Shadow Box v1.0

Shadow Box 1.0

This year we have several long tenured members of my department who are going to retire.  It is a Navy tradition to provide retiring members with a shadowbox to commemorate their career.  They are typically wildly overpriced for the quality that is delivered and I wanted to make sure my colleagues received something a little nicer.  I was inspired by Jon’s DIY YouTube channel (  where he builds several different versions of a shadow boxes.  Please check his channel out!

Tools and Supplies



dado stack

Air compressor

Tight Bond II wood Glue

SawStop Table saw


Pin nailer

5/8 inch Brads

3 inch wide mahogany board

Foam board



Gem red angle finder

1/4 inch plywood backer

Strap clamp

#4 5/8 inch screws

Plexiglass panel

Picture frame hangers

Watco Danish Oil 

Minwax Finishing Paste

SawStop Table saw



First I jointed one edges then ran the entire board through the planer to ensure one square surface.  Next I made a first shallow pass on my router with a 5/32 roman ogee bit.  I was glad I made a shallow pass because an 8 foot board was difficult to control through my bench top machine.  Rather than fight it through the finish cut, I next cut the 8 foot length into rough cut final dimensions on my chop saw.  Next I increased the depth of my cut on the router and made my final passes on the four rough cut side pieces.  Next I made 45 degree miters on the table saw using my cross cut sled.  I used several practice pieces to ensure I had the fit dialed in and made sure I had the cuts set up correctly.  The plexiglass that I ordered was the exact width of my saw blade so I was able to make a single pass to cut the kerf to receive the plexiglass panel.  I made the kerf about 1/4 of and inch from the top edge at the base of the detail from the router table.  I chose this distance based on how it looked.  Next I used my dado stack set to 11/32.  I set my board on edge with the dado detail up and facing the fence to ensure my cut was on the revers side (inside bottom). I then set the blade height to match the width of my back panel then cut the dado for my back panel.  I used my strap clamp to hold the frame together and took measurements to cut my back panel.  The initial cut was a bit large so I could sneak up on a tight fit.  I used this panel to cut my plexiglass panel.  I then test fit and assembled the front and back to make sure we had a good fit using the strap clamps. I sanded the frame pieces with 80 followed by 220 and finished with 600 grit sand papers.   Next I glued up the top and side panels of the frame and used brad nail to support the corners until the glued dried.  I placed my folded ensign in the corner and marked off the where the cross piece would go to hold it in place.  I measured the distance between my marks and added 2.5 inches so I could be sure to have the proper length once I cut my 45 degree angles on the ends.  I set my saw depth using the distance between the plexiglass kerf and the edged of my dado.  Once I had the length dialed in I sanded, glued and brad nailed the cross piece in place.  Next I place my back panel back in place and traced out the inside edge for my 1/4 inch foam board and cut and glued it in placed.  I test fit it again to ensure I had enough room for the felt to be applied.  1/16 of an inch for the reveal provided a clean tight fit.  Next  used Elmers glue to glue down my felt.  I trimmed the felt with a straight edge and exact-o knife.  I stained the frame and cross piece with two coats of Danish Oil.  I did a final test fit prior to removing the protective film from the plexiglass and installed it and glued up the bottom piece of the frame and held it in place with brad nails and a couple of clamps. Next I did a final sanding and filled the brad nail holes with sawdust and applied a final coat of Danish oil to the outside of the frame followed by furniture wax.  I used a counter sink bit to predrill holes for two brass screws on each corner.  I used #4 5/8 inch screws for this project.   The last step was to add the contents of the of the shadow box to the foam backer.