We needed a new mailbox, but I couldn’t find an
off-the-shelf version that I liked. So I decided to
build my own. As I’ve always admired the work of Greene
and Greene, the architect brothers who fused Asian design
with Arts and Crafts style during the early 20th century, I
thought it would be cool to include some of their signature
elements in my mailbox: Pronounced joints with heavily
rounded edges create the structure, stepped profiles
accentuate the lid, and faceted pegs add visual interest
and overall balance. The pegs also hide the screws used to
assemble the box.
I built my box of mahogany—a favorite of the brothers
Greene and a wood perfectly suited for exterior use. White
oak, cyprus or cedar would also be good choices. You’ll
need 7 bd. ft. of 4/4 stock; plan to spend about $50. Finish
your box with exterior oil as I did, or leave it unfinished.
Unfinished mahogany turns silver-grey when it’s exposed to
Extended box joints
The joints may look exotic, but they’re really just box
joints with extended, rounded-over fingers (Fig. A, below). The inside corners of the sockets are also rounded, so
they nest perfectly with the rounded fingers. These joints
are easy to make with a router and a router table. You’ll
need two templates, a 1/4-in. roundover bit and a 1/2-in.
flush-trim bit with the bearing mounted above the cutting
flutes (also called a pattern bit, see Sources, below).
1. Make both templates from 1/2-in. MDF (Fig. B). One
template is used for the back and front pieces (Parts A and
B, Fig. A). The other template is used for the sides (C). The
fingers and sockets on these templates must fit together
snugly. I cut my templates on the bandsaw, using the miter
gauge and the fence to assure straight cuts.
2. Cut the front and back pieces to final dimensions.
Then use the front/back template to lay out the fingers and
3. Cut out the waste between the fingers, using the bandsaw
(Photo 1). Don’t cut too far into the corners—remember,
they’ll be rounded to fit the fingers.
4. Fasten the template with screws or double-faced tape.
If you use screws, mount the templates on the inside face of
each piece, so the holes won’t show on your completed
mailbox. Rout the sockets with a 1/2-in.-dia. flush-trim bit
(Photo 2). This leaves a 1/4-in. radius on the inside corners.
Later, the fingers will be rounded over at the same
radius, so they’ll fit perfectly.
5. Cut the sides to final dimension. Use your 12-in. miter
saw with the blade swiveled 6 degrees to cut the angled
fronts. Attach a stop block to make sure both side pieces are
identically cut. If you don’t have a large miter saw, you could
use a bandsaw to make these cuts and gang the pieces
together to sand the edges smooth.
6. Mark, rough-saw and rout fingers and sockets on the
side pieces. Carefully position the template to mark the front fingers (Photo 3). Before you rout these narrow
pieces, add a board of equal thickness behind, to fully support
7. Cut stopped square holes in all the fingers (Photo 4).
Make sure to cut the holes on opposite faces of the two
sides; otherwise you’ll have a pair of left (or right) sides.
8. Drill shank holes for the screws through the stopped
9. Round the fingers and sockets with a 1/4-in.-rad.
roundover bit (Photo 5). When you round the ends of the
fingers, rout clockwise and make several shallow passes, to
minimize tear out.
10. Dry-fit the front, back and sides to check the fit of the
fingers and sockets.
Complete the box
11. Cut the sides at a 45-degree angle to accommodate
the lid (Photo 6). Use a stop block to guarantee identical
12. Rout end-to-end grooves in the sides and stopped
grooves in the front and back pieces for the bottom. Cut the
bottom (D) to final dimension, rout a rabbet all around and
drill drainage holes. Dry-fit the box with the bottom
installed, to make sure it fits.
13. Disassemble the box for sanding. Sand the flat surfaces
up to 220-grit with a random orbit sander. Soften the
rounded-over edges and ends of the fingers and sockets by
hand sanding, so they look organic, rather than machined.
14. Assemble the box (Photo 7). Drill pilot holes to make
sure the screws don’t break or split the wood. Remember to
install the bottom before you fasten the last piece.
