Let’s make... a toy box


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Established Member
14 Oct 2007
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I’ve made one before, it was 3-years late, so is this one.

Painted box with elm top to match the rest of the furniture. I’ve got just enough of the same veneer as all the other built-in units to do the outside of the top, plus using up scraps and offcuts which I seem to have everywhere (note to self, next time make the first piece in the house from a more forgiving and cheaper wood, then matching all the others is easier). I can’t go out and buy more elm (it’d be too wet to use straight away anyway) but thankfully I can get the MDF delivered. This is Medite MRMDF which at 15mm thick has a brown face, apparently it’s easier to paint, we’ll see. I also need 3mm which isn’t available in MRMDF so I’ve got standard which actually looks quite good, a good hard cut edge, maybe that’s the difference with the premium make.

So top first, I was originally thinking of making it as a torsion box, however I’d need to use thinner walls to open up the core and it wouldn’t have saved much weight. So two layers of 15mm then veneered with bandsawn elm. I needed to cut some more for the underside which started badly, the first cut mostly burned its way through over about 2-minutes it took to cut a 500mm length, then I changed the blade and cut the rest in a few seconds.

I have no drum sander and I recently tore apart my lathe based one, because... ok, I’m not sure why I did that. The veneers are vac-bagged onto the MDF and then the substrate is cut back to create the edge for the lipping, with the exception of the middle part which will give a panel-type look but be flat, so I inlaid a cross-band piece down the middle with a track saw, with a sharp blade you can cut a veneer cross-grain and it’s good for a glue-up with no further steps, here you can see the construction

The trim to size is also done with a track saw, the complication here is that I’m working from the centre of the book match of the veneer, not a panel edge and there’s a match top and bottom, so a lot of checking happened before committing to the cut. Again, sharp blade and good saw, you can cut less than a mm thick pieces 36mm deep.

The lipping is solid elm, the pieces I have left in a suitable size are a bit scabby, a couple of cracks that I glued up and we’ll see if they stay stable enough once moved indoors. I could have made the “panels” larger using a different design but simpler seemed better, so the long edges were put on first then the entire top cut to length, again working from the centre of the inlaid cross-band, so not the easiest. The false breadboard ends were then glued on with a bunch of biscuits.

As the veneers are still in the rough they need some attention, as they’re 3mm+ thick you can plane them cross-grain to flatten, so an hour or so with a plane and a straight edge got that done.


then it was out with a random orbit sander with a 60-grit disk, if I had 40-grit I’d have used that, or a belt sander, thick veneer really is good for certain things.

Top mostly done, it’s off to the scales, need to know the mass to do the next bit of design
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The box is false panel, or “shaker-style”, as we all know the Shakers loved MDF fitted units...

I’d normally make proper panels, they’re just easier but on this occasion I want the smooth inside. Even with a painted outside I now also prefer wood veneer inside, it’s easier to finish, cleanup is easier and there’s no painting inside a box, but not on this one. With 75mm wide rails on the outside I needed three different with onlays to make it work. The top edge is 5mm beech covering both layers of MDF to be more damage tolerant. This method of construction is just a pain, you lay the piece on perfectly align the edges with a minimal film of glue and carefully tighten the clamps... a few minutes later it’s shifted just a tiny bit.
So all the panels were trim routed to give a clean flush edge before assembly.


Construction is just lapped joints, it’s really strong in MDF and locates better than just biscuits. The base is 12mm from some built-in units I scrapped recently.
Next up, a picture frame for a mouse made in some maple...

which is then cut into four pieces and a cove routed onto each end, these are the feet which are glued onto the base

The hinges I’m using are from Lee Valley, you can’t get them over here, so someone brought them over for me, they’re made for 3/4 board and put the pivot below the lid. Oddly the main screw holes are not in the middle of the board (why, just why?!) and they’re flush, so of course I routed them in.

You can get soft-close hinges for toy boxes, but my beef with them is two-fold.
1) They often employ metal armatures at the edges of the lid where you could poke a finger and it would act as a shear
2) Soft-close means the lid is still coming down, the static force it will exert is the same and if something’s trapped near the hinge you’ll have to lift the full weight of the lid to release it.

So I’m more fond of gas-springs, for these reasons...
1) you can put one in the middle away from easy reach
2) it reduces the force required to open the lid and once it’s open a bit, it’s going all the way up
3) you have to pull the lid shut, it can’t be nudged over and start closing from then on

So gasspringshop.co.uk have an online calculator, you put in the size of lid, weight etc and you can adjust the force applied. I went for the largest force spring that would allow the lid to stay shut (so minimum opening force) that gives you exact mounting dimensions and instructions, order that and the next day up turns your spring. It’s a nice one, not like the much cheaper Hafele ones but then including shipping it’s just shy of £40, so not cheap. Does it work...


yep! Beautifully.
I opted for making my own elm bearing shoes to put the rod eyes exactly as specified (within a mm). I’ll cut those rods down and make them from steel not brass.
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That done it’s just the boring bits left. Finish the top, chamfer edges etc.
A mitre plane works well off the shooting board for the chunky end grain on the false breadboard pieces.

MDF painting is dull and not very hard, the way I’d laid it out there was very little board edge to deal with, using a sash brush for the panel edges works well (thanks Peter Millard for that tip). Top coat is Farrow and Ball, touch dry in a couple of hours, actually dry in 30.

The elm is coated in Osmo hard wax oil and microcrystalline wax.

As the top has a little dead weight when shutting there was a very slightly harsh shut, so I added two dampers to soften the final close, one each side.

Pozi screws were swapped for slotted, felt feet added, the usual

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Looks good (y) does the middle placement of a single air assist work better than one either side ?
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Looks good (y) does the middle placement of a single air assist work better than one either side ?
One in the middle works just fine so long as your lid is stiff enough. The problem with one either side is that you are then creating a finger trap again, though it does give you more mounting options.