Introduction: HOW TO MAKE a FLY FISHING BOX
In this project and video, I’m making a fly fishing box to hold lures. And this one is a gift that is going to somebody who really, really likes fly fishing. If you recognize the logo on the front of the box, you’ll already know who it is going to, but if you don’t, keep reading along and watch the video to find out who I made this for.
Step 1: BACKGROUND:
It’s true, I’m not a big fan of fishing. I mean, I like it just fine, but it’s not something I do very often. I always joke about why I stopped finish as much when I was about 10. My dad told me that he was going to stop cleaning my fish for me and I would have to do it on my own. That cured me of wanting to go fishing that much, because I really don’t like cleaning fish.
Back to the origin of this project, I listen to the No Dumb Questions Podcast with Matt Whitman and Destin Sandlin and I know from listening that Matt really enjoys fly fishing. I didn’t know the slightest thing about the requirements of a fly box, but I did some image searches and looked at some of the commercial offerings out there for size requirements. Then, I just went for it. Follow along with the steps and I build this one out of zebrawood and maple with a laser-engraved lid. Be sure to watch the video too, so you can see everything in action.
Step 2: TOOLS & MATERIALS: (affiliate Links)
Starbond CA Glue: https://www.starbond.com/?rfsn=272403 (use code “bruceaulrich” at checkout)
Glowforge Laser Engraver: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Strap Clamp: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Alternative Foam: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W J
apanese Pull Saw: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Trustic Crayons (for marking): https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Odie's Oil: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
White Non-scuff pads: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Contact Cement: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Acid Brushes: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Razor Knife: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Table Saw Blade: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Miter saw: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Random orbit sander - https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Table Saw: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Tripod I Love: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
iPhone Tripod Holder: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W
Camera: https://glowforge.us/r/GwnI7W (I have older model of this)
Step 3: CHOOSING YOUR LUMBER:
The first step of pretty much any project is just choosing the materials you want to use for that project. For this one, for the main part of the box, I’m using zebrawood. It is a hardwood that I think tools really well. It’s not overly splintery like hickory. This piece was already planed on both faces, so I started out by cutting a little piece off of it with my track saw. I could have used the bandsaw or my miter saw, but I really wanted to use my new track saw, so that’s what I grabbed.
Step 4: MILLING THE LUMBER:
Once I had a piece of the zebrawood cut to size, I proceeded to do the rest of the milling to get my box pieces. This included getting one side flat on the jointer, and then going over to the bandsaw to rip strips off. After each strip was ripped, I would take it to the jointer again and do a light pass on that side to clean up the bandsaw marks. Then, I just kept ripping strips until I had 4. Finally, I took them to the drum sander to get them all perfectly the same thickness and cleaned up the other edge on the table saw.
For the maple piece, it was pretty much the same. The piece I had was already square on the two faces, so I took it to the jointer to get one edge flat and square to those faces. Then, I could resaw it into two pieces at the bandsaw, since this piece was way thicker than I needed. That way, I was not just turning all of that material into chips and sawdust. And finally, I cleaned up the bandsaw marks and got the thickness perfect at the drum sander.
Step 5: CUTTING BOX MITERS:
Years ago, I made a sled for my table saw that cuts miters. I have used it pretty often, so I would definitely recommend making something like this for yourself. I followed plans from Steve Ramsey, but my buddy Drew Fisher also has some great sleds for table saws. I probably would have build Drew’s, but I made this years before Drew came up with his. Hopefully, linking to both of those will give you some choices for ways you could go with this.
Step 6: CUTTING THE BOTTOM TO FIT:
For small things like boxes, I find that cutting your final dimensions after marking on the actual piece works best. I put the sides of the box around this box bottom, marked where it needed to end, and then cut that perfectly at the table saw cross cut sled.
Step 7: LASER ENGRAVING:
Time to shoot some lasers at stuff. I wanted my logo in the bottom of the box, and since this box was a little too tall to fit in my laser after it was assembled, that meant I had to do it before I glued it all together. I used some blue tape in two different directions to show me the center, so I could line that up in the Glowforge software. I didn’t worry about masking the maple, because I knew I could just sand it really quickly to get rid of the smoke stain and burning.
I had a piece of clear acrylic that I was going to use for the box lid. It was masked on both sides, so I just made sure to put the No Dumb Questions Logo file flipped horizontally, so once it engraved it, it would show correctly. If you don’t flip the design, it will end up looking like it is an image in a mirror. You actually engrave from what will be the backside of this lid. Once you flip it over, it shows perfectly. Anywhere the laser hits, it turns kind of a frosted white.
Step 8: GLUING UP THE BOX:
I actually glued up this box with all of the components, including the lid, in place. I used a strap clamp to do this and I cannot stress how well this worked. I would definitely recommend using a strap clamp for this type of thing, or maybe picture frames.
