Thinking Inside the Box

Taunton’s Complete Illustrated Guide to Box Making

By Doug Stowe

Illustrated. 151 pp. The Taunton Press, Inc. $24.95


Not knowing how to do something has rarely stopped me from doing it. Probably should have. I “fixed” my chainsaw from not running well to not running at all.  Did the same to my motorcycle. I refer to my first bookcase, all seven feet of it, as “The Leaning Tower of Books”. It centers on that rather naïve concept that following a whopping three-page plan will miraculously result in creation of a woodworking masterpiece AND build expertise on joinery, wood selection, resawing, hand tools, machine tools, and carving. It’s the difference between The What and The How (still need to figure out The Why). That skill gap has banished a few of my boxes to the back shelf of a closet one match away from becoming firewood.

Well known woodworker and box builder Doug Stowe has delivered many wonderful design books focusing on The What, and now turns his attention to The How. In Taunton’s Complete Illustrated Guide to Box Making, the author leads the woodworker from outfitting a shop to carving a lid for a Bentwood box.

Not that his previous books are devoid of techniques and skills, it’s just that in Box Making Stowe has created a manual seeking to flesh out the numerous skills crucial to the entire craft of box making. Rather than packing the text with designs (there’s only one plan), he delves into a wide range of topics; tools, materials, joinery, lids, feet and bases, interiors, hinges & hardware, decorating boxes, and shaped boxes.

In general, the author’s approach to woodworking does favor machine tools. Mortise-and-Tenon joints are cut using the tablesaw and router, with chisels only used for cleanup. A sturdy guide on hand planes can be found in Robert Wearing’s The Essential Woodworker. But all is not lost for hand tool folks. When he gets to dovetails Stowe does lay out the method for hand cut (tails first, my preference), as well handling them on the table saw. It’s also one of the few times I’ve seen him highlight a particular brand of tools; he uses a Leigh Jig to cut both through and half-blind dovetails. For those wanting to give half-blink dovetails a try, but aren’t ready to commit the big bucks for the very fine Leigh setup, the Harbor Freight Dovetail Jig is a bargain at around $35 – that being the most you should pay since few shop at HF without the standard 20% coupon in hand.

A simple dovetailed box of oak and hickory; Bandsaw Box from purpleheart and curly maple.

No single book will do it all. Most sections can be classified as introductory materials, rather than in depth discussions meant to elevate your skill level to expert. To do so and the book would grow from 151 pages to an encyclopedia sized monster. But the breadth of subjects covered is impressive. Stowe covers the entire gambit of woodworking, including milling logs with a chainsaw. Now, the subject of milling is vast and he doesn’t (reasonably can’t) commit dozens of pages discussing drying, moisture content, storage, warp, etc. Numerous articles, as well as entire books, have been dedicated to this topic. Instead the reader receives a solid start for exploring the many facets of woodworking, as well some hints: if you’re like me and do not own a drum sander, Stowe demonstrates how a table saw outfitted with a sanding disk can be used to thin out material for those all-important box dividers.

Woodworkers can expect the same clear, informative photographs as found in the author’s other books; a commendable feat given that all the interior photos come from Stowe himself. The text flows in a comfortable narrative that is easy to follow cover to cover, yet the real value is its reference like structure. Want help on using a story stick to install barrel hinges? Turn to the back of the book for a detailed index that zeros in on a specific topic.

Ideally, this book should be in hand from the start, even before buying tools. Wish I had it before beginning my first wood projects. For me, it’s a nice companion manual for other Doug Stowe books, or any other box making books. And although this guide is targeted to box building, the material covered has such wide applicability that it will likely benefit any beginning woodworker.

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