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Home The Woodshop Tips and Tricks Making Small Boxes With The Router Box Jig

Making Small Boxes With The Router Box Jig

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This article is in response to another request from my readers. In my project section I wrote an article about small boxes made with a router. The article was written years ago and the boxes were made several years before that. Thus, I had to use one of those old boxes to write this article as I couldn't exactly remember how I made them. The initial construction process came from that great Canadian TV show, The Router Workshop, but the jig I use was born of necessity. One year I decided to build a pile of these boxes and enter a craft fair. After two or three, I decided there had to be a faster way to set up for the cuts, so I used a discarded table saw sled to fashion the jig in this article. I wrote in the original article in my projects section that, "I should make a separate web page for" this jig, and many people have asked for exactly that. I guess I will have to finally make good on that threat, even though it is more than 10 years later.

I should point out before you read this that I do intend to make some more boxes, if for no other reason than to provide proper pictures of the construction process. I have none as, when I built my boxes (and came up with the jig), I had not yet conceived of this website. As I write, the year is 2009 so this web site has been around for thirteen years and, as I'm sure you will appreciate, my mind is a little fuzzy on the details. Fear not, I have been studying the boxes for several days now and I have completely refreshed my memory. There are several of them lying around because I overpriced them for the sale and, of course, they didn't sell worth a damn. Oh well, live and learn.

Before we start, I should discuss the reason that these boxes are so simple and fast to make. All of the joinery is done with a spiral upcut, or other straight cutting bit, that is exactly the same width as the thickness of the lumber. All my boxes were made of 3/8" wood therefore I used a 3/8" router bit for everything. All you really do have to watch for is that the length of the bit you use is enough that it will reach up through the hole in the jig and cut a rabbet that is 3/16" deep (half the thickness of the wood you are using). If you want to use 3/4" lumber, you need to use a 3/4" bit. Once the bit is chucked into the router and the depth is set, you don't need to touch the router again until you are finished all your boxes. That's what makes this system work. All you do have to do is move the jig a little.

The jig itself is nothing. I fashioned mine out of junk really. It is simply a half inch thick piece of plywood with a plywood fence glued to it and a few holes drilled through it. The fence is required to make the edge rabbets that are used to join the box together. One hole is drilled right next to the fence - and in fact takes a little nick out of the fence - and this hole must be slightly larger that the size of bit you are going to use. I used a half inch bit to make my holes. The three other holes are spread out so there distance from the fence overlaps and you can swing the fence over when cutting the dadoes that eventually become the interlocking lid rabbets. If you only drill two holes, the fence side edge of the hole furthest from the fence should be approximately the same distance from the fence as your desired lid height. So, if you want your lids to be 2" tall, this hole should be 2" away from the fence. If you make boxes with different lid heights, you may want more than two holes for the interlocking lid joints. The jig in the photos has three and is set up to do lids that are 1" tall and 1 5/8" tall. The extra hole marked for V-grooving is there to accommodate a bit that will add a decorative touch to the box after it is complete and sawed apart.

Once you are this far, all you need are a couple of clamps to hold the jig to the router table and away you go. You don't have to worry about fences being square (which is - I think - why mine failed as a table saw sled if I recall correctly) or accuracy in any way. The only thing you really have to watch is that the plywood is flat and not warped. The jig doesn't have to be very large, because it is for small boxes, however, you may adjust the size of yours accordingly. Because of that, I haven't included any detailed measurements here but here is a shot of the jig with my tape measure so you have a rough idea of size.

