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Headshot of Doug Stowe.

Box lids can be made as complex as you like, but you just can't beat the simplicity of lift lids requiring no hinges, locks, or stays. Doug Stowe specializes in crafting wooden boxes with lids and has developed a host of simple techniques for making your lids stand out. Try your hand at these four designs.

1. Use a simple slab

A top made from one piece of highly figured stock (below) can be as beautiful as a complicated multipiece design. Some craftsmen will warn that a wide slab of solid wood—particularly a highly figured one with lots of inherent stress—should be ripped and reglued to ensure it remains flat. But Doug says, "I'd rather take my chances with possible warp than disturb the figure with kerf lines."

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To make this style top, begin by planing the stock to thickness. Doug planed the maple for this lid to 916 " thick, jointed one edge, and then ripped and crosscut the lid to size—allowing for a ¼" overhang on each side.

Stowe's Suggestion:

A relatively thick top may feel heavy when opening the box, but resists warping better than a thin top.

With the top cut to size, cut rabbets in the lid's bottom face [Photo A, below] so it nests into the top edges of the box. Although Doug used a tablesaw to cut the rabbets in this lid, given the large amount of material being removed, a router table and straight bit works, too, but may require multiple shallow passes.

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A tall auxiliary fence on your tablesaw supports the top during machining and prevents any damage to the fence when running the blade flush against it.

Round over the top's edges [Photo B, below] and sand it to 220 grit. Apply a finish. Then, further embellish this simple top with an interesting or unusual pull. Doug found this one at the hardware store—sold as a kitchen cabinet pull. He liked its delicate appearance and how it fit the scale of the box.

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Use a 3⁄16" round-over bit in your router table to break the lid's underside edges. Use a 1⁄8" round-over bit on the top edges.

Stowe's Suggestion:

On a small box, a delicate pull works fine as a two-finger lift, but for larger boxes and heavier lids, a larger pull or a two-handed approach may make more sense.

2. Incorporate a rustic element

If you like the eclectic look of contrasting surfaces, try implementing a piece of roughsawn stock, such as this weathered red oak barnwood.

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When preparing your stock, plane only one face, and reduce the thickness to 58 ". Then, cut the piece to size. In this case, Doug made the lid 14 " smaller than the box's outside dimensions so, rather than overhanging the sides of the box, it nests within the box's perimeter. Next, cut a rabbet around the lid's bottom face [Photo C, below]. To lighten the look of this heavy top, bevel its edges as you would a raised panel [Photo D, following]. Sand all but the weathered part of the top to 220 grit.

Hands pushing a board up against a spinning router bit to make a rabbet cut.
Rabbet the ends of the lid first so the subsequent cut along the sides, such as the one shown, will remove any end-grain tear-out that may occur.
Hand pushing board against a fence. Saw blade at an angle cutting through it.
Tilt the tablesaw's blade to 17°, attach a tall auxiliary fence to support the box top during the cut, and set the fence 5⁄16" from the blade.

Stowe's Suggestion:

Use an extra-fine synthetic steel-wool pad to polish the roughsawn surface smooth to the touch without losing any of the patina.

For this lid's handle, save time by using a stationary belt or disc sander to remove an equal amount of material from opposite sides of an inexpensive, round wooden drawer pull such as the one shown below, found at most home centers [Photo E, below]. Doing this gives it a handcrafted appearance. Secure the pull with a countersunk screw.

Hands holding a board with a drawer pull glued to it. The drawer pulled is pushed against a sander.

3. Get fancy with a frame-and-panel lid

This design offers more woodworking challenges and plenty of visual details. Make the floating panel, splines, and lift tabs from a species that contrasts with the rest of the box (walnut and maple shown).

Rectangular wood box. Beveled top with darker stain. Decorative corners.

Begin by miter-cutting the frame pieces to length on the tablesaw [Photo F, below]. Dry-assemble the frame and tape the corners together. Measure inside the frame and add 38 " to these dimensions to determine the size of the panel; then, cut it to size.

Pushing board with miter fence over a tablesaw blade.
For tight joints, set your miter gauge to exactly 45° and clamp on a stopblock to make certain opposing sides come out the same length.
Two pieces that fit together in slot made in board.
If the fit of your test pieces is looser than this, nudge the fence away from the blade. If the pieces don't fit together, nudge the fence closer.

