Man In A Box
I’m a creator, by now I think that’s been defined, although the title reads Luthier, I find myself with my hands in many more projects than just guitars, and this post is all about one of those projects.
Around November/December 2021 I was offered a project which involve making boxes, I love making Boxes so I thought hell yes pass it on I'll do it. Oh boy! I was in for a challenge.
I should’ve called this project 300, yes like the movie 300, where Spartans battled Persians with an army of only 300 warriors. Now the analogy is because in this case, I was the only Spartan going to battle against 300 wooden boxes, death awaits yes, but is more about the sacrifice in this tale, and the inspiration to carry on.
We are talking about 300 wooden boxes, that have the purpose of carrying 13 Vinyl LPs, and a book. After taking a look at the prototype brought by the client I started to imagine how can I push this project forward. The prototype was made with solid birch wood with finger joints, nothing complicated, but making 300 of them is tricky.
The budget was limited, therefore processing solid wood was going to get too expensive for this project. The solution for me was to use plywood and substitute the finger joints with mitered glued corners, the Top and Botton of the Box create enough support/rigidity, and the process is straightforward.
As the main material decided to go for high top quality Plywood, in theory, this material should be free of knots, patches, imperfections, and defects, to be honest, I don't find that this was the case, because there were plenty of patches and knots, so high-quality plywood doesn’t mean flawless material. The material was bought in January 2022, winter, oh Finnish winter indeed, this is important to remember, it’s a piece of very important information used later on.
My workshop is set up for musical instruments fabrication mainly, which means that I don't have a big table saw, a sliding table-saw that is, so to process all the sheets of plywood I had to do it somewhere else, the processing means cutting the 4mm sheets for tops and bottoms, and 9mm sheets for sides with 45° edges. I’m used to working with a custom guitar at the time, so material counting should be just easy no biggie, not really, I was short not once, not twice but thrice, what a rookie mistake indeed, especially because involves waiting, going back to the place I was cutting the material and then transport everything back to my shop, three-times had to do that because of my terrific material counting skills. This process took around 10 hours.
Once the material was processed, the following process was Laser engraving the logo and all the necessary texts. It took many tries to cut down the engraving time to 20 min per top, multiplied by 300 tops equals around 100 hours, plus 6 min for the underpart of the top multiplied by 300 equals 30 hours. So if we add it all together plus the time it takes to change the material, cleaning, etc, I think roughly went around 150 hours only in the laser engraving, not counting the many tries to get the process right. Adding up by now the count is 160 hours.
The following step was making the channel where the top and bottoms slide on the sides, this was done on a router table with a 4mm bit, so 300 boxes equals 1200 sides to route. The process is not that difficult, is just tedious. After the 1200 sides were done, only then I did realize that some of the sheets for the top and bottom weren't 4mm like they were supposed to be, but 4,5mm, surprise!. All the sides had to be re-routed with a 5mm bit, which unfortunately created a bit of tearout on some sides. By this point had to do one of the tasks twice, and the results weren't as flawless as I was planning. So this operation took altogether about 20 hours, adding to what we already have is 180 hours in the project.
The following task on the line was the gluing. With the help of three miter box clamps, the process was pretty much straightforward. Lots of glue, lots of patience, and around 60 hours. After that box by box was sanded and imperfection holes were filled, this took another 60 hours. Altogether by now around 300 hours.
As a protection for the wood, I used Hardwax Oil. This was another case where I did underestimate the material need it, so took me 4 travels to the hardware store to buy more Oil each time, really expensive and this raw a dry material was sucking a lot of oil. The following step was cutting open all boxes to make the lid. Altogether I’d say it took me around 30 hours for these steps. So 330 hours if you are counting.
By now I was happy, the only major problem that I had was some tear-out on some sides while on the routing process, but overall I was satisfied, but everything was going to change soon. As mentioned before the plywood was bought in winter, by now few months in a controlled warm environment didn't expect to find out that some sides warped a bit, enough to subtract a few millimeters from the inside, as a result of this while testing the fit for the Vinyl cover discovered that some just didn't want to go in, shiiiiieeet! That day I went home early and tried not to think about it.
The following day I decided to check how many had that problem, a bit less than 50 was that magic number. Then I started to figure out what to do, should I re-do them? Not really because the client has a due date also which is the 28 of May, and my delivery date is the 15 of May, there’s no way I will be able to order more material and process 50 boxes again. Then thought ok how can we repair this? Sanding? Tried but it just didn't help. What about humidifying them and forcing them to go straight? Didn't help. Then remembered that I did put glue on the channels, where the top and bottom go, and with the help of a clamp and a straight piece of wood force the side to unglue for the center. By doing this the bend was released from the center giving me back the precious millimeters that I need it for the vinyl cover to go in. Yes I could’ve made the box bigger, I should've, but I was after a more tight fit so the vinyl doesn’t rock inside only outside (see what I did there?). This setback added around 20 hours, so we are now 350 hours on this project.
Following was adding the hinges, sanding edges from the inside, and adding oil. After that stack them and prepare them for delivery. This all together took me around 50 hours to a rough total of 400 hours.
Started this project in the second week of January, and finished on the 15 of May which was my deadline, as promised. Looking back sure I could've done things better, differently, easier, and more professionally, that's easy to say because it’s easy to see when looking back. Therefore I believe that every decision wrong or not was the right one at that precise moment, on the specific second when decisions were needed.
I don't aim for perfection, I do aim for the best that I can though, and this battle against these 300 boxes was the best of me on those 400 hours, all the time every time. Perhaps, if this experience will repeat then those would have their own setbacks, their own issues, their own wins. I don’t make, create or produce aiming for perfection, because I don’t know what it is, never seen it.
Art is more like me, art is more what I make, art is what I can create, each one of these 300 boxes tells what I have learned, each one tells what I did right, each one whispers what I did wrong, each one will have a personality, just like you and me.
So in case you are the owner of one of these 300 boxes, I just hope that the one you have is the right one for you, then that means I delivered. I just hope that you have is the one you weren't waiting for but the one that got to be with you, then we all get to understand each other. I hope the box you have is not just a box, but the carrier of the music inside, the connection to the individuals, and characters involved in the process of making Sentenced the band that it was, I hope the box and the Music inside speak to you, that means that we all delivered.
Thanks Sentenced for this project.
400 hours later, I’m out!