Making boxes with the router is argueably one of the most fun things you can do with a router table. Not only that, you get to turn out objects that almost everybody loves and can use ... and it makes you look great. The other thing with boxes on the router table is by taking a design like this and modifying the sizes a little bit, you can make a whole range of different sizes, with or without hinged tops and all sorts of different and unique add-ons. Boxes are one of the most popular items for many people because they look great and are functional. They can be varied in so many different ways, different woods, contrasting woods, stains and dyes, final finishes, glossy, satin, matte, or by making them from laminated veneer woods and highlighting with contrasting wood, the variables are endless.

In this article we are making what we call the One Piece Box because it can be made from on piece of wood. The finished box is 4 inches square and if you  can make it either with a routed lift off top as shown in the video, or you can leave the top on and cut it off on your table saw, then use hinges to open the lid. To make the 4 inch by 4 inch box, you need to start off with a board that is at least 26 inches long and 4 inches wide, by three-eighths of and inch thick.

In terms of tools, you will need a router and router table with a fence and you will also need a rabbeting bit that can be set for 3/8" (this is normally done by selecting the correct bearing on top) and you will need a spiral bit, you can use a 1/4" but will find that a 3/8" spiral bit is slightly more forgiving when it comes to cutting the top off the box. The 1/4" will work fine, just make sure you are absolutely correct with your cuts.

Rabbeting Bit


1/4 Down Spiral Bit
spiral bit

Making the Sides
The first thing that needs to be done in making the boxes is to cut all the sides the correct dimensions from your stock wood.
It is very wise to label all these sides AS YOU CUT THEM, especially for your first few times. You will need ...
2 - Box top/bottom, one of each and they are 4" x 4"
2 - Box "sides" 4" x 3 5/8"  (label as "S" for sides)
2 - Box "ends" 3 5/8" x 3 5/8"  (Label as "E" for ends)

Cutting the Rabbets
The first bit that needs to be installed in your router is the rabbet bit with a 3/8 bearing installed. The bit needs to be set to cut horizontally into your wood by 3/8" and to a depth of half your wood, which will be 3/16". If you can accurately measure the height of your bit above the router table that  will work, if you can't measure it you wiill need to use make some test cuts on scrap wood to make sure the bit is cutting through the middle of the thickness of your box  sides. To check the height, make a short 1/4" cut on one side of scrap wood, then flip the wood over and make another cut at the same corner from the other side, If there is any wood left between the cuts, the depth is too shallow and needs to be made deeper. If there is no wood between the cuts, the cut may be too deep. An ideal test cut should show just a "feather" of wood between the test cuts.

In the above photo, the black marking around some of the box pices is where the rabbet cuts need to be made.

Once your rebate bit is set to the correct height and the correct width you can go ahead and make the rabbet cuts. You will see from the image that the box top and bottom receive rebate cuts on all sides, the "Sides" of the box pieces which will be against the grain, or along the 3 5/8" side of the wood.

Routing the Dado
The final cut you need to make is to route a dado along all the inside surfaces of the box sides and ends (of course the top and bottom are not routed for this step). Install your spiral bit into your router and set the depth for 3/16" in height above the router table. The distance of the spiral bit from your router fence is up to you, but usually that distance is between 1" and 1 1/2". The next step now is to route a goove across the inside surfaces of both box ends and sides. For this step you will normally be routing WITH THE GRAIN of the wood.

After dry fitting all the sides of the box, the next step is to glue them together. In most cases you will have been routing across the grain of wood so in order to get a good fit, you may need to sand off any wood bits adjacent to the rebate cuts to ensure that the wood seats properly when you glue.
IMPORTANT - Now is the time to either mark the outside surface of one of your box sides or to measure the distance of where your outside dado cut will need to be. DON'T forget to make sure to add the extra thickness of the lid if you are measuring.
No special glue is require, most carpenters yellow (PVA) glues will work fine. You can use clamps if you have appropriate clamps or you can simply use GOOD QUALITY painters masking tape (the blue or green qualities are best). Glue up all sides, use a bit of hand pressure and fold the tape over the edges on all sides and that should be enough but checking for squareness is recommended.

Making the Base
If you are also going to make a base for the box, as shown in the video, you will need a 5 inch by 5 inch piece of wood that is three quarters of an inch thick. For this setup you will need an "Ogee" or "Roman Ogee" bit for your router. To set the height of the bit, you may need to make some test cuts but the final cut should be one where the top of the base is rounded over and "flows" down the side of the base ... BE SURE to start with the edge grain first.

Once the sides of the base have been cut, the final cut is made by lowering the Ogee bit in the router table. This final cut is the cut that makes the base plate appear as though it has 4 separate legs. To make this cut you will need to measure a distance of about 1" on either side of the centre of the Ogee bit and mark the place on the fence with some temporary painters tape; These marks will be used as the start and stop points.
The Ogee bit should be set low enough to make an inside or cove cut of about  1/4".  When making the final cut on the stand, it needs to be face up. Each of the 4 ends of the base need to be aligned with the stop line on the fence at a point where, when the router is turned on, the base can be eased into this point the routed from left to right (as you should always do with a router in a router table) and stopping the cut when the trailing edge of the base meets the stop line on the router fence. This needs to be done on all for edges of the base.

It is recommended that once the box glue is dry and hard, NOW is the ideal time to make some finishing touches. Many people like to round over the side and top edges of the box. This is best done BEFORE the lid is cut off, as is any sanding of the box. Once the lid is cut off it is harder to do a nice job of rounding corners and sanding.


Cutting the Top Off
The final and most exciting step of making One Piece Boxes is to cut the top off. This is also done using your spiral bit, which needs to be set at 3/16" above the router table. The distance between the spiral bit and the router fence needs to be equal to just below where the inside dado cuts are on the inside of the box. This is very important.

BEFORE you begin the cut, you will also need "shims" that will need to be secured, with painters tape, after each cut you make. This will help to ensure the box lid and bottom are secured for a nice clean cut. The shims should be 3 inches long and the same thickness as your spiral cutter or dado slot.
Go ahead now and cut the top off the box and behold the magic of woodworking.



The photo above shows some of variations in boxes, Left is a 4" x 4" x 6" box made from mahogany veneer, Center is another 4' x 4" x 6" box made from Holly wood with a solid figured maple top, Right is a 4' x 4" x 8" box made from veneered birdseye maple

One last step, also an option, would be to "flock" the inside of the box. Flocking is a cloth like matierial that comes in the form of a cloth dust. To apply it, the inside of the box is coated with glue, then the flockng is "pumped" on to the glue to leave a soft velvet look to the inside of the box. It's a good idea to mask off the end of the box with masking tape so that you don't over spill flocking onto the edge of the box. This just gives the finished box a more professional look. Be sure to read the instructions that come with your flocking material ... THIS IS IMPORTANT

Remember  !!!!!!!!

The first box you make may not always turn out the way you expected. There are many elements at play in the project, the type of wood, finishing, making exact cuts in the wood etc. The best way to make good quality boxes is to practice by making a few of them. Each time you make another you will get better and better, and the boxes that don't turn out to be your best are still usable for many other things, so they don't go to waste, they are functional practice pieces.

Copyright - Colin Knecht