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How To Build a Vintage Wooden Candle Box

Updated on November 12, 2015

First there were candles. Then came the need to store them

Shortly after the invention of candles, there was a need to store the surplus. These storage boxes came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many boxes were open on the top and very simple. Other boxes were a bit more elaborate and had fitted lids. With hardware and hinges being very difficult to acquire, sliding lids were often made. This also became a way for craftsmen to show off their woodworking skills with hand cut dovetail joinery.

This particular candle box would have been popular in the early 1700's. Although designed for candles, this box can be used for almost anything. Many people will have one or two just for their rustic or primitive d├ęcor. This makes this piece a little more timely.

This box was made for a friend and is nearly completed. Boxes can be left plain or decorate to suit!
This box was made for a friend and is nearly completed. Boxes can be left plain or decorate to suit!
This candle box was made for a friend with a Finnish background.
This candle box was made for a friend with a Finnish background.

If you can't find an original, do the next best thing. Make one!

The design of this candle box requires some patience, perseverance, and some woodworking skills. If you are not up to cutting the dovetails you could use a simpler joint, but it won't have quite the pizzazz if you do. I like to keep the look as authentic as possible.

When I build these boxes I use power tools, so I am not a total purest! I have done projects using nothing but hand tools but prefer a little quicker method. I have also used conventional stains and varnish. In this case I will be using another technique to give the box an aged look. Let's get started!

Pick your materials.

I usually find boards that someone else would throw out.
I usually find boards that someone else would throw out.

Materials - The beginning

I seem to have a personal challenge to find older scrap material that someone else would throw out. I like to give the wood one more chance to turn into something nice. For this project these pine boards will be the perfect material to keep the box "original."

When these old boards get cleaned up they will look very nice. You could build this box out of hardwood as well, but the originals would have been made out of pine. Also as a general rule, hardwood is a beautiful wood and when you build things out of beautiful wood you are generally trying to showcase the wood grain. When you are trying to showcase joinery like the dovetails on a candle box, it's better to use a wood that doesn't cause admirers to focus on something different.

Pieces are cut to size and ready to go.

I have boards cut to do two candle boxes.
I have boards cut to do two candle boxes.

Getting started.

With all of the boards cleaned up and cut to size, it's time to get this project off to a great start. The dimensions of this box are 16" long and 7" wide. I cut two of these boards for the sides and two for the ends. These boards have also been cut to a width of four inches.

You can keep your boards 3/4" thick if you want. I have a planer and made mine 5/8" thick. This only helps to make the dovetails a little less "bulky" and helps to make it look dressy. I have worked with either dimension and either thickness will look nice.

Using a bevel gauge to mark the lines.

Dovetails 101

In the picture above I am using a bevel gauge to make the cut lines for the dovetails on the side boards first. I have the angle set at 14 degrees. This creates a nice joint size for soft wood such as this pine. The length of the dovetails will equal the thickness of the end board. In my case, because my boards are 5/8", the length of the dovetails will be 5/8". I made a "stop" line on the board 5/8" from the end.

I will use only two dovetails per corner. With this box I measured in 1/4" from the edge of the board and angled down to the stop line. I then measured 3/8" along the stop line to create the narrow part of the dovetail, finishing by angling back to the end of the board.

In the photo below, I took the marking a step further. You can see that I shaded the area to be cut out. Believe me, this is worth doing! When you start cutting the wood away you are going to repeat the process four times, once for every corner. When your mind goes on auto pilot, things can sometimes go wrong when you are cutting down lines. Many times I have removed the wrong portion of the board and had to start over.

Making the first cuts

When all of the layout lines have been made on each end of the side pieces, it's time to start cutting. I like using my scroll saw for this. This could also be done with wood chisels and a mallet if you want to do things the "old way." When cutting, take your time and cut on the outside of the line to keep your dovetails the exact size that you drew them on your boards. When you are done you will have results like the photo below shows.

The other part to the dovetail puzzle

With all of your dovetails cut on each end of both of the side boards, it's time to move on to the end boards. Using the side boards as a pattern, hold the cut dovetails up to the end boards as if you were putting the corner together. Now trace the dovetails on the end of the side pieces.

Working only with the end pieces now, draw another "stop" line on the top and bottom of the end board. Next you will draw lines from the profile of the dovetails down to the stop lines. Do this on both sides of the board. Repeat this process for each end of the end boards. See photo below.

Cutting the end dovetails.

