Sunday, February 1, 2009

The WCS Stash Box, All you ever need to know!

"Isaac's beautiful marquetry makes WCS stash boxes the best deal on etsy." -Lynette N., Etsy Shopper
The West Corinth Studio Stash Box, is one of my favorite things to build. I've made perhaps a hundred or more now and no two are alike. Even so, they are all the same size and shape. The reason for their individuality is expressed in the quote above from one of our clients.

But there is a lot more to this little box than meets the eye. Each one is hand crafted with great precision and care. The flexibility to customize the piece with marquetry can, however result in a truely unique gift. In fact, that is how I started making these in the first place.

Heidi came to me one day a few years ago wanting a little box to put some catnip in. She had a very special client who had been quite generous over the years, and Heidi wanted to send her some of Charlie's Blend for her critters. The WCS stash box was born.`

Most of you know that I am in the middle of a batch of electric guitars. Circumstances dictated that I put them aside for the moment as I found myself in need of some gifts. You know what they say, "the best gifts are those you make yourself." I, being loathe to part with any cash, wholeheartedly agree. In any case, there is a bit of a story to tell.
Heidi and I live way out. There aren't many people out here, and everybody knows everybody else. Now, we like to think that in an emergency, Heidi and I would be the first to offer help. More often than not, however, we're on the receiving end of the aid. Over the last few months, with my oldest son's broken leg and most recently with some car trouble, I've racked up a bit of debt to some very kind folks in our town. Rides to and from school and jump starts add up after awhile, and I decided to make some stash boxes for three of the people who have repeatedly come to my aid. Sort of catch up a bit, if you know what I mean.
It just so happens that they are all three women, and with Valentine's Day around the corner I thought I'd put my little "curly hearts" motif around their names on the lids; Bonnie, Erica and Michelle. I don't really know either of the three that well, other than to thank them for bailing me out on occasion, but designing the indiviual boxes gave me pause to think about what I did know.

Erica is petite and bubbly, so I chose birds eye maple for her's.

I think of Michelle as contemporary and refined, so I thought AAA flame maple would be a good match. I also put her name is cursive, just to show how sophisticated I am, no doubt.

Bonnie, the wife of a dairy farmer and mother of seven is always being pulled in five directions so naturally, for her stash box I used cherry burl. See why I love this stuff? What fun!

Since I build the stash boxes in batches of five, I went ahead and did a couple for the Etsy store as well, with my "tumbling guitars" motif.
I figured this would also be a good opportunity to document the process so, what follows is probably way too much information about the WCS Stash Box.

Every box consists of two parts, an inner softwood core with a floating hardwood bottom and a structural veneer shell. The cores are made in batches of about 40 boxes, with interchangeable sides, backs and bottoms. To date, every stash box bottom has been of salvaged wood. At that size, the supply is virtually endless.
Prior to assembling the core, the hardwood bottom is waxed along it's edges to prevent binding in it's groove during glue up. The base is shaped so as to just slightly raise the finished box.
The parts are carefully machined and fit perfectly. Salvaged Baltic birch board (5 ply) is used for the core of the top, which becomes the lid. Sides are of softwood, cedar most often, pine and fir occasionally.Once a trial assembly is complete the core is glued up, clamped and checked for square. The hardwood base is not glued into it's groove to allow for seasonal movement.

