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Five little boxes

Posted by joeabbott on April 6, 2015

P1090413A year ago I wrote about the passing of a dear uncle, a man who embodied many qualities I admire: patience, generosity, intelligence, compassion, and a dozen others. He could bring intellect to a conversation without making anyone feel inferior and inject humor at the expense of no one. On the anniversary of our family’s loss, I wanted to honor the date by sending my mother and siblings a keepsake. And so I built and sent five little boxes.

I’ll back up just a second to flesh this out just a bit.

First, I had planned to send the keepsakes on his birthday, just around Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, that was a busy time for me and the birthday tribute (which I find more apt to “celebrate” with a keepsake) was pushed out to Christmas. But, those who know me will appreciate that I’m seldom “too busy” for just a day or two, and the activities keeping me moving at Thanksgiving challenged my Christmas gift plans, too.

But, I couldn’t go the entire year without recognizing this great man and so I settled on, and with the help of Suzy, met my self-imposed obligations.

My uncle was a great collector of coins and in our youth he’d often hand Eisenhower dollar coins to us kids and we’d foolishly spend them on candies. While these coins aren’t particularly rare and today might fetch a couple dollars in their circulated condition, I’d love to have kept one of those coins as a remembrance. However, to go along with the boxes, I routed a small depression and included a 2014 coin for each of my siblings.

The coin wasn’t an Eisenhower dollar and not the point of the gift; it was the making and giving of a thing in honor of our Uncle Joe.

My family received them a few days ago and have all been exceptionally generous with their thoughts and comments: calling me, sending cards of thanks, and I get to hear from each other how they shared their boxes with each other. And now I’d like to share them here.

I didn’t start out building specific boxes for specific family members but, rather, created five different designs that then just seemed right to gift to that person. The one exception is my mother’s, who I had to go out and find a particular wood for … I like the color red so I looked for a red wood. I found it!



At my local Rocker, they had a small number of “blanks” for turning and in that assortment I found something called either “red wood” or “blood wood” … but it’s not a cedar! The wood was very dense and when I was working it I had tons of pink shavings covering the floor. The quality of the wood was such that it completely clogged one of the belt sanders I was using but I like the result enough that replacing that belt will be no problems.

The box is an upright design, a “rectangular cylinder” which has a top that slides off. My mother gave me a set of golden mean calipers for my birthday (was it Christmas?), so I was used them to find the line on which I created the top/bottom split.



My older sister received a chunky hockey puck-shaped box … fitting as she and her hubby adore hockey! However, it made it to her as the round design seemed fitting. I’m a bit embarrassed to note the box was going to be much bigger in diameter, but I was forming the shape freehand, and it appears my skills at making a round shape are limited.

The box is of walnut, a wood I really love. A few years ago I bought a large stock of walnut in some really thick dimensions. Since then, some of my favorite projects have used that wood. When being worked it gives a distinct aroma and the grain is always unique and moving. And, while I don’t have a very good eye for design, I like including both the very lightest parts of the walnut with the warm chocolates of that wood.



Laurels box is the one that, upon completing it I knew exactly who would get it. My sister lives on a farm of sorts in Wisconsin; not actually a farm, but they keep sheep and chicken and have a llama and any number of cats and dogs. They’re in the heart of farm land and so lives on a farm doesn’t seem a stretch. So when this box came out as a barn-shape, I knew I wanted to gift it to her.

This is another box made of walnut and was a pretty hefty piece. In addition to having the unique walnut grain, the relatively long, flat sides made the shine really pop. The slide of the lid was really smooth on this piece; not loose, but it moved easily. I was going to include a small magnet clasp to ensure it stayed put, but time was running short and it lined up so well when set correctly that I didn’t want to mess that up by misplacing the magnet.



Jay’s box was one of my favorites … one of five, you may say. <g> When I started this one, I wanted to have a super-thin box, something only slightly thicker than the coin it would hold. In the end, it’s was about 3/8” thick … pretty good. The thin wood wanted to move a bit after soaking it in oil and then waxing it, but I like it nonetheless.

The wood is a strand-cut bamboo and was one of the first boxes I made. It gave me fits trying to work out the right angles for the sliding dovetails and the quality of working bamboo proved a lot more challenging than some of the other hardwoods.



Pardon the photography on this one! My youngest sister’s box came together incredibly easily; the size and shape just seemed to pop out naturally. I liked the shape of Jay’s box but wanted something that wasn’t trying so hard to  be thin … but along the same dimensions. While I had to fiddle with a number of the other boxes (I had to re-make the lid to my mother’s box and I noted some issues with the others), but this one required little in the way of touch-up or additional work: I cut the basic dimensions, created the lid sliding dovetail, and then shaped the corners. Easy!

The wood in this piece is Lyptus. I’d never heard of it before I bought a plank a few years back and, since then, this salmon-colored wood has been sitting in my shop waiting for a project to request my attention. The grains is tight and straight, and the parts mate nicely. I believe I added a magnet catch to this box and was pleasantly surprised when everything lined up afterwards.


And that’s it. Five coins, five boxes, one memorial.

P1090417I liked being able to give something that had come from my hand as a memorial of my uncle. I also liked secreting a keepsake coin away with the boxes as a further reminder of his generosity and something he did for us in our childhood.

Thanks for reading.


One Response to “Five little boxes”

  1. Jay said

    Super cool Joe! And Lovely if I might say. I hope you got the pictures we sent by text on Easter – not sure the 2nd one sent successfully.

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