I’ve always loved the idea of making secret boxes from books; the kind where you pull out a book from the shelves, lift the cover and find instead a beautiful box full of exciting things. I’ve always been put off by the method, which traditionally involves glueing all of the book pages together and cutting, carefully and precisely, through every single page to cut out an inner section of the book. The results often look amazing, but very time-consuming and requiring much precision cutting and sticking and use of clamps. Not one for slap-dash crafters like me.
Instead, I experimented with making one by removing the whole of the book-text and replacing it with an inner made of cardboard or foam (I tried both; you can see pics below). It took about 90mins from end to end and I love the result… it’s also a very do-able project to make with children on a wet Autumnal afternoon. It the idea appeals, here’s a step-by-step guide below; let me know how you get on!
1. Choose your book
You can choose whatever book you like for this – I found mine for free at a local shop which gives away books rescued from landfill sites – but a few pointers; choose a hardback book, so that you have enough rigidity in the spine and covers for your box. Consider the size and thickness of the book; how big and deep do you want your box to be? There are no right or wrongs here, but have a think before you choose. Finally, give the book a good shake and the spine a waggle to make sure it is sturdy and not falling apart. Oh, and if you’re choosing one from your bookshelves, make sure it won’t be missed…
2. Decide on your ‘filling’
I suggest using either corrugated cardboard or sheets of fun foam. Both of these are very quick and easy to cut; if you are planning a real work of art or heirloom you could use artists grey board, but this will several hundred more strokes of your craft knife and is only for the very dedicated. I’ve shown the steps below using cardboard. The foam will look a little sleeker, but does cost more (you can usually find enough cardboard from old boxes). You can also use a box to insert in your book – I used half a box from a pair of inexpensive sunglasses – though you don’t need one.
3. Carefully remove the book pages
Two ways of doing this; one is to slice away the endpapers and (gently) rip the whole book from the cover; this will keep your book intact if you want to read it again, but it will also weaken the spine of the cover a little. The other method which I used is to slice out the pages as shown below; they will come out in clumps and this should take less than a minute. Cut as close to the glued spine as you can.
4. Measure the page size and cut pieces of cardboard or foam to the same size
Cut as many pieces as you need to fit the depth of the spine (my book needed 10 pieces of foam, or just 5 of the cardboard, which was thicker). Make sure you are measuring the page size and not the cover; your stack needs to fit neatly inside the original book cover.
5. Cut a section from the centre of each, to the size you want your box inner to be, and glue together
If you’re using a box to insert, measure this and mark on each piece of cardboard/foam where to cut, centring on each to ensure you are cutting in the same place.
When you’ve finished, push or place your box into the hole you have cut to check it fits snugly. When you’re happy, lift it out, dab glue around the edges and reinsert to hold it into place. If you’re not using an inner, you can decide what size of shape to cut out. Now stack your pieces and glue together to make your completed insert. (and apologies for the lack of step-by-step pictures here; a combination of glue, paper, craft knives and darkness made this impossible)
6. Paint the cardboard if desired
I painted my cardboard stack black to match the original page edges and colour palette of the book, but you can leave as plain cardboard or paint any colour. If you’re using foam, choose the colour you want at the beginning. Here’s my cardboard stack, painted, with the cover sheet glued on top but without the box yet inserted or the edges trimmed;
6. Take one page sheet from the original book and cut out a hole of the same size/shape, and glue on top of your insert. Trim any scrappy edges carefully, and then glue your finished inner back into the book cover by attaching it to the inside back cover and spine. I used all-purpose glue and weighted my book down and left for a couple of hours to dry.
7. You can also decorate the inside of your box; I stuck the opening page back carefully onto the lefthand cover, used a scrap of gift wrap to line the box, and also made a wax monogram seal with my initial.
8. Admire, and fill with treasures!
You can use the book-boxes as jewellery boxes, or for storing secret treasures, letters or mementoes. The beauty of them is that of course they close naturally and can be stacked alongside other books, looking indistinguishable from a normal one; great for storing valuables if you are going away. They would also be lovely used as a small box for a ring-bearer to carry up the aisle; perhaps using a prayer book or book of poetry to make one of these.
My next project is to make Harry a secret box using a Harry Potter book, which he can keep under his bed and fill with ever-changing treasures. We might even make one for the tooth fairy in the future; a tiny weeny box perhaps to tuck under the pillow, just big enough to hold a tooth and a piece of gold..
Have a great weekend!