I’ve heard about Matt Kenney’s 52 Boxes in 52 Weeks challenge way before the book came out. As he used to be employed at the FineWoodworking Magazin, he was part of their podcast ShopTalk Live and reported about his progress there. On the podcast his nickname was Captain Snark and he was known to build baby furniture a.k.a. smaller things.
His main goal with the 52 boxes was to accelerate his design skills and build beautiful things in the shop. Boxes seem to be the perfect object for such a challenge, because they are rather quickly built, compared to furniture projects, while still having enough opportunities to make every box unique.
Since Matt is no longer with the magazine he started to teach more classes about box making, Kumiko and woodworking around the world and sells a few pieces of his work.
That’s about him, let’s get to the book.
After a short introduction why he started the 52 Boxes in 52 Weeks endeavor, he continues with a chapter about design. The most important thing to him is good proportions of a piece. Namely length, width, height and the harmony between the sizes of every single part. Further, he talks about other design elements like the selection of wood, the use of fabric and color as well as why simple is beautiful.
The next chapter is about box-making techniques and shows some really cool stuff. The heart of his boxes is the continuous grain that goes around all four corners with miter joints. He shows how he makes that happen (hint: you need to resaw for that) and his 2in1 crosscut-sled, he uses for that. The chapter also covers all other components of a box and how to make them, like a bottom that considers wood movement, a lid, a liner and how to finish a box in order to give a beautiful last touch.
Alright, then come the boxes themselves. Each of the 52 boxes is then presented on about 3 pages and he explains what he intended with each box as well as all the design elements of the particular box(es). A few boxes belong together and are therefore presented as a pair, trio or quartet. He defines the term box a bit more relaxed and it also includes a workpiece that is more like a shelf for a sake set.
Along with the pictures of the boxes he also gives away all the specs like wood species, size and used colors of each box. The sequence of boxes is loosened up with the demonstration of techniques, he used for a particular box and some hints about specific topics like working with cocobolo or more philosophical topics such as mistakes as milestones.
The book ends with a short afterword.
The book is published by the Taunton Press and since they are also the publisher of FineWoodworking, you can expect an equally high standard. It contains countless professional photographs on over 200 pages. The different colors of page elements, as well as different fonts, make it a joy to read or just thumb through.
The book is definitely geared towards woodworkers, who want to expand their design abilities. The design elements and principles are totally applicable for all sorts of woodworking. It also motivates to try out a new technique or spending more time and effort into the design of your next piece.
It is a great book to have around and seek inspiration here and there when designing.
The beauty of the boxes struck me immediately. My favorite box is box 45, a tea cabinet with three drawers and a door with Kumiko. Although box 51 and 38 are very close to it.
I really enjoyed reading it. It took me way longer than another book with around 200 pages because I went back and forth to see what he meant with his design explanations and looked at every box pretty extensively. This pushed my understanding of design tremendously. I really hope this will come to life in further builds of mine. I will especially take more time to get the proportions better.
Even if you never intend to build a box like Matt’s, you definitely do benefit from his design skills and will build more delicate and beautiful pieces in the future.