The Dale Maley Family Web Site

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MLCS Boxes

MLCSwoodworking.com is a company that sells router bits and associated accessories. They have a neat looking set of box making router bits. Below is a copy of the ad in their printed magazine and web site.



Which Kit Did I buy?

I bought my kit back in January of 2015, more than 4 years ago.  I found the receipt in my Gmail archives........


MLCS no longer shows PN 1239 on their web site, so it is hard for me to verify which router bits I bought. I guess I will take the box making ad and go to my router bit selection, and try to pick out the right ones.


You can use a 3 bit combination to make their box.  To get these combinations straight in my brain, I labelled their diagram.......



In the illustration above, they also call out for a glue joint router bit #7853.  On the kit plans, they talk about making the lid from 2 different pieces, so it is less likely to warp. Maybe this bit is for the lid glue joint?  I checked their web site, and it is a glue making joint bit....as shown below.


Box Making Plans

MLCS has a PDF file for a plan for making their boxes.  It was not what I expected.  I expected they pick a starting box size, then go thru the steps of making the pieces for the box. There are no box starting dimensions on this plan. You can download this plan from the MLCS web site, or download it using this link.   Once you click on the link, then click on the 3 dots in the upper RH corner to download the PDF file.


The Bits I have in March of 2019

I was surprised how short in height the #8592 curved side bit it.  I pulled the description from the MLCS web site, and it says it takes 2 passes to cut the shape. So if you double the 1.25 carbide height, you get a box side of 2.5 inches. Guess I will have to experiment with this bit to figure it out.

Lid edge bits

One of the bits that MLCS recommends is #8564..............

I checked my inventory, and I have some table edge forming bits, maybe 2 or 3 of the in different styles, but nothing as fancy as this one.............so I ordered one today.


Next:


I think I will experiment and make a box from common pine using the fancy profiled side bit. Maybe 10x6 inches would be a good starting size to experiment with. This bit takes a guide bearing, so you have to start with a flat area on the blank, I will have to see if you leave the flat area or later saw it off?  Let the fun being!


Starting the Experiment

I started with bit #8782, the fancy profile for the sides of the box.  My first problem was that I needed to make a new fence for the router table, to handle this relatively tall bit.


Next I slowed the router speed down to the minimum. I chose a piece of scrap pine.  Usually, when in doubt, I take multiple passes, versus just 1 big pass..........so I did that.


I had lots of trouble with the bit grabbing, not running smoothly, and tearing chunks out.   After about 3 passes I noticed another problem.  This bit removes a lot of stock on the bottom of the board, leaving no lateral support against the fence.  It is easy to tip the piece when pushing it against the fence.   I checked the MLCS plans, and they were no help with respect to the best process to use.


So, I increased the router speed to about 3/4 of full speed and tried just 1 pass. I set the fence using a straightedge, so I knew it was parallel to the edge of the bearing. It worked much better using this process.  My test board was tall, so I could grab the top of the board to help hold and push it.


Sketchup

Once I got the first piece made, I held it vertical on my scanner, so I could get the exact profile created. Once I had it scanned, I could enter it into Sketchup, and do different box designs.....to see how they look.

The MLCS plans do show using a featherboard to hold the stock against the router fence.........so I decided to try mine.  It did seem to help keep the stock against the fence, if it kicks out, then you get a discontinuity in the molding shape.


Sawing the side molding to finish height

Sawing 45 degree miter corners to make 8x12" inside dim box

Observations

It was challenging to get a good profile on the box side the whole length of the board.......and this is only common pine!  It will be interesting to see how the router bit works with harder red oak or walnut!!


I also noticed the top of the side is thin, and there is no way to mount a hinge on the back side of the box.  One might find a special hinge where 1 side goes at the top of the inside of the box, then attaches to the bottom of the lid??   One could forget the hinge, and make a lip for the box lid to just set on top of the box.  I pulled the MLCS ad, and there is no hinge on that box.


I think the MLCS plans also call for a 1/4 x 1/4 inch groove in the bottom of the box, for the bottom of the box to sit in.   Usually, on boxes, one routes a 1/4 x 1/4" groove, about 1/4" up from the bottom of the side, then the 1/4" or 3/16" Luan bottom is captured in the groove.  To do this, one would give up 1/4" of box depth, and the box is not very tall to start with, so maybe this is the way to go.   I will wait and see what the feet molding looks like mounted up, before I decide which way to go.


Experimenting with MLCS #8588 foot router bit

On the first board, I routed it........then visually inspected it......and compared it to the MLCS ad.    OOOPS, I did not change the router depth after I removed the side making bit....so I did not have it set right.  I then set the router height correctly.


I also could not tell which was going to be the top and the bottom of the foot, so I labelled it on my photo for future reference....


