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Keepsake Box with Custom Inlay of a Bear

Keepsake Box with Custom Inlay of a Bear

Time-lapse Photography of the Lid Inlay Being Created

This keepsake box was made for a special girl who passed away just before her 4th birthday from epilepsy earlier this year. The inspiration for the bear inlay on the lid of the box came from her nickname, “Claire Bear”, a nickname that quickly became popular around the hospital as all the doctors and nurses used it during her frequent visits.

If you would like to get involved with helping kids with epilepsy, you can do so at, where you will find links to the charity that helped Claire Bear as well as a link to help the family out directly with their medical bills, which accumulated over Claire’s life.

Building The Keepsake Box

Since everybody called her Clair Bear, I knew I wanted to incorporate a bear into the top of the box. To come up with the design, I searched Google images to find inspiration. I found an intarsia piece that someone did of a bear sitting on a moon. I then found a picture of a Bonsai tree I liked, so I held up a piece of paper to the computer screen and traced the outline. I did the same for the leaves. I used the bear sitting in the moon idea and redrew the bear, so it was sitting in the tree.

Once I had the entire piece traced and drawn, I scanned them into my computer as individual pieces and resized them in Microsoft Publisher until I had them sized and placed just right to fit the ob the box. I printed it out and traced it onto some tracing paper to use as a template.

I cut out each piece of the inlay by hand using a razor knife.

I started with the background and worked toward the foreground.

Each piece is cut, glued, and clamped in place and left to dry for a minimum of 2 hours before moving on to the next piece. This box top inlay has over 24 individual pieces; it sat on my bench for weeks as it slowly came together, gluing one piece at a time.

Tracing paper over carbon paper is used to transfer the location of each piece onto the veneer and to the lid.

Closing in on the halfway mark.

To add some three-dimensional depth to the inlay, I used a sand-burning technique to shade the individual pieces of the inlay.

The sand was wet the first time I heated it up, it looked pretty cool as it steamed off the moisture.

I used a shop-made jig to cut the bevel on the lid as well as the slots for the keyed miters. Let me tell you, after putting in 22 hours on cutting in the Inlay, I was really squeezing my butt cheeks together, hoping nothing would go wrong as I built the rest of the box, trying not to mess up the lid.

I used a scrap piece of plywood in the jig for two reasons. One to test the location of each keyed mitered slot. You just do not get a second chance if you cut it in the wrong place. Two, I used it in the jig as a backer board to prevent tearing out and splintering as the blade exited the box.

I used a thin rip jig from Rockler to cut the strips for the keyed miters. I always have a safety issue as the small pieces hit the blade and shoot back at me. To keep the pieces away from the blade, I clamped a wedge behind the blade, so as I cut the thin strips, the wedge pushed them away from the blade.

I taped the box to protect it from being scratched as I cut off the lid by passing it over the table saw blade. If you are looking for a hot stock tip, invest in 3M as I go through at least a roll of tape on every project.

To prevent the lid from falling off and being ruined from hitting the table saw blade, I only cut partway through. I finished the cut with a handsaw.

To finish the project, I first put on a coat of Danish oil to bring out the colors in the different woods used in the inlay. I then sealed it in Danish oil with a coat of shellac. For the inside of the box, to prevent it from smelling of a chemical finish smell forever, I did two more coats of shellac. For the final coat on the exterior of the box, I sprayed on three coats of lacquer.

I used seven different woods to make this keepsake box. I used walnut for the box itself. The top and mitered corner keys are made from hard maple. The tree is walnut, and the leaves are African Cerejeira. The bear’s legs, arms, and head are made of quarter-swan African Mahogany. His belly and face are made from quarter swan African Makore, and his ears and eyes are made from European Pear wood.


If you would like a Keepsake Box with a custom inlay or,

I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.

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