This past Christmas I decided to buy myself a little present, the Rockler Bluetooth speaker kit. The kit costs about $40 and comes with two small speakers and a small control panel. You can create any type of enclosure you want, but there are plans for a basic box and that’s what I decided to build.
There are a ton of Bluetooth speaker kits on the market, but there were a few reasons I went with this specific one. I’ve purchased several items from Rockler in the past and they have always been high quality. This kit didn’t disappoint. The parts are well-made. Also, I am not much of an electronics person. This kit seemed simple enough that even I couldn’t mess it up. I mean, all you have to do is connect 3 cables that are color-coded—so it’s pretty much dummy-proof. I’ve also seen several YouTube videos featuring these kits. So, I ordered one, brought it to work, and promptly forgot about it. I recently rediscovered it while cleaning up my desk, so I decided to go ahead and build an enclosure for it.
Prepping the wood
The first step, as usual, is to select the wood for the project and mill it to the correct size. I decided to use hickory for the main part of the box with walnut for the accents. Using the jointer and planer, I quickly took the hickory down to a thickness of 3/4-inch. Using the bandsaw, I resawed a piece of walnut to 1/8-inch thick. The walnut is for the front and back panels and splines.
Building the box
Normally when you are building a box, you put the four sides together first. Sometimes, as in a panel-style construction, the bottom will be built into the frame, but you rarely put the top on in the same way. Since this box is acting as an enclosure and doesn’t need to be opened, I’m putting the top and bottom on as a panel built into the frame. To do this, I switched to a dado setup on the table saw using the two blades that come with my stack. Together, they equal just slightly more than 1/8-inch. I set the fence on the saw about 1/8-inch away from the edge of my hickory and set the blade height at about half the thickness of the hickory board, I set this by eye and didn’t measure since it’s not really important if it’s exactly half of the height, just close. So using the same settings on the table saw I ran the board through again on the opposite side. I now had two trenches running down one side of my board.
Now that the board is ready to be cut into pieces for the box, it’s time for the crosscut sled. With the table saw blade tilted to 45 degrees, I placed the board trench-side down and made an angled cut. Always make sure the shorter side of the cut is on the same side as the trenches. Next, I measured 4″ from the long side and drew a 45-degree angle with the short side going towards the trenches. (I hate to say it but I made a mistake here. I’ll explain what happened in just a bit.) I made another 4″ side and then cut two 8″ boards.
Time to test the box by dry-fitting it. The main body fit together quite nicely. (If you are careful and use a single board, you can make the grain match up and connect around the piece.) I used blue painter’s tape to hold 3 of the sides together and measured the distance on the inside of the trenches for the panel pieces to fit snugly. Not too snugly though. You want a little bit of room for the wood to expand and contract in response to the humidity. Next up, I cut the walnut pieces on the table saw to fit into the box. It took a few trips back and forth to get the fit just right.
The kit instructions call for cutting two large holes (2 3/4″) for the speakers and a smaller one (1 7/8″) for the control panel. A small lip around the outside of the components gives you a little play in the cut and will hide any mistakes if you don’t happen to have a drill bit available in those sizes. I didn’t, so I drew the circles with a compass, drilled starter holes, and used a scroll saw to make the cuts which I later cleaned with a spindle sander. I tested the fit on the speakers several times to make sure they snapped into place firmly. Then did it all over again to make the smaller hole for the control panel.
Recognizing a mistake and fixing it
Up to this point, everything was going smoothly—maybe a little too smoothly. After assembling the box and holding it together with painter’s tape, I tried to fit the speakers in the holes and that’s when it hit me that I had totally messed up. When I was cutting the sides for the box I didn’t take into account the trenches—and how much they would overlap the speakers. Remember that little lip around the speaker that covered the irregularities of the hole? It also overlapped the edges of my box. It didn’t go over the edge, but the lip hit just enough so that the speakers wouldn’t fully fit into the panel. Oops! Well, one of the things I tell new woodworkers is that woodworking is 10% doing things right and 90% fixing the mistake you just made. As time goes by, you get better and those percentages should change—or you just get better at fixing mistakes.
So I sat down and gave it some thought. I needed to offset the arc of the speaker and cut it out of the edge but couldn’t use a normal saw since I didn’t want to cut into the box itself. I decided to use the spindle sander with a very aggressive grit. I placed the speaker in the center of the hole as best as I could and drew an outline on the lip of the box. I didn’t want the speaker to be right on the edge, so I moved it back just a little bit. Then using the spindle sander I carefully cut out only the small lip part, This took a lot longer than I had hope and consisted of multiple dry fittings until I was happy with it. When doing something like this remember it’s way easier to take a little more away than to add a little back on.
Gluing & Sanding
So everything fits now. Thank goodness. The next step is to glue everything together. So, I took everything apart and applied glue on the miters that make up the corners. Using painter’s tape, I put three of the corners together. Then I slid the two pieces for the speakers and control panel inside the trenches and put the last piece on the outside and taped it closed.
After about an hour, I busted out my homemade spline jig to place a couple of splines in the corners. Let’s talk about how and why you would put splines in something like this. First the why. When you are gluing end-grain, you will always need to have some type of reinforcement on the joints. Think about the grain of wood as thousands of tiny straws going up the tree—bringing water and nutrients from the ground to the top of the tree. The end grain has lots of hollow, straw-like structures. When you apply glue here, it just travels up the “straws” and doesn’t do a good job of holding things together. So, when you glue something with only end grain you need to be careful. If you drop it from more than a foot or so, it’s probably going to break in at least one place and maybe more. There are several ways to reinforce end-grain corners but my favorite is by creating splines. A spline is when you make a cut in the grain along the corner at a 45-degree angle, and then replace it with a thin piece of wood. This gives you a good amount of long-grain surface area to glue the corners together. It’s really strong and also gives you the opportunity to put in a contrasting wood that pops the design of your piece.
Placing splines is super easy. A spline jig runs over and along the fence on a table saw and holds the corner of your project at a 45-degree angle over the blade. This cuts a little groove in the corner which you can then replace with a piece of long-grain wood. I cut eight grooves,—two on each corner of my project. Then I cut a thin piece of walnut to fit into the grooves with glue. I let the glue dry overnight, and the next morning I sanded the walnut down flush with the rest of the box. Once everything was flush, I sanded the entire box to 320 grit.
For the finish, I used teak oil with a coat of mineral oil and beeswax. I make my own oil and wax finish by melting beeswax and adding mineral oil at a 50/50 ratio, then let it solidify. If you don’t have the time to make your own wax finish, you can always use paste wax, easily found at any big box store. I prefer my mix because the beeswax makes it smell great. In general, I enjoy using a wax/oil finish as a final finish because it feels good to the touch. After the finish was dry and ready to go I put the two speakers in and connected the wires to the control piece and placed it in the back.
Bam, it’s done! Now I can play some sweet sweet tunes in the shop, or the backyard, or the kitchen, or the living room, or the bathroom—or just wherever I want. I was happily surprised by the sound volume and quality, which was pretty darn good for a $40 kit. My only complaint is that it could use a little more low-end tha-whomp sound, but honestly, I’m happy.