June 2013

Fine box making in the Shropshire hills

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no. 12, June 2013:


Newsletters are a bit like boxes. As anyone will know who has made boxes [I guess a fair few will be reading this] it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking a box is almost finished: the carcass is made, hardware fitted, trays made – just a little finishing, cleaning up and lining to be done and we’re there … which all takes forever, of course! Well, newsletters are the same, you think you’re almost there, but …


So, there’s been rather a gap since the last newsletter and the list of items to include in this one has just got longer and longer, therefore the job of pulling it all together has been getting ever bigger, and later! And add into the mix ailing computers and a new newsletter template mangling my fine-tuned layout and you start to get the picture …


newsletter content:


I’ve said that I intend to get more actual box making projects into these newsletters – well, that is certainly my intention and the images to the right are taken from a selection of various projects and items that were intended for this issue and subsequent ones. But there’s been a lot going on and there’s a lot I need to tell you about.


smartHinge, great product and relevant to box making though it is, is still an issue but should NOT have needed so many column-inches! Hopefully after this one it can settle back to its rightful place – simply being the best box hinge available, with the emphasis on available!


So, many of the items I was going to cover in this newsletter are going to have to wait – I will try to do a number of smaller issues over the next couple of months to try and catch up with the backlog …


Incidentally, if you have friends and colleagues that you think might be interested to subscribe to this newsletter, please use the link at the bottom to pass it on to them.

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in this issue:


  • new websites
  • a case for Carla
  • BMW Gold
  • weekend course review
  • autumn weekend dates …
  • smartHinge news and re-introductory offer
  • smartLock

new websites:


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It has long been my intention to split up my bulging-at-the-seams fine-boxes.com website into several specific sites to deal with the different aspects of what I do. Finally, and just as fine-boxes was written up as ‘website of the month’ in the May issue of Furniture & Cabinetmaking, I’ve done it, and the new fine-boxes network is born!


As well as a new site devoted to flute cases [a bit of a specialist area of mine] the plan was that the courses and other stuff to do with teaching would move to a new site – box-making.com.


As mentioned in previous newsletters I intend to offer a small but carefully selected range of items – smartHinge of course, but also smartLock [see below] and a number of others – and a new area offering this range was to be an important part of the new box-making.com site.


But the more I looked into this the more it became clear that the new site would very quickly suffer from the same problems I was trying to solve with fine-boxes – with areas for books, workshop, courses and all the necessary eCommerce bits and pieces, there was just going to be too much stuff requiring complicated site navigation!

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The solution turns out to be a separate new website, www.smartBoxmaker.com, mirroring the smartHinge name, reinforcing the idea of the ‘smart’ brand and offering a range of high quality and hard to come by bits and pieces for the box maker. With the new site now in place to deal with the nuts and bolts I can start to organise the various products:

what will be on offer?

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Items will be gradually added over the next few weeks. These will include:



Lee Valley precision inlay corner jig – I am currently investigating getting this made myself. I have several other small items in mind …


materials & sundries:

small glue bottles*, large abrasives sheets*, custom precision ground inserts for the Veritas router table top [to replace the very poor plastic ones supplied], converted and dimensioned box components, ready made inlays, components to assist in making your own, small quantities of dyed veneers*, 1.5 and 0.8mm birch plywood, leather, self adhesive card for lining, transfer adhesive, extra-thin foam rubber and more.


smartHinge – polished brass*, stainless* and gold-plated, new smartLock [in same finishes – see below], sliding button catches*, prepared butt hinges.


instructions/advice/plans/fact sheets:

I have a number of these in the pipeline, I haven’t decided a format yet: box glue up jig, line making jig, book match jig, scraper sharpening, the perfect box?, hinge fact/advice sheet, cleaning up hardware, butt hinge fitting, climb cutting, cutting foam rubber, bandsaw versus tablesaw, the small workshop, the disc sander.


smartHinge in polished brass is available again now [see offer below!] and will be available in stainless very soon. Items in the list above marked * will also be available very soon, others will gradually come on stream over the next few weeks and months. Please email me if there’s anything else you would like to see available …

the other sites in the new fine boxes network:


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flute-cases.com – the home of beautiful flute cases.


