Humidor to Jewelry box conversion

Many years ago, I built several humidors for a local cigar shop to sell. A few did, a few did not, and the cigar shop closed a long time ago. I still have the remaining humidors and they still don’t have any cigars in them. One of these was the largest of the humidors that I made. Roughly 14 inches wide, 10 inches deep and nearly 8 inches tall. Weighs quite a bit too. It had a removable tray made of spanish mahogany, as was the whole inside liner. The outside of the box is maple, with a figured walnut top – finished with tung oil and paste wax. The hardware was brass quadrant hinges that were mortised in – I really like these as they look great and they have built in stops to keep the lid from tipping back too far. Lastly, it has a mortised brass lock with a working key. It was this lock, that I spent so much time on, that wrecked the box. You see, after getting everything set in place, the last thing to do was to epoxy the pin into the lid and somehow I managed to bump it out of alignment before the epoxy set. It would bump and scrape on the brass liner of the mortise lock side, which I can assure you, is not the sound of luxury. It has been sitting on a shelf in one place or another for roughly 30 years, unused. My new project was to resurrect this old humidor and make something useful out of it. (I should note here that I started this 18 months or so ago) I thought I could make a nice jewelry box out of it, assuming I could get all the mahogany out without ruining the box.

Bit by bit, I managed to get it all removed, and the surfaces cleaned up. That was good progress and it felt good to be trying to restore this box I had spent so much time on, into something that could be used. My plan was to have clean maple surfaces inside, along with a nice, soft velour fabric. That’s not the kind of thing you can just order online – it’s hard to judge the fabric or the color, so deep in the pandemic, I headed off to a tiny fabric shop I found online in Clifton (right down the street from a Harbor Freight I might add). I spent a half hour with the owner (there were only the two of us in the shop), pulling bolts of fabric to run through my fingers before finding what I was looking for. I explained that I only needed a yard (meaning a square yard, as in 3×3) but I had forgotten that is not how fabric is sold. I got the yard, by the width of the fabric which was like 8 or 9 feet. Thankfully it was not expensive, but now I had many times more fabric than I needed. Preparing for more mistakes to come.

I was struggling a bit with getting the “pillow stuffing” to lay comfortably flat under the fabric and mentioned my dilemma to my wife – who informed me of a thing called batting, or “project fleece”. This worked perfectly, and just like the velour, I have enough for many more projects to come. Now with this solution sorted, I could make the liner for the top and bottom – pillowy soft and covered in velour. On a whim, I also ordered a small, round mirror to mount in the middle of the lid. Maybe no one ever looks in it, but I like they way it looks. Now that first of the fabric elements of this project was addressed, I could set about the maple liner.

Given the timeframe here, this was when I was still using my old table saw, and before I purchased my bandsaw. I milled some Home Depot maple boards down using my planer (clogging up the dust collection chute in ways I didn’t know until later) and then set about sizing them for the inside walls of the top and bottom. To create a contrast of new and old, I used a water based finish on the new maple, keeping it very clear and a sharp contrast with the yellowed, tung oil finish of the original maple of the box itself. I sanded the boards nice and smooth and managed to get a nice, clean finish on the new maple, and set about installing them. I was not thrilled with my joinery. I didn’t want to risk ripping it out, but I fretted that the issues I was having with the liner, would be even worse when making the trays. It was at this point that I got all frustrated, set all of this aside and set about making a simple, square box as practice. To find a way to get the right combination of jigs, technique and persistence, to get the results I wanted. That led to this earlier post… One side project led to another, and another, then I tried kumiko and got sidetracked again. Then everything changed – the SawStop appeared. Anyway, you get the idea. The box was once again sitting in a corner, unused as the months spooled on by.

Eventually things felt settled enough that it was time to get back to this and finish it up. I decided to leave the new maple liner as built. It is not perfect. Could I do it better if I started all over, yes. Will anyone other than me notice? Not so much. Primarily, I wanted to see it finally in a state where it could be used and so that granted me a bit of leeway. Now for the finicky bits. Making two trays, and creating the dividers that make up the little sections. The trays needed to have a middle support that would serve as both divider, and handle to lift it out. I also wanted what the youtubers call a “piston fit” where if you go to place the tray in the box, and let go, it floats on a cushion of air, down to its resting place. That meant keeping the tolerances tight. Seems like the type of complication I tend to gravitate to of late.

I only had to user the planer to thickness a small amount of maple for this – but I had my new Laguna dust collector to try with the planer for the first time. That was a fail, chips everywhere. This is when I learned that my previous attempt, months earlier with a shop vac hooked up, didn’t work at all, and the dust collection chute was completely packed with maple shavings. Ugh. Disassembled it, cleaned it all out, connected it to the new dust collector and IT WORKED! So much better than the shop vac/dust deputy that I had tried earlier. With that addressed, milling the maple went quickly and then I could work on the parts. I also cut some thin plywood rectangles to serve as the bottoms of the trays – a left and right piece, since that was the only way I could make it work with the plywood I had.

All 8 sides (4 sides x 2 trays) got ripped, trimmed to rough length and sanded. Then I cut a dado in each for the plywood bottoms. I cut two middle supports (one for each tray) and then made a dado on both sides of that board, since it would receive a plywood bottom on each side. I messed that up more than once, thinking that I could cut them with the same saw settings – but since there is a dado on each side, the cut had to be shallower. I had to recut one of the pieces from the last of my milled maple. Later, I almost ruined it again, making the same mistake a second time, but I salvaged it and it is impossible to see. So our little secret. I dry fit everything with just blue tape holding it together and the joints all looked to be acceptable, so I labeled all the parts, and them took it apart again.

Next, I used 3M spray adhesive to coat the plywood bottom panels, and then adhered the velour to it, going back to cut it after the glue had set. This proved to be quite a challenge as the velour I chose was very stretchy and doesn’t cut all that well. I got velour fuzz all over things, and struggled to get a clean cut. After all of my frustrations, the next time I was at the craft store, I got a fabric cutter that looks like a pizza cutter. I saw Matt Kenney use one for his fabric box bottoms, so hopefully that will be the solution the next time it arises.

When not fiddling with the velour fuzzies, I had to apply finish to the tray components and also make the strips for the tray dividers. These are maple strips I cut on the table saw, and then joined using half lap joints like you would for the base grid of a kumiko pattern. Only this time, no infill pieces. After all the joints were cut, and the strips finished and sanded smooth, they were glued together.

Now to assemble the trays. Again, a dry fit with blue tape at the joints, but a looming problem was the velour didn’t also get the best tack from the glue at the very edge, so when pressing it in to a tight dado, some places the velour bunched up instead of fitting in the groove. After glue up, and again after it came out of the clamps, I went over all the places where the velour was supposed to fit in the dado, and worked it in to place using a set of feeler gauges. They are very thin strips of metal that allowed me to tuck the velour in to its proper place. In the end, I think it all worked out, but it was a bit of a headache to get there.

Next big step was to carefully fit the dividers in place. I did not want to glue them, in case a different pattern/layout was needed, so they had to kind of press in place. I simply cut them a bit oversized, trimming them down on sled on the table saw, using a bit of double sided tape to help hold them steady. Once they were close, I just used a sanding block for the last little bit.

Finally, I could reassemble the whole box and get to work on the fit of that annoying brass pin. In the end, I had to reshape the end of the pin with some emory cloth, slowing sanding the profile into something that fit more smoothly – while making sure the lock still worked. At last it was completed, and ready to be put to use. A project that has been rattling around in my head for a long time finally gets the check mark as done. On to the next one, whatever that may be.

Thanks for reading along.

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