Making a Crematory Urn Box: Part I
Making a Crematory Urn: Part One
You may think of an urn as being more like a vase, but according to all things Google, a box can be an urn, too! Many of the wooden boxes available for purchase could be described as cheesy at best. So I designed this simple lift lid box to contain the plastic box housing the ashes of the husband of a friend. The sides are 9/16 in. thick walnut and the top and is curly ash. The corners are mitered and keyed with the same ash used for the top. The bottom panel is 1/4 in. Baltic birch plywood, glued in place to give the box additional strength.
My method for making boxes is simple and direct and evolved from many years of box making in my own shop but also from many years of teaching box making to students at various woodworking schools. My students have always been great at challenging my methods and proposing alternative techniques. I know these techniques work to make boxes quickly, and accurately… boxes that express care in the making, and these same techniques can be used to make other boxes as well… Graduation gifts, for example.
Prepare Stock for the Sides
I planed the sides of my box down from 3/4 in. stock to a finished thickness of 9/16 in. While you could cut each side from a different board, I used a 3 corner match which required a length of continuous stock 38 in. long. Straighten one edge on the jointer, and rip the stock to a finished width on the table saw. Your stock preparation must be done with care as the accuracy of the following steps is dependent on the edges of your stock being perfectly parallel.
Miter the corners
I use a sled on the table saw to cut the sides to length and miter the corners at the same time. This is a dedicated sled used for no other cuts, so at any time I need to quickly make a box, all I need to do is tilt the arbor of the saw to 45 degrees, put the sled in place and cut (assuming of course that my table saw stops are accurately adjusted). In order to cut the parts accurately to length, I use a stop block clamped to the sled, but in order for the stop block to be used effectively, I first cut the walnut stock right in the middle into two equal lengths, each 19 inches long, (photo one) enough for one end and a front or back in each part. First cutting the stock in two parts gives access to the two ends or the front and back to be cut at the same lengths in direct order. (photo 2)
Adjust the stop block to first cut the front and back and then reset its position to cut the ends to length. Those wood workers who may have had trouble with miters in the past should find this technique useful, as there are three common problems with miters: Stock can be out of square, miter angle can be off (even a half a degree can matter), or opposite sides can be of unequal length. (photo 3)
Fit the Top and Bottom panels – Prepare for Assembly
Even though we now have perfect miters, there are still some things that must be done to allow for the assembly of the box… rout dados in the box sides for the lid keeper strips to fit, and cut grooves for the top and bottom to fit.
I use the router table with a ¾ in. straight cut router bit to rout the dados in the sides. (photo 4) The exact placement of this dado depends on where you want to separate the lid from the base and must also take into consideration the placement of the miter keys that will be used to strengthen the miter joints. I set the height of the router bit at ¼ in. and will use ¼ in. thick strips to bridge between the box and lid when the box is closed.
To determine the size of the size of the top and bottom panels, tape the box sides together, measure the inside space in both directions, and add ½ in. to each. I then subtract an additional 1/32 in. in width of the top panel to allow for expansion during inclement weather conditions. This dimension will allow for a tongue and groove method of installing the floating top panel. Cut the top and bottom panels to size using the table saw and sled (photo 5) and then set up the table saw to cut to a depth of ¼ in. with the fence set so that there is a 1/8 in. space between it and the blade. I make practice cuts on two pieces of wood to see that they interlock tightly but without force before making these cuts. Make ¼ in. deep cuts along the inside faces of each box side at both top and bottom, with the stock inside face down on the table saw. Then make the exact same cuts along the edges of the top panel (and ¼ in. Baltic birch bottom panel) with the stock standing up along the fence. (photo 6) A zero clearance insert in the table saw is required for making this cut safe.
Assemble the Box
Before assembly, be sure to mark somewhere on the outside of the box the location of the dado on the inside of the box where the lid keeper strips will fit. Knowing this location will be essential when the lid is cut from the base and as you plan the location of miter keys. Sand all parts of the inside of the box now, before assembly, as it would be nearly impossible to do a good job when all the parts are glued in place.
I use common package sealing tape to help in the assembly of boxes. First carefully arrange the box sides to align the wood grain at the corners, Then spread glue on the miters. I also put a bit of glue into the ends of the grooves where the Baltic birch ply bottom will fit, allowing this part to become of structural use. Avoid putting glue into the groove where the floating top panel will fit except at the center of the ends where the glue will be useful in keeping the lid from changing position in dry humidity. Begin rolling the box sides around the top and bottom panels. (photo 7) Tape is cheap, and does a better job than clamps for pulling corners tight. I apply a great deal of pressure as I pull the tape tight at each corner. When you see that all the corners are pulled tight (look closely!) then let the box sit and wait for the glue to dry.
In my next blog entry, I will install miter keys, cut the lid from the base and come up with a beautiful finished box. A box like this can be made on a weekend or a day if you’ve practiced and have the right tooling in place. These techniques, making boxes simply, but creatively, are among the many lessons I share in my box making classes at woodworking schools during the summer months. This summer I will be at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Franklin, Indiana and at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine. In either class, students will learn a wide variety of box making techniques, make boxes in a variety of designs, exploring their own design interests.
You can read more in about making this box in Part 2
Get more on urns and boxes from FineWoodworking.com:
Photo one shows cutting box material into two equal lengths.
Photo 2. Use a stop block on the 45° miter sled to cut matching parts to equal lengths.
Photo 4. Use the router table to rout a 1/4 in. deep dado on the insides of each box side for the lid keeper strips to fit.
Photo 3. Assemble the box with tape to check the actual inside dimensions and check the quality of your miters.
Photo 5. Use the table saw and cross-cut sled to size the top and bottom to fit.
Photo 6. First cut the 1/4 in. deep x 1/8 in. wide groove in the sides and then on the edges of the top and bottom panels.
Photo 7. Tape the corners after you have the grain matched at the corners and roll the sides around the top and bottom panels.
Photo 8. Pull the tape tight. For extra pressure, add more layers of tape, each pulled tight. Tape is cheap.