Sawing off a Box Top

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This is the first of a new short form video series called “Whisper Minis”. The idea is to cover a single topic in a very concise manner. I plan on covering all kinds of tips, tricks, techniques, and we’ll even throw in some product-related stuff now and then. This is just a good way for me to capture and distribute all those little things that don’t really have a place as a full Wood Whisperer episode. I hope you enjoy them.

This mini covers the process of sawing off a box top. This particular box is part of the Sawmill Creek Forum’s Keepsake Box Collaboration. Germain told me about it, and Jim and Dewey invited me to join in on the fun. The idea is that this keepsake box will travel the country to different woodworkers’ shops, and each person will work on one part of the project. And the final box will be auctioned off for charity.

Now I must admit, cutting the top off of someone else’s box makes me a little nervous. So you’ll see I took some precautions. But it was well worth it as the results were great. Now I need to send the box off to the next person in line. You can keep up with the latest on the Sawmill Creek Forum.

Here’s the latest picture from the forum.

Category: Whisper Minis


  1. Dan M February 25, 2009

    Hey Marc, maybe it ought to be called a “mini whisper” instead. Thanks for all u do man.

  2. Marty February 25, 2009

    Dude! I can’t believe you didn’t use a card scraper to get rid of the burn marks. I would have been scared s@#$less about tearout even with a low-angle block plane. I guess that’s why I’m still a hack woodworker! Please keep us informed as to when the box will be finished. I’d like to see the final project and who did what.
    Thanks Marc!

  3. WiZeR February 25, 2009

    I think you should call them Whispers.

    Anyway. Way to cut off a lid! Seriously, this is an interesting project. How much pressure is on the final few guys? Glad it’s not me ;)

  4. Glenn Clabo February 25, 2009

    Thank you for being part of this. The people at Saw Mill Creek are very greatful of your support to the project and ultimately the charity that will be helped.

    (It was way cool to see you sweating the cut. I know that feeling.)

  5. Very cool – looking forward to more of these — one question, I’m confused by the extra blue tape where you weren’t cutting — “for balance” I think you said? — as in “looks better on camera”? B-) — is there a real woodworking reason for the extra tape, or are you just having us on, as they say over ‘ome…? Either way, I guess I look like an idiot about now, but if you don’t ask…


      No harm in asking my friend. I should have explained that a little better in the video. The first piece of tape essentially raises that side of the box up. Its not much (only the thickness of a piece of tape), but its still something. So for good measure, I just put tape on the other side. That ensures that the box is perfectly level as it goes through the blade. Probably not totally necessary, but I still like to do it.

      • Of course… thanks…

        I wonder what kind of bevel angle on the cut that would translate to… depends on the width of the box I guess… some interesting geometry there for math geeks… B-)

        • Brian February 26, 2009

          Let’s assume that tape is a little thick at 0.005 of an inch, and let’s say it’s 10 inches from the tape back to the edge of the box, you’d have an angle of about .02 degrees.

  6. Jason February 26, 2009

    Very cool Marc! Both this project and the “minis”.

  7. arjan March 1, 2009

    Some comments.

    I agree it was risky with the blockplane, but you can just as easy mess it up with a card scraper. It helped that you keep the blade very sharp.

    My teachers had us do this job with a shaper (I believe that is the correct name for a really big router table?).

    A 4 inch sawblade on the shaper. The box slides along the fence and on the flat surface. The fence can be set very accurately. Then we didn’t cut all the way through but left about half a milimeter for balance and stability. Finish sawing by hand and then use the blockplane to remove eccess material.

    Not to critisize, you did a great job on a wonderfull project.

  8. skeeter March 4, 2009

    I agree with Arjan. I read in Fine woodworking that when famous box maker doug stowe cuts off box lids he leaves a very small amount of wood left on the box after making his 4 cuts. Then he removes the lid from the box with a utility knife and sands off the remainder which would be less than a 1/32″x a blade kerf. This would eliminate the shims a blue tape.

  9. Ray August 20, 2009

    Hey Marc, Is there any chance we can get a look at the final product. You have tweeked my interest in the charity box and the multi-craftsman project. I am sure there are those of us out there that would like to see and hear what the final verdict was at the auction. It’s a cool idea.

      thewoodwhisperer August 20, 2009

      There is actually a link in my write up above to the original forum post. Go to the last page and look for the latest pictures. Unfortunately, I think you need to be a member of the forum to view the images. Its free, but obviously its a pain in the butt if you just want to look at a quick picture.

      Actually, let me just snag one of the pictures and post it above.

  10. Steven April 12, 2010

    That is really looking good. I think it would have been cool if there was a place on the box (maybe the underside) where all the woodworkers could have placed their signature or mark on the project. Or maybe a nice card in a nice frame that would have everyone’s signature.

  11. Steven April 12, 2010

    Also can’t wait to see the final finish for the project.

  12. Jeff December 6, 2010

    I just wanted to say thanks. I am a new woodworker and in following the ‘Box by Box’ book by Jim Stack I found myself confronted with the task of cutting a lid from the recipe box I was building for my mother -in-law. I had a fair amount of time invested and really had no clue how to do it correctly.

    All I knew for sure was the guard had to come off the tablesaw and between that an the thought of wrecking this thing right before Christmas, I was pretty intimidated.

    Your video gave me exactly what I needed and I would have never thought to put the kerf width spacers in the already cut sides. The cut went perfectly and all fingers are intact.

    I have learned a lot from this site already. I’m glad I found it.

  13. Jaze January 10, 2011…gawd…

    I just read through all 11 pages of that thread. And the box is still not finished :(

  14. Brandon December 24, 2012

    Yikes! Glad that was sent to you and not me….

  15. Eric December 30, 2012

    Any update on this box? The osts on the forum suggest it hasn’t been finished yet.

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