One Day Build: Shadow Box

I grew up with a wood shop in the basement. When I was young my father was an airplane mechanic with a woodworking hobby. There were always tools of all sorts around. He’d make picture frames, small decorative shelves, plant stands, and various other small household items. Being his son, it was only natural that I’d spend time in the shop with him learning about the tools and the craft. It was also the 1980’s and 90’s and boys in my area were all funneled into various programs to bolster our masculinity: sports, scouts, and school wood shop classes. Eventually, my father put together a rudimentary tool set some of his old tools and gave it to me as an heirloom. I still have the toolbox and a number of the tools.

It took around twenty years for the interest in woodworking to revive, and now that we have a residence in which we can do major projects those old tools are used more than they have been in decades. Old tools, though, don’t last forever, even though it seems like they will. Last month one of the heirloom tools finally stopped being useful, the vice grips.

vice grips
Govm’t Name: Vice Grips; True Name: Shark Wrench

That’s what this tool is called, vice grips. However, the eight year-old that lives in my head and hung out in his father’s shop demands that this is only the common public name of the tool. We know that the real name of this tool is “shark wrench.” Do you see it? The sleek shape. The teeth. The eye at the top of its head. Okay, it doesn’t look much like a shark but there is certainly a sea monster aspect to the shape of this tool. Don’t disagree with me as you are clearly wrong and we are clearly right. It’s a shark wrench. Period.

The spring mechanism inside the wrench became too weak to remain closed, which renders the device useless. After I replaced it with a new one I found that I didn’t know what to do with it. It seemed somewhat sacrilegious to toss it in the trash. It wasn’t useful as a tool, and it didn’t make sense for it to to take up space in the toolbox anymore. What was I to do with this tool that had been used by my father, myself, and DeLyle? After a few days with it in a drawer I had the idea. I was going to make a shadow box for it.

vice grips and a wood pieces cut for a shadow box

With all the work we’ve been doing over the last year we have plenty of scrap and materials in our shop. Since we are only talking about a hand tool of approximately six inches there was no need to make a trip to the store for something special. I took what we had and cut it down for my purpose. The back of the box is half-inch plywood leftover from the Cat Box 2.0 project. The frame is 1×3 maple (probably) that we had from last year’s bed build. The frame pieces were given beveled ends to create 45 degree corners.

shadow box pieces after being stained and oiled

After I cut the pieces to size and sanded them down I needed to find a way to finish them. I rooted around in our supplies and found four shades of stain and some boiled linseed oil. After testing a few swatches I decided on the linseed oil for the back and a medium-dark stain called “colonial” for the frame. Using a rag for application I applied one coat of each to their respective pieces and let dry in the sun. After a couple of hours I came back and pieced them together. I applied wood glue to the edge of the plywood and secured the frame pieces with one inch brad nails. To secure the wrench inside I placed two nails in strategic position to hold the weight.

shadow box holding a set of vice grips
Finished Shadow Box

I’m pretty happy with how this turned out. I’ve never built a piece like this before. You can see some errors in execution if you look closely, but overall I’m proud. All it’s missing is a brass placard reading:

Shark Wrench

d. 2020

update: july 24

Okay, I couldn’t help myself. I had to add the brass placard.

shark wrench with brass name plate that reads "shark wrench, d. 2020."
Shark Wrench, d. 2020

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