Most beginning box makers working on their first wooden box will most likely purchase lumber that is already dimensioned. There are advantages to this in that one doesn’t have to take the time to make the boards you’re going to use to the size you need… someone has already done that for you. You also will need less equipment to make your box. The big disadvantage is that dimensioning has been done by someone else and thus boards will cost you more.
I prefer to buy thick pieces of rough lumber and do the dimensioning and sizing by myself. I can make multiple boards with multiple thicknesses for making my boxes. I have control over the process and in the end, I get what I want and need for my box making purposes. This does take woodworking equipment that most beginners don’t have in their wood shop.
Tools Needed to Dimension Rough Boards
I’m assuming that you have that workhorse of all wood shops, a tablesaw. To dimension lumber you will also need a bandsaw for re-sawing your thick lumber into the thinner boards you will be using for your project. But resawing is just the beginning. Once you have your rough boards, they have to be dimensioned by planing. Two pieces of equipment are actually needed for this; a jointer and a thickness planer. Both of these take up considerable space and the jointer is a heavy, large one for sure. My wood shop is tiny. Space is at a premium, so I have a jointer/planer combo machine and it’s also a bench top piece so I can move it around.
The bandsaw is the workhorse for re-sawing. Large cutting capacity models are stationary pieces of equipment and will take up some space in the shop. Benchtop models can be moved and take up less space. You are going to sacrifice cutting capacity though. It is almost a necessity if you’re going to do a lot of resawing, although you can use a tablesaw for some boards.
If you have yet to buy a bandsaw and are expecting to do some resawing of wood, you will need one with a cutting capacity of 6+ inches. In the picture at the left, the woodworker is sawing a 8 inch board on a bandsaw with a 10 inch cutting capacity. The saw I have has a capacity of 14 inches and I can cut up to a 13 inch wide board.
This is important as many box designs contain lids with panels. I have made boxes with panels as wide as 12 inches. The panels I used were resawn on my Rikon saw. But as I stated earlier, don’t worry if you don’t have this tool. On most table saws one can resaw a board up to 5 inches wide. Plenty of width for smaller boxes.The wood jointer is another tool that is heavy and takes up lots of space. It serves two functions. The first is to flatten one face of the board. In this capacity, a jointer can remove mild irregularities such as warping, cupping, bowing and slight twists to the board. The second is to create a straight, flat, smooth edge that is square with the face of the board that was just flattened in the first operation. The thickness planer is another tool you’ll need in your wood shop. Most thickness planers are benchtop models. Portable and compact. You can find stationary models also. These are usually found in cabinetry and furniture shops. These machines take the board with the face that you flattened with the jointer and make the other side flat and parallel. At the same time it brings the board to the thickness that you need for your box making project.
My little woodworking shop has a space problem. I guess that’s why I specialize in making wooden boxes. Because of space, I like benchtop tools and in the case of jointers and thickness planers, I chose to go with a combo jointer/planer benchtop tool. It’s practical for me and all I need for what I do. It doesn’t take ups space, it’s portable and much less expensive than buying two separate machines. You can see it to the right set up in the thickness planer mode (the top of the machine is the jointer).
By the time that you’ve put your rough lumber through all of these tools, you will find yourself with the dimensioned boards you will use to make wood boxes. There are some benefits to making your own dimensional lumber. I think the greatest is you get what you want. Fitted to your project. You can produce different thicknesses of boards out of the same piece of rough lumber. Your lumber costs are less. You can also produce book matched boards which would cost you much more at the lumberyard. And, if those aren’t enough, you can make your own veneer.
Just one last word and that is all of these tools replace the hand tools that our ancestors used to dimension lumber into useable boards. Even the resawing operation was done by hand in the past. The job done by the jointer and the thickness planer was all performed by the hand plane. Various planes did the job of dimensioning. Long jack planes flattened and edged. Smooth planes smoothed the faces as well as bringing the board to the right thickness. So if you can’t afford these specialized machines, you always can start by hand.