Eureka Springs
Contributing author

Professional woodworker since 1976. Author of 7 books, 4 for Taunton Press. Four about box making. Advocate for woodworking in schools.

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UPDATE: Wooden Boxes, by Doug Stowe and Strother Purdy

See who won a copy of Wooden Boxes

the Boston Compromise...

Boston was one of the important cities where manual arts were introduced to American public education, and things are at hand for a renewal of sorts. Whether or not it becomes widespread may be up to the readers of Fine Woodworking

Making a Crematory Urn Box, Part 2

Use a story stick to design miter key placement, cut the lid from the base and finish the crematory urn box.

Making a Crematory Urn Box: Part I

The same techniques used in building this specialty box can be used in any box-making project

A Friendship box

Friendship boxes were once exchanged by kids at elite east coast summer camps as remembrances of friendships formed that the kids hoped would last forever. This is the evolved version of a friendship box made and exchanged among the first, 2nd and 3rd grade students at Clear Spring School

Join the club

Woodworking clubs can be one of the very best ways to improve your work and have a great time with others who share your interests. Teaching Box Making to clubs, has been a great way for me to get to know some of the most avid woodworkers in the US.

Something skilled, beautiful, useful and lasting...

Every student should have the chance to make something beautiful, useful, and lasting. Our future depends upon it. How about a wooden box?

Turning Around America

Beth Ireland, wood turner, has been on a mission to teach children to make at least one thing.

Walnut and maple table

This walnut and maple table is made entirely with wedged mortise and tenon joints, with the exception of the attachment of the top. The two haves of the walnut top slide from the front and back onto...

Stump table

This table is one I made for my new book Rustic Furniture Basics published by Taunton Press. The table, made of maple, birch, and brass dowels, and using mortise and tenon joints, was recently sold...

Neo-rustic tables

My Neo-rustic or "Danish Rustic" tables are a project I started at the beginning of the current recession... a way to use wood I already had to fill requests in a gallery that handles my work. These...

torii tables

These tables are based on a design I made in around 1980-1984 and wanted to revisit. At the time, I was experimenting with mortise and tenon joints and had a particular interest in expanding my...

Walnut coffee table with rocks

Two walnut slabs, inlaid with natural river stones, on a two part base made of ebonized white oak. The two base units support and connect the slabs of wood that form the top.

Crystal Bridges walnut bench

Crystal Bridges is a new museum of American art being built in Bentonville, Arkansas, and the wood for this project came from the site during ground preparation. The previous owner of the site was...

Recent comments

Re: UPDATE: Book Giveaway: Beautiful Boxes: Design and Technique by Doug Stowe

Congratulations to the lucky winners! Thank you all for participating and for your kind remarks!


Re: UPDATE: Book Giveaway: Beautiful Boxes: Design and Technique by Doug Stowe

Thank you all for participating in this book giveaway. I look forward to signing a copy and sending it to the lucky winner.

Re: UPDATE: Wooden Boxes, by Doug Stowe and Strother Purdy

Congratulations to the winners, Wemek from Colorado and JDavidA from Virginia. Your magazines will be sent ASAP.

Thank you all for participating, and for all the kind things you've said in your comments.

I wish you all the very best of box making!


Re: UPDATE: Wooden Boxes, by Doug Stowe and Strother Purdy

I am excited about this contest, and wish you all the best of luck with your box making. I know you will also enjoy Strother Purdy's boxes. His beautiful and useful boxes are different from mine, and his step-by-step instructions are clear. Between the two of us, we'll have you making beautiful boxes in no time flat.

Our signatures will be found towards the bottom of page 5.

Good luck! And congratulations in advance to the lucky winners!

Re: Digital Angle Gauge: What do you use yours for?

I was demonstrating making a 45 degree angle sled for making boxes, and used my Wixey to check that the blade was 45 degrees before making that crucial first cut. The first angles cut with the sled were way off. The battery was weak in the Wixey. I've gone back to my Starrett. It doesn't take batteries.

Re: Fine Woodworking reader makes flag box to honor WWII soldier

Beautiful... Well done. I have a few service bars and pins and my father's dog tags from WWII. You've given me inspiration for my next box.

