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Episode 011: Pencil Boxes

By: Chris Fitch
These captivating little boxes combine the carving talents of your CNC router with the simplicity of solid wood construction. They make a wonderful gift, a place for a favorite pen on your desk, or the start of a fun side hustle at a local gallery.

Simple and direct to make, solid wood boxes are a foundation for all sorts of woodworking techniques to be applied. One technique that I am very fond of is using my CNC router to add carvings to turn a simple box into an amazing box. A quick search on the internet will bring up many sources of clip art 3D models. Sure, you have to pay for them, but the files are yours to use over and over. It’s much like adding a new woodworking book to your collection.

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There are a couple of ways to use the carving files. The Oak Leaf box seen here is an example of a raised carving. Carvings that are raised above the background offer a clean and striking appearance which works well with small box lids. The process is easy. In the machining software, work with the width and length of the carving to fit it to the top of your box. Next, create a boundary larger than the box to act as an extent for the carvings background. Set up the roughing pass with a straight bit and then a finishing pass with a fine tipped ball nose bit to create the carving. Then cut the lid to final size with a straight bit. The results will impress you.

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Another way to use a carving file is to amp up the image by using a contrasting wood. Check out the Pine Tree box in the video. In this process you will choose a background wood, usually the same species as the box, and then choose a wood that brings out the best in the theme and detail of the carving. Glue the two together to form a two-layered blank for the lid. The machining of the carving is the same, but you have to use some care to position the carving background a little below the glue line of the two woods. Using contrasting woods is an easy technique that can yield spectacular results, so plan on giving it a try.

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Wood boxes can be made in all sorts of sizes and shapes, but how about a fish? With the help of your CNC router you can make boxes shaped like fish, birds, bears, flowers or any other form available as a carving file. What fun is that! This trout box uses the perimeter vector found as part of the carving file to quickly and easy establish the shape of the box. The interior cutout can mimic the outside shape of the box or just use a simple geometric shape such as a ellipse, rectangle or circle. The lid is cut as the prescribed carving file and outline.


If you are looking to have some fun with your CNC router and create a project that is sure to wow anyone who sees it, try a carved lid box. Carved lid boxes provide techniques to learn with endless options!

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Project PDF and DXF Files

Published: Aug. 7, 2022
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