When complete there will be plenty of information about the different cases available: woods, finishes, interior formats, what’s in stock, prices, ordering info, feedback from past customers, a dedicated flute cases gallery, flute-related links and much more.

box making.com – now the teaching side of my activities has a website all to itself.


Basically this is all the material from the ‘courses’ area of the original fine-boxes site, plus new areas for books, workshop, testimonials, links and more. I will be re-organising it and expanding certain areas over the coming weeks.

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 – and what’s left of the fine-boxes website?


All the material relating to teaching, books, selling hinges and so on had muscled in on to what was originally a very simple site. Much of this material has now been extracted in order to create the new sites.


fine-boxes.com is basically reverting to what it was originally intended for, a gallery site for my commissioned work. The gallery and slideshow are still there, awaiting updating with a lot of new material and stuff that never made it onto the new verison when it was uploaded in 2009.


a case for Carla:


In the ‘next issue’ section at the end of Newsletter no. 11
I mentioned a project I wanted to cover in this one, a curved top flute case. Well, that’s now going to be in the next one as there’s already too much in this issue and I want to cover something I referred to in the August 2012, Newsletter no.10, about my making a case for the flute player Carla Rees.


That newsletter also contains the background to this project – which is, briefly, that Carla lost her home, her flutes, a substantial amount of music and much else in the London riots last year.


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I believe one way or another she has now replaced most of her instruments, but she now has an extra one generously commissioned for her by Stephen Massil for which he also commissioned this case from me. It’s a beautiful flute d’amore, a copy of an instrument made by the Dutch maker Jan van Heerde in 1740, made from kingwood by the Canadian maker Boaz Berney.


Shown above, it’s a wonderful sounding – and looking – instrument. It’s much larger than a normal baroque flute, sounding a full minor third lower. And with most baroque instruments already being pitched a semitone lower than modern concert pitch [and sounding more beautiful than modern instruments anyway!] the sound is really stunning!

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Shown here with a flute of mine for reference [the kingwood flute having been sent to Carla after I’d measured for the lining] it’s a simple case in cherry, veneered with bookmatched weathered figured sycamore. In most respects it’s very similar to loads of cases for early flutes I’ve done over the years, but the context makes it interesting, as does the line I made to decorate the lid.


As I say, the flute is made from kingwood, a distinctive and striking wood – so I decided that it would be good to mirror this on the lid. So, I contacted Boaz Berney and requested some of the wood he’d used to make the flute. The piece that arrived is shown below left, with the rest of the components for the case.

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The endgrain of the piece of kingwood Boaz sent showed an interesting ‘kink’ in the growth rings. So, I set about cutting endgrain slivers from this with a view to joining them to create a sort of deluxe, bookmatched crossbanding. The following images show stages in that process:

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Here are the pieces, accurately squared and reduced to the correct width and length, ready to be glued end to end.

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 … now clamped up with the black and white veneers to create the outer lines.

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The resulting sandwich was only around 4mm thick, but was sufficient to be bandsawn to create just enough to do the inlay. I think the result was worth the effort – the image above clearly shows the ‘bookmatched’ effect working well around the corner. But it was a time-consuming process and I won’t be leaping in to do it again in a hurry!

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I was invited to the new flute’s first outing, a lovely concert given by Carla in London’s Hoxton Hall where the new flute was used to great effect, in both early and contemporary idioms. The day, Monday, June 10th, involved having time to spare in Shoreditch between meeting one friend for lunch at Liverpool Street and  another before the concert.


This offered a perfect opportunity to revist the wonderful Geffrye Museum
in the Kingsland Road. The Geffrye is a very special museum, concentrating as it does on interior room sets from 1600 to the present day. If you haven’t been, it’s well worth a visit – it would have been nice if I’d managed it, but it’s closed on Mondays! So I went instead to ‘Hoxton Street Monster Supplies’ [‘Bespoke and Everyday Items for the Living’, Dead and Undead’ and ‘Purveyor of Quality Goods for Monsters of Every Kind’.] A very different experience, but educational all the same!

Here is Carla with Stephen Massil with the flute and case at the reception after the concert.


