A Magic Box!

This was a fun project.  I’d never built anything like this before so I wasn’t sure the best way to go about it.  The pictures above are the model that I went from and the finished product.  Here’s what I did.

The Build

Making a Template

This project was a request from my uncle, who wanted it to be part of a magic show for kids.  I don’t know what the box does exactly in the show but I’m assuming based on the pictures he sent me that it causes something to disappear.  My first task toward building the box was the design.  I knew some of the measurements from the picture above with the tape measure but I didn’t know them all.  For example, I had no idea of the dimensions of the hole in the front.  To accurately copy the hole shape and size, I first cut my boards to the correct width and then found the center from both edges.  I made sure there was enough room on both edges so that when I cut the hole and put in the metal grating, I would have room for the sides of the box to be hidden.  (*note, in my original design I forgot to account for the giant hole in the front and accidentally cut the box all the way to the edge so that instead of a hold I had a cutout of the middle).

Next I figured out vertical checkpoints based on the picture and the placement of the tape measure.  I marked this out on a piece of paper that I had cut to the exact width of the hole.  I marked all of the vertical points first because those I could see more exactly.  For the horizontal points, I used the size of the points I already knew and used some estimating to create the correct shapes on the paper.  It’s important to know that at this point I had not cut anything out of the wood yet.  Also, I did not draw the entire shape of the hole on the paper.  I knew that the hole was symmetrical from right to left so I drew half of the shape with the markings and measurements first.  When that side of the shape (which in my case was the right hand side) was finished, I simply folded the paper in half, traced the shape onto the back of the paper, then unfolded it and retraced it on the front.  That gave me an exactly mirrored shape from the middle out.

Cutting the Hole

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After I got the shape drawn on the paper, I cut out the paper template and traced it onto the piece of wood that I was going to use as my front.  Before I started cutting I drilled several holes, just larger than my jig saw blade, in areas where it would be difficult to make a turn with the jig saw.  Often times, this was in the corners at the bottom of the hole.  I used these as 360 degree pivot points for my blade and cut out the shape. I could have just started cutting from the outside of the shape and then cut out the hole from there, but that would have left me with a blade kerf that I would have had to glue closed and it wouldn’t have looked right.  Besides, if you have the tools to do it right, there’s no reason to do it wrong.

Keep in mind when cutting the hole out that the portion inside of where the hole is doesn’t matter because it’s scrap, so if you need to cut a big chunk out to make a turn that’s fine.  This was hard for me to convince myself of because I have a tendency to want to save WAY too much scrap wood.  After the whole hole was cut out I used a file, sand paper, and my jig saw to try to clean up and straighten the edges of the hole.  I waned it to look as similar to the original as possible so I took my time with this.

Putting on the Grate

The metal mesh that went into the hole is some kind of radiator grate material that I found at Home Depot.  It is not very expensive and I found I could cut it pretty easily through the welds using my oscillating tool.  I made sure to dry fit my box sides together first before cutting the metal grate.  This dry fit let me measure the inside of the front between the box sides and know exactly how wide to make the grate.  I also bought four silver lag bolts with nuts and washers to hold the grate on.  The grate can easily be put on with screws or staples or whatever you have, but I wanted it to look authentic and there appeared to be bolts on the original.

I held the grate in place with blue tape and marked inside the front where the holes for the bolts needed to be, then drilled them out carefully.  It is important to use a backer block (extra board to drill into) for this because if not you could lose some chip out wood on the front of your box which would not look good.  I fit the bolts through, made sure it was still centered, and tightened it down.  The front was done!

Building the Box

The next part was easy.  In this particular box, there is no fixed lid or base so it’s literally just four sides.  I glued it in two steps, mainly because I didn’t have enough clamps to do it in one.  The only trick to this glue-up is to make sure that everything is even as you apply clamping pressure.  If you’re not careful, the boards have a tendency to slide on the glue at first.  Spacer blocks inside the box can help with this.  I also used a right-angle clamp that one of my brothers got me for Christmas last year.  It’s come in very handy for boxes as well as the tongue drum project.  As the four sides dried, I started on the base.

The base is simply a piece of 1/2″ plywood cut to 1/2″ larger than the box on all sides.  I did glue some extra pieces of wood underneath to act as a stand for the base, because the pictures I got from my uncle seemed to be elevates slightly.  If you decide to add these pieces of wood, make sure you have them out far enough toward the edges of the plywood.  If they’re too close to the center then they can cause the base to be unstable and the box could fall over, which I imagine would ruin the illusion of the magic trick.

Check out the glue I use for all of my projects!

I added some iron-on edge banding and painted the whole base black.  By the way, I am not an artist so I was very surprised by the utter “blackness of a thousand tortured souls” black acrylic paint I used.  They were not messing around when they made this paint.  It is VERY dark and will stain anything it touches (i.e. fingers, clothes, wood, sunlight, the happiness of a child, etc.)  It’s great paint but make sure whatever you’re painting is supposed to be BLACK.

Painting

As I mentioned, I’m not a painter, but luckily this project did not take much artistic ability with paint.  I did take the bolts out of the front for this so that I could take the metal grate off.  I didn’t want to get any paint on the grate or the bolts, plus this helped me get under the bolts easier.  I used about three coats of acrylic red paint on the outside and about three coats of the same black paint as the base for all of the edges.  Even the edges of the hole get painted black.  I don’t know if it’s necessary to be black instead of red but I think it looks cooler and the original is black.  I painted only the outside of the box, because the inside gets special treatment.

Bad Pun Ahead

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What did the man do when he tripped in a fabric store?  He felt over!  Sorry.  Anyway, the inside of the box is not painted it’s covered in black felt.  Again, it probably could have been painted instead but I wanted to stick as closely to the original as possible.  I have never used felt before so I read up and watched some YouTube videos about it to get an idea of what I was doing.  I discovered that it’s not much different than working with paper.  So I used a spray adhesive (the directions are on the can) and very carefully lined the box with felt.  One thing to be careful of is that you work at a steady, efficient pace.  Depending on how you use the adhesive spray, it can stick almost immediately so make sure you have a plan before slapping felt down.  I worked from corner to corner and pressed the felt down evenly as I went.  I also made sure that I had it all the way into the corners before I moved on to the next side.  A small pencil or piece of plastic is good for getting in the corners.  The front inside of the box does not need felt, as the metal grate will go there.  I did actually paint that part black instead of felt.

Around the top and bottom of the box there were some areas where the felt did not stick as well or where it was sticking out over the edge of the box.  I used the spray adhesive and a small paint brush to fix the glue and a razor blade to clean up the edges of the felt.

Finishing Touches

After all the paint and glue had dried, I put the metal grate back on using the bolts and set it even on the base.  Alakazam! The box was finished (mine is on the left, the original is on the right).  This was an interesting project and gave me some experience working with felt and metal in a project.  I had fun with it and hopefully it will give lots of kids enjoyment as part of the show.

If you like what you’ve read here, please consider liking and sharing.  Also, always feel free to comment about things you liked (or didn’t like) or future project ideas.  Marching band season is almost over so I’ll be getting my life back!  I’m always on the lookout for more project ideas, so any idea is a good start!

Thanks for reading!

-S.A.

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