Hello and Welcome to my Blog. In this series I will building and seasoning a cigar humidor. The humidor case will be constructed of walnut and gaboon ebony and the interior liners will be constructed of Spanish cedar.
Typically humidors of this style will be made of plywood or MDF with a veneer, the case is to be sealed so it can be constructed of any of those materials without issue. The most important factor is that the material must remain stable, with that in mind I have chosen a board of walnut which has remained near perfectly flat for the entire length of time that it has been seasoning in my shop.
The interior liner of a humidor is the workhorse of the box, its purpose is to retain and release moisture, allowing the humidor to return to its ideal humidity level very quickly after it has been opened. A wooden humidor, even when made to have a tight seal, will allow air to slowly exchange through its walls. The goal of a good humidor is to keep this air exchange to a reasonable level allowing the humidor to stay at an ideal humidity with little maintenance required. Long term seasoning of good cigars demands a humidor that is tightly sealed so that they can remain mostly undisturbed.
A highly considered wood for this purpose is Spanish cedar and so I’ve chosen to use it for the interior lining. Spanish cedar is an odd wood, it is neither cedar nor does it originate from Spain. Spanish cedar is actually a hardwood from the Meliaceae family, which it shares in common with mahogany. True mahogany is an excellent humidor wood, so it should not come as a shock that spanish cedar is so commonly used in top humidors.
The humidor I’m building is a fairly common design, if you have ventured into a cigar shop then you have likely seen a humidor made in this style. The style I’m referring to is that of a rectangular box with contrasting wooden corners wrapping around a veneered case. The corners are typically rounded over and the case is usually made with a rare wood veneer.
The corner joinery of these types of humidors in most cases is a lock miter, a perfectly fine joint, however I will be using a full blind dovetail to join the corners. I will be mitering those dovetail joints at the location where the lid will be removed so that once it is assembled the joint will appear no different than a plain miter. These humidors are intended to be finely finished and as such I feel they are best left without visible joinery.
I will be using solid wood around the case, these humidors are often constructed with veneer over ply, mdf or softwood for the exterior case, which is quite visually appealing but the edge, which is where the box is most often handled, is easily damaged. The use of solid wood will mitigate damage at that edge seam. I will be using a veneered top, however the top is surrounded at all edges by solid wood, protecting it from damage in most normal use.
I find that it’s very common for these boxes to have felt sole applied to them. This leaves an exposed edge where the felt and the wood come together and I find this a bit disappointing. Instead, I will be covering a panel in leather, and insetting that panel into the base of the humidor. This will eliminate exposed edges which look unfinished.
I’m beginning the build by selecting the board that I will be using for the exterior case. This board was wider than I needed, giving me the opportunity to cut the edges at an angle which aligns the grain of the board with the outside edges. The dovetailed corners will benefit from this alignment, in terms of strength, and the exterior case will feature grain wrapping nicely around the case without rising or falling. Being that I’m using a continuous grain around the box, the grain on one back corner will not appear to line up, setting the grain alignment will help to disguise this.
I begin prepping the stock by removing the slight cup and wind with the jack plane.
Then follow up with the try plane to true the board.
Finally I tune the flatness and put a finish on it with the Kanna.
After, I strike a mark and plane the board to 3/4″ thickness, starting with the jack plane and running through the procedure again.
Next I cut the boards to length and square them up with my ‘shooting board’.
I cut grooves and the rabbets with the router table. I’m working to minimize my use of this device, but it does come in handy while my plane collection comes up to speed.
The rabbets along what will be the corner edges are the beginning of the secret miter (full blind) dovetails. The rabbets leave 1/4″ x 1/4″ of material, which when cut corner to corner will leave with a 45 degree angle.
Next I transfer thickness measurements from corner to corner (there is some inconsistency within the board) to ensure that the dovetails have an accurate baseline.
After, I layout the pins, and have begun chopping one here. The tails are completely covered, so I must start with the pin board and transfer marks from them to the tail board.
Onto the cutout.
I mentioned a miter along the seam between the top and the bottom, the next step is to cut that at a miter, I do so with a chisel and do the same with the bottom of the case.
The last step is to miter the outside edge, I do so with a makeshift setup, utilizing my bench, a 45 degree block and a shoulder plane.
I am mindful to keep an eye on progress as I can always trim the cut later, but gappy miters are hard to look at.
Next I transfer marks to the tail board.
Then cutout the tailboard.
After mitering the edge, I will fit the pieces and see where they need touchup.
Nice and tight and sitting at 90. And the view from the outside.
What appears to be a gap, is actually darker end grain since I did not miter down to a knife edge. The reason for this is two fold, primarily being that I do not want to risk the outside edge while the case is being assembled and because it will allow me a bit of room to fine tune the outside of the box with a finish plane before touching the miter. Finally I will lightly chamfer the outside edge, so the final appearance will not be much different from that.