BMW ‘Gold’:


The original idea of this two weekend format was to allow time for certain elements that aren’t possible in a single weekend – these include fitting a lock, making and fitting an escutcheon and lining to completion. The time between the two weekends was intended to allow participants to go away with the almost complete box and do the finishing before returning for the second weekend to make the tray and fit the lining.

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Well, the first has just been completed, and I think it was pretty successful. There were only two participants – lots were interested but I think the two consecutive weekend format was a logistical disincentive.

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The lock we used was Ian Hawthorne’s ‘Neat Lock’ – these are nice locks and the fitting went smoothly, but I will eventually be using my own smartLock – see more info below. Anyway, we got some really good boxes out of it – a few minor details didn’t quite go as planned, but these were easily corrected and the boxes were ALMOST complete at the end of day 5.

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And a big thank you to Richard and Phil who were friendly, co-operative and good-humoured guinea pigs – as a result of my experiments on them [mostly humane] I can now do any adjustments and fine tuning necessary for the next time.


Most importantly I now reckon that five consecutive days is better than two weekends, with the finishing being fitted in between other operations. Apart from being a more acceptable format logistically this will have the added advantage of my being able to oversee the finishing which didn’t go perfectly this time.


So, the next BMW ‘Gold’ will be five days, October 24-28th 2013 – please email me if you’re interested.


weekend course review:


 – or a meeting of the UK Suzuki Samurai Admirers Club …

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Ever since the mid 80s I’ve hankered after a small 4WD car, a Suzuki Samurai. Its nearest modern equivalent is the Jimny, not the same at all! At the time I was too poor to buy one new, so it never happened, but when our trusty Golf died a few years ago I decided to see what was out there. They do come up on eBay occasionally – and that’s indeed where I found mine, shown here, probably the last time it was really clean!


Bear with me, there is a box related-point to this!

Shortly after I got the Samurai my wife, Hilary, and I visited Nick Gibbs, old friend and British Woodworking editor. When he saw the Samurai he immediately fell in love with it and swore he was going to get one. Which he did soon after.


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Well, he recently came up in his Samurai to do a weekend course with a view to reviewing it – the course, not the Samurai. Incidentally, since I bought mine I’ve not seen a single one like it, so it was something of an event to see two together!


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Nick’s excellent review of the weekend is the cover story in the current [June/July] edition of British Woodworking where he devotes ten pages and a nice editorial to it.


Competition: There’s also a competition to choose the best box making tip covered in the review, with a chance of winning £50 off the cost of one of my weekend courses. So buy your copy today!


Thanks, Nick!


2013 autumn weekend course dates:


As usual these dates are offered to newsletter subscribers well in advance of my posting them on the website.


  • Sept 28/29
  • Oct 12/13
  • Oct 24-28, Thursday – Monday, ‘Gold’
  • Nov 2/3
  • Nov 16/17
  • Nov 30/Dec 1

Dates will be posted on the box-making.com website around the second week in July. Please email me before then if you want to be sure of securing a place.


I also have one place left for August 2/3.


smartHinge news

– and an offer to
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smartHinge is now available again, but as many of you will know this has been a long, slow and painful saga and I feel I should explain why so many have had to wait so long for their hinges.


For various reasons I made the decision early in 2012 to transfer manufacture from Australia to the UK. I wanted to keep it as local as possible, but unfortunately my friendly local engineering company decided that they were unable to take it on. I soon found another company in Hertfordshire – not that local but nearer than Australia!


But all this was taking a long time and I wanted to keep the momentum going and capitalise on the hinges’ rapidly increasing popularity, excellent press and so on. So, I had a difficult decision to make: whether to wait until I actually had a stock of hinges in hand before offering them for sale again, or to offer them anyway to keep things moving.


The company I’d chosen had come highly recommended and had supplied almost finished samples back in June, so I had no reason to believe they wouldn’t do an excellent job of producing what is, after all, a simple item. So, having been assured of delivery of the first batch in mid-October, I took the decision to offer the new UK manfactured version for sale in August 2012 for delivery at the end of October.


It soon became clear that things were not going as they should – the early deliveries were so much brass scrap and consequently the online ordering had to be disabled. Almost in the blink of an eye I had a full order book with no way to meet those orders. I was still getting a lot of enquiries and did continue to take a few orders, but only on the basis that each customer understood the delays involved.


