‘Tis the Season!

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Jolly greetings to everyone this holiday season. We hope you all had enjoyable holidays, in whatever form they may have come.

We love this time of year, spent with family and friends, enjoying warm fires in our wood stove, and cuddling up with our dogs for quiet movie nights. We are looking forward to the new year and getting out to play in the snow that has finally arrived. Basil and Ellie have both been exploring the frozen yard and sniffing out any scents they can.

I am lucky to get time off over the holiday season as part of my job. We shut down from Christmas to New Years, meaning a nice week at home. This year, I opted to take the week before Christmas off as well, and worked on a really fun holiday gift for family.

If you have read any of our other blog posts, you will know that we are not experts in construction, gardening or home improvements, but rather adventurous homeowners that want to be involved in the evolution of our dreams into reality. We both love getting our hands dirty in the yard during the growing season, and I equally love spending time in our shop during the winter months, building things.

We have now taken a step into more extreme DIY mentality, and have been stocking up our shop with all sorts of great tools. K bought be a router set for my birthday. It came with both plunge and standard bases, allowing for versatility in its use. As an early Christmas gift, he bought be a planer, which came in handy for the Christmas gifts that I decided to make.

We have all these wonderful canned goods that are both homegrown and homemade, and I wanted to share them as a gift. But, I wanted a nice basket or box to put them in. I looked around and found some great options, but got the brilliant idea, that I could build a box instead, making the gift as home-made as possible.

So, I started researching how to make these boxes, and realized that although we had stocked up on some new tools, I had a ways to go still. My original plan was to do finger joints along the edges, but I didn’t have a router table or a table saw. I also got some advice to start a little more simple for one of my first box projects as finger joints can be tricky, and I only had a week to build. So, I decided on a half-lap joint, as I figured I could create a jig for my router, without a table.

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I picked out some wood that had some nice blue pine-beetle staining. I thought it would add some beautiful character to the boxes. I chose 1×8 as I wanted to make sure that the box would be deep enough for the canning I wanted to include. I had originally planned on doing a lid that slid into place, but ran out of time, so it ended up a little deeper than needed. If I made this style, non-lid, box again, I would use 1×6 instead.

K and I got to play with the new planer as we brought all the box pieces down to 1/4″ thickness. I didn’t want the boxes to heavy, especially once the canning was included. I expect I will get a great deal of use out of the planer as it did a beautiful job and a soft finish on the wood. I foresee some live-edge projects in the future. We just need to get a new shop-vac first as ours decided that the day that we wanted to use the planer, was the day it was going to die. We managed to rig our large garbage and some rain gutter to cut down most of the mess, but a shop vac will be much better.

Next, I determined how deep the half-lap cuts needed to be on the edges to make nice joints on the corners of the boxes. This was a little bit of a trial and error, so I tested on some scrap bits first, before making cuts on my box edges. In the end, they turned out better than I could have hoped for, and very little sanding was required to flatten out the jointed corners.

I was gifted some wonderful clamps from my parents for my birthday in October, which I got to put to use with this project. I had picked up a “frame-clamp” from a wood store here in town, hoping that it would help me with the gluing of the boxes. It would be great for home-made frames, but didn’t quite cut it for the boxes, so I had to use the large wood clamps with the frame-clamp to get a good connection from top to bottom. It worked though.

Once the boxes outer edges were assembled, I added the bottoms, which I used 1/4″ sanded plywood for. Again, I picked wood that had a nice grain to it, so that it added to the “look” of the box. Given more time, I would have used the same wood as the box, and done an end-rabbet around the base of the box so that it could be glued to the sides. Instead, I used glue and a few finishing nails to attach the bases to the boxes.

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Once the bases were attached, I used my palm sander to make all the edges nice and flush, as well as round the plywood slightly for a nice finish on the bottom. As great as my palm-sander was, a belt-sander would have made the process faster. It is high on my list of tools to purchase. I also gave the whole box a once-over with a fine sandpaper to ensure a nice stain.

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Next came the dividers for the cans. I knew that I wanted to put 4 jars (pint) into the boxes, along with some other goodies. I had created the box size specific to ensuring it fit that way. The dividers were relatively easy, and again made with 1/4″ plywood. I left the glue to set overnight.

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Due to the blue in the wood, I chose a clear matte varnish for the boxes. I wanted to enhance the natural colouring of the wood. I applied 3 coats to ensure a nice and even finish on them.

Then came time to fill them. Here is what each box received that was homegrown (elements of it) & homemade:

  • Cranberry pepper jelly
  • Strawberry balsamic glaze
  • Strawberry vanilla glaze
  • Christmas jam
  • Bread & butter pickles
  • Crackers (raincoast brand style, nutty & lots of herbs)
  • Bacon truffles
  • Candied whiskey bacon brittle

To finish it off, I added some salami from a local butcher shop and a round of brie or camembert cheese (the perfect pairing to any of the preserves).

My father-in-law loves bacon and is hard to buy for, so the bacon desserts were inspired by him.

Finally, they were wrapped and delivered. It was a fun project, and I was so proud to give our families something that K and I had made ourselves. Homemade gifts are a staple piece of our Christmas, and this was one of my best yet.

Stay-tuned and I will post a few of the recipes from the box next week.

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