I also routed it in 1 pass, versus multi-passes.



Sketchup

The next image shows how it came off the router table........

The next image is the orientation for assembly to the upper box......


The next image shows how much I have to take off to make a groove for the top box to set on this foot molding.


More Sketchup Design

For the foot molding, I went with 3" from corner to start of scroll sawing for the long piece........and 2.5" from corner for 2 shorter side pieces. To mark a straight line on the curved molding, I used my old compass, and guided from the bottom of the molding........up to the bottom of the curve.


Box and Feet cut out

Glue up of main box

I did not use the Merlin steel band clamp.  I don't think it would rest very well on the contoured molding shape.  I went to my tried and true method of wrapping 2 rounds of heavy string, then twisting it with a nail.  I did  it in 2 places because just doing it on top groove did not pull in the bottom of the molding.


Before I did this, I used a straight router bit to cut the groove in the bottom of the 4 sides...........to glue in and nail the 3/16" Luan plywood bottom.

On the bottom feet, I cut the lengths just a hair long.  It looks like I need to shorten them a little to get a tighter fit when the top box drops down into the foot molding box.



Box bottom

I made it from 3/16" thick Luan plywood, and glued it in.   I tried the air nailer, but boy it was hit and miss.......with respect to the nails shooting out mostly on the inside, and some on the outside. I probably want to hand nail the bottom in with brads when I make future hardwood boxes.


How to attach the foot molding

I ended up turning the main box upside down, and hand nailing some finish nails from the bottom of the foot molding, up into the box (except doing this upside down).  Then I successfully used the air nailer to attach the 45 degree corners together.  I had no nails shoot out in the wrong place.  I attached 1 piece, then worked my way around fuzz cutting the lengths of the other pieces as I went.  When done, I put the string back on and clamped up the last 2 corners, before I air nailed them.


Hinges

The top lip of the side pieces is very thin.........and the outside is contoured vs flat.  The MLCS plan said they used piano hinges.   I went to my Ace hardware store, and I am going to try some small, thin brass hinges.



Lid

The MLCS plans suggest gluing up 3 or 4 pieces for the lid, to prevent the lid from curving or warping over time. I also have to decide how much overlap to have on the lid.  On the pretty little mahogany box I build a couple years ago, I used a 5/8" overlap, and it looks ok.  


I just bought MLCS router bit Table Edge Bit Ogee Fillet w/ Radius #8564, to try to make a fancier edge on the lid of the box.



Hinge Installation

I remember struggling on how to mark the hinge screws on other small box projects. For this project, I studied it, and the 2 holes are in the same location for each hinge, for both the box and lid.  I drove brads into the 2 screw holes, on the box............for both hinges.  I cut off the brads with side cutting pliers, and left 1/4" to stick into the lid.  I set the lid upside down, then by eye and tape measure check..........I centered the box on the lid.  Once centered, I pushed down hard on the box.........making the screw marks in the lid.  I pulled out the brads, and I had the screw holes located.  This method worked slick!!   The lid stops opening when it is at 90 degrees, and it stays up by itself.  Hurrah, I solved the how to hinge problem!


Routing the Edge of the Lid with the new fancy router bit

Because this bit is larger than the hole in my old Sears router table, I got out the fence I made previously for the big cutter on the 1922 race cars. I initially used a 6 inch straightedge to line up the fence with the edge of the bearing on the bit.  But after doing some trials, I moved the fence back about 1/4", so the wood always rides on the bearing. This gave cuts with no bumps.  I did take about 3 passes, by gradually raising the bit. This new bit worked well.   I ran it about 1/2 speed on the router.


Completed box except stain and varnish

Stain Selection

I hate staining pine, because the results are blotchy and not attractive.  On past table projects, I brushed on a Fruitwood stain, did not wipe it off with a rag..........then applied a couple coats of polyurethane.  I still had the can on my storage rag and contents were still good from 2003!!



I took a piece of scrap molding and stained it to verify it would be ok.........and it was.   I used the oven at 120F to dry it quicker.


Staining the box

I brushed on the stain with a 1" wide brush, and did not wipe any off with a rag..............I am using the stain like it is paint.  It took 2 coats or 3, to get rid of the white streaks and end up a brown type painted finish. I used the oven at 120F to dry the stain quicker..........it did a good job of stinking up the house for my wife :)


After the 2 coats of stain dried, I applied 1 coat of clear gloss polyurethane................then sanded to 22 grit, and applied a 2nd coat.  I thought 2 versus 3 coats was adequate for this project.


