November 2012

Fine box making in the Shropshire hills
November 2012

Fine Decorative Boxes

Hello to you all, and welcome to the November fine boxes newsletter.

Following the recent death of my father-in-law after a short illness this was not going to be a long newsletter as necessarily a lot of my time is being taken up with family matters. However, as it turns out I’ve actually had more time in front of the computer than usual, so an unexpectedly extended newsletter has emerged!

in this issue:

  • exciting news about a new high quality box lock
  • an appearance at the Axminster store, Nuneaton
  • weekend course dates for 2013, including the first BMW ‘Gold’,
  • a smartHinge update

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box locks discussed:

Before I deal with why I’m including box locks as a central part of this newsletter, it’s worth considering the issue of locks on boxes in general:

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The security of a lock, ie, how hard it is to ‘pick’, has always been largely irrelevant where boxes are concerned – if someone really wants to steal the contents of a box and they can’t open it immediately, the box itself gets nicked.

Arguably, the security of a lock is more relevant the larger the box gets – and therefore the harder it is to hide under a jumper. For most all that is needed is some way of closing the lid – perhaps only to keep out prying eyes.

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I made one particularly large jewellery case ages ago – in fact, the largest one I’ve ever done – it certainly wouldn’t have fitted under anyone’s jumper. So a lock was obviously important and although I can’t remember the details of the one I used, in the pics above it looks like a traditional type box lock. In addition, to foil any under-the-jumper attempts, however unlikely, I had to make provision for this box to be bolted down to the owner’s dressing table. This involved various threaded bars and so on embedded into the heftily reinforced base. You can’t be too careful!

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Often a lock is just included because it’s traditional and customers expect to have one. But it can also be an opportunity, as in the box above, to make an escutcheon to mirror a decorative element elsewhere on the box …

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… or it can bring in a decorative element that there isn’t room for elsewhere on a box. A lock was requested on the box above – but more than actually needing a lock, the escutcheon gave us somewhere to put a pineapple.

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So, in most cases a box lock is a token. But what’s out there?!

There are broadly two sorts of locks available – traditional ‘secure’ box locks and nasty, flimsy, shiny ‘jewellery box’ locks that are not good enough quality to be suitable for high quality work.

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Above is a motley collection from my workshop. The older style traditional locks are more secure and are therefore more appropriate for restoration work and for larger, heavier caskets and chests. But these are often poorly finished, and attempts to clean them up can be frustrating. The plate on the main lock is usually no problem – a bit of grinding/sanding down through the grits, buffing, polishing and so on – and you can get a good finish.

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But then try to get the same finish on the top plate, the type that has a pair of machined pins that protrude from the plate! The processes that have formed these pins often appear to have been done by machinery more suited to making, say, tractor parts, than fine box hardware. This makes it almost impossible to clean up acceptably. Some of you will have undertaken this frustrating job – a few may even have succeeded, in which case congratulations! I have certainly tried many times, with varying degrees of success, it’s never fun and always time-consuming.

On quality work the look and feel of a lock are paramount, with security being secondary. From a manufacturing point of view getting the visible plates looking really good is hugely easier to achieve if nothing protrudes from them – therefore a lock is needed that can function without any fixed protrusions on the plates. This requires a mechanism whereby a hook swings up from the lock and grabs into a hole in the top plate. But is there such a lock?

I was keen to follow up the success of the smartHinge with, inevitably, the smartLock. Some of you will remember my mentioning in previous newsletters that I was developing a new lock with Clive Jarman, the original maker of smartHinge in Australia. The lock we were working on was exactly as described above – and we almost got there. But things got complicated and as I’m now having the smartHinge made in UK the lock has unfortunately fallen by the wayside.

I’ve known for some time that Ian Hawthorne, the excellent Irish box maker, was developing what he calls the ‘Neat Lock’ to accompany his ‘Neat Hinge’ [more info below]. He recently sent me a prototype which turns out to be almost identical to the one that Clive and I were developing – most notably with no protrusions and consequently having beautifully finished plates. Great minds, etc.!

After some discussion with Ian and a little fine tuning I’m now satisfied that this lock fills a yawning gap in the box hardware market. So, rather than start from scratch again myself [I might still have considered this if the re-launch of smartHinge had gone more quickly/smoothly – see below] I have now decided instead to endorse Ian’s lock.

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neat lock:

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Here it is, the Neat Lock – it’s solid, excellently made, functions well – feels good [lovely satisfying click], and is beautifully finished. What more could anyone possibly want?!

Ian is planning for the polished brass Neat Lock to be available at £36 from around the middle of December. It’s available now to pre-order and will soon be followed by a stainless steel version – more info on his website.

I will have a sample at the Nuneaton Axminster store on Saturday November 24th – see below – and they will certainly be for sale from my new site, I’ve now set a final date for this to be up and running – the end of February 2013.

This lock, together with many others on the market, won’t protect the contents of a box from someone who knows what they’re doing with a coat-hanger. But the quality and finish of the Neat Lock make it stand out from the crowd and I will certainly be using it in the future.

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However, from endorsing Ian’s lock a dilemma arises: I can’t possibly refer to his lock without mentioning, and therefore alerting everyone to, Ian’s ‘Neat Hinge’. This is a rival to the smartHinge, of course, so, I will need to be rude about it to balance things up a bit. Actually, if it wasn’t for my own smartHinge I would probably be endorsing his lock AND hinges in this newsletter.

