Ray Jones's focus these days is making
boxes – over 10,000 in the last 25 years, according to his
estimates. And not only does he make wooden boxes, he makes the
"hardware" hinges from wood, too.
Ray used to work as an aerospace
engineer – but he put himself through college with a summer job in
construction that "gave me a lot of confidence working with my
hands." When he finished his degree in aeronautical engineering and
moved to Los Angeles, he rented a house and, "instead of buying
furniture, I bought tools and made furniture."
His first box was one he designed for
his wife, before she was his wife, as a traveling jewelry case: it
needed to have no sharp edges. Although the interior design of that
box has changed over the years – these days, it uses standard
rectangular jewelry box components for the interior – it's a design
that he still produces.
"Boxes appeal to me, partly because
of the mechanics of it," Ray said. "They have hinges, they have
parts that open and close. Everybody seems to need a box. It's a good
With that in mind, after Ray left his
engineering job to start a woodworking business, it wasn't long
before he put aside the other things he had been building, such as
clocks, desk accessories and rolling pins, to focus on boxes. "I
could concentrate on making them faster and better. It was the best
marriage of interest and market."
It's for his own aesthetics that his
wooden boxes have to be "all wood — wooden hinges," Ray said.
He creates the hinges himself, as both a design feature, particularly
in his turned boxes, and a functional component. "Several years
ago, I bought some ebony from someone who had bought [the inventory
of] a pool cue company that had gone out of business. A lot of short
turning squares of ebony" – which he's been using to make hinges
of contrasting wood to some of his box bodies.
"I like using different kinds of
wood. I'm just fascinated with wood, there's so many species, each
one with its own colors and textures and figure," Ray said. "I'm
always looking for 'new' woods. I like using things that are less
common, that you may not have seen before."
Figured woods like quilted maple and
koa, contrasting woods like ebony, walnut or madrone burl, or unusual
woods like "white mahogany" avodire from Africa are among the
species Ray uses. He employs some of them to make his own plywood for
turned boxes, so that he can avoid the unforeseen defects that often
crop up in commercial veneers when they're turned.
Among Ray's turned boxes are his
half-moon style boxes, a shape that came about when he was designing
in his mind while his body was standing at the lathe making other
boxes. They're inspired by a turned stamp holder he used to make, the
size and mostly the shape of a billiard ball, although it was flat on
the bottom. Ray wanted to come up with a box that "wouldn't have a
lift-off lid, and wouldn't look like all the other turned boxes."
He also makes turned boxes that look
like sculptural pieces "but then the doors open and it's a
functional box, with a shelf in contrasting woods. There's a certain
'wow' factor when you open the doors."
To create his wooden hinges for some of
these boxes, Ray turns cylinders that are then cut into three pieces,
with the two outer pieces glued to the box and the center piece glued
through the box door. He routs a round groove into the box so the
cylinder fits into it. For his production boxes, his wooden hinges
are frequently pin and socket type hinges created from dowels that
are attached to either side of the box lid, and through a hole
drilled in the side of the body of the box.
For those boxes where the wooden hinge
is part of the design, they're an obvious feature. For the production
type boxes, although the wooden hinges are there, they're not as
obvious. At the shows where he sells most of his work these days, Ray
says, "I point it out."