Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been experimenting with creating things out of old cigar boxes. I’ve been using carving, pyrography and decoupage to transform these old wooden boxes into interesting works of art. The photo above shows a “good” result: a jewelry box for my daughter made from beautiful sapele wood with a nice thick top for carving. Unfortunately, on some other attempts I ran into problems. I’m glad the boxes are inexpensive, because a lot of them wind up on the scrap wood pile. Most of them are made to look exquisite in the cigar store, but a closer inspection shows their flaws. Here are some of the problems I have found working with recycled wooden cigar boxes. I hope you an learn from my experiences and save yourself some grief.

Severe Warping – Cigars demand a moisture rich environment. The wood for the box is probably newly cut and very moist. The air in the cigar store is kept humid. Then you bring the empty wooden box home to an atmosphere that is very dry by comparison. The result is severe warpage. See the photo below. Beautiful wood…nice box shape…but totally useless.

Laminated Wood and MDF – Some boxes are painted or stained. You sand of the finish only to find medium density fiberboard or cheap plywood. Bummer! The plywood is also a prime candidate for warping.
Label Removal – Otherwise known as a time-consuming exercise in screaming and cursing. Why is it that the nicest looking boxes have labels attached with glue that could be used to build steel bridges? Forget water as a solvent. Try paint thinner or mineral spirits. I even tried acetone. The label came off, and so did the finish. Because the labels are so hard to remove, you can easily scrape the surface if you are not careful. Labels on the inside of the cover are especially troublesome to remove. They are usually very colorful and foil coated. I tend to leave them on as reminder of the fact that the finished box was a cigar box at one time.
Cheap Hardware – Don’t expect the hinges and clasps to be top quality. In some cases, you might want to replace them with better hardware.
As a result of all this, I have become pickier at the cigar box bin. I now know what brands of cigar have the best boxes to work with. I still enjoy recycling these old ladies into beautiful maidens.