Steps // How to Build a Shadow Box
1 ×

Overview

 
Step One // How to Build a Shadow Box

Overview

exploded view illustration of how to build a shadow box
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

In the following steps, we’ll show you how to cut down an old door and assemble this project. Plus, you’ll find useful tips for plugging holes and cutting glass. Then, with any luck, you may uncover the right salvaged door at the right price, and after a few hours in your shop, you’ll have a vintage shadow box of your own.

 
2 ×

Find an Old Door

 
Step Two // How to Build a Shadow Box

Find an Old Door

Tom Silva with an old door
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

A clear finish, like this door has, makes it easier to assess wood quality. Lead isn’t an issue with clear finishes, but it can be with paint. If the paint tests positive for lead, take appropriate safety precautions and strip the door down to bare wood before proceeding.

 
3 ×

Cut it Up

 
Step Three // How to Build a Shadow Box

Cut it Up

Tom Silva uses a circular saw to cut up an old door
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Using a circular saw with a rip fence, or fingers with a steady grip on the saw’s shoe, cut off the door’s hinge-side stile, as shown. (This stile doesn’t have doorknob holes to fill.) Also cut along the other stile and rails to free one of the door’s flat panels.

 
4 ×

Clean off the Old Finish

 
Step Four // How to Build a Shadow Box

Clean off the Old Finish

Tom Silva uses a table saw to shave off old wood finish
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Check for hidden screws, then square up the sides of the stile with a table saw. Tom then quickly shaved the old finish off the stile’s faces with four light cuts, as shown. That saved lots of sanding.

 
5 ×

Rabbet and Dado

 
Step Five // How to Build a Shadow Box

Rabbet and Dado

rabbet and dado for one side of a shadow box
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Run the clean board through the table saw two more times to make a ½-inch-by-½-inch rabbet in one corner. The box’s bottom panel will fit into this rabbet. On the same face, 1⁄4 inch from the side opposite the rabbet, use the saw to cut a 1⁄8-inch-wide, ½-inch-deep dado to hold the glass.

 
6 ×

Sand

 
Step Six // How to Build a Shadow Box

Sand

Tom Silva uses a random-orbit sander to sand smooth the bottom of a shadow box
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Using a random-orbit sander and 220-grit sandpaper, smooth all sides of the stile. Save the sawdust for the next step. Then sand the finish off one face of the panel, as shown. Start with 180-grit sandpaper, and finish with 220.

 
7 ×

Plug the Holes

 
Step Seven // How to Build a Shadow Box

Plug the Holes

using a knife to whittle away wood plugs for the sides of a shadow box
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Whittle a scrap piece of wood from the stile into a stick narrow enough to fit in the holes left by the hinge screws. Squeeze into the holes, insert the whittled stick, and slice it off flush with a knife, as shown. Use the sawdust saved in Step 6 to color the glue.

Tip: To disguise plugged holes in a piece that will get a clear finish, retrieve a scoop of the fine sawdust that you saved in Step 6, and mix it into the wet wood glue with your finger, as shown above. The powdery dust will tint the glue the same color as the wood. After the glue hardens, sand the repair smooth.

 
8 ×

Apply the Finish

 
Step Eight // How to Build a Shadow Box

Apply the Finish

Kevin O'Connor applies finish to a stile for a shadow box
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Wipe the stile and panel clean with a tack cloth; then, using a lint-free cloth, apply a penetrating finish to all sides of the stile and the sanded face of the panel. Here, Kevin rubs on an oil-varnish blend. For this finish, wait 5 to 10 minutes for it to soak in, wipe up the excess, and toss the cloth in water to prevent it from catching fire spontaneously. The pieces will be dry enough to handle in 10 hours.

 
9 ×

Cut the Miters

 
Step Nine // How to Build a Shadow Box

Cut the Miters

cutting miters for a shadow box with a miter saw
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

When the finish is dry, use a miter saw to cut 45-degree miters into the ends of all four pieces, to the lengths specified on the cut list. When making these cuts, place each piece against the saw’s fence with the dado and rabbet facing out, as shown.

