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The Art of Shaker Box Making

A rewarding woodworking project steeped in tradition.

June 9 – June 15
Brooklin, Maine
Bill Jordan
Experience Level
All Levels
Activity Level

This is a five-day course ending Friday

Before modern kitchen and household storage systems, there were bentwood boxes. Colonials readily adapted local wood to the design and construction of bentwood boxes, and New England whalers fashioned round boxes out of materials at hand. The Shaker communities of the early 1800s elevated box making to a whole new level fashioning oval, painted utilitarian storage containers. Today, the bentwood box is a beautifully fashioned and finished keepsake box ranging in size from small ring boxes to ones that can be used as coffee tables.

After a review of the shop equipment to be used during the week, students will get right to work on Monday morning bending bands for the weeks’ project boxes.  This years’ students will make a set of 5 Nesting Shaker Boxes, a popular Carrier and two of the Whale Ship Ditty Boxes in wood.  This year’s Ditty Box design is inspired by an original 1800’s box in The Nantucket Historical Society collection.  The box includes walnut trim and whale inlay top.    In addition to the boxes made during the week, students will be well equipped with the knowledge to continue box making in their own shops.

Box making can be a gateway to boatbuilding. Bending wood is typically a part of wooden boat construction. Bentwood boxes are held together with small tacks and clench-nailed, much like small lapstrake boats. Handles can be attached to boxes with the same rivets and techniques used in small-boat construction. Small hardwood pegs secure the bottoms and tops of bentwood boxes, just as trunnels do in certain wooden boat construction, and boxes can be finished in spar varnishes and paints to give them a nautical feel and look.

  • Who is this course best suited for?

    This course is appropriate for someone with little or no experience.  The course is designed around the idea that you have not done this before or know very little about the subject.  Students should pay more attention to suggested readings or videos to help familiarize themselves ahead of time.

    Box making is not a strenuous activity, but we are busy throughout each day with a mix of instruction and individual box making.  This course involves a low level of activity throughout the week including: occasional standing and working, seating is usually available, working on your own project at your own pace is common.

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