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How to Build a Vintage Wooden Candle Box

Michael was raised in the Ozark Mountain region of Missouri and has always enjoyed woodworking, wood carving, and writing.

how-to-build-a-vintage-wooden-candle-box

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 1700s. 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 décor. 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!

I usually find boards that someone else would throw out.

I usually find boards that someone else would throw out.

First, Gather Your Materials

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.

Pieces are cut to size and ready to go. 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.

Use a bevel gauge to mark the lines.

Use 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.

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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.

how-to-build-a-vintage-wooden-candle-box

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 autopilot, 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.