When you have all of your reference lines drawn on the end pieces, go ahead and shade in the areas to be cut out. If using a scroll saw, tilt the table to 14 degrees to make the cuts. When following the lines cut on the waste side of the line.

To remove the waste wood from your "stop" line, you can easily use a chisel and mallet. If you try it with a scroll saw, you have to reset the table to zero degrees and take out a portion of the waste wood and chisel out the remainder.

Fine tuning the fit.

With all of your cutting done, things get exciting. It's time to test the fit. More often than not, you will have to do some very fine shaving on the sides of the dovetails in some places. This is normal. Put the side and end piece together and see where the restrictions are that won't allow the joint to go together. Remove very small portions of wood with a chisel or knife. Test often until the two pieces go together perfectly. If you see some gaps in your joint these will be filled with wood putty.

Label the side piece and the end piece with a number 1. Continue on to the next corner, fit the joint, and label it number 2 and so on. This way when it's time to glue things up you know things will go together without any surprises.

Some minor gaps might appear in your joints. These will be filled with wood putty.
Some minor gaps might appear in your joints. These will be filled with wood putty.

Assembly

With all of your joints fitted together the way you like it, it's time to take the pieces apart and apply glue. You will want to apply glue to every part where wood touches wood. I like to pour some glue in an open jar lid or something similar and then find a small stick to apply the glue. You can purchase glue brushes for this as well.

Working with one corner at a time, coat the sides of each dovetail and areas where the pieces of wood touch each other with a thin coat of glue. Dovetails are a very strong joints by themselves and don't require too much to hold them together. Be careful not to get so much glue that it squeezes out and becomes a problem to remove later. The glue that gets on the surface will cause an unsightly appearance when you put the finishing touches on your box if not removed or sanded off.

With all of the corners assembled with glue, take a square to make sure your box will set up nice and square. Let glue dry.

Applying the glue

Make sure all surfaces involved are coated with a light coat of wood glue.
Make sure all surfaces involved are coated with a light coat of wood glue.

Assembled sides and ends.

Corners have been glued, the box is square, time to move forward!
Corners have been glued, the box is square, time to move forward!

Putting in a bottom

With your frame all put together, no doubt you are admiring your handiwork at this point. It is time to cut the bottom to fit your box. With this box I had some pieces of good quality finished plywood that was 1/2" thick. The plywood seemed to be waiting for this moment and I let very few things go to waste!

Carefully measure the opening of your box bottom. Select your material that you are using and cut it to size. I always to prefer cutting a bottom just slightly too large and using a sander, sand the sides of the bottom piece until it goes in with slight pressure.

Once you have the fit you want it's time to put it in place. Put glue around the edge of the bottom piece and gently tap it into the opening from the bottom until everything is flush. If the fit is good, the glue alone will hold the bottom just fine.

If the bottom isn't a perfect fit you are still in luck. You can drill 1/8" diameter holes around the perimeter of the box about 1/8" from the bottom of the ends and sides and into the bottom piece. Space the holes out evenly. Next take some 1/8" dowels and drive them into the holes. Do this instead of nails to keep an authentic look.

Putting the bottom piece in.

Tap the bottom piece in gently and evenly after putting light glue around its edge.
Tap the bottom piece in gently and evenly after putting light glue around its edge.

Adding the slide track for the lid.

The next step is to make the pieces that will enable the lid to slide to open and close. I start with pieces that are at least 2" wide. I do this so that I can keep my fingers well away from the saw blade. I cut a square notch out of the corner of the board that is 3/8" x 3/8" to accommodate the lid. Then I will rip the 2" down to 3/4". See photo.

This what the profile looks like. This gets glued on the top of the box and creates a slide for the lid.
This what the profile looks like. This gets glued on the top of the box and creates a slide for the lid.
The pieces get a 45 degree miter and then they are glued to the box.
The pieces get a 45 degree miter and then they are glued to the box.

Miter the pieces and then glue on to box.

After making the pieces, miter the ends with a 45 degree cut. Dry fit everything to make sure it looks good. If it does, then glue the pieces on with a light coat of glue only where the pieces touch the rest of the box. If the fit is close and not perfect, sandpaper will take care of the details after the glue dries. Pieces only go on the sides and one end. The other end allows the lid to move in and out.

When the glue dries, take off the clamps and then sand all of the joints smooth. I like to use an orbital sander with 120 grit paper for this. It will flatten everything out and smooth the surface nicely.

