I have a bit of an obsession with fine hardwood boxes. I think this infatuation might be an extension of my interest in all things small, beautiful and precious. After all, if you own a magnificent piece of antique jewelry, a fine vintage wristwatch or a stunning ancient coin, it is only natural to want to store such a treasure in a container worthy of its grandeur. And the most laudable boxes I have found are those expertly crafted from temperate or exotic hardwoods.
There are a lot of very fine hardwoods out there in the world, and most of them have been made into wonderful boxes at one time or another. Walnut, cherry, hard maple and oak are the premier North American hardwoods. These species produce exceptionally beautiful timber that resonates with both traditional elegance and a rich history.
But my heart is reserved for the alluring grain patterns and sheer otherworldly beauty of exotic hardwoods. The word "exotic" is a catchall term that usually refers to tropical hardwoods, but in reality can mean any hardwood not originating from a temperate climate. Mahogany, ebony, rosewood, teak and purple heart are just a few of the nearly countless varieties of fine exotic hardwoods. As a general rule, exotic hardwoods are more expensive than temperate hardwoods, although there can be exceptions to this precept.
There is something incredibly special about holding a fine, handmade hardwood box in your hands. The way the flawless joinery seamlessly welds disparate pieces of the most precious woods on the planet into a single functional object is magical. The swirling, irregular grain and subtle, natural tones of exotic hardwoods are unparalleled among natural or synthetic substances.
I have relentlessly stalked antique shops, flea markets, church bazaars and online sales venues alike searching for the perfect wooden box. And do you know what I've discovered? There are a lot of wooden boxes out there, but very few are really, truly fine. In fact, the very best hardwood boxes are incredibly scarce.
On the other hand, poor quality, cheap wooden boxes are everywhere. They are exported in quantity from sweatshops in China, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and many other third world nations. These miserable boxes are invariably made with veneers, plywoods and other inferior materials in order to keep costs down. And because they are mass produced, close examination will always reveal the shortcomings of their careless, shoddy construction.
A truly fine hardwood box is simply a world apart from these base imitations. A high quality wooden box is lovingly hand-fabricated with the greatest care. The edges always match up perfectly, with no misalignment. The solid brass hinges are usually partially hidden, sunken flush with the surrounding wood. And the best of the best are often signed by the artist who created them. And make no mistake, like any work of art, exceptional hardwood boxes are created by artists.
But the wood is the star of the show. A skilled woodworker showcases the figured grain and intriguing tones of a fine hardwood, letting the natural attributes of the wood accentuate the design. In fact, the best hardwood boxes almost never use stained wood; they don't need to. Instead they rely on stunning natural burl, spalted or figured woods to engage the observer visually. Nature dons its own exquisite raiment.
The very finest hardwood boxes are true works of art. In fact, they even rise to the level of an objet d'art - a precious, expertly crafted receptacle to store and protect the physical objects you treasure most. Regardless of whether they are created from true Cuban mahogany, river red gum burl or honey mesquite with a live edge, a finely crafted hardwood box is worth every penny of its cost.