Sunday, April 12, 2009
Design Experiment - Small Improvised Box
After cleaning up the caulking irons, I just couldn't put them back in the ammo box they came in. I had a vague idea that an airtight box, while certainly keeping moist air out, would also trap moisture in with the irons and would probably not be the best home for them. That seems like a good, practical idea - but of course there was more to it. I just didn't like the ammo box - not for these irons. It didn't make me happy. This might sound familiar...
Anyway, I needed to design and build a box for the caulking irons and this seemed like a good excuse to try an experiment. I've noticed that many pieces built by old timers have a certain "funky" element to them. They don't seem to follow any "rules" of design, and they sometimes flat out break them. But they have character in spades and are wonderful, unique pieces. Often times it seems that there was a material influence on the final form. Maybe they used what was on hand - a thrifty use of offcuts. Sometimes they aren't successful - the piece feels heavy or clunky - but sometimes it is successful, and the piece has a wonderful, funky, organic, improvised quality (and I mean improvised in a good way - like a jazz solo - not like a shoddy cover up...).
For this project/experiment, I decided to restrict the materials I could use, design as I went, and see what happened to the final product. I could only use scrap, or left-over wood and hardware. This was going to be a quick box - no worries about perfect surfaces etc.
Here's what I ended up using:
Some pine shelves I took out of a cheapo CD cabinet I resurrected from Salvation Army
A piece of mahogany left over from the wood stove fence project
A chunk of 1x2 that was formally a sticker for a wood pile
3" hunk of 3/8" dowel
1 bamboo skewer
Cheapo piano hinge from aforementioned cheapo CD cabinet
Screws from the wheel of homeless fasteners
Nails - aluminum tacks! From - well, I don't know where these came from...
The tools to be stored set some dimensions and the material available set others. The caulking wheel was 16" long. I only had two pieces of the pine shelving longer than that. Since I needed the two sides and the top and bottom to be 16"+ I had to get four out of two. One piece I ripped down the middle. This became the two long sides of the box. To hold all the irons the box needed to be wider, so I resawed the second piece and ended up with two thin (approx. 5/16") pieces for the top and the bottom. The ends I made from one of the shorter shelf pieces.
My original idea was to use wooden pins as hinges, so I made two cleats for the top that would overlap the ends of the box and provide me with a location for the pins. After making those from part of the 1x2, I couldn't work out the details of the pins/hinges, so I scrapped that idea and cut a chunk of piano hinge. Then I found the tacks, and used those to fasten the hinge to the back and the top. The front edge of the lid looked funny, so I ripped a strip of mahogany and glued that across the front edge, overlapping the ends of the cleats. Better, but now the base looked odd. More ripping of mahogany strips and I attached a mitered base to the box. Not too bad, but the box still looked top heavy.
I ignored that "problem" and moved on to the handle. I did find an old metal handle, but attaching it to the thin top would have required adding a strip of wood under the lid. I avoided that by sawing and carving a wooden handle and screwing up through the lid into the handle. Not only did that solve the practical challenge of how to attach a handle, it somehow solved the top heavy aesthetic problem as well (at least to my eyes). Unintentionally, the handle came out with an "Asian" flavor, and paired with the top being wider than the base, it gave the whole box a quasi pagoda nature. Weird.
To keep the lid from just opening when I pick it up by the handle, I made two locking pins from the dowel and the bamboo skewer. Then, to avoid losing them, I made two holes in the top edges of the ends to hold the pins. This also has the bonus feature of propping the lid open so it is obvious that it is not locked.
Two coats of bright red milk paint pulled the whole thing together and hid the different woods used. I followed the paint with my own mixture of mineral oil and beeswax.
I think this experiment was successful. The box is functional and has a pleasing design in a funky, improvised, unique way that keeps drawing my attention back to it. Much more enjoyable than the ammo box.
Here's the tool kit for this project: