Making an Artist’s Pencil Box

Making an Artist’s Pencil Box

Years ago, colored pencils came in a wooden box instead of today’s impossible-to-open plastic blister packages. Without a doubt, the wooden box seemed to make the pencils more special. In fact, I still have a pencil box (sitting next to my computer) that I received as a boy, which continues to remind me of simpler times. Thinking about that pencil box one day, I realized what an ideal gift project it would make. A little time at the drawing board produced the project you see here — it’s a fitting keepsake you could give to that budding artist in your life.

This project, originally featured in Today’s Woodworker back in 1994, will make a perfect gift for an aspiring young artist. The design holds a collection of pencils and an eraser, and the top locks everything in place.

The key to making this pencil box is to construct it as one assembly and then rip it in half to separate the upper and lower compartments. This may seem strange, but it’s actually a common box-making technique. The two units are then held together by a dowel, which allows them to swing apart when the top is slid back — a really nice design feature.

Cutting the Parts to Size

Transfer the bit’s center line and outside cutting edge to the fence, then use the lines as starting and stopping points when routing the stopped grooves.
Transfer the bit’s center line and outside cutting edge to the fence, then use the lines as starting and stopping points when routing the stopped grooves.

Get started on this pencil box by cutting a 3/4″ x 3″ x 24″ piece of stock and resawing it in half with your band saw. Plane the thin strips down to 5/16″ in thickness and cut the sides (pieces 1) to size from this stock. Next, plane some of this resawn stock down to 1/8″ for the top, middle panel and bottom panel (pieces 2, 3, and 4), and finish up by machining some 1/2″ material for the endwalls (pieces 5 and 6).

Now you can rout the grooves in the sides and endwalls. Chuck a 1/8″ straight bit in your router table and rout the grooves for housing the middle and top panels, as shown in the Side Panel Groove Locations Drawing. Rout the grooves 1/8″ deep, carefully setting your stock onto the bit at the starting point and lifting it off the bit when you reach the stopping line.

Be sure to stop the front end of the top groove and both ends of the middle groove 1/4″ from the ends of the stock.

Gluing Up and Splitting Apart

Gluing up is really quite simple — just be sure to use the glue sparingly or it will run all over the inside of your box. Spread glue in the middle grooves of the sides and endwalls and on the ends of the endwalls. Slip the middle panel into the sides and add the endwalls, then, to help keep the assembly square, slide the top into place without glue. With that done, spread glue on the bottom edges of the box, square up the assembly and clamp the bottom panel into position.

As the glue dries, drill two 1/8″ x 1/2″-deep holes at each joint, as shown in the Pin Location Detail. It’s important that you avoid drilling into a groove. Cut short pins (pieces 7) and glue them into the holes to reinforce the weak butt joints. This will help prevent the sides from pulling away from the endwalls over time. Sand the dowels flush with the sides, and you are ready to move on to the box-making technique.

Cutting the Box Open

Really, there isn’t any mystery to this, but check your saw settings carefully to avoid cutting in the wrong place. Raise your table saw blade to cut through the box and clamp the fence 7/8″ from the blade. With the top of the box riding against the fence, rip the box in two. (We’ve made allowances in the Material List for the loss of a 1/8″ saw kerf.) Plane the edges to get a good fit, then cut a 5/16″-thick block for the divider (piece 8) and glue it into the upper compartment, as shown in the Upper Compartment Drawing. Then stack the compartments and use a drill press to bore a 1/4″ hole down through the back endwall to install the hinge dowel (piece 9).

Cut the hinge to length and glue it into the lower compartment. Trim the dowel flush with the bottom of the box, then lay out the compound angle cut in the upper compartment, as shown in the Exploded View and Elevation Drawings. Tilt your band saw table 12° and turn your miter gauge 12°, then pass the upper compartment through the blade. When setting up this cut, try to achieve the correct angles, but realize that a little deviation won’t matter in terms of how the top and bottom compartments seat together.

Stack the compartments again and you’ll notice that, due to the saw kerf, the lower compartment is a little longer than the two upper sections combined. Glue the front part of the upper compartment to the lower compartment, then, after the glue dries, go ahead and sand the ends flush.

Cut the top to length and chuck a 1/2″ Forstner bit in your drill press. Tilt the drill press 25° and bore into the top just 1/16″ to form the half-moon shaped finger pull.

Finishing Up


Apply a couple of coats of oil finish to complete the pencil box. Once you’ve made it through your first box, the next one will go much faster. This is such a fun project, you’ll no doubt make more.

Then fill it with a set of artist’s pencils and give a special youngster a keepsake that will last a lifetime of fine art!

Click Here to download a PDF of the related drawings and Materials List.

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