Jun 5, 2017

Box Finishing Tutorial

I actually wrote this post back in 2012 when I taught an online box finishing class, but for some reason I didn't publish it.

Materials Needed:

• Floss, fabric, embellishments, etc. that you will need to stitch the piece that will go on the top of the box. Or, if you have a piece already stitched that’s even better :)

• Coordinating cotton fabric of your choice. Quilt flats (18x22" fabric) are perfect. Or look in the odds and ends bin at the fabric stores to see if there's anything that might work.

• 1-2 pieces of thin, but sturdy cardboard. Cereal box cardboard is too thin. If you’re willing to pay for postage, I can mail you a couple pieces.

• Unfinished wood box

• Ruler

• Craft Tacky Glue. Regular white glue won't be as easy to use. Hot glue is not recommended.

• Flat quilt batting – size depends on size of your box top.

• Spring clothes pins (spring clothes pegs), or something similar.

• Cording or trim to embellish your box

• Scissors

• Pencil

• Iron and Ironing Board (for ironing your stitched piece and the fabric if it’s wrinkled)

• Small scraps of felt or thick fabric

• Fine-Grit Sandpaper (I use 180 or 220)

Small Screwdriver

The following items you may or may not need depending on the type of finish you’re going to put on your box. Choose a finish you’re comfortable with.

For painted finishing:
• Primer
• Paint (I use spray paint and primer)

For stained finishing:
• Wood Conditioner
• Wood Stain
• Rubber Gloves
• Lint-free cloth (I cut up an old cotton pillow case)
• Steel Wool (I used 000)

Determine and stitch the design you'd like to put on top of the box. It might be easier to choose your box first and then a design that will fit the top. Otherwise, you may not find one that will fit.

I usually get my unfinished wood boxes from Hobby Lobby or Michaels. Hobby Lobby has been issuing 40% coupons every week for over a month. Sometimes, I will pick up wood boxes from thrift stores and re-finish them. I won't be going over re-finishing in this class so unless you know how to do it, please use an unfinished box.

Cover your workspace with newspaper. Be sure to have all your supplies by the time you get done stitching.

I chose an octagon box but the instructions can be used for a square or rectangle box also. Don't feel like you have to get an octagon one.

Using a small screwdriver to remove all the hinges and keep them in a safe place. I placed mine in the lid of a plastic yogurt container. Put it in a safe place so that the pieces won't be lost. You won't be needing them for several weeks.

I have several small tool kits that I use mostly for crafting. This is an inexpensive tiny tool kit that contains a wire cutter, needle nose pliers, tweezers, and several screwdrivers.

This set was a gift from Menards on my birthday this year! It comes with a bunch of interchangeable small screwdriver tips.

After removing the hinges and/or hardware from your box, use the sandpaper or sanding block on the outside of the box base and along the rim. You do not have to sand the inside of the box. Be sure to sand with the grain of the wood, not against it otherwise you'll have unattractive scratches. Also sand the lid of the box: top, sides, rim, and inside.

By now you should've decided what type of finish you'd like on the outside of the box.

Whether you spray paint or brush paint, the procedures are the same. Use primer on the bare wood, first. Primer all the parts that you sanded. There's no need to do the inside of the base. Let dry several hours. Then paint. Two coats should do it. I usually let the paint dry overnight between coats.

If you choose to stain your box, the procedure is a bit more involved and will take a little more time. Well worth it!

Put on the rubber gloves. Shake the Wood Conditioner to thoroughly mix. Using the lint-free cloth dip it in the conditioner and rub a generous amount on the box base opposite the grain. So if the grain goes from left to right, rub the conditioner on from top to bottom. (Follow the directions on the can) Wipe off the excess in the same direction of the wood grain. Do not allow the conditioner to dry before wiping off the excess. No need to do the inside. Repeat for the box lid. Make sure you do the inside of the lid also. Allow conditioner to penetrate about 1/2 hour before applying stain.

