Arts & Crafts Style Mailbox
Illustrations by Mike Del Rizzo
White oak is traditionally associated with the Arts & Crafts style and also happens to be one of the best woods for resisting decay when exposed to the weather, so it is perfectly suited to this project. Another design hallmark of the Arts & Crafts style is the use of hammered copper accents, featured on this project to form the newspaper arms. Using quarter-sawn stock provides the best dimensional stability, a consideration when building projects that will be exposed to outdoor conditions. If you can't find white oak don't fret – this project will look just as good in red oak, ash, cherry or even walnut. You'll need about 3 board feet of lumber to make this mailbox.
To keep the weight down and to prevent the final result from looking too chunky, I thickness planed each of the parts to just under 3/4" thick. Don't have access to a planer? You can bandsaw the stock thinner and smooth it with a hand plane, or you can simply use 3/4" thick wood. Prepare enough stock for all of the parts, noting the various thicknesses in the Material List. The front panel involves the most work, so it makes sense to start there. It also features the most prominent aspect of this mailbox - the double row of 1/2" square holes just below the lid that allows the user to see if they have any mail.
• Glue up sufficient stock for the front (A). Keep the front a few inches longer than the finished dimension. (Note: if you are able to purchase 1 x 8 stock you won't have to glue up the front and back panels).
• Sand the front on both sides, stopping at 150 grit.
• Clamp the front to your bench top, and using a pencil, mark out twelve ½" squares on the best face.
• Use a small flat file or a sharp chisel to chamfer the outside edges of each square.
• Using your table saw or jointer, trim the top of the front at an angle of 25º. Use the extra length of the panel to tweak your set-up until it is perfect, then make your final bevel cut at the appropriate place above the holes. If you use a table saw, attach a ⅛" piece of hardboard to the face of the front below the cut line. This raises the work piece up off the table slightly and allows the off cut to fall away from the blade, reducing the risk of it being thrown back at you. If you use a jointer, back up the piece to prevent the edge from breaking out. Don't trim the bottom end to length yet.
• Glue up sufficient stock for the back (B).
• Mark out a shallow arc across the top.
• Using a bandsaw or jig saw, cut to within 1/16" of the line.
• Sand the arc smooth with a disk sander, random orbital sander, or by hand with a sanding block.
• Sand the back, stopping at 150 grit.
• Cut the side (C) to final size.
• Using a mitre saw, table saw or jig saw, cut the top of each side at 25º, and then trim the pieces to length.
• Sand both sides, stopping at 150 grit.
• Cut the material for the lid (D) to size, and using the same method used to bevel the top of the front, cut a bevel along the top (outside) edge of lid.
• Cut the bottom (E) to final size.
• Sand the bottom on both sides, stopping at 150 grit.
• Using a hand plane or with a sanding block, trim the bottom slightly narrower in width towards the back (about 1/16" is sufficient).
Routing Dados and Rabbets
• A table-mounted router with a 5/16" bit is all you need to cut the dados and rabbets for this project. Set the bit to project ⅛" above the table top. All of the vertical cuts are done at this setting.
• Rout a ⅝" wide rabbet along the back edge of each side.
• Rout ½" wide dados along the front edge of each side, ¼" in from the edge.
• Rout dados on the inside bottom of the front and back pieces.
• Rout two grooves 1⅛" wide by 6" long on the outside of the back. These will hold the newspaper arms.
Finishing the Mailbox
It's best to apply the finish before you assemble the mailbox. Apply tape over the dados and rabbets, and apply an oil finish only on the visible surfaces; any oil that gets into the grooves will prevent the glue from bonding and your joints will fail.
• Dry assemble the mailbox to ensure that all the pieces fit together nicely.
• Lay out, and cut the mortises for the hinges in the top.
• Final sand all of the pieces.
• Apply a coat of natural oil and let it dry.
• Mix a cherry stain with the natural oil and apply a second coat. This will bring out the ray fleck patterns in the white oak.
• Dry assemble the mail box, position the lid against the back, and mark out the location of the hinges.
• Pre-drill holes for the hinge mounting screws, being careful not to drill through the lid.
• Apply glue to the bottom of the dados and rabbets, assemble, and clamp the box.
• After the glue has cured, attach the hinges and attach the lid.
• Apply a couple of coats of tung oil.
Recessed newspaper arms attached to back
Hinges and screw mounting holes
The Newspaper Arms
• Cut the copper pipe to length.
• Flatten the pipe using a small steel sledgehammer. Work on a smooth surface that is hard and doesn't flex. An anvil is ideal, smooth concrete floors will work in a pinch.
• Use a ball peen hammer to finish flattening the pipe.
• Drill mounting holes in the upper third of the arms.
• Bend a curve onto one end of each arm. Use a pair of Vise-Grips to clamp the copper bar to the side of a 3" hole saw. There will be a fair amount of spring back, so over-bend it quite a bit.
• Screw the arms to the back of the assembled box.
Mount the Mail Box
• Mount the mailbox in a suitably sheltered location. Drill two countersunk holes through the back under the lid and use fasteners appropriate to your structure.
Laying Out the Squares
A quick way to draw parallel lines is with a plastic speed square. Simply hook the edge of the square over the edge of the wood and slide it back and forth. Draw a horizontal line across the board approximately 8" up from the bottom, and a vertical line centered on the board. These will become the center lines. Next, draw in horizontal lines 1/16", ⅛", ⅝" and 11/16" above and below the horizontal center line. Repeat this pattern as required on either side of the vertical center line to complete the layout. Highlight the inner square that defines the opening size. The lines 1/16" beyond this square on all sides define the edge of the chamfered portion of the opening.
Cutting the Squares
Drill each hole with a hand drill or on a drill press, and then square up the hole with a chisel. Use as large a bit as you are comfortable using, without drilling into any adjacent lines. You can use a 1/16" bit to drill out the corner where the larger bit won't reach. These additional holes will function as a guide and provide a visual reference when using the chisel to remove the waste. They also reduce the amount of force needed in the corners. If you take a look at the orientation of the grain between the two horizontal rows you’ll notice it is only ¼" long. Squaring up the first row will be easy. When you move to the second row, this narrow strip of short grain will easily break away if you used a chisel.
Clamp the front to your bench and make sure your chisel is razor sharp. With a backing board under your work piece, gently but firmly push the chisel through the wood. This is still likely to result in some chunks breaking out, but they’ll be on the inside, and kept to a minimum. You can also use a scroll saw or hollow chisel mortiser to cut the squares.
After buying the lumber for this project let it acclimatize in your shop for a couple of days. Place the stock on a workbench or pair of saw horses with ½" x 1" pine stickers between the boards to promote air circulation. When you are ready to plane the stock, begin with the thickest pieces (⅝"), working down to the thinnest ones (5/16"). Take only 1/32" to 1/16" off on each pass through the planer. If you notice tearout, reverse the direction of the board.
Texturing the Pipe
Texture the flattened pipe with the round end of a ball peen hammer. Texturing the pipe will cause it to curl, requiring you to turn the pipe over to reverse the curl. Doing this will cause much of the texture on the first side to be lost, so keep hammering until you have an equal amount of curl in the opposite direction. Flip the bar over again and re-texture the first side until the bar is flat. This results in a richly textured front face with a more subdued pattern on the back.
The hook at the bottom means that both the top of the front and the bottom of the back of the copper bar are visible when facing the box. You will have to texture the board in two steps - first texture the top third of the bar, and then turn it over, and texture the third bottom. The top third is behind the box and only needs to be flattened.