Canadian Woodworking

Tiny toy box

Author: Michael Kampen
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: August September 2007

Here is a great little project for you and the younger woodworker in your family to make together in a weekend.


You can use a table saw and mitre sled to cut the parts, do the shaping on a router table, and then turn the pieces over to your assistant to assemble.

I used the Dowelmax jig and a cordless drill on this project. This is a very safe system, and allows interested children to participate in some quality time in the shop, under your supervision. You can, of course, use a different model of doweling jig.

This project was made using finger-jointed laminated pine shelf panels. The ones that my supplier had on hand were ⅝” thick; if yours are of a different thickness, adjust the length of the ends (B) accordingly. I also used the Dowelmax without the shim normally used with the ¼” bushings to give me the recessed ends.

With careful planning you can cut all the pieces for this project from a single 12″ x 8′ board, or two 12″ x 6′ boards.

Configure doweling jig to mount on end of board

The Box

• Cut the top (A) to size from the shelf stock. If you are not using laminated shelf panels then you will need to glue up enough stock for the pieces. Set the top aside for now.

• Cut the pieces for the ends (B) and the front and back (C) to size.

• Set the ends in place and then decide which of the other two panels will become the front. Choose the one with the most pleasing grain pattern; the best side should face out in each case.

• Place a depth stop on your ¼” drill bit and set it to allow you to drill ⅜” deep holes with the doweling jig. Configure the jig to clamp on the end of a board and using the guide pin, drill a row of dowel holes on the inside faces, the full width of both the front and back. Not using the shim supplied with the ¼” guide bushings on the fence block moves the holes back from the edge about 1/16″.

• Configure the doweling jig to mount on the end of a board and reset the depth stop on the drill bit to limit the depth to ⅞”. Drill a series of dowel holes up each end on both sides. Use two or three dowels in each corner to check the fit with the front and back.

• With the main portion of the box fitted together, confirm the measurements and cut the bottom (D) to size. Also, at this time, cut the stock for the four base pieces (E, F) and for the two top cleats (G).

The Base

• The base pieces must be cut to length, mitred and the dowel holes drilled before they can be shaped on the router. To cut these with fool-proof results every time I use a 45° mitre sled on the table saw.

• Begin by cutting the first mitre on one end of a base piece. Set this piece against the bottom and use a knife to strike a line at the other end of the piece. Cut the mitre on the second end. Continue cutting all of the base pieces to length.

• Label the base pieces and the corresponding edges on the bottom. Use the end of the edge on the bottom, and the start of the corresponding mitre cut as a reference edge, and drill dowel holes to mount the base pieces to the bottom edges. The base pieces should be mounted so that they provide a ¼” lip around the edges of the bottom.

Off to the Router Table

• Set up a 516″ round-over bit in your router table and round over the edges on both faces of the top. Use a fence for this operation and make the full cut in several passes by backing the fence up for each cut until you have the final depth. Do the end grain on the first pass, and clean up the inevitable blow out with the subsequent long grain passes.

• Use this same technique and rout a 5/16″ round-over on the top outside edge of all of the base pieces as well.

• Use a ⅜” spiral router bit to cut the finger recesses in the front and ends as well as the cut outs in the base pieces. Set up a couple of stops on your fence on either side of your bit to limit the travel of the work piece. Begin the cut by setting the piece against the right hand end stop and with a firm hold on the piece, pivot it into the cutter. Move it along the cutter until you hit the other end stop. At this point, pivot the piece away from the cutter and turn off the router. Repeat this using several shallow passes. Move the end stops closer together after a few passes for a two-stage cut out such as this one.

• Measure the thickness of the hinge you are using. Deduct 1/16″ from this number and rip this amount from the top of the back to accommodate the hinge. Deducting 1/16″ from this amount ensures that you won’t have a bound hinge later on.

The Finish

• At this stage the fabrication of the parts is done. It is much easier to apply the finish while the parts of the box are still flat. Sand all of the parts to 180 grit and apply two coats of an interior stain, such as Varathane Gel Stain, which comes in 11 different colours. Stain only the outsides of the box. Once the stain has thoroughly dried apply a couple of coats of paste wax. Be careful not to get finish or wax into the dowel holes.

• As an alternative, give your young assistant a couple of narrow paint brushes, three or four tubes of their favourite colours of paint, and let them at it – you’ll end up with a uniquely finished box that showcases their creativity. Once the paint has dried cover with a coat of clear waterborne finish.


The assembly of this toy box is best done in two steps. Begin with the base.

• Dry fit all of the pieces together to be sure there will not be any snags. Lay out the pieces in an organized manner and work quickly once the glue hits the wood. Glue the base pieces to the bottom of the box. Use clamps to draw the base assembly tight or you will have gaps in the mitre joints.

• When the base has been removed from the clamps, assemble the main section of the box. Again, work in an organized manner once you begin. Glue the front, back and ends together with dowels. Spread a bead of glue around the perimeter of the base and set the main section of the box into place on the base. Apply some clamps to draw the two pieces together and drive in some screws from the underside.

• Turn the lid upside down on a protected surface and center the box on it. Draw a line along the underside of the top along the back. Mark both ends – you’ll need this to line up the hinge.

• Cut a piano hinge to length and file the end smooth. Mount it on the back of the box with two screws. Mark the face of the hinge that will be against the underside of the top and unscrew the hinge. Place the hinge on the top and line it up with the edge and ends marked earlier. Use a self-centering drill bit and drill two pilot holes and install two screws. Put the top in place and drive the two screws into the back. If you’ve measured accurately then everything should be fine, go ahead and drill out the rest of the pilot holes and install the  screws.

• Screw the cleats to the underside of the top.

• All of the no-slam hardware I could find was too large for a box of this size. Instead, I added a leather strap held in place with a couple of brass screws and washers to limit the travel of the lid and provided a recess along the top of the front and sides to provide some protection for little fingers.

• With the box assembled, all that is left is to give everything a final wipe with a coat of wax.


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  2. I was a member a few years ago but had to give up my shop due to age and moving to an apartment. I’d like to get the magazine sent to my Grandson who’s showing an interest in woodworking. Could you tell me how to get it ordered and sent to his address under his name. I’ll pay for the first year to get him started. My name and email below.

    1. The plan calls for 12″ boards, not 8″ (8 feet long). You can use nominal or actual. If your boards are narrower than 12″ you’ll need to glue up enough stock for the top (which is a full 12″ wide).

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