Shake the stain can to thoroughly mix. Put on the rubber gloves. Using a new lint-free cloth, wipe a thin, even layer of stain on the areas you applied the conditioner. Apply in the direction of the wood grain and work as quickly as possible so that stained edges do not dry before the entire piece is stained. Repeate for box lid. Allow to dry overnight.

In the morning, use the steel wool to buff the stain smooth. Make sure all traces of steel wool are removed and then wipe another layer of stain onto the box pieces. Allow to dry 24 hours. Repeate until you get the color depth you'd like from the stain. The more layers you repeat, the darker the stain will get. If you use the PolyShades like I did, the piece will become shiny as well. I put about 6 coats of stain on my box. Your final step will be to buff the pieces with steel wool. When you're done, it should look like this:

Next you'll be creating the lining for your box. A fair amount of accuracy is required for this step. Using your straight ruler, measure one of the sides of the inside of your box. Cut one out. Set it inside against the box side to check for fit. The top of the cardboard should be even with the top of the box base. The edges should match up to the corners. Once it's the right size, cut additional pieces for the remaining sides. If your box is square/rectangular, you'll need 4. I needed six. At this point, you can cut them all the same size because later you'll be trimming them to a more accurate size.

Then you'll need to make two pieces that are the shape of the top and bottom of your box. To do this, place the base of the box on the cardboard and trace around it. Cut out the shape.

Here's where accuracy is important. Measure the rim thickness of the box. Using the ruler, mark the measurement on the cardboard edges with a straight edge. Trim off. Check to see if the piece will fit inside the box base. It should be snug but not so snug that you can't tip the box over to get it out. Continue to trim away even amounts all ALL sides until it fits -- only remove tiny amounts at a time. Mark the piece "1".

The next piece will be used for the lid. The size of it depends on the "look" you want to go for. If you want it to cover the entire top, then trace the lid top. If you want it smaller then trim it smaller. After cutting it out, mark the piece "2".

Grab your craft glue and a wet (not soaking) rag. I always store my glue upside down in a jar and put the wet cloth on a plastic lid or a plate.

Now comes the "fun" part!

If your coordinating fabric has creases, you'll want to iron them out so that everything is nice and smooth. 

Grab one of the side pieces of cardboard and place it on the wrong side of the fabric. Cut around the edge leaving about 1/4". No need to make it pretty.

Keeping the fabric and cardboard on a flat surface, place a small dab of glue in the corners. Using your finger, spread the glue into a thin layer.

Wipe your finger on the wet rag. You will be repeating the gluing process over and over. Fold the corner of the fabric over the corner of the cardboard.

Place a bead of glue along one side. Using your finger, spread the glue. Wipe your fingers. Starting at one corner, fold the fabric over the edge tightly -- this is important in order to get tight pointed corners. Do the same with the opposite corner. Remember to wipe your fingers after EACH time you touch the glue, otherwise you'll end up with glue on the fabric! Flatten the fabric in between by pushing down and toward the center of the cardboard in a sweeping motion. Repeat for remaining edges. Place a small line of glue along the perimeter of the fabric-covered cardboard on the wrong side... approximately 3/8" from the edge. Squiggle some glue around in the center. Press onto the side inside the box. If any glue squeezes out the top edge, wipe it clean with a clean section of the wet rag. Using the clothes pins, clip the fabric-covered cardboard to the wood box side. Place a piece of felt between the wood and clothes pin on the outside of the box to protect the finish.

Repeat the process for the opposite side of the box. In my case, I had to do every other side. Let dry for at least one day.

The remaining sides will need to be "customized". Take one of the side pieces of cardboard and place it at the edge of the box, between the fabric sides.

For my box, you'll see that the cardboard is a bit too wide on the right side. Mark the bottom edge where it needs to be trimmed to. Use a straight edge to draw a cutting line. Cut to size and place inside the box to check for fit. You'll want to trim it about an 1/8" smaller to compensate for the fabric that will be wrapped around the sides. Glue the fabric onto the cardboard using previous procedures. Trim each remaining side individually because chances are the box isn't "square". Glue sides in place and secure with clothes pins. Let dry overnight.