The outer shell of the stash box is made of hand sawn 3/32" hardwood veneer. Templates for the sides and top greatly simplify layout.
Throughout the process of marquetry, the waste often produces a stencil. I save these to use again and again. Sometimes I create new motifs with the repeated patterns. Just that happened with the "tumbling guitars" design.The back surface of each panel is carefully scraped smooth after marquetry is completed. The back edge of the band saw blade is my high tech scraper. I challenge you to find a better tool for the job. I do all of the marquetry first. This gives the panels a chance to cure prior to lamination.Cold press lamination with plenty of waterproof glue ensures a powerful bond. By carefully overlapping each corner the outer shell provides incredible strength and stiffness without much additional weight. The backs go on first.The panel is allowed to "swim" in the glue and clamping pressure is applied slowly while maintaining alignment with the registration marks. Good squeeze out is the result. Note the softening on the table. This is a fiberboard sheathing that is used primarily for walls and ceilings. I salvaged a couple of 4x8 sheets at one point and save it exclusively for this purpose. It is ideal.After each pressing the veneer is trimmed back with the Ryoba saw. Note the clamped stop on the bench with a sacrificial underlay; this is a bench hook for the pull stroke of the saw. The Ryoba is also a flush cut saw which is ideal for this purpose.The stiff back of the Dozuki saw is preferred for cutting the veneer prior to laminating. In case you are wondering, I grew up on a little island called Okinawa, in Japan. Sometimes people tell me they see an eastern influence in my work. I definitely see one in my choice of tools, no? But, seriously, these two saws will outperform any of their western equivalents. The shell's sides most often go on second, with the front panels being veneered last. This produces the finest front edge, with the end grain of the back edges completely covered. Sometimes, I will do the sides last with a contrasting wood, for a different effect. Or if I screw up and accidentally laminate the front first. Not supposed to admit that kind of stuff, though, no?Once the tops are laminated, the boxes are cleaned up on the sander. Then the binding rebate is cut on the table saw. I make the rebate in two passes for a perfectly square seat.The bindings are cut from strips of the same structural veneer as the shell. I use a Freud thin kerf 7 1/4" blade in a zero clearance insert. Prior to each cut, the veneer is trued on either the jointer or the edge sander, depending on the species. The trued edge will seat in the rebate.Bindings are carefully marked and mitered on the trimmer.Using plenty of glue and specially shaped cauls, the bindings go on two at a time in opposing pairs. The cauls are heavily waxed to prevent sticking. The opposite pairs of bindings are glued in place once the first set has dried and fully cured.The binding and rebate are sized so that the offered up binding is just proud of the box's edges. This allows positive contact from the caul to the binding, from both the top and side, for a perfectly tight glue joint with no seam. Once the binding is fully cured it is brought down flush with the rasp. This process also allows me to create a very thin binding on the finished box by under sizing the rebate and rasping away the extra binding material. The most refined line is always the objective, but one must be careful to leave enough for final finishing. Re-cutting the binding is real "cussin' and throwin' stuff" kind of work.At this point the stash box is pre-sanded to 150 grit on my jazzy homemade downdraft table. See the grooves in the plywood bench top? That's recycled exterior sheathing. (Picture me just shaking my head.)The top is then sawn free. I use the same thin kerf blade on the table saw and it is raised so as not to cut all the way through the box. This keeps the lid from flopping around for the final cut. A sharp knife finishes the job.
Any good veneer job is always stabilized from underneath. This prevents warping due to uneven seasonal movement.
The inside of the lid, thus receives a cedar lining. I make this the same thickness as the hardwood veneer, 3/32", and it effectively stabilizes the lid as a counter veneer. I cut it so that the grain direction matches that of the exterior finish veneer. It is pressed in place with a carefully sized caul and just enough glue. Note the large cover of sheathing for softening on my press. Lack of uprights in the press design allow great flexibility in the use of the press surface. (disclaimer: I designed and built the press)The bottom of the stash box receives a cedar lining, also. Mitered at the corners, it protrudes to trap the lid in place. Once cut to fit it is glued in place.

After the boxes have been carefully sanded to 600 grit, the outsides are given a thorough rubbing down with my blended oil. This oil is equal parts linseed oil, turpentine and fast drying polyurethane. The interior is left bare wood and is thus a suitable surface for edible herbs, etc.The oil is rubbed out with a rag several times over two days, then the box is waxed on the outside and around the lid. The second coat of wax is burnished with a hard wax pad to give a soft sheen. Then the box is buffed out with a soft cloth, and it is ready to sell or give away! The hardwood base, combined with the very lightweight softwood/veneer construction of the top, effectively weights the stash box.

The cedar lining is fitted to allow for seasonal wood movement without sacrificing a tight fit. The great strength derived from the laminate construction makes for a very sturdy little box.I hope the ladies will like their gifts, because it probably won't be the last time I'll need them to come bail me out.


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