How to Make a Nifty Shoe Shine Box

by Brett on June 18, 2012 · 45 comments

in Manly Skills, Projects

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Here at the Art of Manliness, we’ve talked a few times about the manly ritual of a good shoe shine over the years. For awhile now, I’ve kept my own shoe shine supplies in a box I got for Christmas a few years back. It’s a pretty nice box, but I’ve always had an itch to make one with my own two hands. Then a few months ago I was looking through some old Popular Mechanics magazines, and a nifty shoe shine box design in an issue from 1950 caught my eye.

It’s a simple design. You’ve got a place to hold your brushes and polish cans and a place to rest your foot when shining your shoes. What makes this design so nifty is the two free-turning dowels placed inside the box. After you’ve given your shoes a good polishing, the dowels serve as rollers for your polish cloth for buffing your shoes to a mirror shine. Here it is in action:

This is an incredibly easy and inexpensive project. It only takes an hour to complete, but you’ll end up with a unique and sturdy little box that will last you a lifetime.

The Design

Here’s the modified Popular Mechanics design that I used to make my shoe shine box:

Click here for larger image.

Thanks to AoM reader Robert Heffern for providing this SolidWorks image. Click to enlarge.

Materials & Tools Needed


  • (1) 3/4″ x 8″ x 8′ board (I used a cedar board I bought at Home Depot for $11. I was able to make two boxes out of one board. You can use whitewood for an even cheaper box.)
  • (1) 5/8″ wooden dowel
  • (18) #6 1-1/4″ wood screws
  • Saw (I used my table saw. Miter saw works, too. Heck, you could even use a handsaw for this project.)
  • Power drill
  • Band saw or coping saw
  • 11/16″ bore bit
  • Compass
  • Measuring tape

Measure and Cut Wood

Here’s the board that I’m going to cut my pieces from. It’s a 3/4″ x 8″ x 8′ board that I cut in half. While the width of the board is labeled 8″, its actual width is 7  1/4″.

I measured and marked all my cuts at once. I used the full width of the board (7 1/4″) for most of my pieces to make things easy.

Here are the measurements you’ll need:

  • (1) 8  1/2″  x 7  1/4″ (this will be your bottom piece)
  • (2) 5  5/8″ x 7  1/4″ (these will be your end pieces)
  • (2) 3  1/2″ x 8  1/2″ (these will be your side pieces)
  • (1) 2  3/4″ x 8 1/2″ (this will be your top)
  • (2) 5/8″ x 7  7/8″ dowels

Cut your wood with your saw.

All the pieces for the box

Mark Arcs and Bore Holes

On the end pieces we will cut two arcs that are 2″ wide into the top corners. To mark the arcs, grab a compass and set the point and the pencil 2″ apart. Place the point in the corner and trace out your arc.

Mark where your bore holes will go for your dowels. They should be 1 15/16″ from the sides and 3 5/8″ from the bottom. Above you’ll see the marks and measurements for the arcs and bore holes.

Cut Arcs

I used my band saw to cut the arcs out.

Here are the two end pieces with the arcs cut out from the corners.

Bore Holes for Dowels

Time to bore the holes for the dowels. Get your 11/16″ wood bore bit.

You don’t want to bore all the way through the wood. Go about 3/8″ deep.

Screw Pieces Together (and Insert Dowels)

Now it’s time to screw all the pieces together. I recommend drilling pilot holes before screwing in the screws. Also, be careful not to use too much power with your drill lest you split the wood. Start by screwing the two end pieces to the bottom.

Three screws on each end of the bottom piece will do the trick.

The two end pieces screwed to the bottom piece.

Screw the two side pieces to the two end pieces. One screw in each corner.

I put my dowels in at this point. It took a bit of work to get them in their holes. I probably should have done this earlier, like when I was drilling the end pieces to the bottom piece.

Secure the foot rest on top with four screws in each corner. We’re pretty much done with this nifty shoe shine box. If you have some spots that look like they’re uneven, no worries. It’s nothing a little sanding can’t fix.


Give the entire box a good sanding. Spend time on joints that look uneven. Feel free to stain it. I liked the unfinished look, so I decided to pass on the stain.

Enjoy Your Shoe Shine Box You Made With Your Own Hands

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chad Smith June 18, 2012 at 10:29 am

Brett, That looks like a great project! As a Canadian Airforce member it would really make my morning boot buffing a pretty easy task! I recieved a workbench how to book for Father’s day, so once that is built this will be my next project!

2 DanR June 18, 2012 at 10:33 am

Now go get your shinebox.

3 Eli June 18, 2012 at 10:35 am

I’m on it.

4 Brian June 18, 2012 at 11:16 am

It’s my day off and it’s raining. Looks like I’ll be spending some quality time in the garage!

