I use my art supplies. I buy them, use them up, and throw them out. Sometimes, I find lovely art supplies – ones which are either so pretty you don’t want to use them or are pretty and not necessarily good quality (and therefore you don’t want to use them).
I was given a lovely set of colored pencils made from tree branches. I have not yet tried to use them because they look so lovely. In order to store them in the best possible way, I built a small wooden box/cup to hold them. It is an easy project to make a simple desktop pencil cup or small trinket box like this. I don’t own any large tools for cutting wood and this whole project was made with just a few simple inexpensive tools that fit inside a tool box.
A note about purchasing wood supplies: many craft and tools stores carry a selection of pre-cut wood pieces which come in a variety of sizes. The height of my desktop pencil cup was determined by the width of the wood stock I used (3”/ 7.6cm). This reduced the number of cuts I had to make.
Wood – ¼” thick wood works well for this type of project. Length/width of wood depend on the size of the box. I used : 1/4″ x 3″ x 24″ or 6mm x 7.6cm x 61cm Basswood
Optional (but cheap and great to have): Miter Box + Saw
Step 1) Determine the Pieces Needed
My background is in making patterns for clothing so it was natural for me to make a paper pattern for the wooden pieces needed for this project. The following instructions are for making a paper pattern which you will transfer onto wood.
If you have a specific set of items you are building a desktop cup for, you will need to measure these items to determine the size and shape it will need to be. I measured the bundle of wood branch colored pencils and found them to be about 2 ⅛” on all sides. For safety, I chose to go with a cup holder that is 2 ¼” on the inside. The width of the wood stock I used was a good height for the colored pencils so I just went with the width of the stock for the height of the cup.
This is a simple box – 4 sides and a bottom. The pieces will interlock with box joints at the corners. We need to add on to the basic shape we have started with to accommodate the interlocking pieces. I’ve had good luck with the box joints being ½” for each ”tooth”. The amount you need to add onto the piece to create the box joint is dependent on the thickness of the stock you are using. The stock I’m using is ¼” thick so I’ve added ¼” to the side of the pieces for the box joint. The pieces need to fit together so create an alternating pattern on adjoining pieces.
Do the same for both sides of the pieces. If each piece is the same tooth pattern on both sides only 2 different pieces need to designed.
The bottom of the box is the next piece you need to create. Again, start with the inside dimension of the box.
Build your box joint out from your starting bottom shape.
Create the box joint for where the sides of the box meet the bottom.
I’m using the width of my stock for the height of the desktop pencil cup which is also the size of my original pattern shape. In this case I can’t add on to the box (because I have already accounted for the full width of the stock). I’ll have to take away from the box for this one.
Transfer the notches to the other sides of the bottom piece.
Step 2) Creating Wood Veneer Pattern
With this construction technique and using simple hand tools to create the cup/box, the outside of the box may look a bit rough (mine certainly did). If you do not want to cover the outside of the box with veneer or paper or some other finish, you need to use great care to cut the box joints accurately enough that they can show. The design or motifs used to cover the box are up to you and what you want – assuming you can cut it from the material you are using to cover the box.
To cover my rough cuts and edges I decided to cover the box in 2 colors of wood veneer. In the process of laying out the box pieces, I created a set of pattern pieces to cut from veneer. I chose a diagonal stripe pattern with ½” wide stripes.
The stripe will wrap around the pencil cup. Draw a flat version of your pencil cup in the correct proportions. Lay the first line of the stripe to set the pattern.
Map out the stripe pattern by measuring the width of the stripe from the original line and marking the point where it overlaps with the edge of the piece.
Work your way down the side of the piece.
Mark the same points on the opposite edge.
Do the same for the other edges.
Join the marks with lines to create the stripes.
Label each stripe with something to indicate what color to cut.
Step 3) Cutting the Pieces
When cutting wood, you need to use extra effort to be accurate. It is not a forgiving material if you trim a little too much or if a piece is slightly too big. Mark on the wood the edge of the piece you are about to cut.
I used a simple (and cheap) mitre box and saw to cut the sides of the box. My hands are not super strong so I actually used a C-Clamp to hold the wood and mitre box to the table. This acts as a support to help my hands securely hold the piece I’m cutting until a groove is created.
Also, don’t forget that the saw blade actually takes a section of the wood away. My saw takes about 1/16”. Mark the cutting line for your first piece, cut that piece off and then mark the cutting line for the second piece.