Re: The Future of Woodworking is Looking Good

Thanks for showing some kid's work. Those are some very nice boxes, and I hope more readers will send in examples of their children's work.

I am a regular reader of Wooden Boat Magazine, partly because I love and admire wooden boats, and secondly because they take a position of unabashed advocacy of hands-on learning. Never a issue passes by without featuring kids learning hands-on through the making of wooden boats. Like boat making, woodworking in general is a great way to make all other subjects come to life in the student's hands.

I frankly wish that Fine Woodworking could take a greater role in promoting wood working in schools and hands-on learning in general, as most woodworkers know that we learn most deeply and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands-on.

Besides making boxes and furniture in my own shop, I teach woodworking pre-k through 12th grade at the Clear Spring School, so seeing amazing work done by kids is an everyday thing for me. But far too few kids these days have the kind of opportunity to make beautiful and useful things from wood. Let's change that.

I write about woodworking education and the necessity of hands-on learning in my blog,

Re: the Boston Compromise...

Tim, Thanks for the piece from Wallace Nutting. Here is a poem from Edwin Markham that was part of the 100 poems collected for shop teachers by William L. Hunter.

We all are blind until we see
That, in the human plan,
Nothing is worth the making, if
It does not make the man.

Why build thee cities glorious
If man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build the world, unless
The builder also grows.

Re: the Boston Compromise...

Oldwindowguy, Thanks for your thoughtful remarks. If we were to really direct our resources to at risk kids, we would be giving them hands-on learning instead of employing teach-to-the-test strategies that are known failures in the long term. The effects of craftsmanship on all students of all social classes can be profound. Recent studies have shown that contrary to the direction taken in public education as a whole, engagement in the arts (including woodshop) increases test scores.

It is interesting that you mention work with a touch screen and pass a drug test. Passing the drug test, showing up on time and having an interest in doing a good job are matters of character. And it is interesting what you hear from employers. They are willing to hire employees of good character, and are finding too many lacking. Comenius, one of the first educational theorists and also one of the first advocates of manual arts as a means of education said that the craftsman and his materials arise at the same time. In other words, when we make something useful, beautiful or both, we are also shaping ourselves in higher form.

Re: the Boston Compromise...

Gene, the issue is greater than college vs. not college. Skilled surgeons might be considered as an example. Or a friend of mine's son who grew up helping his dad as a carpenter and now works on the super-collider at CERN. When employed at the Argonne lab he was told to go home for an early and long weekend as it would take time to get a crew in to prepare for the next steps. He took matters into his own hands and went to Ace Hardware for supplies. Rather than wait for "skilled technicians" he built the necessary test apparatus himself and was able to proceed without waiting for Tuesday. A similar story concerns Dr. Alex Slocum at MIT when working on Obama's BP fix-it team in the Gulf oil disaster. Folks asked him how he came up with a model for a device over the weekend when machine shops were closed. He had made it in his wood and metal shop by himself. Most of the "academics" on the team could hardly believe it. The separation of head from hand in learning is a disaster at all levels, pre-K through grad school. Fortunately when students can get past all the heads-only learning up through college, they get to do the real stuff that would have kept most students engaged in the first place.

Re: Making a Crematory Urn Box: Part I

Retired08, the simple router table was a thing I came up with in the days when router tables were first coming into vogue. I've never seen the need for a larger one, and I can make a new special purpose fence for mine in minutes. I even have a fence that allows me to make turned shaker knobs on the router table. I'm glad you've found yours so useful. The completely surprising thing is that you can make one in under an hour that can last years.

Re: Making a Crematory Urn Box, Part 2

I'm glad the timing worked for you. At just about any time, some box maker somewhere is doing the same thing, though the exact circumstances will vary. The first box I made for crematory remains was to hold a table spoon of a famous author's ashes to be carried to the Ganges River in India by his now famous daughter. Most of his ashes were planted with the irises in the daughter's garden, but just one tablespoon joined the flow of that great river.

