Project – leaf box

Make a fun leaf box project with your family

By Christine Honeyman


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What better way to capture the glorious colours of fall than in a beautifully crafted leaf box? The rich, warm tones of the finished pine frame complement the mixture of gold and scarlet maple leaves showcased inside.

While this attractive display is simple to build, if you measure accurately and make your mitre cuts precise, you’ll showcase your woodworking skills as well.

I chose 3/4″ x 2 1/4″ solid pine for this project because it’s easy to machine and glues up well. Start off by making a 3/8″-deep x 2″-wide recess along the entire length of the inside face of the outer frame top, bottom and sides. This creates a ledge to contain the display glass and inner frame you’ll add later. Raise the blade on your tablesaw two inches above the bed and position the fence so it’s 3/8″ away from the blade. Next, feed all four outer parts-the top, bottom and side members-on edge over the blade to make the first of two cuts you need to make. Next, lower the blade to just 5/16″ above the saw table and position the fence 1/4″ away from the saw’s blade. Feed the stock horizontally through the blade this time, with the unnotched side against the fence. This should leave you with a 1/4″-thick lip to support the glass at the front of the box. While you work, save the off-cuts for later use as the inner frame parts.

With the recesses complete, you’re ready to mitre the outer frame pieces. Accurate, gap-free mitres provide the gluing surface necessary to produce strong, tight joints. This is especially important on this project because the mitres are unsupported. A close fit is essential to the strength of the finished piece because the glue does all the holding.

Before cutting, check that your mitre saw is set up to cut at exactly 45°. Just to be sure, grab some scraps and try a test cut, then dry-fit the test pieces together using a metal framing square to check accuracy. When you’re satisfied with the results, mark and mitre your frame pieces to length. To make glue-up easier, dry-fit the frame and hold it together with strips of masking tape applied to each of the four corners. When it’s fitting accurately, undo the tape on one corner and unfold the frame flat onto your bench. Apply glue to the mitres, leaving a 1/8″-wide dry strip along the inside of each cut. This space prevents glue from oozing inside the box during assembly. Bring the pieces together as they were before, then use a strap clamp to apply even pressure all around the frame. Let it dry overnight.

Next, measure and order the glass. Order it 1/16″ smaller than the interior perimeter to ensure it fits easily inside the frame, but with a minimum amount of play. If you have any doubt about getting the size of glass correct, take the frame to the glass shop and let them deal with the challenge. Acrylic plastic is also an easier option because you can cut what you need in your own shop on your tablesaw.

Although I used Masonite for the frame back, any thin plywood or veneered particleboard will do the job. First, measure the space, then cut the back to size. I chose to laminate one side of the Masonite with an off-white, medium-weight fabric to make the inside of the box look better. The fabric reflects light, and the colour contrasts with the leaves, helping to define their shape. The slight texture on the fabric also helps the leaves stay in place when the box is displayed vertically. You can paint or stain the plywood back if you prefer another colour for the backdrop.

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