Shaker Oval Box Class at John C. Campbell Folk School

Jim has taken two Shaker Oval Box Classes at John C. Campbell Folk School. The first class was a weekend class in 2007 instructed by Chris Brooks. The last class--a week-long class in 2010--was taught by Lenton Williams. This is one of those subjects where one never stops learning as every box is different and each poses unique challenges. While the original Shaker boxes may have simple in design, today's craftsmen are unlimited in the application of embellishments as is seen in these examples (which probably would not have met the approval of Shaker craftsmen).

The box at right was made by Jim at his home after completing the class. The top is made from a defective piece of African Paduk. This box is a size Number 5 and there are four smaller boxes with paduk tops nested inside.

Shaker oval box with paduk top
Shaker Oval Box With Paduk Top
Shaker oval box with ambrosia top
Shaker Oval Box With Ambrosia Maple Top

The lids for the box shown at left and below are made from a thin piece of ambrosia maple. The wood shows staining by a fungus left by passage of ambrosia beetles through the wood. Small holes can be seen in the wood where the insect traveled. Ambrosia wood is a common wood used by wood turners in making bowls and other turned objects.

This stack of Shaker oval boxes is made from maple bands. After drying and sanding, a coat of green paint was applied over the box band. A light sanding is given to the paint after it dries that reveals the copper tacks and adds to the antiquing effect.

A coat of Johnson's Paste Wax provides the finishing touch.

After completing two folk school classes, jim purchased a supply of box making materials from John Wilson in Michigan. He is the only known source of copper tacks and John also sells wood band materials in a variety of widths and thicknesses. However, the fingers or tails must be cut using a very sharp utility knife. The wood is steamed in boiling water in order to make it bendable. The bands are formed around a mold and allowed to dry and harden on oval shapers.

The bands are either maple or cherry, but Jim has a problem with splitting when trying to bend cherry wood for smaller boxes. Tops and bottoms can be made using just about any material the maker desires, and each is hand cut and sanded into a cone-shape and pressed into the top or bottom. The tops and bottoms are held in place by toothpick ends driven into small holes. No glue is used in box construction--unless a split forms which which can sometimes be mended using CA glue.

Jim heats his water tray over a General Electric double burner electric hotplate with solid die-cast heating plates purchased at Wal-Mart.

Stack of Shaker oval boxes
Stacked Shaker Oval Boxes Painted Green
Shaker oval box with burl top
Shaker Oval Box With Burl Top

The basket at left has a burl top and walnut carrying handle. The burl top is formed by gluing a thin sheet of veneer onto plywood. Burl is quite expensive so it is normally purchased in thin sheets.The plywood adds strength. Extreme care must be exercised when sawing out the oval as the burl splinters easily. Force of sawing must always be applied in such a way that the burl is backed up or supported in some way. Some small pieces that break off can often be reglued in place and sanded without noticeable results.

Jim made his mother-in-law a burl-top box like this example for her Christmas gift in 2010.

Jim prefers using cherry for bands when using burls as the wood is naturally darker. Cherry is also used for band material in the black box below.

Before attending his second class, Jim informed the instructor that he (Jim) would like to make a set of black boxes. The instructor brought a can of black paint so that Jim could have his wish. This basket is the result of Jim's work and was the only black box produced by class members. Jim gave one of his grandsons a set of black Shaker oval boxes for Christmas 2010.

Jim has made Shaker oval boxes in a number of colors. He uses General Finishes water based milk paints purchased at Woodcraft. Colors he likes are Snow White, Somerset Gold, Federal Blue, Cypress Green and Pitch Black. Van Dyke Brown Glaze Effects can also be used to simulate an antique look. To finish natural wood, he sprays the box with Deft Satin Clear Wood Finish. Interiors of the boxes are often not finished. He made a set of boxes using cedar which is left unfinished.

Shaker Oval Box Painted Black
Shaker Oval Box Painted Black