Making the lid.

With your slide track mounted on your box, take a careful measurement from the recessed part of the track on both sides. Take another measurement from the recessed part of the track from end to the edge. This will be your lid dimension.

Once your board is cut to size, it's time to put a bevel on it on three sides. This gives the lid a raised panel look. On my particular board, it was 6 1/8" wide and using a test piece first, I determined that an 18 degree angle would give me the look that I was after.

For the sake of the picture, I removed the guard.  This can be very dangerous without something to hold your work.  Keep fingers away from blade!
For the sake of the picture, I removed the guard. This can be very dangerous without something to hold your work. Keep fingers away from blade!

The finished top.

Your top should look like this. Bevels on three sides and a regular cut on the end.
Your top should look like this. Bevels on three sides and a regular cut on the end.

Putting the pieces together.

With your lid cut out, slide it into the opening on the end and into the track. If it is too snug of a fit take some sandpaper and sand some on the edges. Once it slides easily, finish sanding the top. 120 grit sandpaper works well to get the saw marks out.

Now you can use wood putty around small gaps in your joinery that need to be filled. Finish sanding with some 150 grit sandpaper. Sand entire box until it is smooth. You can leave it a little distressed if you prefer.

A cut out area to enable the lid to be opened easier.
A cut out area to enable the lid to be opened easier.
When you reach this point there good reason to be proud.  I never get tired of making these!
When you reach this point there good reason to be proud. I never get tired of making these!

Time to put on the finish!

You can put on any kind of finish that you desire here. I have put on stain and top coated with a varnish. You could use some milk paint and lightly sand some "wear" areas. The methods are nearly endless.

I used a homemade aging process with this box. It is simple to make and simple to put on. I took some strong brewed coffee and painted a light coat over the entire surface. This won't appear to do much. It will color it very slightly. The real action comes later.

As the applied coffee is drying, I took a steel wool pad, (not Brillo or any other soap pad), and put it in a glass jar. I then put in enough white vinegar to almost cover the steel wool pad. This solution needs to sit overnight.

The next day, take about a 1" paint brush and cover the entire box. When you do you won't see anything happen right away. Look again after about an hour. The steel wool/vinegar mixture is reacting with the tannic acid from the coffee and will give the wood a very aged look. The wood now looks 200 to 300 years old. Incase you are wondering, it doesn't smell like vinegar either.

Paint on a coat of coffee on day one.  Paint on a coat of vinegar/steel wool solution day two.
Paint on a coat of coffee on day one. Paint on a coat of vinegar/steel wool solution day two.

Treatment completed.

The completed aging process.
The completed aging process.

The wrap up.

When using the aging method, using a paste wax works very well. It keeps the aged look while enhancing the grain. I will do a little painting on this box with acrylic paint to personalize it for a friend. If you do any painting, do it first and then paste wax when you are totally done.

I would encourage you to give this project a try. You can simplify the lid and the joinery if you are not up to doing what I did here. The important thing is have fun doing it!

Happy woodworking!

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    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna 2 years ago from USA

      Nice box with very clear instructions and photos. I particularly like that this project can be made with scrap wood. I don't use candles, but would use a beautiful box like this as a display piece in my home. Great hub! Thanks for posting and sharing!!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you purl3agony for the encouraging feedback!

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Now that's craftsmanship! I love the dovetail at the ends. So much prettier that just nailing and gluing a box together. Great instructions. Thanks for sharing.

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 2 years ago

      Love that you use coffee! Beautiful craftsmanship and a well written instructional hub too! Voted up!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you Ann1Az2 and Besarien for the compliments! Thank you for taking the time to read my hub as well. Over the years I have probably made about 30 of these boxes.

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 2 years ago

      Hi MHiggins! I can see why you love to make them. These would make stunning gifts for family and friends for any occasion too. I think they would be very pretty plain but the dovetails, the finger notch, the beveled lid- all of that gorgeous detail elevates this candle box to another level. I look forward to reading more of your hubs!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you Besarien for the kind words! I have always loved working with wood and have always pushed myself to try to find a way for it to show off its natural beauty, which is sometimes hidden. Thanks again. More hubs to come!

