Golden, brown and delicious

One of the woods that I’ve been wanting to work with is butternut. So, when one of my local suppliers mentioned that he had a board, fresh out of the kiln, I grabbed it up, even though it was a little rustic (better grades are still in the kiln, processing). Even with its defects, I could see that it had a lot of the character that I prefer in wood.

Another first impression I had was how light it was, even for an 8/4, 6 foot long plank. Butternut is a relative of walnut, often called “white walnut”, and is used for carving, as well as furniture. It is not as strong as walnut, but very easy to work with, which means, of course, being extra careful not to ding and dent it. I would describe it as having the grain of walnut, the lightness and strength of poplar, and the color of elm. I also noted how resonant it it. I can easily see it making into the body of a guitar in the future.

Since I needed a luthier’s toolbox to keep all of the various small tools and parts, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try it out, and also to try some carving. I used traditional box joints; on 3/8″ thick sides, I felt dovetails would be excessive; plus, with the rustic character of the wood, I didn’t want anything too fancy, just good, strong, honest joinery. After the sides were dry fitted, I worked on the carving of the Acorn House logo into the top board. Butternut certainly lives up to its reputation as a carve-friendly wood, mallets are unnecessary.  As a novice carver, the grain direction caught me out a few times, but, in the end, I think it came out appropriate to the style. I left the background toolmarked rather than smooth.

Glue up, with a similar resawed butternut board for the bottom, went smoothly using liquid hide glue. With all of the notches of the box joinery, using a faster setting glue would have been a nightmare. Prior to glue up, I had sawn a dado where I would be separating the lid, so, after it had dried, and I had given it an initial planing and sanding, I could cut the top off with the table saw and have a lip to catch the top.

Next was a small tray to hold all of the small parts and materials. 1/4″ sides and 1/8″ dividers makes for an incredibly light tray. I used only quartersawn butternut to give it the maximum strength, and more box joints. The tray slides on two side runners.

Finally the hardware. I decided against any metal hinges or latches, and used some more quatersawn (for optimum strength) butternut and made them myself, using a 3/16″ brass rod for the hinge pin, and a turned ebony latch pin. One thing I discovered while drilling out the holes for the pins is how fragile butternut can be. Even quartersawn, the thinness of the hinge ends wanted to tear out from the drill. I used some CA glue to strengthen the weakened ares and screwed the hinges on without glue, so, if they ever fail, I can replace them without too much problem. A denser wood wood be a better choice, next time.

I finished the box with a first coat of Danish Oil, followed by some wipe-on poly (and shellac for the tray). The butternut really blossoms under the finish, with a depth and a glow that rivals any other fine wood.

Its true what they say. Everything really does taste better with butter!

One Response to “Golden, brown and delicious”

  1. Very beautiful. One thing I love about butternut is how contrastingly dark the end grain can get when finished – makes for a really dramatic presentation!

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