You may be wondering about that groove running around the perimeter of the box. There is an equal groove on the inside of the box as well. The purpose of this is that after the box is assembled and the top and bottom are inserted, I will cut the box top off using that as a guide and to prevent tearout.
I gave myself some extra room on the height of the box, to allow any inconsistencies to stack up toward the bottom of the box. To amend this I use a panel gauge to mark around the outside of the box and plane those spots flush to the line.
The end result is a nicely flushed edge, ready to receive gaboon ebony trim.
Taking a moment from this, I prepped the top for veneering. The substrate is veneer core baltic birch ply, it has the added benefit of having sat in my shop for a number of years and has remained very flat. The material thickness is just shy of 3/8″, so I prepped veneers for both interior and exterior faces. The show face is curly walnut and the interior face is paperbacked white oak. Veneering both sides will keep the stresses equal and keep the plywood flat.
Some time later the panel comes out of the press, nice and flat. I let it rest for a while before cutting (over a day is more ideal, but this veneer is long grain and well behaved).
These minor glue spots emerging through the grain are a good indication that I had proper coverage. I’ve found through trial and error the ideal glue amount, and if I’m getting a nice sound from the roller as I’m smoothing the glue I’m usually right there. Too much glue causes so many issues with bubbles and humps.
While that rests I return to the case to trim the top flush. There was so little to do that it did not warrant being done prior to marking the bottom. I’m laying this on it’s side to ensure that I am trimming these at exactly 90, this will be important later on.
Next I cut the top to the point where it almost fits, then trim it up with a plane to bring it down to size.
Finally I glue the top in place. The top is set in a groove so that it has glue surfaces on the bottom and the sides.
you may be wondering why the top is proud exactly 1/4″ from the case….all to be revealed in due time.
Next I prepare the trim, first by cutting it to thickness with the big Disston saw, then to width with my smallest ryoba.
In between cuts I planed the thickness to 1/4″. That way I can minimize the work I need to do after the trim is attached. I square four sides, but leave the trim slightly thick so that I can plane it flush to the case.
Next I begin attaching the pieces, cutting them to meet my box miters exactly. This is critical as I like the end miters to line up exactly with the box sides.
I do this one side at a time so that the trim can be planed flush to the case sides without risking damage at the corners. If one corner becomes exposed while you are planing there is a high risk of splintering the end grain of the exposed side.
Here is how they’re looking after bring brought down flush;
I took a moment to touch up the case sides after all of the bottom ledges were applied. Finally I flushed them around the bottom and chamfered their outside edge.
I’ve inserted the plywood liner so that you can see how the leather will line up with the bottom ledge, as intended it is slightly proud of the edge.
Onto the top edge. This style of construction demands these exterior edges to be applied in this fashion as it’s nearly impossible to insert the veneer top without a gap around the edges. With this type of install it can be made so that the seams are nearly invisible.
Tape does an incredible job of making a tight clamp on small parts that are otherwise awkward to clamp.
A closeup of the sides so that you can see how the seams are looking.
I’m taking the tops down flush to the veneer, but not removing any material from the veneer (yet) so the glue witness remains. It will be removed when all is said and done. I’ve learned the hard way to leave the veneer alone until everything is in place. I will sand the veneer now that the case is complete.
Finally, we’re ready for the box top to be removed. I will sand and saw off the top in my next post.
Thank you for visiting, I hope you have enjoyed!
Excellent work on the case and dovetails. The groove for cutting the top off is a great idea and should make that step much less nerve wracking.
Also, I like your shoulder plane setup for making the edge miters, and it’s inspired me to go double check my bench-in-progress and make sure the front edge is dead 90 to the top, ha.
Looking forward to see how you wrap this up. -Robert
Thanks Robert! I finished cutting the top off and the groove worked perfectly, but I will detail all if that in the next post.
Glad you are enjoying, and the bench is coming along nicely!
Beautiful work, Brian. Makes me want to make one too.
Thank you Stan! You would do a beautiful job of it!
That box is coming along nicely. The trick with the groove around the box perimeter is excellent. May ask how wide you made it?
Thank you Stefan!
Working to minimize my use of a router but that groove was made with a 1/8″ carbide spiral downcut bit. You could also use a plow plane, Japanese grooving plane or kerfing plane, though the kerfing plane would make the highest level of difficulty it would also make the smallest groove.
Brian, just to clarify – I understand that you left the veneered top 1/4” proud so that you could then “frame” the top with a perfect fit using four mitered over-sized strips that seamlessly match the sides when planed. This was done so that there are no gaps with this kind of build. Is this correct? Thanks for the help, these build threads are invaluable.
Howdy Dan, exactly that is the reason behind that. It avoids needing to match the top exactly to the cutout. Glad you are enjoying.