Make and install the pegs
15. Rip a 2-ft. length of 1/4-in. by 1/4-in. stock.
16. Shape the end to form a pyramid with slightly rounded
sides and a dulled point, by rubbing it on 220-grit sandpaper
adhered to your bench. Use a handsaw to cut each
peg to length. The pegs must be slightly shorter than the
mortises, so they don’t bottom out.
17. Add a bit of waterproof glue when you insert each
peg. Then tap it lightly in place (Photo 8). Immediately
remove any squeezed-out glue.
Make the top and lid
18. For a good grain match, make the top (E) and lid (F)
from the same piece of wood. Rip the top at a 22-1/2-
degree angle. Turn the remaining piece over and adjust the
fence on the tablesaw to cut the lid.
19. Using the tablesaw, cut a centered 1/4-in. by 1-5/16-
in. groove in the front edge of the lid. To make a centered
cut, set the blade 3/16-in. from the fence and make two
passes—rotate the lid 180 degrees to make the second pass.
20. Shape the ends of the top and lid on the router table,
using the 1/4-in.-rad. roundover bit. Be careful not to let
the bearing disengage when you reach the bevels.
21. Rout mortises for the hinges (see Sources, below).
The hinges must be positioned slightly lower than normal—with the barrels partially hidden—so the hinge screws won’t
break through the angled lid. The mortises are deeper than
the hinge leaf thickness, to minimize the gap between the
top and lid. You can hand-chop the mortises, or remove
most of the material with a straight bit chucked in a laminate
trimmer, and then clean up the corners with a chisel.
22. Install the hinges, so you can check the gap and their
operation. Brass screws break easily, so drill pilot holes
before installing them. Remove the hinges for the next step.
23. Mark the handle profile onto the lid (Fig. D). This
stepped profile, with its elongated S-shaped curves, is commonly
called a “cloud lift.” Cut the profile on the bandsaw
and smooth the faces by sanding.
24. Plane the spline blank (G) to fit the groove you’ve cut
in the lid.
25. Install the spline and transfer the cloud lift profile,
using a washer with a 1/8-in. rim to create the 3/16-in. lip
26. Remove the spline, cut the profile on the bandsaw
and sand the sawn edge smooth. Install the spline to make
sure the profiles are complementary. Then remove the
spline again, for final shaping.
27. Round over both edges of the lid’s cloud lift profile
on the router table, with the 1/4-in.-rad. roundover bit lowered
1/16-in. During this process, the bit’s bearing will ride
the edge on the opposite side of the groove.
28. Create a half-round edge on the spline’s cloud lift
profile by sanding or filing, or both.
29. Glue in the spline, using clamps to make sure it seats
completely in the groove.
30. Mark and mortise stopped square holes on the lid
and top and drill shank holes for screws (in the top, only).
31. Attach the hinges. Center the top/lid assembly on the
box and fasten it with screws. Sand the edges of the top and
lid while they’re attached, to smooth the transition between
the two parts. Then remove the lid for final sanding.
32. Install the remaining pegs: two in the top and three
in the lid.
33. Apply an exterior grade finish to accentuate the
wood’s color. Exterior oil finishes are easy to apply, but they
must be renewed annually. Spar varnish lasts longer, but it
takes longer to apply and must be removed and replaced if
it’s allowed to deteriorate.
34. Re-attach the lid when the finish is dry.
35. The top and fingers extend beyond the back of the
box, so install spacers (J) to facilitate mounting it. Drill
mounting holes through the back and the top spacer. Then
mount the mailbox with fasteners appropriate for the exterior
walls of your house.
(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)
Rockler, rockler.com, 800-279-4441, Roundover Bit with Bearing,
1/4”radius, 1/2” shank, #91309; Pattern Flush Trim Router Bit, 1/2”
diameter, 1” flute length, 1/4” Shank, #80021.
Woodcraft, woodcraft.com, 800-225-1153, Drawn Brass Broad
Cabinet Hinges, 2” x 1-1/8”, #16Q32.
Hardware Stores/Home Centers, Brass wood screws.
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker May 2008, issue #135.
May 2008, issue #135
Purchase this back issue.