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Coopering a box lid

My brother’s birthday was coming up and this year I decided to make him a gift – a letter knife – and since it was his 50th, I wanted a box in which to present it. Something a little unusual. I had not coopered a box lid before, but thought that the challenge would be fun.

Below I will take you through the steps I followed. It turned out to be fairly straight forward – just requiring attention to detail. What is a little different is that I did not use a jig to clamp the curved lid as the pieces were drying. Every article I read appeared to rely on a curved form to secure clamps. In fact, I did not use any clamps.

Setting it out

The diameter of the lid only needed to be wide enough for a knife, so I chose an old DVD as a model. To calculate the number of pieces and the angle at which they would join, I scribed the DVD thus .

From this I was able to determine that the sides required a 12° bevel on a 20mm wide section. I set the tablesaw for a 78° rip.

I had chosen Jarrah for the box, as it would present a nice contrast for the letter knife. Now the board was ripped ..

Gluing and clamping

The jigless/clampless method relies on plastic packing tape. I chose this over masking tape as it is unaffected by glue and will not stretch or break.

First lay out a couple of lines of tape sticky-side up ..

Onto this lay the wooden strips. Make sure that the grain is orientated the same way for later planing.

Turn this over and tape up the other side completely ..

You are now ready for gluing up..

Wipe off all the glue – I used water – as you will otherwise struggle to do so later.

Here is a look from the other side as it dries ..

The next step was to lap the lower side, which I chose to do on sandpaper (glued to a granite tile) since this is a quicker and more accurate method than using a handplane.

Completing the lid

I cut the lid to length on my tablesaw. The ends could now be used as a template to mark off the pieces that would cap the ends. I had decided that it would be too difficult to round the inside of the lid since it was too small to get a plane inside. Instead the cap would be chiseled to fit ..

The final pieces looked like this ..

Before they were glued on, the inside of the box – already planed from before the glue up – was given a final scraping to remove any vestiges of glue or any rough edges. I made up a custom scraper for this. No hook, just a sharp edge.

The easy part was to mark off a circle of waste on the lid and plane it off.

Moving on

The base was prepared …

And hinged together ..

The lid tilts back and rests in the same plain as the base. As a result, it lies flat and does not lift up the base.

The outside of the box

After oiling and waxing, the box looks like this ..

The inside of the box

Here is the letter knife lying on the base. A She-oak handle and a blade ground from a Stanley plane blade ..

A simple mitred frame was cut and glued to the base of the box. This was filled with a purple silk cloth (provided by my wife), and the letter knife (now engraved) was nestled on this …

Happy birthday Andrew!

Regards from Perth


April 2009