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 2 years ago

      Michael, I love your work so much! Your boxes are truly beautiful. I don't have experience with woodworking, but I do have experience using the Internet and social networking to promote products and businesses. If you sell through your own website, you should say so at the end of every article! If you aren't selling online, check out Etsy.com. It's a site for artists, artisans, and vintage items, so I think your type of work would do so well there! And if you are looking to grow a following, I hope you have a FB "fan page" so more people can follow your work. I link to mine at the end of every article so if people like it, they can follow me for more (which increases your ability to earn money through hubpages). You have such talent, I think so many people who aren't inclined to woodworking would love to buy your pieces. :-) thanks for sharing your passion with us!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you Carolyn! I do sell some things locally from time to time but should get the Etsy shop going and take it serious. That is a great suggestion! I post pictures of my work on my personal FB page for my friends to see as well. Some things get shipped to my friends in Norway and they send me things back. I enjoy creating things but need to start treating it like a business. Thanks again!

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 2 years ago from Midwest

      What a fantastic tutorial - you have taken something complicated and made it look achievable. The boxes are truly beautiful. I have used coffee before, but never knew about vinegar and steel wool. I am currently making shelves out of wine crates and I am going to try this aging technique for a different look. Awesome hub - pinning and sharing :)

    • MHiggins profile image
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      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you CristinS for the great feedback! Using this method of aging brings the grain of wood out very nicely. I usually put a coat of linseed oil on afterword to give it a great luster. Good luck with your shelves and thanks again for taking the time to read my hub!

    • mySuccess8 profile image

      mySuccess8 2 years ago

      A beautiful quality piece of DIY woodcraft with very clear instructions and photos for making it. You have again demonstrated your wood working skills so well, and I can see a lot of opportunities for creative ideas to be put into practice, for example the painting of a coat of coffee to it to improve the finishing. Congrats on Hub of the Day!

    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 2 years ago

      Hi! I am a bad workman with a decent set of tools! Your pictures and valuable tips have given me great confidence!

      Cheers and happy holidays!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you mySuccess8 for stopping by! The coffee brings out a quality that stain can't. Thanks again for reading my hub and taking the time to comment.

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you quicksand for your comment. The box is pretty easy to make, just take your time with the dovetails and all will be good. Happy Holidays to you too!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Congratulations for the HOTD!

      Another beautiful example of your craftsmanship. Very well written hub with helpful pictures and instructions.

      This box looks very suitable for fancy jewelry or bangles as well.

      Thanks for sharing and voted up!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      wow, you have the talent to make craftmanship, wooden box craft is not easy but you did well

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      Thank you for your hub! It was very valuble to me because I came across a box just like your posted pictures , when I bought from a resale shop it had knitting needles in it that is why I purchased it for a few dollars .

      Wow ! I got more then I knew by your information I have a vintage candle box aged .

      Thanks again!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

      Congratulations on your Hub of the Day award for this great tutorial on how to make a vintage-style wood candle box! Recently, a friend made and gave me a hand-made wooden box about this size for my birthday. It is such a little treasure because every time I see it I am reminded of how much this person cares about our friendship, and it's quite handy for holding small things I do not want out in the open.

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 2 years ago from Connecticut

      I really enjoyed your article. You are an excellent craftsman, and I really appreciate how you combined reclaimed lumber, old school woodworking techniques and an authentic design to create a modern classic.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 2 years ago from Midwest

      Just stopping back in to congratulate you on the HOTD which you definitely deserve for this hub - very well done. :)

    • suzzycue profile image

      Susan Britton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is so cool and you received HOTD for it. Congratulations! You are doing well on Hubpages:) The photos here really help to teach the box making work.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 2 years ago from Germany

      Congratulations on the Hub of the Day award! This is a very cool one. The DIY instructions are very clear. Well done!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you Chitrangsada Sharan for the kind words. Yes, this box could hold all kinds of things. It would protect bangles very well. Thanks again for reading my hub!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you peach purple. I never get tired of making things like this and it's all the better when I can write about it and share with others.

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Kiss and Tales and I'm glad you enjoyed the hub! I'm glad you were able to benefit from the info. Thanks for checking out the hub!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you RTalloni! I'm glad you enjoyed the tutorial. I like to learn techniques and then share the knowledge that I've gained from it. I have a few of these boxes in my home and they are great for holding anything that will fit in them. Thanks for reading the hub.

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Anthony. I have a great appreciation for old pieces and the old way of doing things. Occasionally I will build something and only use old hand tools. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub! Thanks again.