Re: Making a Crematory Urn Box, Part 2

This plastic box was 5in. x 7 in. x 9 in. They come in a variety of sizes. Don't seem to be any universal standards. Measure the plastic box, add 1/4 in. to each dimension to come up with an interior dimension.

Re: Making a Crematory Urn Box: Part I

Here in Arkansas, many old-timers would make their own caskets and keep them in the barn until needed. I suppose it was a way of coming to terms with their own mortality. There is a book out about making your own casket. Who would have thought it would be such a hit?

In any case, making a crematory urn (or any other box) is a good excuse to spend time in the wood shop, working with tools, hands, and beautiful woods. Can anything get better than that?

Re: Making a Crematory Urn Box: Part I

I have done them that way as well, but in this case decided that a bit of empty space at the top could be used for letters or photos of the deceased, and also that the box might later be useful for other things if someone in the family chose to do something else with the ashes, whether distribution from a mountaintop, interment in the garden, or burial at sea.

Thanks for asking.

Re: UPDATE: Building Small Cabinets by Doug Stowe

Thank you all for joining in the fun. My congratulations to Live4ever. His signed book is on the way. My thanks also to those who have said nice things about my books and blog.


Re: UPDATE: Building Small Cabinets by Doug Stowe

I am extending the contest by adding a signed copy of my new book Building Small Cabinets. The rules are these: You have to post a comment following this one to enter. Betsy will select a winner in her usual random manner. She will let me know who wins and I will sign the book and mail it where ever Betsy tells me when the competition is complete. Good luck and happy woodworking...


Re: Something skilled, beautiful, useful and lasting...

Sean, I had written a series of articles for Woodwork Magazine during the past decade, reacquainting American woodworkers with the forgotten legacy of sloyd. You can find links to my published articles on my blog at this page...

Re: Something skilled, beautiful, useful and lasting...

It's a dovetail saw, and he's holding his mouth just right... Yes, College students also crave this kind of learning and Universities can be just as wrong about learning styles as high schools. It is funny, teachers often complain that students just can't keep their minds on anything, but they haven't been given anything real to do. Time in the wood shop is always over too soon... well before student interest begins to wane.

Re: Cutlists are a waste of space

I certainly agree with Matt. Cut lists can be useful for getting a sense of what is involved in a project and the materials required, but they also convey a false sense of security that leads beginning woodworkers to difficulties and disappointment. Even when the cut list is perfectly accurate, there are variations in the ways we measure and set up. Those variations add up over full width or length of an assembly, and the greater the complexity of a project, the more likely following a cut list will lead to disaster.

Cut lists tend to present woodworking as an over simplification. Just cut to this size and everything fits? Machines might work like that but human beings are not machines. We make mistakes and recover from those mistakes, and in doing so, reveal the best in ourselves. We discover things along the way that lead us to being better woodworkers.

So, good advice to publishers is put them in with a warning to readers as to how they are best not used or followed too close. On advice to readers, use a cut list for your first steps in defining the scale of a project, but then use your tape measure and common sense for the rest of it. And please don't think that you can just start out by cutting the parts to size as listed in the cut list and expect them to fit. They more than likely won't.

Re: Free Box Plan from a Box-Building Pro

I guess you can say that size really does matter and expansion and contraction are proportionately smaller concern on small boxes. But yes, there can be wood movement problems with a glued on base. The great thing is that if the box were subjected to extremes resulting in a loose bottom from significant expansion and contraction it would be much easier to fix than it was to make in the first place. I would consider this box to be at the upper limit of size in which this technique might be suitable. I have other simple techniques illustrated in the book that could be used on this box if a person was particularly concerned about shrinkage and expansion. My own shop and wood storage conditions are on the slightly damp side of the scale, so I tend to build tight with the expectation that the wood might shrink slightly when subjected to extremes of heating and air conditioning. Build too tight, and you can have the wood pushing the box apart at the joints in very wet weather. And so in answer to gjwhite58, the answer is yes, maybe and maybe not. And if there were only yes and no answers woodworking would not even be half the fun. Thanks for reading and enjoying box making.


Re: Small box was fun (and quick) to make

Nicely done Matt!

Re: Do woodworkers need the Furniture Society?