To make a tight-fitting tongue-and-groove joint between the frame and panel, set the saw blade 316 " above the table and adjust the distance from the blade to the fence to equal the blade's kerf. Test your setup by cutting a kerf along the edge of two pieces of scrap stock. Check their fit [Photo G] (above) and adjust the fence accordingly. Cut grooves along the frame's inside edges [Photo H, below]. Then, without changing the blade depth or fence location, cut matching grooves on all four edges of the panel. With the grooves cut, bevel the panel's face [Photo I, following] and sand the bevels to 220 grit. Then, glue the panel in the frame [Photo J, beneath]. After the glue dries, bevel the frame [Photo K, bottom].

Pushing a skinny board on table saw with two feather boards. One on the side and one above.
Use a pushstick and featherboards when cutting grooves in the frame pieces to keep hands safe. Apply even pressure throughout the cut.
Tablesaw blade cutting a bevel edge on board.
Tilt your tablesaw's blade to 15° to cut bevels in the panel. By cutting the end grain first, the long-grain cuts will remove any tear-out.
Clamping boards to square up corners.
Apply a small amount of glue to the grooves in the frame and to the frame's miters. Use corner or framing clamps to keep the assembly tight as it dries.
Cutting a bevel on board with a pushed up against fence.
After adjusting your tablesaw's blade to 17°, use a tall auxiliary fence to support the top as you cut bevels in the frame's top face.

Build the jig shown below and use it to cut centered kerfs for splines in the lid's corners [Photo L, following]. Set the blade height so it won't cut into the panel. Cut stock for splines to fit the kerfs, glue them in place, and trim and sand them flush with the top's edges. Then, rabbet the underside of the lid so it fits the inside dimensions of the box as was done with lids 1 and 2.

Illustration showing jig with a "V" shape part.
Placing work piece into V-shape jig to cut slot on tablesaw.
A simple splining jig made of scrap sheet goods will help you cut kerfs for holding accent splines. Those splines also strengthen the top's miter joints.

Rather than clutter this lid with pulls on top, Doug added walnut lift tabs at each end to indicate where to place hands when opening the box. To install these, first use a 18 " spiral upcut bit in your router table to cut centered slots for the tabs [Photo M, below]. Then, cut 18 ×58 ×2" stock for the lift tabs and fit them to the slot [Photo N, following]. Glue the tabs in place and sand the entire top to 220 grit.

Showing the slots on the edge of the lid.
Adjust the router-table fence so the slot aligns with the top's splines. Set the bit 3⁄16" high and use stopblocks to center the cut.
Sanding the tip of a skinny board to round over edge.
Round over the ends of the lift tabs to fit the rounded slots. Use a piece of 100-grit, self-adhesive sandpaper on a flat surface.

Stowe's Suggestion:

Use a disc sander or bandsaw to give the tabs a simple pentagonal shape, emulating the bevels cut in the raised panel lid.

4. Rock a stone-accented top

As woodworkers, it's easy to think wood can be our only medium. But other materials—coins, seashells, or smooth stones, for example—add eye-catching contrast to woodworking projects.

Jewelry box with 5 inset rocks.

To build this lid, Doug used two pieces of 38 "-thick stock: one sized to fit the box's inside dimensions (the lid's base) the other cut 1 12 " longer and 1" wider than the box's outside dimensions (the lid's top). Arrange the stones on this larger piece; then hold each in place as you trace around it [Photo O, below].

Cut holes in the lid where rocks will be placed. Glue placed on lid.
Lay the stones on the upper layer, mark around each one with a pencil, and draw a meandering line from end to end connecting the outlines.

Stowe's Suggestion:

Snap a quick photo of the stones' orientation so you'll be able to position them exactly as you had them laid out originally following the cut.

Scrollsaw away the marked areas, cutting the lid's top into two pieces. Rout or sand a 116 " chamfer on the top inside edges of the two pieces, and then glue them to the top's base [Photo P, following]. While the glue dries, create a template from 14 " scrap to use when routing the handles. The single-sided template ensures identical handles centered on each end [Photo Q, beneath]. Finally, epoxy the stones inside their cutouts.

Cut holes in the lid where rocks will be placed. Glue placed on lid.
Mark the location of the lid base on the underside of the lid top. Apply masking tape along the outline to prevent squeeze-out from sticking to the wood.
Template board clamped over lid.
To make sure the top's handles match each other, use a template and flush-trim router bit. Flip the template over to rout the other side.

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