Humidors

There was a time, the early 1990s, when cigars were having a moment. Of course they had been around for a long time before, and they are still around today. But for a time, there seemed to be a new cigar shop or cigar bar that opened every week. Kinda like fro yo places and cupcake stores that also had their time in the sun more recently. If there was YouTube then, all the makers would have been building humidors instead of river tables. During that span, a couple of friends and myself were known to enjoy a steak dinner on occasion, maybe a bit of port afterwards, along with a cigar. It’s been thirty years since I last puffed on a cigar, but I still recall how they provided a bit of calm, a short window of time where you weren’t expected to do anything other than puff, and chat with your friends – until it ran out and you had other obligations again.

Now, if you were going to smoke a cigar every once in a while, and you wanted a good one, well, you needed a place to keep it. That’s where the humidor came in. A little wooden box, with a Spanish mahogany liner that was designed to keep an even humidity. You keep a small humidifier inside (a damp sponge in a perforated case), and a humidity gauge and all is well. Of course you could buy one at all the new shops that were opening, but I decided to build my own. After all, they are a bit like a jewelry box for cigars.

The first one I built was nicknamed “the vault”. It was overdone. I struggled with how I was going to do a raised panel type top and eventually settled on making a flat top, putting a solid wood piece, with a rounded edge, on top of the top, and then using dowels and glue to hold it firm. Two things: first, I left a sizable reveal around the “inset” raised wood top which has collected dust ever since. Second, the top was so heavy the box would almost tip when the lid was opened. Poor planning on my part – but it worked. I gave it to a friend, and eventually, I made him a nicer one, and took the original back. A personal marker of where my skills were at during that time. The inside was plain – just one compartment. I used Soss hinges, so when closed, you can’t tell front from back, which was not exactly ideal here. This did lead to more humidors.

I made a few, and brought them to a local cigar shop and they agreed to carry them in their store. Now as a kid, my father made bird feeders in the shop, and sold them at a local store with the money going right back in to more tools. A way to fund the hobby. I thought humidors might serve the same purpose for me. It didn’t actually work out that way. I sold one or two, had one or two left over, and the store closed. The cigar’s time in the sun had passed, my calendar had filled with other responsibilities (namely my day job), and I haven’t made a humidor, or smoked a cigar since then. I kept the humidors that were left, and the cigars that I had. They’ll never get used, but I still love the smell of the wood and the cigars when you open up the humidor. That’s what brings back the good memories for me, much more than the smell of actual cigar smoke. Those cigars have been in “the vault” for a couple of decades, and will likely remain there for a couple decades more.

Now, one aside about the largest of the humidors that I made (pictured below). It has a great figured walnut inset top, with maple sides and walnut dowels to hold the mitered corners in place. I used brass quadrant hinges, which I really like the look of – and they prevent the lid from tipping too far back. A bit tricky to install, but I really like them. I made this one extra deep, with a tray that comes out and reveals more space below. As a final challenge, I decided to add a lock and key. Everything went great adding the lock mechanism, but the last step was to insert/attach the brass pin in the lid, that lowers in to the hole of the base to connect with the lock mechanism. After much effort in getting everything to line up just right, I added the epoxy and set the pin. Everything looked great until the epoxy cured and I tried the lock. When I taped the pin in place for the epoxy to set, it had shifted and now it was both slightly out of alignment, and permanently set in place. So much time and effort on that box, and every time I open or close it and feel that misalignment, the frustration comes right back. I haven’t tried a lock like that since, but now I am starting to think I need a project that will include one, so I can try again.

All of the humidors were finished with tung oil on the outside, and paste wax. There is no finish on the inside, as the wood liner needs to absorb and release moisture and if sealed, it won’t work properly. These boxes are 25 years or so old, and have yellowed a bit with age, but I think they have held up well and I am pleased with how the finish, and the wood, has aged.

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