As I have said before (you knew I was a long-winded bloke, didn't you), these boxes were done so long ago that they predate camera use in my shop. Therefore, until I get the pile of projects out of the way that are on my list, there will be no photos of this process - and no promises on when they will be added. There may seem like a lot of steps, but this process is quite simple and foolproof. Here goes…

  1. If necessary, the wood must be resawed and milled four square to a thickness of 3/8" - if you are using a 3/8" bit. Your hardwood supplier may do this for you for a nominal fee. When I needed a class set of this lumber, my supplier took care of this stage for me.
  2. Decide on a size for the box and cut the top and bottom out. You can do fifty boxes, all of different sizes, without changing any of the setup (as long as they all use the same thickness of wood).
  3. Cut out the sides. Make them as long as the top and as high as you need the box to be, but add 3/8" for the interlocking lid.
  4. Cut the ends the same height as the sides, but 3/8" narrower than the width of the top and bottom pieces.
  5. Set the jig and router up so that the bit protrudes through the hole right next to the fence. You want to cut a rabbet as wide as the wood is thick and as deep as 1/2 the thickness of the wood. Later on, to keep from fiddling with lids that are too tight, you may want to add a little extra depth to the bit, but only a fraction of a hair's breadth - and I mean that. Too much extra depth and your joints will be too deep, your lid will be sloppy, and you will have caused yourself a lot of clean up and maybe a discarded box. Too little and your lids will be too tight. I can't tell you exactly how to gauge this - it has to be done by feel. You should know that careful fiddling here will pay off as you don't have to touch the bit again after you get it set up just right.
  6. Rabbet the ends of the side pieces.
  7. Starting on an end, rabbet all the way around the top and the bottom.
  8. Move the jig so that the bit protrudes through the hole that is furthest away from the fence but make no adjustments to the bit.
  9. Eyeball the jig so the distance between the cutter edge and the fence is the height you want for the lid. No exact measurements are needed. In fact, it is better if every box is just a little bit different. Once your lid height is set, run the ends and sides through the jig with the outside face down against the table and the top along the fence.
  10. Move the jig so the bit protrudes through the hole that is closer to the cutter. You want a little bit of extra wood that can be cut away with the tablesaw so the hole should allow you to move the bit over 3/8" plus the thickness of your saw kerf. Click here to see what I mean. Before you bail out on me, type Egyptian water ballet in the Google tool bar, and leave, you need to know that, when you glue the box together, the lid and box are still all in one piece. You must leave enough extra wood between the two dadoes you are cutting so that the lid and box stay together, but not so much that you have to fool around for an hour and a half after you cut them apart.
  11. Run the ends and sides through the jig with the top against the fence and the inside of the box against the table. The joinery is now complete.
  12. Spread glue on all the joints at the edges of the pieces (not in the dadoes that run through them), assemble the box and clamp. Set it aside to dry.
  13. You should have some 3/8" material left from sizing the parts. Cut a couple thin scraps off the end - that are shorter than the box is wide, or you will have problems - and they will become 3/8" wood spacers.
  14. When the glue is dry, start cutting the lid off by running the box through the tablesaw, lid against the fence, cutting the ends only, at first. The blade height should be just a bit over 3/8" and I like to check that the blade is exactly 90 degrees to the table before I do anything. Click here for a diagram.
  15. Tape the spacers into the dadoes on the ends after cutting them. This is for safety and will prevent the box from collapsing onto the spinning blade.
  16. Finally, saw the sides the same way as you sawed the ends, lid against the fence. When you remove the tape and spacers, the lid should pop right off and should fit onto the box very nicely. All that is left to do is sand and finish the box.

The process seems laborious but it isn't. Once you try it a couple of times, it becomes like second nature. The first time I tried this out, I used 2x6 framing lumber so that, if I screwed it up, no precious hardwood would be wasted. I suggest this when starting out with the process. Once you get the hang of it, you can pump out plenty of boxes in record time. I used to use this project when I taught woodworking at the junior high school level and it was a smash hit. Not only did everyone get a finished project they were proud of, they all caught on quickly and were astonished at how easily the box came together.

I will, in time, build a few more of these and post some pictures but, for now, this description will have to do. If you use the information on this page and find that I made an error, please let me know. As I said, it has been a long time since I made these boxes and I may have mixed something up. Good luck with it and happy woodworking.

©2011 Howard Ruttan -

Last Updated on Saturday, 26 February 2011 20:37  

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