Shaker Boxes

i4 Box Within a Box Within a Box...

Single or as a nest, these shaker oval boxes make an elegant and useful gift

M he country | folk in both II Europe and M America used oval-shaped bentwood boxes for many purposes. Usually, they stored small household items in them. Sometimes a countrv handvman mt would add a handle to make a carrier. Old labels and business records show that these boxes were occasionally employed as shipping containers. Some were lined with fabric to make sewing boxes. Still others were filled with wood shav-

Single or as a nest, these shaker oval boxes make an elegant and useful gift ings to serve as spi toons.

Whatever their use. many folks preferred oval boxes for their economy, durability, and design. The side of a bentwood box is very thin, and it has no corner joints. Because of this, it requires fewer materials and less time to make than a box with straight sides and square corners. Its oval shape makes the box deceptively strong; the elliptical curve keeps the thin sides from collapsing, even during rough use. The long side of the ellipse provides a good location for joinery. Distinctive swallowtail joints allow the parts of the box to expand and contract without distorting or causing the lid to bind. Finally, the oval shape fits the hand comfortably. You can grasp the lid and pull it off the box easily.

While many country craftsmen built oval boxes, perhaps the best remembered are the Shakers. They refined the form, making oval boxes lighter, better-fitting, and more uniform than most box makers did. Several Shaker communities manufactured these boxes in graduated sizes. The boxes fit or "nested" inside one another, saving storage space when not in use. A set of Shaker oval boxes—one of each size—was known as a nest of boxes. Early 19th-century nests had as many as 12 or as few as five oval boxes. By 1850, most Shaker communities were making nests with seven standard sizes. They numbered these from #0 (the smallest) to #6 (the largest.)

Many contemporary woodworkers continue to make boxes in the Shaker tradition. The information and methods used to produce the nest of boxes shown here are supplied by Larry Owrev of Franklin, Ohio. Owrev demonstrates box making at the site of the old South Union Shaker Community near Bowling Green, Kentucky. He also conducts box-making seminars throughout the Midwest. Owrey's nests consist of six boxes: He has little call for the #0 box, the smallest size, but he has provided us with plans for all seven standard sizes.

Choosing the Wood

Traditionally, Shakers made the side and lid bands of oval boxes from straight-grained hard maple or birch for strength, and the lids and bottoms from white pine for its dimensional stability and workability. Both these woods are nearly white in color. This was very important, since the Shakers usually painted the boxes. Paint covers light-colored woods easily, and the colors remain vivid.

Cedar makes good bottoms and lids, especially if you want to store cloth goods or foodstuffs in the

FIG. 1: SHAKER BOXES

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FIG. 1: SHAKER BOXES

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