Sapele pen box (early stage work in progress)

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Afternoon all! Thought I’d post about my current project, which will be a sapele pen box to hold a fountain pen gift. I’m still inexperienced at woodworking, and am getting back to it after a bit of a work-induced hiatus, so I’ve had a bunch of small obstacles to overcome.

Problem 1: doubt

Uncertainty and fear of mistakes was stopping me from starting, so I decided a bit more planning was in order. I followed these Fusion 360 for woodworkers tutorials and learned enough in a few hours to produce a basic design and drawing that I felt happy enough with to get started (top half of box not shown, hinges not yet modelled).

The thing I really wanted to get to grips with was the parametric modelling, so that I could easily experiment with different dimensions and proportions. I feel really happy that a little bit of learning here is going to go a long way in gaining confidence to actually build stuff.

Problem 2: a poor workman, etc.

I then faced up to the fact that I had a 20mm Sapele board, and needed it to be 12mm, but had foolishly decided to do this all with hand tools. I don’t have a scrub plane, but I do own a Stanley no 4 so I thought I’d see if that could do the job.

After sharpening I could only get a couple of shavings before the plane would jam up and start skating over the surface. Shavings were getting wedged in the chipbreaker and clogging the plane mouth, raising the blade above the surface.

On closer inspection it turned out my plane’s chipbreaker was kind of battered, leaving plentiful nooks and crannies for shavings to jam in, and so it was that I learned “sharpening” your chipbreaker is a thing you need to do (hopefully just the once).

This got things working well enough that I could mark my 12mm line and gently bevel all the edges down to it, then clear out the big central bump to get a near-thicknessed board with a horrifying surface finish.

Problem 3: resistant materials

So nobody told me (because I didn’t ask) that sapele is an absolute bear to plane due to wavy grain. I was getting tear-out everywhere, no matter which direction I planed in.

But as luck would have it, I recently inherited a Stanley 80 scraper from a friend’s dad, and after the internet told me which way round the blade went this produced a lovely smooth surface, letting me very very slowly work out the remaining bumps.

In summary

I’ll spare you the “sawing two bits off” step, so now after a very great deal of huffing and puffing, I’ve got two thicknessed blanks for the top and bottom of the box, and all I need to do is, y’know… make a box out of them.

Problem 4 is “how do I get that lovely rounded scoop out of the middle?”, particularly if I’m sticking to the all-hand-tools approach. I might just go for something square, tbh, since I can chisel and router-plane that out with the tools I have. But I’m open to suggestions!

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You have the Fusion 360 model. CNC seems the way to go. Could use mini CNC for this. Have you done the induction? Or is it something you would prefer to use hand tools for?


Assuming you want to stick with hand tools, I reckon a spoon carving gouge would be the perfect tool for the job - no idea if we have one though!


Thanks both! Yeah, I was inclined to try and make something work hand tool-wise if possible, though I’ve done the CNC induction so that is an option (and I agree, definitely the most likely to result in something close to the drawing). The gouge also appeals because there feels like less risk of total catastrophe on these hard-won blanks. :smile:

I’ll wander to the space to look for a gouge and have a practice on the CNC and weigh my options…

I’m also a hand tool nut - if I was doing this and didn’t mind the finish on the bottom of the trough for the pen I would drill two blank holes for the ends and then connect them using a chisel and router plane. I would probably allow myself to use the pillar drill and a suitable forstner bit, and maybe also hog out some of the slot on the pillar drill to save myself chiselling time. If I was really bothered about the finish on the bottom surface I would line it with a piece of baize or felt in an attractive colour.

Looks good! This kind of project is great for those little figured offcuts.

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Thanks; I think the pillar drill is a good shout, I’m sure my project principles can stretch to that :). Surface finish not important either, this’ll be getting lined to protect the pen for sure.

I’ve been having a go this morning at carving a square channel with chisel and router plane on a spare piece; it’s going okay but it’ll take a while so the forstner shortcut sounds like just the ticket.

How about drilling a long hole down the middle of a square section of wood and then adding end caps before cutting it in half lengthwise?

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Okay yep, I decided that complex curves, a gift deadline and zero carving experience were a bad combination, so I took the forstner + chisel + router plane approach:

I didn’t dare go too deep with the forstner due to the centerpoint, but was able to plane down to basically the bottom of that point without the base feeling too weak.

Problem 5: lining

I had a few goes at this; initially I didn’t think it’d be easy to directly glue velvet/felt or whatever directly to the wood without screwing it up, so I tried making a sort of liner insert out of velvet glued to card, but this ended up way too thick and there wasn’t room for the pen afterwards. The edges of the velvet never stopped fraying, too, so it wasn’t the right thing.

In the end I got my hands on some baize scraps from here (lovely material!) and made a wooden form that let me press down the fabric and hold it against the interior while the glue set up, and also made for a handy cutting surface to trim the edges against:

Problem 6: hinges

I struggled to find any tiny hinges that weren’t also a bit rubbish, so I thought I’d have a go at a leather hinge. This very nearly ended in catastrophe when an ill-placed chisel blow put a big split part-through one of the sides, but it glued back together and doesn’t show at all in the end:

The leather hinges themselves worked out really nicely in the end I think, using a very tiny jig to hold some very tiny brass pins upright while I hammered them:

Problem 7: magnets, how do they work?

I very nearly screwed things up completely at the very last step, gluing in the magnets that I’d decided to use in place of a clasp.

This was due to forgetting that magnets have, y’know, a polarity, and not checking I’d matched the pairs before dropping them into very small holes full of epoxy. :man_facepalming: I was staring at it for like 5 minutes going “why doesn’t this close?” before realising. Luckily I managed to dig two of the magnets out without too much damage before the epoxy set. :sweat_smile:

So it’s finished, and while there’s imperfections I’m really happy with how it turned out:

Thanks for all the suggestions and help, both in here and in the space!


Lovely job, great work!

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Hi Simon,

We are starting to look at our content inclusion for the Dulwich festival Maker fair we have a “Don’t be Shy! submit your Make” event happening on Friday. Would this be of any interest to you maybe and/or do you know anyone else I can reach out too?