Inlaid boxes archive

Monday 12 December 2016


Extract from Box Making by GMC (£14.99, available from


What you need

  • Timber of your choice (see cutting list)
  • Scrollsaw and blades No. 7 and No. 3
  • Pillar drill with 1/8in (3mm) and 1⁄32in (1mm) bits
  • Paper for patterns
  • Masking tape
  • Digital gauge (optional)
  • Sandpaper, 180–320 grit
  • Sanding block
  • Clamps and/or weights
  • Acrylic paints (optional)
  • Artists’ brushes
  • Wood glue
  • Glue stick
  • Wax stick to match the colour of the box lid
  • Craft knife
  • Acrylic matt varnish
  • Clear wax polish



Cutting list

Square box

4 @ 4 × 4 x 1⁄4in (100 × 100 × 6mm) (one in a contrasting wood)

1 @ 4 × 4 × 1in (100 × 100 × 25mm)


Oval box

3 @ 61⁄8 × 4 × 1⁄4in (155 × 100 × 6mm)

1 @ 51⁄2 × 4 × 1in (140× 100 × 25mm)

1 @ 51⁄2 × 4 × 1⁄4in (140 × 100 × 6mm)


1 First make two copies of each lid pattern, and one of the box interior (remember that the designs are copyright and may not be copied for commercial purposes). Prepare the wood by sanding both surfaces, going through the grades of sandpaper. To start with, attach the box interior pattern to the 1in (25mm) wood, and one copy of the inlay pattern to one of the ¼in (6mm) pieces, leaving two ¼in (6mm) pieces, one of a contrasting colour for the lid. In this instance I chose tulipwood (Liriodendron tulipifera) and walnut (Juglans regia).


2 Next, fit the pillar drill with the ⅛in (3mm) bit and drill the blade entry holes within the box interior, and the lid underside lip pattern (this is the innermost rectangular line on the inlay pattern).


3 Attach a No. 7 blade to the scrollsaw and cut out the inner sections of the box interior – this will make the inner compartments of the box. Do not cut the outer line yet.


4 Remove the burr with fine 320-grit sandpaper and clean away dust, then apply glue to the underside of the box, spreading it out evenly with an old artist’s brush. Flip the box over and attach the body of the box to the base. Push down firmly and wipe away any glue that oozes out.


5 Protect the top of the box with a scrap piece of ply and either clamp to secure, or leave a weight on top and set to one side to dry. While the glue is setting, make a start on the lid.


6 Use masking tape to stack together the remaining two pieces of wood, bearing in mind that the top piece (walnut) will drop down into the lower piece (tulipwood) to become the inlay. Attach the pattern to the top over the masking tape.


7 The edge of the inlay needs to be cut at a slight angle to ensure a snug fit. The test pattern is an easy way of finding this. You will need to use the same No. 3 blade and the same thickness of wood (¼in/6mm) that you are using on the actual piece. With the No. 3 blade attached to the scrollsaw, tilt the table down 3° to the left, which makes a good starting point. If you have a digital gauge, so much the better, as it takes out a lot of the guesswork. Then, with the test pattern attached to the two-piece stack, make the first cut in the direction of the arrow.


8 If the 3° tilt is successful, the lower piece will fall away and the top piece will fit snugly within the lower section. If this is not the case, try tilting the table 2½° for a tighter fit or 3½° for a looser fit.


9 Once you have determined the correct angle for your particular scrollsaw, you can then tilt the pillar drill down towards the left-hand side by the same degree. Then, using a 1/32in (1mm) bit, drill the blade entry holes in the sharpest corners of the inlays, making sure that the inlay that is to be cut out is on the left-hand side as you drill.


10 Cut out the inlays within the lid, making sure that you start your cut from the right-hand side, cutting towards the left. Once all the inlays are cut out, return the scrollsaw table to the original position.


11 Next, take the piece you prepared in step 1, which has a second copy of the inlay pattern stuck to it. Cut along the innermost cut line on this pattern to form the lip which will be glued to the underside of the lid.


12 If need be, trim up the outer edges of the lid to the outside cutting line.


13 You can now separate the two layers of the lid. Make sure the pieces of the inlay are seated nicely within the lower piece; you can then discard the top piece.


14 Remove the pattern and masking tape from the inlaid pieces.


15 Remove the burr from the lid underside lip, but do not remove the pattern at this time.


16 Apply glue to the lid underside lip, spread out evenly along the edge, then align and adhere to the underside of the lid. Clamp to secure, and then set to one side to dry.


17 With the sides and base of the box now dry, cut along the outside line of the pattern. This will trim the sides and the base of the box at the same time.


18 Once the lid section has dried, cut the remaining outside line of the lid underside lip pattern – as with the sides, this will trim the lid and the lip together. Hand-sand the sides and lid of the box smooth, inside and out, and round over the edges to give a nice finished look.


19 Now glue the inlay pieces into the lid – one at a time so as not to mix them up. Use the glue sparingly, and wipe away any excess before it dries.


20 Sand off your box when the glue has dried.


21 To disguise the tiny blade entry holes, fill them with a matching wood-coloured wax stick. Remove the excess with a craft knife after it has hardened. To finish, apply a coat of matt varnish. Allow to dry and then give it a de-nib, as it may have raised the grain. Lastly, apply a clear wax polish and buff it up. The oval box is made in exactly the same way, but instead of the inlay being made of a contrasting wood, we used the same tulipwood and just painted the flower using acrylic paints.




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