Ben's Tryptich Boxes

This piece came about at the request of a client who asked me to make him a box with the instructions to 'go be creative.' He rarely uses the boxes I make, instead preferring them to be adornments in his home. Knowing that the piece didn’t really need to function gave me great creative freedom with the form. The wood is a mystery burl from a veneer mill that had gone out of business about a decade ago. My best guess is that it is some type of softwood burl, perhaps redwood.


I started this project in my typical fashion by sketching ideas as they came to me. I noticed that all of my designs were more like vessels than boxes. I eventually started creating full-sized models of my ideas using rigid foam insulation. This allows me to visualize my ideas in 3D and start to refine the shape. I eventually decided to make a triptych, three small boxes that relate to each other because of their similar forms and surface embellishments.


Because the boxes were so small this project was an exercise in developing strategies and techniques to help me machine and process such small parts safely. This was accomplished by creating jigs specific for each operation. A jig is a shop-built device that holds a part securely and allows me to have my fingers clear of any cutter or blade. Jigs keep me safe and they ensure that I get consistent, identical parts.


Although I love the forms of the boxes I was most excited by the embellishments. The interiors of the boxes were gilded with copper leaf. Gilding is a decorative technique that goes back to the ancient Egyptians. In short, the substrate is prepared, a special adhesive known as 'sizing' is applied, followed by the thin metal foil. The metal was traditionally 23K gold but copper, silver, palladium and other metals are often used today.


For the exterior I decided that I would use pyrography detailing on the sides of the boxes and that each box would have a somewhat similar design. I also wanted to bring a bit of copper gilding to the outside of the boxes. I used the grain to determine the upper and lower boundaries of the pyrography work. The end result is a lovely organic band of texture that flows around the boxes. Each box has hundreds of individual dots burned into the surface and deeper cavities that were gilded using the same technique I used to gild the insides of the boxes.


For the finish I chose Tried and True Original Wood Finish. It is a non-toxic blend of polymerized linseed oil and beeswax. It leaves a lovely satin sheen that I find particularly pleasing and touchable. I want my work to be a delight to the fingertips as well as the eyes!