and the blade. Then screw
the fence to the miter gauge.
the miter gauge, I set the height
of the saw blade. Of course, when
you’re done, you want the fingers
per fectly flush with the mating
pieces. But here, when setting the
blade, I let the fingers protrude just
slightly — less than 1⁄64". (I’ll sand
them flush later.)
To set the blade height, I position
the workpiece next to the blade. I start
with the blade below the height of the
workpiece and sneak up on the final
height as I test the fit (box below).
This way, the fence will back up the
cut, and there will be less chance for
chipout when cutting the fingers.
{ When setting up
a finger joint jig,
I make any
“visible” by drawing a line across
the jig and table.
fine adjustments
Loose fit. If there’s a gap between
each finger, simply slide the key
and fence away from the blade.
Tight fit. If the fingers won’t fit
into the slots at all, then slide the
key and fence towards the blade.
Short fingers. If the blade is set
too low, the fingers will be short,
so raise the saw blade slightly.
Long fingers. If the fingers extend
too far, the saw blade is too high
and needs to be lowered.
© 2009 August Home Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved.
Building the Box
With the jig set up, the hard part is
over, and the fun really begins. With
this simple jig, you can build any
number of boxes quickly. Plus,
about the only adjustment you’ll
need to make is to raise or lower
the blade to accommodate different thicknesses of stock.
WIDE PIECES . When building a box,
I start with all four sides of the box
planed to finished thickness and cut
to final length. But I leave them slightly oversized in width. I don’t worry
about the final height (width) until
after the fingers are cut, see Step 10.
LABEL PIECES. With the pieces ready,
the next step is to label them, see
drawing at right. I mark the bottom
edge of each piece as the good edge
that I reference my cuts from. I also
number the corners to keep them
together as the fingers are cut.
CUTTING THE JOINTS . With the jig to
guide you, cutting finger joints is just
about automatic. But you do need to
keep some things in mind.
I found that it’s good to be extra
careful with the very first slot that’s
cut in each piece, see Step 5 below.
Check that there’s nothing on the jig
(like sawdust) to throw off this cut;
the piece should rest squarely on the
ledge and against the key.
Then when cutting the rest of the
fingers and slots, you need to be as
consistent as possible, see Steps 6-9.
Even shifting the pressure slightly
can affect the final fit of the corner.
So I hold the piece against the jig
with both hands and try to make each
pass exactly the same.
CHIPOUT . I should also mention
something about chipout. Chipout
can be a problem any time you cut
finger joints, but two things will help.
First, make sure your blade is sharp.
finger jointS: step-by-step
To begin, set the bottom
edge of the piece against
the key and hold it tight as you
pass it over the blade.
Now, rotate the piece so the
first slot straddles the key.
Set the mating piece in place and
cut its first slot.
Now, straddle the first slot
over the key and cut a second slot. Repeat this process
across the piece.
To cut the next slot, slide
the slot just cut up tight
against the key. Then continue
as before.
Next, flip the piece end-forend, keeping the bottom
edge against the key. Then cut
the slots on this end.
After all four corners are
complete, trim the top
edge of each piece to leave a full
finger or slot.
© 2009 August Home Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved.
And second, make sure the notch in
your jig matches the height of the
slots you’re cutting. This way, the
workpiece is backed up completely.
FINAL HEIGHT . After the fingers are
cut, I trim the top edge of the pieces
so there’s a full finger (and slot) left,
see Step 10. Because my blade is a
hair over 1⁄8"-thick, I usually find this
dimension ends up a little more than
the one I’m shooting for, but for most
boxes, the final height is not critical.
Of course, there are times when
the finished height can’t be ignored.
A drawer, for instance, often has to
be sized to fit a specific opening.
When that’s the case, I still make
the pieces oversized and then trim
them from both the top and bottom
so the fingers here are identical.
BOTTOM PANEL. The next step is to add
the bottom panel, see Steps 11 and
12. To cut the grooves for this panel,
I use the same saw blade and set the
rip fence with a side piece, refer to
the drawing on page 5 and Step 11
below. Set the bottom edge against
the fence and align the blade with
the first finger. Then double check
the setup with the end piece.
ASSEMBLY. When the bottom is cut
and rabbeted to fit the grooves (Step
12), I dry assemble the box. Then
when satisfied with the fit, it’s time to
glue it together, see Steps 13-16.
GLUE. Dry assembling a box can be
done at a leisurely pace, but when it’s
time to apply the glue, there’s no time
to dawdle. You have to get glue in all
the fingers and get the joints together
before the glue sets up.
To help, I apply glue to the ends of
the pieces (margin photo). And I use
a slow setting glue, like white glue or
liquid hide glue. Of the two, I prefer
hide glue because it cleans up well
with water and if any glue is left on
the inside corners, it doesn’t stand out
much after an oil finish is applied.
And speaking of glue on the inside
corners, I scrape it out and wipe off
as much as possible with a damp rag
before it sets up. It’s just too hard to
remove after it’s dried.
SEATING THE JOINT . Once the glue
is applied, I drive the fingers into
the slots with one
of the test pieces that
I used earlier to set up
the finger joint jig, refer to
Step 13. I’ve found that once
the joint is seated, there’s often
enough friction to hold the corner
together, so I don’t even have to use
any clamps.
ADDING CLAMPS. However, once in a
while, I’ll have a cupped piece that
needs to be clamped, see Step 14.
In this case, I apply the clamps just
inside the fingers and add a small
spacer in the middle to keep the sides
of the box from bowing in.
PLUGS. When the glue is dry, there
are still a couple “clean-up” steps.
First, I plug the holes left by the
grooves for the box bottom, see Step
15. Then I trim them and sand the
sides of the box smooth.
FLATTEN BOTTOM . Finally, you may
notice the corners of the bottom of
the box aren’t perfectly flush. But this
is an easy fix. Just attach sandpaper
to a flat surface and sand the bottom
of the box lightly, see Step 16.
Next, to hold a bottom panel,
cut a groove on each piece,
using a workpiece to set the fence.
Apply clamps to the corners,
if necessary. A spacer will
keep the sides from bowing in.
With the bottom panel cut to
size, rabbet its bottom edges
to create a tongue to fit the grooves.
With the glue dry, plug the
exposed grooves at the bottom of the box and trim them flush.
To seat the joints after applying glue (see margin), use a
mallet and one of the test pieces.
{ To assemble
a finger joint
quickly, I run
the glue across
the ends of
the fingers.
If necessary, apply adhesivebacked sandpaper to a flat
surface and sand the bottom flat.
© 2009 August Home Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved.
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