The Cube of Destiny is the first of my “Sorcerers’ Cubes”, a trilogy of carved hardwood cubes I plan to create. Geometrically, this shape is known as a “tesseract”, or “hypercube”. Theoretically, it’s the 3D shadow – or projection – of a four dimensional cube. A 4D cube? I know… blame mathematicians; I don’t make this crap up. If you watch an animation of a rotating tesseract you’ll see that, as the viewing angle changes within three dimensional space, the inner cube turns inside out to engulf the outer cube and back again. Admittedly, the Cube of Destiny doesn’t command quite the same authority over space-time as its hypothetical counterpart. But it does take on some pretty cool looking characteristics when viewed from different angles. It also possesses the unique feature of a loose ball, carved within. Most importantly, it’ll impress the hell out of your friends. And, in the grand theater of life, isn’t that what really matters?
This project began as a cocobolo rosewood cube measuring 1 7/8”. I chose to make the inner cage ¾”. That way it’s easy to establish the boundaries as I work with a ¾” flat carpenters chisel.
I began my layout by cutting a piece of paper to the size of the cube (1-7/8” square) with a centered square cutout (¾”, the outside dimension of the inner cage). This served as a template. The square opening was traced onto all six sides of the cube.
I creased another piece of paper to use as a straight edge, because reaching for a ruler was way too much work. A rigid straightedge would be easier to work with. Draw connecting lines from the corners of the traced squares to the corners of the cube.
A depth gauge (a tire tread gauge, actually) was set just a hair under the distance from the edge of the template to the cutout. This measurement determines how deep to establish the faces of the inner cage.
Chuck a 3/8” Forstner bit into a drill press and set your depth stop about 1/16” – 1/8” shy of where you want to be. In other words, the flats of the bit should not quite reach the square opening of the template at this point. Sometimes it’s best to leave too much material and sneak up to the final dimension. This is one definitely of those times.
A test hole was drilled near one of the corners of one of the traced squares and checked with the depth gauge. Measure the depth of the flat bottom of the drilled hole, NOT the dimple left by the pilot spur. The spur dimple will be deeper; that’s perfectly fine. As expected, the hole isn’t quite there. Adjust the depth stop slightly deeper, then drill and test again on the same hole. Continue deepening the hole until the depth gauge just barely rests flat on the outer cube. Don’t overdo it!
Once your depth is dialed in, go ahead and drill all four inside corners on each face of the cube, taking care not to breach the layout lines. Your cube should now resemble the one shown above.
Before we grab a mallet and start whacking chisels into this thing, we’re going to need some way to hold the piece securely. Avoid the temptation to hold it between your legs. The “Thighmaster technique” might work for Suzanne Somers, but the ball you end up carving may be your own. Avoid using a vise as well. It’ll only destroy your work.
I grabbed a scrap piece of ¾” plywood and traced the cube onto it. Then I rotated the cube an eighth of a turn and traced it again.
This left a star pattern to which I added a straight channel for dust and chip clearance.
Cut out the pattern with a band saw, scroll saw, jig saw, coping saw or seesaw: Whatever you have at your disposal. To compensate for lack of forethought, I glued and screwed my holding jig to a larger piece of scrap, which I could then clamp to my workbench. I should have just used a larger piece of 3/4” plywood from the beginning.
We now have a safe and secure way to hold the cube while working on it. The alternative is painful injury and public ridicule. Never underestimate the importance of safety! As a woodworker, having to make a jig is commonplace. As a carver, it’s somewhat unusual. Nonetheless, you may sometimes have to undertake little side projects in the process of creating your target project. Project recursion, for the win!
Can you see how I’ve created stop cuts where the lines were on all four sides of each square in the picture above? This was done with a flat ¾” carpenters chisel. Keep the chisel’s bevel turned towards the inside of the squares, flat side out. These stop cuts act to define the boundaries of the square holes.
After making the stop cuts, use the same chisel to start clearing away the waste wood. Every time you chisel past the depth of the stop cuts, score them again. Once reaching the bottom, flatten them as much as you can with a ¼” flat chisel. Bevel down. Don’t worry about the dimples created by the Forstner bit. They’ll disappear later on.
