Fancy Display Case!

My dad is a huge University of Kentucky Wildcats Basketball fan. As long as I can remember my brothers and I have struggled to try to find cool and unique U.K. Basketball stuff to get him for Christmas. This year, my wife and I found the perfect thing: a piece of the original floor from the Wildcats’ home court at Rupp Arena in Lexington. We knew though that this special piece of memorabilia deserved something better than a simple gift bag, so this display case project was born.

The Build

Of course, the first step was layout and measurement. The piece of wooden flooring came with a certificate of authenticity and I knew I wanted both of the items to be displayed together but also easily removable in case he wanted to ever take them out of the case. I laid the two pieces out approximately how I wanted to display them and then measured the length and width of the layout, giving myself about an inch or inch and a half on each of the four sides so the two items wouldn’t look squished and crammed in the case. I also measured the thickness of the flooring piece and estimated what the depth of the box would need to be based on that thickness and the thicknesses of the front and back I was going to use. From there I planed down four pieces of hickory for the sides and cut them to the same width. I did not cut them to final length yet. I have found that it is better to plane the pieces when they are extra long because if you get tearout on the ends you can trim that part off later and not be too short.

After dimensioning the wood this far, I used a “stop block” (the clamp above) to help get perfectly cut lengths for each of the pieces on the miter saw. The small piece of wood taped to the clamp is to help get accurate cuts when the angled cut part of the board was against the stop block. Without the little wood scrap there the point of the angle tended to get caught in the threads of the screw on the clamp and change the cut off the saw. For each piece of wood I decided which side I wanted to be the “inside” of the board and then cut of 45 degrees from each end so they would each fit together in nice 90 degree corners.

This hickory, by the way, is cutoff scraps from a really cool project I’ve been working on for a while now. It’s a difficult project but it’s close to being finished and I’m really excited about it. More on that later!

Back to the display case, my next step was to cut the grooves for the front and back of the case. On the back I used a piece of 1/4″ plywood cut to size so I just used the router to cut a 1/4″ groove on the inside edge of the pieces to inset the back. For the front I used 1/8″ plexiglass. I wanted this piece to sit in a slot in the front similar to a floating cabinet door. This technique helps let the wooden frame move according to heat and cold without having extra glue on the panel to add tension and potentially pull it apart. I used the table saw blade to create a kerf just big enough for the plexiglass to sit in.

It’s important to take your time on this kind of cut. Because it’s so close to the edge of the board, it’s possible to break it off where the kerf is so go slow and steady to keep from having to remake a whole piece.

I inserted the plexiglass and glued the miter joints before using this strap clamp to hold the frame tight to finish gluing. I also put the back in while it was clamped and glued it down to help hold everything securely in the clamps. There was not really a need to clamp the back piece in the groove, as it was easier to just set some blocks of wood on it to hold it down tight while the glue dried.

Note about Miter Joints

Miter joints look really nice when used in projects like this. However, they are NOT a very strong joint on their own. Usually woodworkers find some way to reinforce these joints. The most common way is to use splines but I did not have a jig for spline making so I admit I had to cheat a little. Once the glue was drying, and with the strap clamp still in place, I used a staple gun to staple the back corners of the box. I did not use staples on the front because I did not want staples visible on the front.

After Gluing…

Once the glue was dry, I started the most nerve-wracking part of this whole project. With all four sides as well as the front and back glued in, the box was fully enclosed with no way to open it to get the floor piece into it. I used a technique I have seen other woodworkers use including Steve Ramsey, where the whole box is made first and then the lid is separated from the back. Generally the top is a solid piece of wood that is glued in, not a floating piece of plexiglass so this made me extra nervous. I set my fence on the table saw to just deeper than the plexiglass front and the blade depth just enough to go through the side of the case. I then had to cut all four sides of the box on the saw. I used blue tape to hold the lid and rest of the box together during this process, so that the lid would not slide and mess up the cut. I also used folded pieces of paper to wedge into the new cuts around the edge so that those gaps would not close up and pinch the blade while it was running.

A special safety tip here: you should probably use a tall piece of wood clamped to your fence as an auxiliary fence so the top of the box does not wobble and cause the blade to catch. I used just my regular saw fence and was extra careful to not let the piece wiggle but it is still not the safest way to do it.

Once the lid was separated, I used some spray on adhesive to put black felt in the back of the case. I did not use felt up the inside walls, just on the back. I also made two small brackets to hold the flooring piece in place inside the box. The flooring was just snap in flooring so I used the router to make a groove the same size as the tongue of the floor piece and glued these two brackets into the bottom of the case. I finished the case using a couple coats of tung oil applied with a rag, and then I used Brass hinges and latch on the box to make it look nice. The certificate is in a plastic sleeve, so a Command Strip stick to the back with the Velcro side down on the felt held that in place nicely. Both the wood flooring piece and the certificate are easily removable since the flooring simply sits in grooves in the brackets and the certificate is in the plastic sleeve.

Finished!

This was a really fun project and made me use some techniques I’d never used before. If you have any questions about this project, including dimensions or materials, let me know. If you got value out of this please consider sharing and following me on social media. I have some exciting projects planned for this new year and you don’t want to miss out!

Happy New Year, and as always thanks for reading!

-S.A.

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