Step 9: SPLINES:
To cut the splines, I used another sled for my table saw. This one allows me to raise my blade whatever depth I want the splines in the corners to be and holds the workpiece so that I can run each of the four corners across there evenly. Then, I just move the fence to add more if I need to. For these, I knew I was cutting the box lid off after adding the splines, so I made sure to leave a little extra room between the splines that were nearest to the box lid and the next set. That way, the blade could run right through there and it would look like all of them were spaced pretty evenly. They’re not perfect, but it turned out pretty good for a guess.
I cut some little maple pieces on the bandsaw to use as the splines and hand sanded them down to get a perfect fit. Then, I just glued them into place and left them to dry. Once everything was dry, I used the bandsaw to get rid of most of the waste, but I was sure not to get too close to the box sides. One gouge from the bandsaw would be really hard to get out at this point. I used a palm sander to flush them up the rest of the way. There were a couple of tiny gaps, probably because I used an alternating tooth blade in my table saw, rather than a straight grind tooth blade, but I just mixed up a bit of dark sawdust and some wood glue, and put it into the gaps. You can’t even tell!
Step 10: CUTTING THE LID OFF THE BOX:
Now, it was time for that nerve-racking part…cutting the lid off of the box. Man, this part made me nervous! I just took it nice and slow. I raised the blade on the table saw just high enough to cut through the thickness of the box. I used the fence and cut on each side, referencing the same part of the box against the fence, until I had cut all of the way through. It worked pretty well, but I was not perfectly square, so I had to do a good bit of hand sanding, which you’ll see soon.
One of my followers on Instagram actually reached out to me with a better idea of how to do this. Raise the blade to just UNDER the material thickness, so it won’t quite cut through the box. Then, you can come back with a hand saw or a knife and cut the lid free from the box. This will keep it in place better, without it having chance of the lid coming free and hitting the blade, and it should make for a more consistent cut, causing less need for sanding later.
Step 11: FLATTENING THE BOX BY HAND:
As I mentioned above, when I cut the lid off of the box, it wasn’t perfect. I had to do some hand sanding on a flat surface to get it perfectly flat. Enter the large granite plate. This is actually an offcut from someone’s countertop, but it is flat. I just used some spray adhesive and a sheet of sandpaper to create a dead flat sanding surface. It worked really well, but I had to go at it for quite a few minutes, clearing the sanding dust every so often with compressed air.
Step 12: ADDING HINGES:
I’m using some pretty inexpensive hinges for this box, and they were brass plated. I used the actual hinges to mark out where I needed to mortise so they would sit flush to the box and lid. Then, I used my marking knife to cut in those lines, and chiseled out the little tiny mortises to accept the hinges.
I put the brass screws in by hand after I pre-drilled. These were actually solid brass screws, and they have the tendency to break off if you use a drill or don’t pre-drill into hardwood. If you don’t know, to pre-drill something, you just use a drill bit that is slightly smaller diameter than whatever screw you’re using.
Step 13: MAGNETS TO HOLD THE LID CLOSED:
I wanted to use magnets to hold the lid closed, so I found some neodymium magnets that were sized so they would fit in the thickness of the box material. I drilled out some holes in the corners of the lid and the box, and then used some CA glue and accelerator to add the magnets. Be sure to get the polarity correct with these. If you end up putting them in there backwards, you will have a lid that actually repels the box, and nobody’s got time for that!
Then, I did the final sanding, first with a palm sander and then by hand. I broke all of the sharp edges and then set the box aside for a bit, so I could work on the inside.
Step 14: FOAM TO HOLD THE FLIES:
I tried to use some dense foam that was in some packaging I received months ago, but that didn’t work out right. That foam was just too fuzzy when I tried to cut some slits in it and it just didn’t look refined enough.
I almost ordered a standard foam insert from a commercially available fly box, but then I tried something else. I picked up some floor mats from Harbor Freight for $9 (the whole pack). I cut some pieces off of that, and glued them together with some contact cement. That seemed to work really well to stick them together, and the cement didn’t dissolve the foam at all. The foam mats have some texture on one side, but the other side is flat and smooth, so I planned to used the smooth side showing. After I glued them together, I did some tests using a pull saw to cut the slits in the foam. These slits would hold the flies by holding the hooks down in the foam. And it worked so well! I marked out the lines with a ruler and used a piece of plywood with a straight edge to guide my pull saw. I just kept moving on down until I had completed a whole row of slits. Then, I just trimmed the foam to the exact size where it had a nice friction fit in the box. I put a few dabs of CA glue in the bottom, and put the foam in.
Step 15: APPLYING FINISH:
For the finish, I’m using Odie’s Oil. This is a really simple, hard wax oil finish that you just buff in with a white scotch brite pad, let it sit for about an hour, and then buff off the excess with a clean cloth. It looks and smells so good and is tough enough to use on flooring, so I think it’ll be enough for a box.
Step 16: THE BOX IS FINISHED!
Well, just like any project I do, there are always surprises and things that happen that cause me to adapt my original plan, but I really like how this one turned out. I think zebrawood and maple are one of my new favorite wood combinations now. How about you? I’d love to know what you think about this project. Leave me a comment below and tell me your thoughts! Also, if you haven’t already, go back to the top of the page and watch the video. That really helps me out. Thanks for coming along and checking out this project!