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  • 1x8 stock wood (oak, cedar, poplar, etc….)
  • Wood glue
  • Spray adhesive

Wood Luminary

Wood Luminary

Chris Marshall of Woodworker's Journal shows us how to make a luminaria, a traditional Mexican holiday lantern, with a modern spin using Craftsman technology.


Date: Feb 25, 2011


1. Make your front and back panels 5 1/2 in. wide and 8 1/2 in. long. You'll also need two 5 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. side panels, plus a 1/4-in.-thick bottom panel measuring 4 1/2 x 5 in.

2. Trim out some paper patterns to shape, and apply them to your front and back panels with spray adhesive.

3. Cut out the shapes. Use a trim router or a scroll saw and a fine-tooth blade. If you choose to route the cutout, remove the waste in several shallow passes, resetting the bit for a deeper cut each time. Mount your work pieces to a back-up board with double-sided tape to protect your bench, and clamp the assembly down before routing.

4. Box joints are an attractive and sturdy way to join the four panels of this project. Typically, box joints are cut at the table saw with a dado blade and a simple pin-style jig attached to a miter gauge. The pin on the jig registers the spacing of the slot cuts, which also form the interlocking pins. You can find instructions for making box joints in many woodworking books. The pattern for this luminaria calls for 1/2 in. x 1/2 in. joints. Mill the pin-and-slot pattern in the front and back faces first, then use these work pieces to register the first slot cuts for the side panels. (Note: If you'd prefer not to make box joints, you can attach the four corners with butt joints and nails instead. Reduce the width of the side panels by 1 in. so they'll fit between the front and back panels when assembled without altering the overall project size.)

5. When your box joints are completed, cut the curved top edge of the front and back panels to shape, and remove the paper patterns. To do this, soak the paper with mineral spirits or denatured alcohol, let it sit for a few minutes and then peel the pattern off. Use more solvent and a scrub pad to remove any residual adhesive.

6. Your luminaria's bottom panel will fit into two 1/4 x 1/4 in. dadoes in the side panels. Cut them now with a dado blade in your table saw, positioning the dadoes 1/4 in. up from the bottom edges of the sides. Do not cut these dadoes into the front and back panels.

7. Sand the "inside" faces of all five work pieces up through the grits to 180. Now, tape over the box joints to protect them, and apply finish to the sanded faces of your project parts. If you plan to display your luminaria outside, spar varnish is an excellent finish for outdoor durability. When the finish cures, peel off the tape.

8. Carry out a full dry assembly of your lantern to double-check the joint fit. Then glue the project together with an exterior-rated adhesive, and apply band clamps to close the joints. Note: Remember to fit the bottom panel in place during the glue-up, but keep its dadoes free of glue so it can expand and contract as needed.

9. Remove the clamps when the glue dries, and sand the outside surfaces of your project to 180 grit to remove any glue squeeze-out and to smooth them. We eased the outer edges of our lantern with a 1/8-in. diameter round over bit.

10. Apply finish to the outer surfaces of your luminaria. To prepare it for use, fill the bottom inch or two of a wide-mouth canning jar with sand, and insert a 2-in.-diameter pillar or votive candle

11. Light your new lantern and set it outside to spread some festive cheer!

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