 
10 ×

Cut the Back Panel to Size

 
Step Ten // How to Build a Shadow Box

Cut the Back Panel to Size

cutting the back panel of a shadow box to size with a table saw
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Measure the box’s length and width from inside the rabbets. Subtract 1⁄8 inch from both dimensions, to give the panel room to move when the seasons change. Using a table saw, trim the back to those slightly narrower measurements, as shown.

 
11 ×

Apply the Glue

 
Step Eleven // How to Build a Shadow Box

Apply the Glue

applying hybrid glue to one of the miters for a shadow box
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Squeeze glue onto both miters of a short end piece, as shown, and spread it evenly with a cloth. Repeat on the matching miter at one end of each long side piece. A PVA wood glue would work here, but Tom chose instead to use , a hybrid, non-polyurethane adhesive.

Tip: Working with a hybrid glue

  • Clamp it. Secure joints together for at least 2 hours as the glue cures.
  • Clean it. If any glue squeezes out, wipe it up right away with a dry rag, followed by one dampened with rubbing alcohol. Unlike polyurethane glues, hybrids don’t foam up or stain skin.
  • Store it. After each use, wipe nozzle clean with a dry cloth and tightly replace lid. Store in a cool, dry place with exposure to light. Heat and lack of light can cause product to yellow. 
 
12 ×

Fasten the Miters

 
Step Twelve // How to Build a Shadow Box

Fasten the Miters

Tom Silva and Kevin O'Connor fastening the miters of a shadow box with an 18-gauge brad nailer
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Fit the glued miters on the end piece against the glued miters of the two side pieces. Make sure the dadoes and corners line up, then clamp the pieces in place with two 2-inch brads, shot through each side of both corners.

 
13 ×

Score the Glass

 
Step Thirteen // How to Build a Shadow Box

Score the Glass

scoring glass to fit a shadow box
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Using the box’s back panel as a template, mark the glass with a felt-tip marker. To use the panel as a guide for the glass cutter, reposition it so the cutter’s wheel is centered on the marks. Now, wearing gloves, dip the wheel into cutting oil and pull the cutter in one firm stroke along the panel, as shown.

Tip: Cutting glass 

  • How it works. Glass cutters don’t actually cut through glass. They score its surface with a tiny diamond-shaped wheel. That weakens the glass enough for it to break cleanly when it’s snapped away from the score. 
  • Lubricate steel wheels. Glass cutters have either steel or carbide wheels. Steel wheels need to be lubricated with cutting oil before use to ensure that they make a clean, continuous score line. Glass cutters with carbide wheels need no lubrication.
 
14 ×

Snap and Fit the Glass

 
Step Fourteen // How to Build a Shadow Box

Snap and Fit the Glass

Kevin O'Connor and Tom Silva fits the glass front to a shadow box
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Line up the score mark on the glass with the edge of a table. With gloves on, lift the glass where it overhangs the table and drop it straight down. The glass will snap at the score, leaving a clean, straight edge. Repeat Steps 13 and 14, if needed, then slide the cut sheet into the three-sided frame, as shown.

 
15 ×

Attach the Last Side

 
Step Fifteen // How to Build a Shadow Box

Attach the Last Side

fastening the last side to a shadow box with an 18-gauge brad nailer
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

With the glass in place, glue the remaining end piece to the frame. Hold the piece in place with a strap clamp and a bar clamp, then shoot two brads on each side of both joints, as shown.

 
16 ×

Fasten the Back Panel

 
Step Sixteen // How to Build a Shadow Box

Fasten the Back Panel

Tom Silva attached the back of the shadow box
Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Turn the box glass side down, then drop in the back panel. Using a 5⁄64-inch bit, drill three evenly spaced pilot holes through the back, angled slightly into the box’s frame. Each long side should have three holes; each short side should have two. Drive a wood screw into each pilot hole. Because the glass in this box is fixed in place, you get to the inside by unscrewing the back.

 

Shop Related Products

$17.99 $20.98 prime

$269.00 $329.00 prime

$79.00 $89.00 prime

$7.95 $12.25 prime

$219.00 $265.00 prime

$8.99 $8.99 prime

$19.99 $19.99

$27.97 $29.97 prime
 

Sponsored Stories

TV Listings

Find TV listings for - saboteamos.info and Ask - saboteamos.info in your area.