    • MHiggins profile image
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      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Christin S for stopping by to make a second comment! It's pretty nice to get a HOTD. Thank you again!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you suzzyque! I am really enjoying the Hub Pages community. There is quite a bit of support on this site. Thank you for the kind words!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Thelma for the great feed back. I really like sharing some of my ideas and it's always great to hear that the instructions are clear for everyone.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Congrats on HOTD!

      This seems like a simple project; one hubby and I could easily do, as he is a woodworker, I'm his "apprentice," and we have "all the tools." ;-) We also have quite a few second hand redwood fence boards that might do nicely.

      I think one variation we might do, though, for the lid groove, is not to glue on a separate set of pieces, but to pre-groove the inside of the box using a dado blade before they are assembled. Depending on the thickness of the lid, even a simple saw kerf might suffice.

      I liked your coffee/vinegar and steel wool trick; that's very interesting, and not something we've encountered before.

      I would caution anyone using recycled wood to first run a magnet across all surfaces to be sure there are no broken-off bits of nails, screws, staples, or what have you as those can ruin saw and planer blades in a heartbeat. Not to mention tossing dangerous 'shrapnel' across the room.

      Voted up, interesting, useful and awesome! Also shared and pinned.

    • http://marocgpstracker.ma/ 2 years ago

      Very cool project, thanks for sharing :)

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 2 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Beautiful! What an awesome tutorial. Congratulations on a well-deserved Hub of the Day!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for reading my hub, DzyMsLizzy. It sounds like you have worked with some wood before. As far as the dado to fit the lid in to, that would only work if you stopped the kerf before you got to the end, or you plugged the hole that would be visible. The top mitered pieces are there so that the kerf is totally concealed.

      When I work with repurposed wood, I know where it came from and would never consider anything that would have metal or even pallet wood that would have sand or something similar that would quickly dull blades. I guess that I have done this for so long that I assume anyone would know this. It is a good point that you make. Not everyone is aware of this.

      Thanks again for the comments!

    • MHiggins profile image
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      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you marocgpstracker for the comment! I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for reading the hub!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you Susan for the kind words! I'm glad you liked the tutorial! Thanks for taking the time to read the hub and place a comment.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

      You are correct, of course, and in stopping the kerf, you'd then need to notch the corners of the lid accordingly so it would slide all the way in. Good point. (Or, as you said, use wood putty to fill the holes.)

      I do think we'll try to make some of these!

      We have a dovetail jig; you set if for the size tails you want, clamp the wood, and use a straight router bit to carve out the tails. Makes it easy, except for setting the thing up; it's old, made 100% of metal, and is freaking heavy! ;-)

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks again DzyMsLizzy for reading the hub! I enjoy making these boxes and have made three of them in the last two months for coworkers. Your redwood fence boards should make some nice boxes. Have fun with it.

    • seenjet 2 years ago

      I think this one is fine and myself had a feeling of attending a real time workshop. It's very good , nice presentation and of-course useful not only to professionals but also to the enthusiastic craft lovers who often gather more ideas from sources like this to make innovations. Wonderful.. Keep it up...

    • deborahmorrison1 profile image

      Deborah Morrison 2 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

      Well written and interesting article. I especially like the vintage appeal, and the use of all natural materials, that will last for many years to come. Not only practical, but the hand crafted artistry makes the Wooden Candle Box a most special, one of a kind keepsake.

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you seenjet for stopping by to read the hub. Thanks for the kind words!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you deborahmorrison1 for the nice reply. I am glad that you enjoyed the hub. I like vintage items and when you can age something quickly an make it look older that it is, that's very gratifying to me. Thanks again for your comment!

    • Romekio profile image

      Eslam yosef 2 years ago from Egypt

      i like it, very informative images make it so easy to learn, thank you,

      vote up,

      Useful,

      Romekio.

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you Romekio for your comments. Thanks for taking time to read my hub.

    • loicpatrick 2 years ago

      Very good word dude!

      Loic Patrick

      http://www.loicpatrick.com

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for the comment, Loic Patrick. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 2 years ago from The High Seas

      "First there were candles. Then came the need to store them" - I'm not sure why, but that made me laugh!

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Glad you liked it, GetitScene. You know how people are; they all need a place to put all of their stuff. Thanks for taking time to read the hub!

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image

      Sanjay Sharma 2 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Very useful and easy to follow instructions. Thanks for sharing the wonderful information.

    • MHiggins profile image
      Author

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you SANJAY for taking the time to read my hub and for the nice comments.

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