Monthly Archives: September 2015

Building Milk Crate Sized Boxes for my Record Collection

I’m a hipster. Seriously. I have a beard, I’m a foodie, and I collect vinyl records. After moving into my new house, I realized that I needed a new place to store the aforementioned record collection, as the bookshelf that it previously lived on is now on a different floor than the record player, and I’m too lazy to walk up and down stairs every time I want to listen to a record.

This project, as many woodworking projects do, started out with some wood:

Rough cut box sides

One of my goals for this project was to learn how to create a box joint, which is a method of joining two orthogonal pieces of material together by way of cutting a bunch of fingers into each piece and interlacing them, providing a large surface area for glue to adhere to. The result is an extremely strong and handsome joint, but the method requires the sides of the box to be cut longer than you intend them to be.

In general, if all of your material is the same thickness, then each piece needs to be cut two thicknesses longer than you intend its inside dimension to be once joined. My boxes have an outside dimension of 17″ by 14″, but their inside dimensions are only 15.5″ by 12.5″, because my material is 3/4″ thick. If I were joining the sides with a simple butt joint, and the front and back pieces of my box sat between the two side pieces, then the front and back pieces would have to be two thicknesses shorter than the final width of the box. With a box joint, all sides are cut to the intended final outside dimensions of the box, because the interlacing fingers will eat up the extra length. Therefore, the front and back of my box are cut 14″ long, while the sides are cut 17″ long.

Box joints can be cut by hand, or by hogging material out with many passes across a standard table saw blade, but these methods make it hard to keep the fingers and the spaces between the fingers the same width across the entire length of the joint. Instead, I purchased the Freud SBOX8, a table saw blade specifically made for cutting 1/4″ or 3/8″ box joints. It’s basically a dado blade with only two widths that cuts a flat-bottomed channel.


In addition, I built a simple jig to help keep the spacing between fingers even:

Box joint jig

This jig is basically just a mitre sled with a 3/8″ square piece of hardwood affixed 3/8″ away from the edge of the blade channel. When cutting the fingers of the box joint, you advance the piece along the jig by fitting the previously cut finger over top of the guide piece, which ensures that the next finger will be exactly 3/8″ away from the previous one. This in turn results in fingers and spaces between fingers that are all 3/8″ wide.

Using the box joint jig

In the photo above, you can see that I use my jig to cut two sides of the box at once. Any two sides that join at a 90 degree angle can be cut this way, but they need to be offset by one finger width (in my case, 3/8″) so that the tops of the two pieces will be flush when the fingers are meshed together.

After making a great deal of sawdust, I ended up with all four sides meshing nicely:

All four sides of the box cut, but not yet glued

The next step was to glue the sides together. The wood glue that I typically use has a working time of around 15 minutes. For a project with this many glue surfaces, I’d recommend finding a glue that takes longer to set up, since it takes awhile to get all of the surfaces covered in glue, and you do want to glue the entire box together in one operation so that you can ensure that all of the pieces are square to one another. Many clamps are essential for this process.

The box is glued and clamped

With the glue dry, I used a palm sander and a router with a flush trim bit to clean up the edges of the box as well as any areas where the fingers sat proud of the side of the box. I also used a jig saw to cut some handles into the front and back sides.

The box is glued together and has handles cut in it

The last step was to put a bottom on the box. I used a router with a rabbeting bit to cut a 1/4″ channel around the inside edge of the bottom of the box, then glued in a piece of 1/4″ thick plywood.

Gluing the bottom into the boxes

Finally, it was time for finishing. This project got one coat of Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner, two coats of Minwax American Chestnut Gloss stain, and three coats of Minwax Wipe-on Polyurethane. Before staining, I sanded down to 220 grit, then hit the surface with triple-zero steel wool between each finishing coat.

In the end, while the finish is smooth and glossy, I think it came out too dark. I really liked the look of the box after the first coat of stain, and if I were doing the project again, I would probably would stopped there.

First coat of stain

I really liked the look of the finger joins with just one coat of stain


Finished box

The finished look is nice, but a bit orange for my tastes. I think the polyurethane has a lot to do with that yellowing effect.

After a lot of hard work, many mistakes, and more than a few false starts, I triumphantly carried my new record crates upstairs and started to put my records into them… only to find out that they wouldn’t all fit. Fuck.

You know that old adage about measuring twice and cutting once? I measured twice, but I only measured a single-platter record sleeve, not realizing that gatefold sleeves and record sleeves that contain two platters are wider than their single-disk counterparts. Luckily, my wife had the bright idea of putting the records into the boxes sideways. It looks a little funny, but it works:

Photo 2015-09-07, 12 29 11 PM

The only problem is that my collection doesn’t have much space to grow. I guess I’ll have to make more boxes after all. Oh well. Back to the shop with me.

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