|Creative Bandsaw Boxes|
By Bill Hardy
As a child, my father introduced me to the joys that wood can provide to the handyman and maker of fundamental necessities around the home. I helped him with many projects from platforms for my model trains to a desk for doing school work. Daddy and I made some very nice and functional things, but we never seemed to make the effort or take the time to do a really fine job of finishing. Therefore, because of his introductory influence, I have spent some part of the rest of my life in furthering my involvement with wood in one way or another, and concentrating on better finishing of my projects. Thus far that involvement has been on a part or spare time basis, but when I was laid off in 1989, I thought it might take on more of a full time meaning. Fortunately (at least for my two boys who were ready to enter college) I was able to find follow-on employment in the Government support services environment. Never-the-less that job scare has forced me, at least to some degree, to look at my woodworking "hobby" from a new perspective, as it may have to provide some significant portion of our basic support at some point in the future. Thus the part time basis has become more full time after work and on weekends -- just ask my wife, Celeste, about how much time I spend in my shop. Although the hours are sometime long, as all woodworkers know, the long hours in the wood shop seem different, and much more fulfilling, than the long hours spent at a desk job.
So what does all of this have to do with bandsaw boxes? Well, let's push that along a little bit and find out. Not untypical of young adults, I spent about twenty years after college moving from one job to another, trying to determine what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Along with the moving around came a marriage and family, which left little time for developing an avocation into a serious thing. Then, when I was about 40, Daddy again had a great influence on my woodworking pursuits by giving me a lathe for Christmas. Prior to that I had made a few things like end tables and a small couch, and refinished an old TV cabinet into a bar; but when I started turning wood a whole new world opened up. I really began to understand what this love of wood is all about. With one tool I could make beautiful projects with flawless finishes and I could complete them quickly, thus gaining almost instant gratification. (You are still probably wondering what in the forest this has to do with bandsaw boxes. Be patient, its coming!) From 1981 to 1989 I spent a lot of time on the lathe and even got my boys (ages 6 & 8 at the time) to make a spoke for the spinning wheel that I made for Celeste as my first lathe project. (and it works!) I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute that I have been turning and I have made a lot of different things as I gained experience. My real love is faceplate work; so bowls, platters etc. are my favorite things to "turn" out. Then the real kicker came about 1984 when a friend encouraged me to get a booth at a local craft fair and try to sell some of my labors of love; and let me tell you, it really perks you up when someone actually buys something. (Read carefully, now, the band saw boxes are coming soon!)
My craft fair involvement increased about the time that I was laid off from my job. Everyone says that good things usually come out of situations like that if you have a positive attitude. (Let me tell you, "them is easy words to say, but tough words to act on.) However, I believe that my involvement with wood was responsible for my not losing more than 20 pounds in the three month period that it took me to find another job. During that time I realized that I had a skill that could help us to get through tough times, but which would require a complete reorientation of our lifestyle and plans that we were beginning to make for the latter years of our life. However, to be successful, I realized that I would have to have some product that was unique. Lots of people turned bowls and trays, so I began looking for some things that I could do that were different. Some of the resulting things have been lathe objects, but (look out, here it comes!) the best things that I have developed have been free-form band saw boxes. I had experimented with some simple flat ones consisting of one chamber with somewhat of a free-form lid design (see figure 1); however, once I read Tom Crab's book "Making Wood Boxes With A Band Saw", my imagination reached into other areas that have given me a product line of larger, free-form, upright, multi-drawer boxes (see figures 2 & 3) that are unique and quite an attraction at the few craft shows that I do each year. It is a real ego boost to do something with your hands, especially in wood, that is different and creative and that others seem to treasure. So now I have two things that I do with wood that give me great pleasure, lathe turned items and bandsaw boxes. Both can be basically completed on a single tool and I have concentrated on ensuring that I obtain a fine finish on both. Thank you, Daddy, for your encouragement and support.
Now, to the nuts and bolts. I don't mind sharing my ideas and experiences with anyone. As a matter of fact, I teach woodturning at night in our local county adult education program and have really gained a lot of personal satisfaction from each class. I strongly recommend Mr. Crab's book as a guide to the basic techniques of making a band saw box. Once you are comfortable with the basic method of construction, the projects that you can create are limited only by your imagination and the size of your band saw (mine is a standard 12" Sears). This book is the only instruction that I have had, and all that you really need to get started. obviously since I have made a number of boxes, I have learned a few things that should be helpful and should give you a jump start. Then hopefully as you learn new things, you can share them with others. Now, lets look at some of these "lessons learned."
Like lathe-turned items, band saw boxes are basically one tool projects, However, to finish them like they should be finished can require an incredible amount of hand sanding, especially for exotic designs and some woods, unless you have some type of drum sander. I use a 4" long (various diameters) hard drum sander mounted in my drill press for a lot of the rough sanding. But my favorite is my 8" long (2" and 3" diameter) inflatable drum sander that I mount on my lathe. This one is fairly expensive, but well worth its weight in gold. It is flexible and therefore follows the contours of the boxes wonderfully. I recommend that you take the time to use at least two grits with the drums before going to the final hand sanding. Don't skimp on the hand sanding. This is what will make the difference between a splendid box and a so-so box. I pick an afternoon when I am not rushed and the weather is nice so I can sit out in my back yard. We have angora bunnies, and I use this time to do my hand sanding while watching them run around the yard with our two golden retrievers. We also have three house cats that love the yard, but cannot be trusted to stay around (even though the yard is fenced) unless someone is there to watch them. (The dogs and bunnies run together and the dogs and cats. I have not yet begun to trust the cats with the bunnies, however. Many people would consider this part of the sanding process boring, but I use the time to watch the animals and let my mind wander to subjects that I would not have time to think about otherwise. It is a peaceful time, but can't be done every day because the sandpaper does do a number on the fingers with prolonged periods of sanding.
I have used only five different woods to make band saw boxes: soft maple, walnut, cherry, lacewood and mahogany. 95% of the boxes are Mahogany because it is plentiful in the 4" thickness that I like to use, it seems to be very stable with little or no warping, it cuts fairly easily with a 1/8 " blade without excessive blade wander, it glues up well so that the glue lines are usually hard to see and, best of all, it is a hardwood but it hand sands fairly easily. The biggest drawback, and some would not consider it a negative, to mahogany is that it has little figure or interesting grain patterns. The other woods work OK on 3" stock, but when you go to 4" the cherry and maple can get hard and your blade will sometimes wander too much. Extreme blade wander can be bad for the drawers on the larger multi-drawer boxes, because you cannot get the drawers out. However, a small amount of wander is normal (unless you are very slow and careful) but it can usually be sanded out so long as you do not sand (and thus alter the shape of) the face of the drawers.
I finish most of my band saw boxes with Behlen's Salad Bowl Finish. I have tried a lot of different finishes, but find that three coats of this one gives just the right look for me on most woods. For the spalted maple boxes, I sometimes use Deft semigloss because it tends to fill in and smooth the surface of that porous wood. Deft works OK on mahogany also. Then as a final touch, I flock the inside of the drawers to make a really finished look for jewelry, and to cover up hard to sand places or glue marks left from putting the drawers together. I believe that every woodworker has their own special finish, and I suspect that all of them will do fine. As I tell my students, use whatever works for you. This advice is good for most any aspect of woodworking, including band saw boxes. If you like it and are comfortable with the way it works, that is the most important thing. Try some band saw box creativity with whatever wood you might have in your shop. You might discover something very unique. I guarantee that you will get a lot of satisfaction with the end item.