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current situation:


To cut a very long and tedious story short, I’ve worked long and hard with the manufacturers, but only in the last few weeks have I received the quantity they were committed to deliver before Christmas 2012!


Almost all back orders are now delivered – anyone reading this who is still waiting should receive them in the next 14 days. I have offered various discounts and refunds individually to those who have been patiently waiting the longest time – these will be paid in early July after all outstanding orders have been delivered.


Thank you to everyone for your patience and good humour during all this – and a special thank-you is due to those who were kind enough to allow their orders to be effectively put on hold while I juggled and prioritised the few hinges I did have in an attempt to meet customers’ most urgent needs.


All these delays and problems might lead to the conclusion that the company manufacturing these is simply not up to the task. I wondered myself, of course, but after a fair few frank exchanges of views with them I’m now convinced that this is not the case. They were certainly guilty of assessing this job too quickly as ‘straightforward’, and making assurances to me on that basis, leading me to make the decision to offer the hinges for sale again as I did last August. But I am now receiving regular, reliable deliveries of excellent hinges, feedback has been glowing, and I therefore feel confident to offer them for sale again.


Hindsight is a great thing – if only you could get it SOONER!

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smartHinge re-introductory offer to newsletter subscribers:


I’m offering a 15% discount to all newsletter subscribers for orders up to ten pairs until the end of June. Using the new eCommerce system that’s behind the scenes of the new smartBoxmaker website, I can now do this by offering a ‘coupon’. The coupon number for this discount is:




Go here to place an order and enter the coupon number in the appropriate field when you arrive at the cart. This coupon will be valid until the end of June.


All discounted orders will be despatched during the first two weeks of July – if you need yours sooner please email me. After that time I will hold stock and most orders will be despatched by return.

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new finishes:


Stainless steel and gold-plated are in the pipeline, I hope to have the stainless available in a couple of weeks and gold-plated shortly after.


smartHinge users gallery:


I would like to post a gallery of work that uses the smartHinge on the smartBoxmaker site.


If you have work that you’d like to have featured please let me have some good quality images, together with as little or as much info as you would like shown – including website details.


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Here is a little miscellaneous collection to start the ball rolling. The box shown at the bottom left corner is by Roger Bean – it already looks wonderful but it’s not finished yet as there is still much inlaying to be done! Roger is from Michigan and has been to me for two periods of tuition over the past few years. He has made some absolutely wonderful stuff – have a look at some of his projects on Lumberjocks. And not just boxes – his talents run to fishing rods, pens, rifles and more!


I mention this here because he’s been compiling what he refers to as a ‘photo documentary’ of the construction of this box – and he has just contacted me to suggest that, when complete, it might be something I could offer as a download from the smartBoxmaker site.


Early days – watch this space!

smartLock – a worthy stablemate for smartHinge:


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I’ve made a bit of a U-turn around the subject of locks since my November newsletter. In that issue [no.11] I explained that I would not now be producing my own smartLock, and consequently had decided to endorse Ian Hawthorne’s Neat lock, shown above, as being a good quality lock to accompany my smartHinge. And it certainly is a very nice and well made lock – but there were certain changes that I wanted Ian to agree to in order for his lock to be genuinely the perfect partner for
smartHinge. Some of these he was prepared to do but others, for various perfectly understandable reasons, he wasn’t.


So, I am, after all, going to be producing my own lock, smartLock, broadly based on one that Clive Jarman was originally going to be making for me in Australia. This is currently in development, with every last detail being fine-tuned to produce the very best box lock available. The emphasis will be on both elegance and ease of fitting, the same formula that has made smartHinge so popular.


smartLock should be available in around two months, in polished brass, stainless steel and gold-plated versions. In the meantime I’m happy to offer Ian’s Neat lock, and will be placing it on the smartBoxmaker site in the next day or two where it will be available until smartLock is ready.

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in the next issue:


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More news on the smartLock, of course, and carried over from the last issue are pieces on Frank Zappa, some measuring tips, stuff about veneer and a potato crisp,

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 … what Einstein’s formula is all about, a project to make a curved top flute case and much more. Oh, and some important news about the new book.


Thanks for reading.

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Andrew Crawford.