How to Create Military Shadow Boxes

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Of the many traditions surrounding military service, one of the most treasured is the creation of a shadow box that tells a visual story of where a military man or woman has been and what they've accomplished. Shadow boxes come in many shapes and sizes to accommodate a vast array of memorabilia, including photos, medals, patches, citations, ribbons and souvenirs. Some are created exclusively for flag display. If you're planning to surprise a friend or loved one with a collection of their military memories, peruse ideas in this article to make your gift as unique as the person you're honoring.

Things You'll Need

  • Sheet of plywood
  • Lengths of 3" molding
  • Wood glue or nails
  • Carpentry tools
  • Hanging hardware
  • Sandpaper
  • Stain or paint
  • Wood sealer
  • Velcro®
  • Collectibles and memorabilia
  • Launch your effort with the understanding that when it comes to military shadow box shapes, sizes and configurations, one size doesn't fit all. Gather up items you plan to mount within the framework of the box and estimate the size of the finished project based on them to get started.

  • Grab a pen and pencil to sketch out a shadow box based on your measurements, or boot your computer and use your draw program to plot the box's layout. Use these figures as a point of reference: a typical shadow box is 18" square with 3"-high interior dividers attached to a raised, 3"-high frame.

  • Purchase a piece of sturdy plywood cut to the size of your finished shadow box with at least half an inch extra on all four sides to accommodate the frame and section dividers. Frame up the entire square so there's a 3" lip/frame around the periphery of the plywood sheet.

  • Install picture-hanging hardware to the back side of the unit before you begin working on the section dividers. Cut lengths the molding. Nail or glue molding strips in place to create the maze of boxes on your layout. Sand and smooth surfaces of the shadow box once you're satisfied with the grid you've created. Paint or stain and seal the wood.

  • Place items earmarked for the military shadow box into their predetermined sections. Switch items around if you find that one medal or photo looks better elsewhere. Cut sections of Velcro® to size for each piece of memorabilia and then press each into place. No need to hire an honor guard for your shadow box unveiling, since your military man or woman will be too delighted with the results of your efforts to care about the pomp and circumstance.

Tips & Warnings

  • Traditionally, Marine Corps shadow boxes have red backgrounds, Navy and Air Force boxes are most often painted blue and the Army shadow boxes have black backrounds.
  • American military tradition dictates that all military shadow boxes are made by U.S. craftsman to honor those who have served. Fabricate yours from scratch rather than purchasing one to eliminate any chance that the store-bought unit was made abroad.

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