Lola's Poplar Box

Lola's Poplar Box

My 6-year-old had to do a Valentine's Day box with a theme of the state of Tennessee for a school project. After learning that the state tree is the tulip poplar, she asked me if she could build a box out of tulip poplar wood. Of course! My father-in-law has some really nice poplar lumber in his shop, so we had great material to work with. For this build, I really wanted to get her into the process of making something instead of just gluing or screwing pieces of wood together and calling it done.

The process went roughly like this

  1. Joint a face and an edge - me
  2. Plane the wood - She fed the material into the planer and advanced the thickness with each pass. I showed her a couple of passes and let her do most of the rest (I just made sure it was fed in flat).
  3. Rip the material to width - Me since I didn't want her having to lean over a table saw while standing on a stool!
  4. Cross cut the material - Her with my help. She held onto the handle and squeezed the trigger while I guided the cut on the miter saw.
  5. Miter cuts - Me since I most assuredly did not want her leaning over a table saw angled at 45 degrees while pushing material with a little miter gauge!
  6. Glue - Both of us, mostly because the glue I have sets quickly, so we both worked as quickly as possible to get glue in the seams and tape + clamp it all up.
  7. Make the box lid - Me. We needed a lid 7" wide but only had 5" material. One of our off-cuts had some bark on it that pulled off very nicely for a clean live edge. I edge jointed that piece to another 5" wide piece for a live edge lid. I'm quite pleased with how seamless the edge joint turned out. Unless you know to look for it, you wouldn't even notice it!
  8. Sanding - Both of us. She sanded most of it, but controlling a sander with a dust collection hose can be an exhausting task even for an adult. She sanded as much as she could (which was about 80% of it), and I finished the rest. I let her brush on water after 180 grit so she could see what happens when you raise the grain. She thought it was pretty cool that water raises the grain and then sends down fast for an even smoother finish.
  9. Shellac - Her. I diluted a 2lb cut of shellac to 1lb for a thin base coat before decorations (stickers). We left it there since she needed to add stickers, but we want to remove the stickers after she gets to bring the box home and finish it with water poly so it can be used for other things and not have a bunch of stickers all over it!

In all, it was a lot of hard work for her, and she handled the tasks pretty well for a 6-year-old kid. The fact that we cranked it out in 2 days was pretty impressive to me, but it may have strained her a little. Hopefully this will inspire future projects if she didn't get burnt out on it.

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