Shaker Oval Boxes

My completed Shaker oval boxes.
My completed Shaker oval boxes.

Aside from building a tiny plywood boat in 2012, most of my woodworking projects don’t feature curves. They’re all straight lines and right angles to make my life easier. This year, however, that changed when I attended a class on the making of Shaker-style oval boxes with the expert on the subject, John Wilson.

John’s shop is in Charlotte, Michigan, four hours from Columbus if you drive the most direct route. Since the first session of the class started at 5:00 PM on a Friday, I took most of the day to meander along scenic two-lane highways through some of the small towns and countryside of northwest Ohio. I passed through Marysville, Bellfontaine (Ohio’s highest point), Ada, Kalida, Defiance, Bryan, and a host of small towns I can’t remember. After continuing into Indiana and turning north at Angola’s lovely town square, I arrived at John Wilson’s workshop right on time.

My classmates and I spent the first evening exploring the history and techniques of Shaker oval boxes; preparing the wood; and heating, bending, and assembling the sides for five different sizes of boxes. It was a long night for me: five hours of driving followed by five hours in the shop (and after all that, I didn’t even sleep well at my hotel).

On the second day, we completed assembly of our boxes by cutting, sanding, and installing top and bottom boards. I finished in the early afternoon and, before hitting the road, bought supplies so I could make more of these boxes in my own shop.

John’s parting words to the class were: “Whatever you do, finish these boxes.” Five months later, I did just that with Old Fashioned Milk Paint and three coats of spray lacquer and I couldn’t be more pleased with the finished product. I suffer from a common problem among woodworkers: incomplete projects however, had I known how beautiful these boxes would be, I would’ve prioritized them.

If you ever have the opportunity to take a class with John Wilson, I highly recommend it. If you like the boxes but can’t make them, check out the Shaker Workshops’ offerings.