Cherry Black Belt Case

Black Belt Display Case

Who doesn’t like a nice curve?
I recently had the honor of building an appropriate display case for my friend Lee Lemoine who is a Tae Kwon Do black belt.  We talked a bit about what he was looking for, captured some dimensions for the coiled belt and looked at some sources for inspiration and then it was time to hit the drawing board.

Completed Black Belt Case
Completed Black Belt Case

I spent about a day and a half drafting and revising my design until I could find something that would work. The cabinet is wide but not too deep nor terribly tall so it was going to be a challenge to make the joinery work. I thought about making the back access panel hinged or sliding or secured in some other manner, but I really didn’t want to see any hardware on this piece. I bought some small brass hinges and a clasp and just didn’t like how it would look. After sleeping on it an idea hit me….to hide a magnet catch since this case will rarely be opened. I also had Jim Tolpin and George Walker’s writing (By Hand and By Eye) echoing around in my head as I worked out pleasing proportions for the overhang of the top, size of the curve etc.

Planing the stock to final dimensions
Planing the stock to final dimensions

After completing the plans, I planed all my stock and started working on the joinery.

Quick template to remove material for the magnet catch
Quick template to remove material for the magnet catch

For the magnet catch I made a template on the band saw and used a router with a template bit to cut out the recess.

Test fitting the magnet catch
Test fitting the magnet catch

The catch was captured and would not be seen from the front (shown below)

Preparing the core of the box to accept the top
Preparing the core of the box to accept the top

Next up was constructing the core of the box. The core box needed to capture the glass front in a series of dadoes. I also wanted the box to be serviceable if the glass was ever broken. I needed to keep the joinery simple and decided to go with pocket hole screws since that would allow someone in the future to take the top off of the box and remove the top of the core of the box as well. The overhanging box top is affixed to the core box via screws. The challenge with the screws was the interior of the box was only 2-1/4″ tall so I had to use a square drive bit in a set of vise grips in order to secure the screws through the core box and into the top. (I pre-drilled both to make sure everything lined up where I wanted it)

Cutting a strip of glass
Cutting a strip of glass

Next up was cutting the very long strip of glass for the front of the box. I used a stained glass ‘strip cutter’ which works much like a woodworking panel gauge with a fence.  You score the glass in one even stroke and break it as you would any other piece of glass.

Laying out the curve with a faring stick
Laying out the curve with a faring stick

Next up was laying out the curve using a faring stick — which is a thin strip of even grained wood that you can bend to make the curve you want, then clamp it in place and draw your line with a pencil. If you thin out the strip you can adjust the rate of curvature.

Cutting the curves on the band saw
Cutting the curves on the band saw

I cut out the curves using the band saw and cleaned them up with some spoke shaves.

Rabbet will fit into a dado on the back of the case
Rabbet will fit into a dado on the back of the case

For the back of the case I needed it to fit tightly so it doesn’t let any light in and also created a rabbet to keep the bottom in the correct place. The magnet catch secures the top in place.

Back removed to show how the magnet catch works.
Back removed to show how the magnet catch works.

Shown above you can see the box opened and below you can see it closed.

Rear of the case when closed.
Rear of the case when closed.

A small turned knob allows someone to remove the back and is often hidden in the shadow from the top — so when the case is on a table or similar you generally cannot even see it.

Small pull and clean lines on the back of the case
Small pull and clean lines on the back of the case

The piece is made from a single piece of cherry, finished with a Tung Oil Varnish and wax.

Master Lee describing what the belt means to him and the long road it took to get it
Master Lee describing what the belt means to him and the long road it took to get it

As I was building this case I was reading up on Asian design aesthetics and Tae Kwon Do (TKD) and all that Lee had to go through and master. As he rose through various levels of black belt he had to demonstrate skills and self control and continually work to learn and improve himself.

In my research, a concept that really jumped out at me was Wabi-Sabi — which represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.  The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. TKD comes from Korea, but from what I could find also has a similar concept in that country as well.

Lee presenting his black belt to his parents
Lee presenting his black belt to his parents

With all the clean lines and symmetry on this piece I wanted to incorporate a tiny little something to try and capture a bit more of that Wabi-Sabi aesthetic or at least some of that spirit. So between the top of the core box and the overhanging box top I inlaid a tiny veneer strip of mahogany. It’s almost imperceptible as it hides in the shadows from the overhanging box top. As I worked on the piece I felt it was a reminder of imperfect beauty, self improvement and a reward for anyone really exploring the piece in detail in their hands.

Lee presented the case with his black belt to his parents during a touching speech and I hear it enjoys a sunny place in their living room.

Cherry Black Belt Case
Cherry Black Belt Case

It was great to see Master Lee Lemoine’s ceremony and I have a whole new respect for what Tae Kwon Do offers and what students can achieve through it. If you’d like to learn more about TKD and specifically the Tiger Claw NH school where Lee is now a Master you can visit their website here.

Take care,
-Bill

4 thoughts on “Black Belt Display Case”

  1. Bill,

    You are truly an extraordinary artist of wood. That design and joinery and finish could express so much is thrilling.

    Best, Sara

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