Building a Keepsake Box Using Dovetail Key Joinery

In this post the pencil drawing of the dog was done by artist Amy King, who contacted me to make the keepsake box to display her drawing of the dog.

Cutting boards to lengthI started out cutting the boards to length, keeping track of the order so the grain would wrap around the corners of the box.

Cutting a miter on a boardThen keeping as close to the edge of the board as I could so I would not mess up the flow of the grain,  I cut the miters for the corners.  Typically the more material you remove the less likely the grain will  match up on the corners.

table saw dado stackTo install the bottom, i used a standard dado stack in the table saw to cut a dado to receive the bottom.  Because of the size of the box I decided to use 3/8” solid wood for the bottom.  I thought it would feel less flimsy than a typical 1/4“ plywood bottom, and yes I allowed for wood movement in the dado.

notching wood for handleTo cut out the notch for the handle I set the blade height to the thickness of the lid and carefully made several passes until it was cut out.  Then I very carefully slid the board back and forth over the blade to clear out any rough bumps left behind, and finally cleaned it up with a little hand sanding.

blue painters tape on woodBefore gluing up the corners I taped them together to act as clamps while the glue dried, and aid in keeping everything lined up during assembly.

One of the most common question I get is what type of glue I use.  For most glue ups I used standard titebond II glue in the glue bot.  Titebond II has a little longer open time which helps in my dry climate and the glue bot keeps everything nice, neat, and clean.

relief cut in woodTo reduce the strain on the router bit when cutting the slots for the dovetail keys I used the table saw to remove some material first.

Cutting dovetail keys with a routerThen went over to the router to cut the rest of the material away.  The jigs I use for this operation are shop made.  Basically they are made of plywood cut at a 45 degree angle to cradle the box in position.

101 uses for blue painters tapeBefore cutting the slots for the dovetail keys.  I applied blue tape to the corners to help prevent tear out.  It worked really well, and I ended up with nice clean holes.

Cutting the dovetail keyCutting the Dovetail keys themselves was kind of a hit and miss operation at first.  It took several test passes to figure out the right bit height and distance from the fence to produce a tight fitting key.

key cutting at a miter sawI cut the keys to approximate length at the miter saw, and after they are glued into place I will flush cut them with a hand saw.

Plywood jigWhen drilling the hole for the dowel hinge I used a plywood jig to help keep me square and in the right spot on both sides .

prevent tearout and splintering with blue painters tapeTo prevent tear out and splintering on the lid I used blue tape.  I measured several times as I only had one chance.

Positioning lid with spacersTo help keep the lid positioned while drilling the holes for the dowels,  I used blocks of wood cut at the right height to support it, and a shim along the back to space the lid from the back so it would have room to pivot.

shaping on the spindle sander To shape the handle I picked a portion of my spindle sander that had a nice radius and used it to create the desired shape.


Cut it to fit on the table saw and did the final shaping by hand and with my random orbit sander.

epoxy and flush cut dowelsI used epoxy to glue in the dowels, as it is gap filling.  If the hole got a little oblong during drilling this helped fill it and disguise it.

Walnut keepsake box with dovetail key joinery Completed box

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Comments: 2

  1. Tony says:

    Pretty cool. I like the design!

    • Brian Benham says:

      Thanks, Tony

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