In the 60’s, I would have taken woodshop, but the choice was college prep or the trades, and never the twain would meet. You would be one or the other, not both, despite the recognition of early manual arts advocates, that working in school wood shop brings intellectual and academic advancement. Hands-on learning in schools would be the cause I hope the Furniture Society and others promote.

One thing I would like to share with members of the Furniture Society and other readers is that building a market for ones work is a process of education. If we don’t have an ongoing process of building knowledge in woodworking, about woodworking, in schools and out, we are allowing the market for our work to shrivel and die. I can tell you as a long time professional, that the customers who have bought my work and sustained my ability to continue growing in my field have been people trained and experienced in the arts, and if that is truly the case for others as well, then the teach-to-the-test, no-child-left-behind philosophy of American education presents disaster for the field. Without experience in making things and knowing the value of skilled craft, the American marketplace will be a very sorry place for anyone to attempt to sell fine workmanship.

So I can see where self-interest in success would push furniture makers toward collective effort in education. Use the society to share knowledge and skill, and some pretty fine things could come from it.

Re: Do woodworkers need the Furniture Society?

Asa, it was nice seeing you at the conference.

I think that most not-for-profit organizations go through growing pains similar to what the Furniture Society seems to be going through now. I have been involved in several organizations and at first people may join up thinking there might be something in it for them in the form of low hanging fruit… in furniture making, it would be easy as a new member to jump to the conclusion that somehow sales of your work might result from the annual exhibit, or from having one’s work on the website, the directory or another publication. After a time, a not-for-profit organization needs to move to an agreed purpose that lies beyond the immediate needs of its members if it is to thrive. It must discover or define a cause greater than the self-absorbed motivations that may have enticed some members to join in the first place.

Every member of a membership organization will at the time of renewal, ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” With not-for-profit organizations the answer to that question has a great deal to do with how we can also answer the question, “What have I given to it?” There is a correlation. Have I invested more than just my dues? There is a satisfaction that comes from commitment to something larger than ourselves, and that satisfaction is the driving force of participation in not-for-profit organizations.

And so I would urge prospective members to look to the Furniture Society for things not listed as member benefits, and I would urge the Furniture Society board to more clearly define the organization’s mission to society at large. One thing you will find in the organization is that many excellent makers and designers of the furniture world are members of the society and care about its future. The organization has a huge potential, and I wish it great renewed success.

Re: Do woodworkers hold the key to a quick clean-up of the gulf oil spill?

By the way, I do like the washing machine idea. That sounds like something I could do myself. I doubt that it will get any of the BP engineers agitated, however. They will be looking at their range of suppliers for more expensive solutions. DIYers need not apply.

Re: Do woodworkers hold the key to a quick clean-up of the gulf oil spill?

I had sent my sawdust suggestion to a website sponsored by BP that was to take suggestions, and I got a response that it wasn't practical at this time. I had also sent it to Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and to a friend who is working on President Obama's commission on the oil spill. The guy on the commission is a woodworker and I haven't heard back from him yet. Bill Nye gave no response, but then he would be a busy guy.

Maslow said that if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. We have narrowed our range of tools and our range of perceivable solutions by failing to offer woodworking and other skills in American education.

But even if sawdust didn't end up part of the oil spill solution, it will get the crap off your hands.

Re: Do woodworkers hold the key to a quick clean-up of the gulf oil spill?

Steve, I have also been involved in clean water and environmental issues since 1976 when I was a co-founder of a small organization called, "the National Water Center" and was chairman of our local Citizen's Advisory Committee for water and sewer renovation for the protection of our springs. I'm no a johnny-come-lately to the issues, and like you will be here for the long term.

What happened in the gulf sickens us all. We need to learn ways to keep it from happening again. Jimmy Carter warned when he was president that we should pay heed to environmental concerns and wean ourselves from dependency on oil. I still hope we can do so.