Step 4) Light Finishing
The edges of the pieces might be a bit rough after being cut. Lay a piece of sandpaper on a flat surface and hold the cut pieces perpendicular to the sandpaper. Move the wood pieces back and forth to sand the edges. Try to keep the piece as perpendicular to the sandpaper as you can so you don’t round the edges.
Step 5) Cutting the Box Joints
Use your pattern pieces to mark the box joint pattern on the wooden pieces. I used a pencil to do this.
Step 6) Cutting the Box Joints by Hand
There are a few different ways to cut out the box joints for the pieces. I used a coping saw to cut the joints and the saw cut through the basswood like it was butter. Harder woods may take a bit of time but a sharp coping saw blade will still get the job done cleanly.
I clamped each piece to a table for cutting with the end I was cutting hanging well off the edge of the table.
Begin each box joint by cutting either end of the joint first. Take care to keeps your saw blade straight up and down when cutting.
There are a couple different ways to approach cutting the wood out of the joint. I’ll show them here. Some may be easier depending on the type of wood you are using.
This technique may work better on harder woods. Cut a series of notches into the joint up to the depth of the box joint. Score along the line denoting the depth of the notch on both sides with a straight blade (x-acto knife, box cutter, etc). Then, knock the remaining wood out of the joint with a light hammer tap of a screwdriver positioned on the teeth.
Cut enough material out of the joint so you can turn the blade sideways to cut the remaining wood out of the joint.
This technique worked well on the super soft basswood I used. After cutting the edges of the joint use the coping saw to clear out a bit of extra material at the corner. After the hole is large enough to turn the blade sideways cut the rest of the joint.
Cut out all of the joints on all of the pieces.
Step 7) Box Assembly
Hand cut box joints can be a bit rough. Test the fit of the pieces by setting them together. Look at how the pieces interact and determine where you need to sand the pieces so they fit together smoothly.
After some sanding:
Do this for all the pieces and the bottom before continuing.
Prepare to glue all the pieces together by gathering wood glue and clamps.
This is a small square box. To properly clamp everything together at the correct angles for the glue to set you must glue the whole thing in one sitting. I glued sides 1 & 2 together, added the bottom, glued side 3, and then side 4 in place in that order. Then clamped everything tightly and let it dry completely before removing any of the clamps.
A dot of wood glue in the valleys of each of the box joints is enough to hold this together.
Step 8) Covering the Box in Wood Veneer
The outside of the box looks a bit rough but that is to be expected given the tools used to make this box. After it is covered in wood veneer you won’t even know.
Do any touch up sanding to even out edges or flatten areas. The smoother the box when you apply veneer the easier the veneer application will be and the better it will look in the end.
Cut out the pattern pieces for the wood veneer.
Cut the pieces of wood veneer needed to cover the box. You can trace the full piece, I just made a couple small pencil marks to know where to place the ruler.
Use a ruler and a sharp straight edge blade to cut the veneer. Take a few light passes with the blade rather than attempting to cut all the way through on the first pass.
Coat the outside of the pencil cup with a light but full coverage layer of wood glue and let dry completely. Coat the back side of each piece of veneer in the same way. A paint brush is a good way to do this.
Once the glue on both pieces is completely dry gather a pencil, an iron, and a piece of scrap paper. Position the first piece of veneer in the correct spot. Use a pencil to mark the edge of the box. Cut the veneer along the line.
Warm the iron up to a medium heat – you will need to figure out the best heat level for your materials. Start low and warm it up if needed but be cautious of too much heat as the wood can scorch. Position the trimmed wood veneer piece in place. Lay the paper over the veneer and iron the piece in place. Hold the veneer in place as you start to iron because you will not be able to re-position the piece after lifting the iron.
Use the pattern piece for the adjoining veneer piece to assist in aligning the placement around the box.
Work one piece of veneer around the whole box before setting more pieces of veneer. This sets the line everything else will work from.
**NOTE** For the tiny corner pieces the ironing technique does not alway work well. A tiny dab of wood glue on the back of the piece of veneer and letting the glue dry with the piece in place works great on the little pieces.
One more time…
Mark the cutting line:
Cut the piece:
Position in place and iron down:
Work around the box:
When the sides are completely done, cut a piece of veneer for the bottom and attach it with the same technique.
These techniques would work well to make any lovely little trinket boxes or different desktop supply holders. The veneer application technique could be used on any flat piece of wood (I’ve never tried it on curved wood – it might work there as well!).
This project can be easily modified to a variety of sizes and shapes to fit a lot of different needs.