Using a Machine to Mass Produce Wooden Jewelry Boxes

Some woodworking machines are only meant for production work. This is because it takes a long time to set them up for just one cut. However, if you plan on making the same cut or joint over and over again, a production machine is the way to go. The advantage of locating a production apparatus is repeatable accuracy with speed. Time is money and quality is everything.

In this article, we will highlight the JDS Multi-Router, a pricey but fairly compact stationary woodworking mechanism that can make a selection of joints including mortise and tenon, angled mortise and tenon, box joints and dovetail joints. The Multi-Router utilizes a router and various router bits to make highly complex cuts in wood. The joints are made by a ball-bearing-tipped stylus tracking in aluminum templates that are easily mounted to Multi-Router. The work piece is attached on an aluminum table which can move in and out, left and right and up and down, and which is controlled by 3 hand levers, one for each axis.

Movement along any axis can be defined with clamping screws and collars incorporated into the Multi-Router. A particular cut may require that the machine be allowed to float unobstructed in two directions while being constrained from any movement along the remaining axis.

As an example of how the Multi-Router operates, I will discuss how I have made production runs of dovetailed jewelry boxes. The motivation to use a production machine is easy to see: If you can do precise, elaborate work in a tiny period of time, you can churn out high-quality items in large numbers and thus make more sales and therefore more assets. You can also demand more cash for fine details like dovetailed corners.

Before getting started with my jewelry boxes, I had to decide what sizes would work best, taking into consideration that I would be locating a mechanism to make equally-spaced dovetails of the same dimensions. I found that I could make two dovetails in the corners of a jewelry box that measured 2 1/4″ high. Three dovetails would have required increasing the height of the finished box and I determined that that height would not be as pleasing to the eye.

The next step involved stock preparation. The finished stock had to be of uniform thickness and width to work on the Multi-Router. The final thickness was to be 3/8″ for the jewelry box sides and top. The jewelry box bottom was to be 1/8″ plywood, covered by a velvet pad. The plywood bottom fitted into a 1/8″ saw kerf, cut 1/4″ above the bottom of the inside wall of the jewelry box.

For economy, I chose to resaw three thicknesses each out of each piece of 2″ (8/4) lumber. Before resawing, I cut the 2″ lumber into pieces a bit wider than the final dimension of 2 1/4″ (about 2 1/2″). I set the resaw to cut three equal pieces out of each piece of raw lumber. These pieces there then ripped to final width (both edges) on the table saw. The final lengths of 12″ (jewelry box fronts and backs) and 7″ (sides) were then cut on the miter saw using a Forrest ChopMaster blade that leaves a mirror-like cut.

On this device, one template is used to cut the tails with a dovetail cutter and the other template is used to cut the pins with a straight spiral cutter. Setup takes a bit of time and wastes some timber so it is advisable to have some cheap pieces available of the same sizes and thickness as the finalwood species. Table adjustments have to be made on the in/out axis to get the right depth of cut which is then locked in position. A detailed manual is incorporated with the Multi-Router, so I won’t bother to repeat that here. I’ll just say that the work piece is attached into a fixed position on the table and the left/right and up/down axes are left to float unimpeded while the stylus tracks each template. Trial and error will in time give you a flawless fit in your scrap pieces and, once that has been accomplished, you can commence production on the final work pieces. Tails can be cut on both ends of the jewelry box sides and pins on both ends of the front and back pieces or vice versa, if you prefer.

Now, it’s back to the table saw to cut the grooves for the plywood floor. You must terminate your cuts just short of going through the ends of the work pieces. Mark pencil lines on the table saw table to demonstrate to you where to start and where to terminate. The idea is to lower the work piece into the saw blade which is set to 1/8 ‘ above the table. When the work piece hits the table, it should be just a bit ahead of the front stop line. Pull the work piece back to the stop line before pushing it forward to the rear stop line. Stop the saw before lifting each work piece off the blade for reasons of safety.

The finished, dovetailed jewelry box pieces are pushed together with a bit of Titebond glue while inserting the plywood bottom into 1/8″ pre-cut groove. The tops can be either overlay with hinges or inset with brass pins drilled into the back corners. Once you have determined the final sizes of the top, you should be able to safely fit all of the boxes due to the accuracy of your Multi-Router-made boxes. I like to rout all corners of the box and top with a 1/8″ round-over bit before sanding.

The jewelry boxes and tops should be sanded to at least 220 grit with a random orbital sander and by hand before finishing. I chose to spray on a gloss finish (catalyzed varnish). You may prefer something else. If you are going to spray, I’d like to propose that you make yourself a lazy Susan (hardware parts available from Woodworker’s Supply).

Take several pieces of 1/8″ ply the same size as the box bottoms, drill a hole in each corner and insert bright flat head box nails into the holes. The holes should be drilled the same size or smaller than the shafts of the nails to keep the nails from sliding back out of the plywood. Place the ply, nail points up, on the lazy Susan and place the box on top of the nail points. Once a box is sprayed, you can pick it up by the plywood and set it aside to dry. When spraying tops, the sharp nail points will not leave visible marks in the finish.

The final touch is the velvet lining. You will need poster board, 3M spray-on adhesive, 1/8″ foam padding and velvet. The velvet can be found at any dry goods store and the other items at an arts and crafts store like Ben Franklin or Michael’s. Cut the velvet to extend 1″ in all directions past the pre-cut poster board. Cut out 1″ x 1″ squares from each corner of the velvet (you may have to adjust this to accommodate the foam padding.) Spray glue the padding onto the poster board. The padding should be cut a bit undersize with reference to the poster board. Wrap the velvet over the padding and glue the flaps onto the back of the poster board. The poster board should be pre-cut to exactly fit the box with the velvet wrapped around the edges. This may take some experimentation but the final dimension can be repeated over and over again.

You can also find velvet, compartmentalized jewelry box insert trays online. These usually come only in standard sizes so if you are interested in using these instead of the simple wrapped bottom padding described above, you will have to design your boxes around the dimensions of the velvet trays that you will be using.

In closing, I assume that you can now see that in such a production run, there is a huge amount of set-up time which should be more than off-set by the efficiency of repeatable accuracy. On the other hand, I could cut the dovetails for one box by hand but they would not look as tight and smooth as those cut by the Multi-Router. In short, if you are thinking about purchasing a new or used Multi-Router, plan on making a lot of jewelry boxes (or whatever) in each production run.