How I Make Shaker Oval Boxes

I buy most of my Shaker oval box wood from John Wilson at The Home Shop. He has templates, cores, and water trays. If you don’t want to buy all that right away, you can make them without any of those. For my first few sets, I just bought the bands and boiled them in a stock pot. I used foam board for the cores until I got around to buying and making wooden cores.


Taper one end of the box and lid bands. Just thin out the last few inches. I don’t measure, because it doesn’t need precision.


Next, I trace the fingers onto the ends of the box and lid bands, opposite of the end that I tapered. My metal templates are great, but for the first few sets I made paper templates. Mark the locations of the tacks.


I drill a 1/16th inch hole for each tack.


Heat up your water. I use one of the water trays that John Wilson sells. I soak the fingers in the the water as it heats up.

After five to ten minutes, I cut out the fingers with a utility knife. Then I fine tune the fingers with a carving knife. I cut a slight bevel all around the fingers with the carving knife as well.


Then, I soak the bands for twenty minutes in the hot water.

When I think the bands are ready, I pull out the first band with tongs and immediately wrap it around a core. Wear gloves if you need to, but usually I don’t. It doesn’t hurt after it is out of the water for a few seconds.


Loosen the band a little, and remove the form. Tighten the band back up to the right size and tack all the drilled holes with a hammer and an anvil.

After all the tacks are in, fit forms in the top and bottom like corks.


Do the same steps with the lid band. This time, I wrap the band around the box band. After tacking, slip it back onto the box band and let it all dry for a day or two.

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Now, I trace the inside of the box band on bottom piece.


Then I cut it out with a bow saw.


Using a spokeshave, I sneak up on the line. I keep the spokeshave at a slight angle towards the inside of the box.


Test and retest the fit. Eventually you can fit it to the band and push it flush. The slight angle lets it fit like a cork. Then I do the same steps to fit the top into the top band.


Drill 5/64″ holes evenly through the bands and into the top and bottom. Hammer in the small wood pegs. These are toothpicks cut in half. No need to use glue.

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Using wire cutters, I snip off the pegs and cut them flush with a spokeshave or carving knife.

Clip off the peg and smooth with a spokeshave, file, sandpaper. Put a finish on it.





Here are a few extra things I figured out during my first couple boxes:

-Don’t worry if the wood pieces are too big for your pot. Just cook them with the ends sticking out. As the bottoms become flexible push the tops down into the water. It is kind of like cooking long pasta. Just make sure you start your 20 minute timer only after the whole piece is submerged. Your total cooking time could be an hour for one end of the wood, but that didn’t hurt anything when I did it. I used this method to make shaker boxes of sizes 1, 2, and 3. The bigger the box, the more of a pain this will be.

-You can make cheap and fast forms using foamboard. It cuts and sands easily, but it also makes a mess. Also, while the box was drying, I didn’t use end stoppers as most instructions show. I just put the same form back in the box after tacking it.

-Even after triple-checking my kit, the tacks looked wrong. I thought they were too short to drive all the way through the wood and clinch. Just trust it.

-Even though the wood was cooking in near boiling water, you shouldn’t need gloves to handle it while tacking. After about three seconds of being out of the water, it is cool enough to start wrapping and tacking.

-I don’t tack my boxes using a pipe as an anvil, as I’ve seen others do online. Instead, I actually use an anvil. The little one from Lee Valley works for me.

-I don’t saw out the fingers on each piece. I use a very sharp carving knife to cut them out. I also use the same knife to bevel the edges.