Sunday, April 12, 2009

Design Experiment - Small Improvised Box

After cleaning up the caulking irons, I just couldn't put them back in the ammo box they came in. I had a vague idea that an airtight box, while certainly keeping moist air out, would also trap moisture in with the irons and would probably not be the best home for them. That seems like a good, practical idea - but of course there was more to it. I just didn't like the ammo box - not for these irons. It didn't make me happy. This might sound familiar...

Anyway, I needed to design and build a box for the caulking irons and this seemed like a good excuse to try an experiment. I've noticed that many pieces built by old timers have a certain "funky" element to them. They don't seem to follow any "rules" of design, and they sometimes flat out break them. But they have character in spades and are wonderful, unique pieces. Often times it seems that there was a material influence on the final form. Maybe they used what was on hand - a thrifty use of offcuts. Sometimes they aren't successful - the piece feels heavy or clunky - but sometimes it is successful, and the piece has a wonderful, funky, organic, improvised quality (and I mean improvised in a good way - like a jazz solo - not like a shoddy cover up...).

For this project/experiment, I decided to restrict the materials I could use, design as I went, and see what happened to the final product. I could only use scrap, or left-over wood and hardware. This was going to be a quick box - no worries about perfect surfaces etc.

Here's what I ended up using:

Some pine shelves I took out of a cheapo CD cabinet I resurrected from Salvation Army
A piece of mahogany left over from the wood stove fence project
A chunk of 1x2 that was formally a sticker for a wood pile
3" hunk of 3/8" dowel
1 bamboo skewer

Cheapo piano hinge from aforementioned cheapo CD cabinet
Screws from the wheel of homeless fasteners
Nails - aluminum tacks! From - well, I don't know where these came from...

The tools to be stored set some dimensions and the material available set others. The caulking wheel was 16" long. I only had two pieces of the pine shelving longer than that. Since I needed the two sides and the top and bottom to be 16"+ I had to get four out of two. One piece I ripped down the middle. This became the two long sides of the box. To hold all the irons the box needed to be wider, so I resawed the second piece and ended up with two thin (approx. 5/16") pieces for the top and the bottom. The ends I made from one of the shorter shelf pieces.

My original idea was to use wooden pins as hinges, so I made two cleats for the top that would overlap the ends of the box and provide me with a location for the pins. After making those from part of the 1x2, I couldn't work out the details of the pins/hinges, so I scrapped that idea and cut a chunk of piano hinge. Then I found the tacks, and used those to fasten the hinge to the back and the top. The front edge of the lid looked funny, so I ripped a strip of mahogany and glued that across the front edge, overlapping the ends of the cleats. Better, but now the base looked odd. More ripping of mahogany strips and I attached a mitered base to the box. Not too bad, but the box still looked top heavy.

I ignored that "problem" and moved on to the handle. I did find an old metal handle, but attaching it to the thin top would have required adding a strip of wood under the lid. I avoided that by sawing and carving a wooden handle and screwing up through the lid into the handle. Not only did that solve the practical challenge of how to attach a handle, it somehow solved the top heavy aesthetic problem as well (at least to my eyes). Unintentionally, the handle came out with an "Asian" flavor, and paired with the top being wider than the base, it gave the whole box a quasi pagoda nature. Weird.

To keep the lid from just opening when I pick it up by the handle, I made two locking pins from the dowel and the bamboo skewer. Then, to avoid losing them, I made two holes in the top edges of the ends to hold the pins. This also has the bonus feature of propping the lid open so it is obvious that it is not locked.

Two coats of bright red milk paint pulled the whole thing together and hid the different woods used. I followed the paint with my own mixture of mineral oil and beeswax.

I think this experiment was successful. The box is functional and has a pleasing design in a funky, improvised, unique way that keeps drawing my attention back to it. Much more enjoyable than the ammo box.

Here's the tool kit for this project:


  1. LOTS better than the ammo box!!!

    Never let good scrap go to waste. It's a fine looking box, and I'm sure the irons are happier too.

    You're next project is to lobby Blogger to get serious about spam blocking and quit depending on the very non-accessible CAPTCHA (word verification) devices. In my alter-life as an Accessibility Consultant, I can assert that CAPTCHAs are one of the toughest barricades for people with disabilities, and fail at rates of up to 20% for people with no disabilities. They are a crutch for firms who can't do spam control correctly and are propagating faster than Kudzu.

  2. Excellent box. I like the funky, low-rider-meets-Asian-temple-and-Greek-pedestal vibe. 200 years from now some antiques dealer will be wondering how to possibly categorize this and will only be able to date it by the piano hinge.

    Great job. I'm also stealing the locking dowel idea.


  3. Dan: Not to Shabby if I might say so myself...

    I'm not big on Paint as you already know from Previous Comments. But being a person that Adores the Asian Culture and the likelyness.

    I think it fits, I like the Brightness of the Milk Paint that you used, the Hand carved Handle and the Overlapping Lid.

    I also like the tools you have in them, I seen them in a Previous Post, but haven't had the time to comment on them. What are they exctually?

    They look just like chisles, are they more then that? What are they used for?


  4. Thanks guys!

    Bob - I'm glad you like it. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks tools have feelings :)

    Does Blogger acknowledge the issue?

    AAAndrew - Funny! I do sometimes wonder what someone in the future will make of my creations. The chain of history is a curious thing.

    Regarding the locking dowel idea - steal at will! I doubt its really mine anyway...

    Handi - Thanks - I'm glad you like the box - even though it is painted! :)

    As for the caulking irons, they are specific to boat building. They are struck with a caulking mallet to drive the caulking material (usually cotton I think) into the seams between the planks to help make them watertight. They are more blunt than sharp, and some have grooves in the end. They also vary in thickness, to match the seam size.

    I've never used them, so my knowledge is not from experience, and thus may be off-base. Someone with more experience is welcome to add to or correct my information. Care to chime in Bob?

  5. Dan,

    Nice work. It is a great box. I do the same thing whenever I get new old tool. I just have to build a box for it. Nice touch with the red.


  6. Thanks Regis! Yep, every tool needs a home.


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