My simple experiment was just a thing to explore as a follow up, the ability of sawdust to capture oil. It was inspired by my discovery of using sawdust to clean hands, and my seeing so many oily hands of workers involved in the clean up. My experiment may come to naught. But, even if sawdust only served those involved the clean up by getting their hands clean and clear of the crap at the end of the day, it would be useful. As one more tool in the arsenal of clean-up techniques, I believe it deserves consideration. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Re: Do woodworkers hold the key to a quick clean-up of the gulf oil spill?

I'll agree that sawdust doesn't belong there either. And the idea isn't to dump sawdust in the gulf, but to use it as a relatively simple and safe means to remove the oil. The current BP method involves well in excess of a million gallons of dispersant, which is strongly suspected of being toxic. The dispersant is supposed to reduce the oil droplets to a size capable of being consumed by bacteria, which sounds like a good thing until we are reminded of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD). The consumption of oil by bacteria strips the water of available oxygen with the probability of massive fish kills.

Re: Do woodworkers hold the key to a quick clean-up of the gulf oil spill?

Steve, it is easy to knock other people's ideas, and a bit harder to come up with your own. I've admitted that the problems facing the gulf are complex, and haven't proposed sawdust as a one shot cure-all, but only as a possible untested resource. I would suggest that instead of knocking things, you do some tests of your own. The sawdust actually absorbs the oil quite rapidly.

Best would have been for BP to have taken its responsibilities to the environment and the lives of its workers more seriously.

Then we wouldn't have to be thinking about all this.

And personally, I think it is better under the circumstances to be thinking about it and testing things within the limits of our abilities, than to be idly knocking the effort of those who do.

Your question, "Why do people so often put forth 'solutions' without bothering to understand the problems?" Maybe because we care about how things turn out. And maybe we don't know as much as "experts" but you can see where the "experts" got us. The experts working for BP were the ones proposing "junk shots" and a variety of other untested means to stop the spill. My proposal is rather modest in comparison, because it would allow common people like myself to remove oil from water with a shovel.

Re: UPDATE: Book Giveaway: Civil War Woodworking by A.J. Hamler

I won't enter, as I already have a copy, and had the privilege of reading it before it went to press. It is a very good book, particularly for a woodworker who also has a love of history.

Re: Walnut and maple table

It is finished in Deft Danish Oil, and with a final coat of MinWax satin urethane spray on the top surface for protection from wear.

Re: Gifts from Woodworkers

I'd go with boxes. And they aren't quite as time consuming if you make them in small batches. They are a great way to use some of the more interesting scraps that accumulate from larger projects, and a person can always find something around the house that would fit perfectly in a box.

In fact, giving boxes year after year would be a good idea. You can start your loved ones collecting. And yes, they travel well if you are going to fly home or away for the holidays.

Re: For These Kids, Making Toys is an Entryway to Woodworking

Tom, Thank you for sharing my kids' video with a wider audience. Back in the days of educational sloyd, teachers knew that doing creative work with the hands was important for the development of character and intellect and that it also awakened the child's interest in learning.

We went down a long slippery slope of teaching to the test while in Finland where sloyd was first invented it is still a part of the national curriculum. While American kindergarten teachers are focused on getting kids to read, in Finland teachers and students are busy with crafts and woodworking. So while we start reading at 5 and they start reading at 8, by 8th grade (ages 13-14) they've left Americans in the dust, learning more in less time because they are ready for it. It is like the difference between pushing or pulling a rope.

While we have struggled to follow No Child Left Behind legislation, our children have been left behind in 15th place or worse in reading and math according to international PISA studies.

You learn some common sense stuff in the wood shop that all kids need. But since schools don't seem to get it quite yet, parents and grandchildren should take matters in their own hands. Limit your child's time with computer games and lead them to the wood shop. They will get the same hand eye coordination while doing something more tangible that can be shared with others. And their pride will be obvious. You might even get them hooked on an avocation that will last a lifetime.

At Clear Spring School this week we began our annual holiday toy making this week and our kids from pre-school through 12th grades will begin making toys for distribution through our local food bank. This will be our the 5th year of our toy making tradition.

