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I'm making a small box that will be used to hold mail, and I came up with the following design, with keyed miters on all the outside joints and dados for the dividers:

box

I've been reading recently about wood movement and I'm wondering if this design won't work, or if it's something I won't have to really worry about. Is there a certain grain orientation I should use? Currently, the grain on the front, back and sides runs horizontal and the grain on the bottom piece runs the length of the box. Should I change the grain of the sides to run vertically so their width can expand/contract with the width of the bottom piece?

Details:

  • Made with poplar (not sure yet which wood to use for the keys)
  • Size is about 15" x 5.5" x 5.5"
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    If you dado the bottom into all four sides, like a door panel, then it can float and expand and contract independent of the four sides. Make sure to undersize the bottom (1/16" or so). That being said, this box is so small, any movement will be so minimal it will most likely not have any issues in any case. – Jacob Edmond Mar 29 '17 at 17:16
  • @JacobEdmond Thanks for the info - I have seen some boxes where a dado is used to attach the bottom into the four sides, but I kinda like the way it looks to have keys along the bottom edges too, so I will probably just continue and hope the movement amount is trivial. – seand Mar 29 '17 at 20:25
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Running the grain vertically on the sides would be highly unusual. If this were a problem to consider, you've now shifted the issue to expansion differences between the sides and the front/back!

I've built dozens of jewelry boxes and perhaps a hundred other boxes. All have the grain of the sides parallel to that of the front and back.

That said, there's no reason to not run the grain of the sides vertically if you like the idea. However, this will expose end grain on the top (and maybe bottom depending on your design). This is where moisture is more frequently exchanged with the atmosphere so it would be prudent to seal this in some way, most finishes will suffice. If you run the side grain horrizontally, the glue joints with front and back will do the sealing.

  • Yeah, running it vertically isn't something I really wanted to do, and that's a good point - it would just shift the expansion issue. At what wood sizes do you usually start worrying about movement, or is it something you always have to consider? – seand Mar 29 '17 at 20:21
  • @seand It really depends on the type of wood, its history, moisture content relative to ambient, humidity and temperature fluctuations, and the finish. If your poplar is dry and your joints are tight, you'll have little to worry about if this is for inside use. If used in a sheltered outside spot, I'd finish inside and outside. Wooden exterior doors have rails perpendicular to the sides and generally stay intact if properly finished. – bpedit Mar 29 '17 at 21:00

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