Anyway – a few [rude] words about Ian’s Neat Hinge: it’s a nice hinge, though lacking the stylish red and black typographic logo, of course. It’s slightly cheaper than smartHinge
but it’s somewhat more involved to fit for the following reasons: it’s 8.1mm wide so will always need a second pass to accommodate the leaves – while the smartHinge only requires a single pass. It also requires a second operation to make two smaller cuts, on the bottom half of the box only, to create the clearance necessary to allow the partially square knuckle to rotate. In addition, in my opinion this partially square knuckle is not as elegant as the completely round knuckle that the internal stop of the smartHinge allows.

On the plus side the Neat Hinge has recently had the annoying habit of being available when the smartHinge has NOT been! Anyway, that imbalance is being addressed …

I think that’s a fair assessment. Incidentally, Ian knows that I’ve written this and he has okayed it, so we are not arguing over the details of this!

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smartHinge news:

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Following my approval of samples from the new UK manfacturer back in July I was understandably expecting that there would be no further issues concerning the manufacture of what is, after all, a relatively simple item. How wrong I was!

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There have been all sorts of teething problems since then and as the days have turned to weeks the promised delivery of the first full batch of hinges has been put back many times. The company doing them came highly recommended and I’m sure they will do an excellent job. It has just taken a lot longer than anyone hoped/expected!

If you are a waiting customer you will have received updates from me – your wait is almost over, I promise! Please consider the continued delays as reassurance that the quality of the eventual product will be exemplary – I will certainly NOT be sending out hinges that are anything less than perfect!

The most urgent orders will be despatched at the beginning of next week, November 19th, and I fully intend that all orders will have been delivered by early December.

The huge patience and support expressed in many of your emails is very much appreciated.

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A bit of news from a satisfied smartHinge user:

Last year Paul Leamy, a lecturer at GMIT Letterfrack, and fellow GMIT lecturer Sean Garvey, visited me for a couple of days of box making.

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A few days ago I received an email from Paul together with images of the wonderful boxes shown above. The subject field of the email read: “NEWSFLASH – President of Ireland owns a set of smart hinges!” And so he does!

I quote from Paul’s email:  “ … the president of Ireland Michael D. Higgins now owns a set of Smart Hinges (and obviously the box they are attached to). I made a pair of boxes and he was presented with one. The other is currently on exhibition in Farmleigh Gallery in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, (next to the President’s house).”

Paul is a fan of smartHinges, of course – it was he who said in a previous email: “What can I say about those hinges? After fitting them I almost felt guilty. Like I had just cheated on an exam. It shouldn’t have been that easy. But it was and they were brilliant.”

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axminster, nuneaton store, saturday, november 24th:

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I will be at the Nuneaton Axminster store all day, opening times will be 9-5, but better check their website to be sure.

As well as doing a bit of demonstrating, chatting, showing some recent work and work in progress, I will also be promoting my courses, my inlay corner jig, the new Neat Lock, and of course the new UK-produced smartHinge. I will have some of the new hinges there and will be taking orders at a special show price, but it has taken so long to get them on stream – and there are so many customers waiting for them – that I’m unlikely to have any for you to take away there and then. But there might be a few …

I might even be wearing the stylish multi-coloured top shown above …

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2013 weekend course dates:

Following a number of requests for weekend course dates as far ahead as August 2013 I have decided to go firm on these and post the 2013 spring/summer dates in this newsletter, substantially ahead of when I would normally be doing this. I will be publishing these on the website in January.

Dates are as follows:

Feb 9/10
March 2/3
April 13/14, 27/28
May 11/12, 25/26
June 7/8/9 + 15/16 gold, 29/30
July 20,21
August 3/4

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The above dates include the ‘BMW gold’ weekend pairing of June 7/8/9 and 15/16 I referred to in my last newsletter. Please note that this will start with a long weekend, Friday-Sunday, June 7th-9th and conclude with a normal length weekend, Sat-Sun June 15th/16th.

A very brief description: after the first session of three days you will go away with a nearly completed box with all woodwork done, and with hinges and lock fitted. But these will have been removed again to allow us to apply the first coat of oil before you leave.

Between the two sessions you will need to do the rest of the oiling, applying two further coats of oil with 24 hours between each.

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During the second weekend you will make the tray, finally buff the exterior before re-fitting the hinges and lock …

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… and line the box throughout with pigsuede the colour of your choice. The box you go away with at the end of the BMW gold weekend pairing is complete in every respect.

The cost of the BMW ‘Gold’ is £635 for the five days, maximum four people as with the normal weekends. Anyone interested please email me – I’ve had a lot of interest in this format already so if you’re considering it please don’t delay, you might find that all places have gone. If successful I plan a further one for autumn 2013.

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in the next issue:

A fair few subjects that I intended to cover in this one will have to wait for the next, early next year. A quick preview:

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  • meet Frank Zappa, my wonderful 24” twin disc sander
  • some marking and measuring tips
  • more about veneers, and why an experiment using a potato crisp [potato chip for US readers] is so useful in understanding how best to deal with delicate veneers …

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  • what have the boxes, seen above cluttering up my workshop, to do with the launch of the new website?
  • a project to make a curved top flute case in some detail
  • climb cutting: how a bit of hand chiseling shows why climb cutting is best, assuming four simple rules are adhered to …

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  • continuing on the subject of locks, what’s Albert come up with HERE?!
    … and whatever else occurs to me in the meantime.

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Well, that’s all for now. I know it’s still only November, but I won’t be sending out another newsletter until January, so …


But I don’t feel so bad – our local supermarket has been stocking Christmas stuff for at least three months. And didn’t I read somewhere that some supermarkets have been ridiculed for stocking Christmas fayre SO early that it has actually gone out of date before the event … ?!

Anyway, have a good one! – and thanks for reading.

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