Re: The Importance of Hand Skills in Education

North Bennet St. Industrial School and Gustaf Larsson's Sloyd Teacher Training School were actually separate institutions, both at the same location, 37 North Bennet Street, and both with the same benefactor, Pauline Agassiz-Shaw. Of the two institutions, the North Bennet St. Industrial School was founded first having grown from the North Bennet St. Industrial Home to become a school by around 1883. Agassis Shaw invited Gustaf Larsson to found the Sloyd School to share the North Bennet St. School premises in 1888.

By 1908, the 37 North Bennet Street Location had become too small for both schools, and so Mrs. Shaw built a new school for Gustaf Larsson's Sloyd Teacher Training at 7 Harcourt St. in Boston. You can find that building using Google or Google Earth including a street view. The building is currently occupied by a Property Development Corporation. Google 7 Harcourt St. Boston, MA to find it. Or you can visit my blog for a street view and floor plan.

Re: The Importance of Hand Skills in Education

Miguel, great job with the video. American Woodworker has made my Sloyd articles from Woodwork Magazine available on-line at the following url:

Re: torii tables

I started making boxes as a way to keep busy between furniture commissions, so I have always done both. The boxes are sort of like a vacation to someplace I've been lots of times before... kind of relaxing in that I know exactly what comes next. Many fewer surprises to contend with. So the balance between working on boxes and doing one of a kind furniture is a natural.

Re: Neo-rustic tables

Tommy, you are more than welcome. The divide down the middle adds interest, and few casual observers realize it has such a practical purpose.

About 3/4 of my best ideas come from not having something that I might think I need. (like a bigger planer) Good luck with the surgery. I hope you are not kept from the wood shop for long.

You can keep up with my work through my blogs, and


Re: torii tables

It is amazing how complicated simple things can be to make. The idea of through wedged tenons is simple. But each table has 22 tenons and an equal number of carefully placed mortises, and 44 carefully positioned wedges. So there are lots of parts, many operations. Simple and easy are not the same thing. I'm glad you like them and took the time to comment.

Re: Dads and Woodworking

My earliest distinct memory of my dad was working in the driveway outside our home in Memphis. He was dripping sweat and stripped down to a sleeveless undershirt, and I was trying to learn to hammer without smashing my thumbs. Much later, when we were living in Omaha, Nebraska and he was managing a hardware store, he took an old shopsmith in on trade and bought it for my 14th birthday. Nowadays, a dad might give his son an iPhone, but I still have the shopsmith. I use it as a drill press and sometimes as my lathe. When I use it as a lathe, I can still feel my Dad's presence, over my shoulders as I guide tool to wood.

I will always be grateful that my father gave me the encouragement to work with my hands. When my daughter Lucy, (now a third year at Columbia and at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory for a summer internship in geophysics) was three I had a small table in the woodshop where she could take my scraps and glue and build things from her own imagination. We still have a small collection of those interesting objects. When Lucy turned her first wood on the shopsmith, I stood over her shoulders, my hands on hers and sensing my own father over my shoulders, his hands on mine. No doubt a father sitting down with a son or daughter to play video/computer games makes memories, too. But it is hard for me to imagine anything finer to share than working with wood.

Re: First project, last project

Matt, a couple years ago when I was visiting my mother she asked, "Do you want those old shelves you made in junior high?" She had stored them in the basement from when I was in 7th grade. They brought back a flood of memories. They were the last project of the school year and I remember being in a rush to finish. When I was cutting out the shape with a coping saw, I noticed I was getting off the line and felt bad for a minute. Then I looked over at my neighbor who was drifting even more widely from the line. "I'm not doing THAT bad," I remember thinking.

Then I was driving in the nails to hold it together and one split the shelf as you can see in the photos I posted in the gallery. I showed it to the teacher hoping he could fix it or something. "It will be OK," he told me, "You've done a good job." I was crushed that my shelves weren't perfect, but since then I've learned that very little from the hands of man ever is. If it were perfect, we wouldn't have the same impulse to keep trying again and again and we would miss out on so much fun.

Re: Crystal Bridges walnut bench

Sockets, accurately reflecting the shape of the stones are carved into the wood,, then the stones are glued in place with system 3 epoxy. I wrote about this technique in Fine Woodworking, number 187 in an article called Fresh Take on Table Tops.

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