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I'd like to create a seamless box from nice wood, which is hollow and has rounded corners. It should be comparable with the clock on the left, but with rounded corners like on the right. It needs to be hollow, to house the electronics, which means that 90% of the inside is empty space.

Examples

I don't have any tools or a shop; I need to rent time in a public shop or send it to a CNC manufacturer. Question is: what's the best method if I want it relatively cheap and seamless? CNC? Bend steamed wood?

  • Honestly the best way to do this from a solid piece of wood is probably via CNC. It's doable purely using hand tools, or by using a power router for 95% of it with a little cleanup by hand afterwards, but both methods require experience to get a good result (and with a router, to do the job safely). So if CNC is an option for you then I think you should go with that – Graphus Feb 9 '17 at 18:41
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    If you want to avoid CNC, you might be interested in taking a look at "bandsaw boxes" -- they generally feature hollowed out parts made from what started as a single piece of wood. – Katie Kilian Feb 9 '17 at 18:43
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    Just so you're aware, the sides of this will be relatively fragile because they'll be end grain. You might want to leave them a bit thicker than the rest of the piece would need to be. – SaSSafraS1232 Feb 9 '17 at 19:49
  • @SaSSafraS1232: Thanks for the tip, I'll leave them as thick as possible – Michiel Feb 10 '17 at 13:41
  • @CharlieKilian Those are pretty awesome boxes, but the gap is not what I had mind – Michiel Feb 10 '17 at 13:47
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How seamless does this need to be? Cuts along the wood's grain can often be glued back together almost undetectably, if you're careful.

Bent lamination could be done, but the connection to face and back would not be seamless -- grain wouldn't match. There would also be a grain mismatch seam where the laminate ends meet, unless you are careful and/or lucky, though that could be on the bottom of the box.

Hollowing out a cavity in a solid block doesn't need CNC, just careful work with drills (Forstner and similar bits are good for hogging out most of the waste) and/or chisels. A drill press is useful for controlling drilling depth.

Rounding corners is a generally matter of sawing away most of the waste, then refining the curve with rasps, files, sandpaper, scrapers, and the like, unless you go back to considering bent lamination.

Note that if you plan on painting this, all the issues with matching grain go away and it becomes a matter of how well you smoothe the glue joints.

You might want to soften the sharp edges at front and back. Or might not.

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  • What I forgot to mention: I also want some high precision holes on the front face of the box, which I like to have CNC anyway routed due to lack of own craftsmanship. That shifts the question to CNC'ing just a thin board and glueing that of hollowing a solid piece of wood and CNC'ing that. – Michiel Feb 9 '17 at 15:41
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    @Michiel : What shape holes? If circular, then Forstner bits will do the job nicely. If you have to have it CNC'ed, then you might as well have the whole lot CNC'ed. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Feb 9 '17 at 16:16
  • @MartinBonner: Not circular, but I'm not entire sure yet, I can change my mind on the way. However, they will have angles between 45° and 135° and probably of 90°. – Michiel Feb 10 '17 at 13:44
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Your question is about getting a seamless box, not perfect holes.

Most electronic inserts don't have that precision so even if you made the Perfect Box the electronics inside might be 0.1 mm to the side and the more perfect your box is the more visible the error is.
That is why most protruding things (the nixie tubes in your illustration) come with a collar to put on the outside.

Given your electronics protrusions have collars:
Get a piece or two of wood, a couple of chisels, something to sharpen them, something like a vice or bench to hold the work piece steady, forstner bits.
Start with a cheap piece of wood and start playing. When you believe you have gotten the grasp of it get the other, presumably more expensive, piece of wood and whack away.

Either you succeed. Or you learn.
Either way you will have learned if you need a mallet made of unicorns and rainbows or if a simple piece of wood will do.

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  • I like the thrust of your Answer but many think that Forstners should be used in drill presses or bench drills only and I would agree (especially by the inexperienced user) so that adds quite a bit more to the potential expense here. – Graphus Feb 13 '17 at 16:19
  • I suggest a brace then. – LosManos Feb 14 '17 at 19:04

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