Next, create a 45-degree bevel to transition from the flat bottoms of the square holes out to what will become the bars of the outer cage. I used a hacksaw blade to start defining that bevel by cutting along the diagonal lines I laid out earlier. There’s not enough clearance to saw as deep as you need to go. But you’ll ultimately get there with a chisel.
Be sure to leave a margin – a little over 1/4” – around the outside borders.
Using the ¼” chisel again, begin hogging away wood as shown. It’s critical to observe grain direction to avoid tear-out and splitting. Be extra cautious on the two end grain faces. You may need to approach the end grains at an angle. Take your time and whittle away at it a little at a time to avoid disaster.
With care and patience, you’ll get all six faces done.
Score the boundaries of the inner cage with a chisel. Leave about a 3/16” margin between the scored marks and where the bevels begin.
Now for a change of tooling: I grabbed my “Foredom-style” rotary tool with flex shaft and chucked a tiny straight bit. A Dremel-style rotary tool will work just as well. The one I used is actually tapered ever so slightly, but either would work, just so long as it’s nice and thin.
Cut a groove about 1/16” deep over the chiseled layout marks.
A little cone-shaped burr can then used to begin rounding what will become the ball.
By alternating a few times between deepening the groove around the border with the thin, straight bit and rounding the ball with the cone, you’ll start seeing light shine through and, eventually, end up with a loose ball in the center. Be sure to work from all sides equally.
Get the ball as round as you can before cutting it completely loose. This is most critical when working at a scale this scale and smaller, when manually holding the loose ball still would become very difficult. Again, this is not Thighmaster territory. In this case, it’s large enough that I can grasp it with my fingertips. But I still rounded it as much as I could before setting it free.
Now is the time – while the piece is still fairly solid – to make the ball as round as you can. Waiting until later will put the soon-to-be-fragile cage bars at risk of breakage which, in turn, leads directly to heart breakage. An oval-shaped burr like this one works great for this step.
To carve a round ball – or any other smooth curve – the trick is to continually work on knocking down the high spots while leaving the low spots untouched. Be careful not to cut into the rest of the structure while doing so.
The rotary burrs are only going to make the ball so smooth. So the final shaping and smoothing of the ball can be accomplished with a fine, flat, double-cut needle file.
It’s tempting to leave the ball in a rougher state but a little extra time invested at this stage really pays off in the end. So do yourself a favor and take your time. The rounder the ball the nicer it will look.
The needle file was employed again, this time to touch-up the inside edges of the square holes, using short, careful strokes.
Once you’re satisfied with the ball, use a pencil to draw the pattern for the openings in the main structure.
A small disc-shaped burr was used to define the borders. This bit has cutting teeth only on the outside edge, so it’s great for cutting shallow slots.
I couldn’t get in at exactly the right angle here, but I could still follow inside the lines with no problem. I just cut a slightly wider slot and all was well.
I also sliced a boundary along the inside of the main cube’s bars using this cute little rotary saw blade. BE VERY CAREFUL NOT TO CUT NEAR THE CORNERS!
There was actually no good reason to have used a blade this thin for this cut. I selected it only for its extended depth of cut, so that I could get a nice, clean cut all the way through. You could accomplish the same thing with narrow chisel, just take care not to break anything. Make these cuts ONLY near the middles of the main bars, taking care not to cut into the diagonal bars that will suspend the inner cage. We definitely don’t want a careless disaster this late in the game.
Here’s where all of that has left me. After all of the openings on all six sides were established…
… I switched back to the oval burr…
… and began opening up the, uhh, openings.
The same bit was used to clean up along the inside corners of the diagonal bars. The inside corners of the openings are still too round.
The cone bit from earlier – followed by this straight burr – will take care of those inside corners.
And it looks like that did the trick.
Before sticking a fork in this project and calling it done, you can use tiny grinding bits like the two show above to surface and smooth the various cage bars. You will also want to sand the original outside surfaces of the cube with sandpaper. All that’s left to do now is apply a finish.
Approximately 10 coats of spray lacquer later, the result is something you can be quite proud of! Congratulations, you’ve just altered the fabric of space-time. You can thank me in 4th spacial dimension. If we aren’t smeared across the event horizon first.