Red Felt

I have a lot of red felt left over from making my daughter a wedding wine box.  When I made her box, I used a spray glue.   I decided to try just using Titebond II glue, and I brushed it out using a 1" wide brush.  It seemed to apply fine, I had no glue oozing up through the felt.  I used the oven at 120F to help dry it. I put a new sharp blade in the Exacto knife, and used my metal square as a cutting guide, to cut out the felt. It fit with no scissor trimming required.


Finished Pine Box

Closing Thoughts on this Project

I am glad I made an experimental box from common pine. There is 3 router bits that I was not familiar with (box sides, box feet, and fancy lid edge).


When I got the box finished, I noticed a little rocking when set on a flat surface. On future boxes, I need to check this, and adjust the feet if necessary so no rocking.


Cutting the felt with the Exacto knive and metal square worked great.........as did brushing on the Titebond glue to glue the felt to the bottom. I also learned how to attach the foot molding to the main box.


So, on to a red oak box next !

Although I did not learn this until I tried to route the box sides in red oak in the next section, the biggest thing I learned in the whole project was to raise the big bit about a 1/4" above the router table, which allows you to make the big cut in several passes !!!  See more explanation in the next section.


Red Oak Box

I tried 1 pass on a red oak board, 3/4" thick, 5.5 inches wide, and 6 foot long from Menards.  This did not go well at all!!   Router did not sound right, and inspection showed I was trying to remove too much material in 1 pass.


 

I could not do this cut in multiple passes by moving the fence like other router bits...........because there was no guide left on the bottom of the board for the fence. The only thing I could think of was to take a 3/8" straight bit, and remove a bunch of the stock........before I ran it through 1 pass with the big bit.  This worked ok, but was very time consuming resetting the fence and router depth.


I called MLCS technical support, and talking with the helpful guy, I had a "brain fart" !!!    If I raise the router bit up enough to leave a 1/4" wide solid piece on the bottom of the board, then I can move the fence and do it in multiple passes !!!!!!!!!!        EUREKA !!

The same thing is true about the other foot bit, you need to leave about a 1/4" below the bottom of the bit, then you can do it in 2 passes, which worked fine.


OOPS

Once you get the 2 moldings routed, it doesn't take that long to make a box.  But, I kind of got in a hurry..............and forgot to scrolls saw the bottoms of 3 foot pieces when I assembled the box !!  I was able to saw them out using a hand held saber saw ok.


Driving a 1-1/4" long finishing nail from the narrow part of the foot into the box did not work with red oak.  I even drilled a pilot hole with a cut off piece of finishing nail.  The cross section is so thin at the top, the wood wants to split.  I string clamped and glued the back foot piece on, drying it quickly in the oven.  Then I cut the 3 other pieces, and use string clamping around all 4 foot pieces, plus another string to clamp the foot pieces to the box.  This seemed to work ok.


I found it helped to draw a 45 degree line on the bottom at the 4 corners, this tells you about what length to miter the 4 pieces for a good fit.



Oak Lid

The MLCS instructions say to make the top from several pieces, to reduce chances of warping over time.  I used the 1" wide or so pieces left from the 5.5" wide board used to make the moldings, to glue up for the lid............plus some other scrap oak pieces. There are about 7 pieces in my lid.


Box Ready for Staining

Stain

Behlen Grain Filler

I wanted a mirror finish on this box, so I used Behlen Grain filler. The process I use is:


1. Stain and let dry

2. Stir up Behlen in its can, it always settles out.  I used a cordless drill and a piece of bent wire to mix it.  Hand rub into oak.

3. After about 10 minutes, wipe off excess with plastic scraper that comes from Behlen, then rub with burlap to remove the rest.  Let dry.

4. Sand to 220 grit

5. Stain it again

6. Coat #1 polyurethane

7. Sand 220 grit

8. Coat #2 poly. Can do another sanding and 3rd coat if you want


Using 120F oven to speed up drying

I put the piece in the oven at 120F, and let it bake for 10 or minutes, let it cool off 5 minutes, and repeat until dry.  Sometimes poly will bubble if you leave it in oven longer than 15 minutes, so I do it in cycles.

Finished Box

Closing Thoughts on the Oak box

It turned out pretty nice. The main thing was that I figured out how to make multiple passes on the router table with the big bit for the box sides.


I like the mirror finish on the lid from the Behlen's grain filler.  I filled the outside of the box also.........and was able to remove the excess filler with rubbing, and a dental pick ok.


When you glue the feet onto the box, remember to take a damp rag and wash off the excess glue on the outside of the box.  I did 1 side, but forgot to do the other.........so I had to scrap some glue off.


There are no nails in this whole box. I tried using finishing nails to attach the feet to the box, but it split the thin molding.  Titebond II glue is only thing holding box and feet together. I did hand nail 1/2" long brads between the Luan bottom and the box. My air nailer jammed again, plus I did not want any air nails sticking out at the wrong places!