This step creates the bottom of your box. Using the cardboard marked "1", label one side "Top" and the other side "Bottom". Match it to your box and mark the edge that the hinges are on and the opposite edge where the clasp will be. Flip the cardboard over left to right and label the same edges.

You will need to trim all the sides little-by-little until it fits into the box base. Do not cut off too much at once otherwise you may end up with a gap you won't be happy with. There should only be about an 1/8" between the box sides and the edge of the cardboard piece you're working on. It's a tedious process, but worth it in the end. You'll end up with lots of these:

Next glue the fabric on the cardboard. Make sure the wrong side of the fabric faces the side marked "top".

Again, fold the fabric over the corner points first. Don't forget to wipe the glue off your fingers!

Place glue around the perimeter and in the center.

And press it into the bottom of the box, making sure that the edge marked "hinges" is matched up to the side of the box where the hinges are supposed to be. The fabric-covered cardboard should fit tightly.

Since the edges of my box are beveled, I made the cardboard for the top about 1/4" smaller than the box lid.

Just like the cardboard for the box bottom, mark the top side, bottom side, hinges, and clasp. Place glue on the side marked "top" and press a piece of batting onto it.

Trim the excess batting off with scissors. Center your stitched piece on top of the batting. Turn over and glue to the cardboard using the same techniques in Step 5.

Wash and iron your stitched piece, if you wish to do so.  After attaching the stitching to the cardboard, place glue on the backside.

Attach to the top of the box.

Place a book or weighted flat object on top and allow to dry. I used a Zip Disk and a rock, LOL.

Glue your trim around the outside edge of your stitching. You can put a bead of glue around the edge and press the trim/cording in place. I like to use my finger and brush the glue onto the trim and then press the trim in place. That way there isn't an excess amount of glue.

You can also glue trim on the inside of the box. I like to put it around the top edge. You can also put some inside the bottom of the box if you have big gaps.

Reattach the hinges and clasps.

Viola! A beautifully finished box.

You can see the students projects HERE.


Brigitte said...

Great tutorial, Meari. Thank you!

Annie said...

That's really a good, detailed tutorial. And you did a beautiful job on that box!

KimM said...

You are awesome, Meari!

Donna Pheneger said...

This is beautiful! You are soooo talented. Thanks you for sharing this with us.

Vickie said...

Gorgeous work, and a beautiful tutorial Meari.

Katie said...

Perfect. Thanks for sharing!

Cricket-bug Corner said...

Excellent!! Love the inside!!

Pam in IL said...

Meari, that was a great class that I really enjoyed. You made the process so much easier than I had imagined. Thanks for sharing the tutorial.

Cathy said...

That is an amazing tutorial! It makes me think that I can...almost....do it! Love how that ordinary little box becomes a work of art.

Mouse said...

perfect ... thank you ... watch this space I may actually do one :) love mouse xxxxx

cucki said...

Super perfect
Thank you for such a beautiful tutorial
I love it
Big hugs x

Carol said...

What a wonderfully detailed tutorial, Meari!! Thank you so much! I've done one box finish before, but I picked up some additional tips from your post :)

CJ said...

Great tutorial. I have but added stitching to a few boxes, but I cover my boxes with Washi paper and seal it with furniture wax. Love your box. It is all about finding good quality wood.
Hope you are doing well.


Betty said...

Awesome post, Meari! You're given me an idea to make these for my grand-daughters for Christmas this year!

Jenn West said...

Great tutorial, gets me inspired to go buy a box and get stitching!

FlashinScissors said...

A perfect tutorial, Meari! Love the box!
Barbara x

Anonymous said...


Your peg board is awesome! Great job! totally functional and attractive to boot.

Thanks for the box tutorial. I purchased several boxes of assorted shapes and sizes and am looking forward finishing them for Christmas gifties. Yours is lovely!


Anonymous said...

Your pegboard looks awesome, Meari, and I love your box lining tutorial. :)

Karin in CA

Akila said...

Lovely, detailed tutorial.. beautifully finished