How to Calculate Dimensions for Building a Wooden Box

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Wooden boxes are a good first woodworking project.

Building a wooden box is an straightforward and instructive project for a woodworking beginner. Boxes have a simple form, can be made from spare wood at little cost, and have obvious utility. The process of making a box from wood cues you into some of the basic design subtleties that will inform more complex wood projects in the future, including the way in which the joining technique you choose affects the dimensions of the pieces you cut.


Step 1

Determine either the inner or outer dimensions (length, width, and height) of the box you want to make. If you are building the box to hold specific items, then specify what the inner dimensions should be so that the items will fit. On the other hand, if you are designing the box so it can fit inside a specific drawer or on a particular shelf, determine the outer dimensions instead so your box will be small enough to fit where you want it.


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Step 2

Assess the supply of wood you have available to construct the box, making sure you have enough to form all the surfaces of your box. Also make careful note of the thickness of the pieces, as this will be a critical measurement later.

Step 3

Decide on the way you will join your wood pieces together. The simplest technique is simply to abut the two pieces of wood together at a right angle, and use glue, screws, or nails to attach them. Another common method is to make a 45-cut along each edge, so that when the two are glued together a right angle is formed. A miter saw is needed to make such angled cuts with the necessary accuracy.


Step 4

Adjust the dimensions you came up with to accommodate the thickness of the wood and the joint type. For example, if you are trying to make a box with a square interior 10 inches on each side out of 1/2-inch thick wood, and you aren't cutting the edges at 45-degree angles, you should add one inch of length to two of the parallel sides you cut so that there is space on those boards for the other side boards to abut against without making the interior space of the box smaller.


On the other hand, if you are making the 45-degree edge cuts in a box of the same size, you should add one inch to all of the sides, because the miter saw will reduce the interior space of the box in forming the 45-degree angles on the ends of the cuts boards. If you're designing a box with specific outer dimensions, similar adjustments are necessary. A quick scaled cross-section sketch of the boards on graph paper will quickly reveal this set of problems. It is important to determine exactly what dimensions each board in the box should have before you start sawing, so that you don't waste time and wood.


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