Al Ladd  Fine Edge Woodworking

A Brief Guide to Commisioning a Custom Box

A word about cost: a custom made box is always going to be more costly than an off the shelf box. Making  even the most  simple custom wooden box, one at a time, is a labor-intensive process. So expect to pay more. If you want a dozen or thirty of a custom item, cost per unit will go way down.

Size--The first thing I'll need to know is how large the custom box needs to be. Usually this is related to the size of the object you need to contain. Best to add about  .25-.5" in each dimension. We'll start with inside dimensions, and after deciding what style box to make I'll let you know the outside dimensions necessary.

Wood type-this is one area where I can provide you with a lot of guidance. Take a look at the My Woods page of this web site for some ideas, and if you really don't have a wood in mind I can make suggestions once I hear about your project. Good basic options to consider are always walnut, maple, cherry, and sapele, (a mahogany-like wood) but many others are possible. I do not generally get involved in staining wood, preferring to use the woods natural colors.  One exception is the process of ebonizing, usually starting with walnut, and creating a jet black finish that still allows the grain of the wood to show.

Budget- This is important to consider early on, and being up front about cost can save both of us  a lot of time. I really can't make a single  simple custom box  for less than $100, though I can make a group of boxes at the same  time  for about half that amount. Things like drawers and interior  trays add significantly to the cost, (each of them is essentially another custom box) .

Custom engravings, even fairly complex ones, can be done for as little as an extra $12, and inlays for as little as $35 --though complex inlays will be much more. The cost of any carving or inlay can be reduced if you can supply me with excellent graphics, ideally in a vector file format, though I can work with line drawings or photos. Text is especially easy.

Box construction - The simplest box construction is  to carve the box out of a single piece of wood, with either a hinged top, a sliding top, or a lift-off top. For a single box this won't necessarily be less costly than a joined box, but if you're looking for multiples, as for a high quality product presentation, a carved box can be an economical and very nice alternative.

Miter joints are what we typically associate with a picture frame, and miters are a very clean and fairly quick way of making a custom box. Depending on its size and use I may use any of several techniques to strengthen it, but it's fairly strong on its own if its clamped well, and I clamp miter joints very well.

Dovetails are a higher end option that carry a fine woodworking pedigree. For a traditional feeling box through dovetails are a fine option.