5 Bryan Sullo June 18, 2012 at 11:32 am

What a great idea! I was just saying to my wife the other day that it’s difficult to properly buff your own shoes because you kind of have to be wearing them. I may just have to make one of these. I might try using polished metal dowels though, as I think there will be less wear on the cloth and less of a chance of depositing splinters in my shoes!

6 Dave June 18, 2012 at 11:53 am

Now redo it with dovetail joints for real man points.

7 Brad June 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm

That would be a nice project for students in a wood shop class. It is certainly nicer than the spice rack I made in 8th grade!! Does anyone else look forward to getting a shoe shine at the airport or other place that still offers a shine? It is quite relaxing and the conversation with the shoe shine man and other customers is in the same ballpark as talk at the barber shop.

8 Hunter June 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Remember: Don’t rush, make it flush.

9 Jesse D. Gibbs June 18, 2012 at 4:21 pm

It sounds like you are trying to bust someones balls. :)

10 Spencer June 18, 2012 at 4:44 pm

I like the simple, yet effective, design of this project. I will have to make one for my father, as I’m sure he’d enjoy it.

My only concern is with that picture of the table saw. Make sure you use the miter gauge when making crosscuts and not the rip fence. Using the rip fence to cut across the grain is asking for some serious kickback.

11 Brian June 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Brett, this is pretty swank. I think I may have a woodworking project for this fall :)

12 Cory B. in B.A. June 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Nice project, Brett. Are you sure you didn’t pick up pine and not cedar? Just sayin’….

13 Jr June 18, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Great idea! I agree with the comments on polished metal bars and even more with the use of dovetails or box end joints. If you have a table saw, a quick jig will make an easy box end joint that is strong and looks great!

It looks like the grain is way too dense for pine. I believe it could be cedar…or a knotty piece of oak…

14 Stephen Porter June 18, 2012 at 9:17 pm

I thought this was the coolest thing since sliced bread so I went out and made one today.

15 Dan Struble June 18, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Concur with Spencer – the photo displaying the rip fence for a cross cut will lead to a very dangerous kickback situation. Please delete that photo and use a handsaw or a miter gauge.

16 Clayton June 18, 2012 at 11:38 pm

It’s ok… But it’s obvious that you forgot to allow for the thickness of the base when you cut the scallopes (or arc as you call them).

Also I personally prefer a box where you cant see the base plate. It creates better visual balance.

17 Jeff June 18, 2012 at 11:44 pm

Very cool. Can’t wait to try this out.

18 kevin June 19, 2012 at 8:18 am


19 John B June 19, 2012 at 10:35 am

That is fantastic. I love rolling dowels idea. I’m putting this on my project to do list.

20 jsallison June 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Use a bit of t-shirt if you must, but pantyhose or nylon stockings are the standard.

21 Alain Racette June 19, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Now, I can’t be the only thinking of Goodfellas while reading this article… lol

22 Billy Bats June 19, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Hey Tommy…..oh wait you guys beat me too it….

23 Tom June 20, 2012 at 1:16 am

Cool design. But to help others, I think there are a couple dimension mistakes:

The top piece should be 8-1/2″ x 3-1/4″, not 2-3/4″ (7-1/4″ – 2″ – 2″)

The dowels should be 7-3/4″ long, not 7-7/8″. (8-1/2″ – 3/8″ – 3/8″) (At least assuming the holes are drilled 3/8″ deep.)

24 Greg M June 20, 2012 at 1:33 am

Great project.
I’m going to make one of these this weekend with my sons.
This is what I love about this site. Brett is an average guy like you and me, sharing in the journey of becoming a better man. Sure the project isn’t master craftsman level, but neither are the majority of the guys who will go out and try to build something like this. At the same time, it is a vehicle to proceed along the manly path of hard work and shiny shoes. Keep up the good work, Brett!

25 patch vader June 21, 2012 at 11:32 am

Put a nice shine on those 1000 mile boots! I have a pair in black, but they have the brown leater sole- pain in the but to keep the black polish off- Nice looking summer project for the kids-or a cub scout project-

26 Gwen June 21, 2012 at 2:04 pm

What a great project! I think I might need to make one of these for my boyfriend for Christmas, and fill it with good shoeshine materials.

27 Deltaboy June 21, 2012 at 7:33 pm

The rip fence is out of the way. The picture is fine.

28 Jasper R June 22, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Simple to make but useful for life, this is great! I just wanted to share how this inspired me, because this also gave me an idea as a geography student/future teacher. When I’m teacher (hopefully next year) I will look for an opportunity to convince some teachers of other courses to make a collaborative project of this. Over several weeks, students would make this thing in a few technics lessons, learn to shoeshine at a personal care lesson (in the Netherlands we have this) and get some background on the lives of people doing this all day, working in the informal sectors of third world countries, at the greatest course of all, yes, that’s geography. And then I can send them out for an hour of two to the center of the town to look for customers and leave not shoe without shine. And as a learning country, they may all become more manly (even the girls), because they just enriched their own worldview, made something useful with their own hands and put it into good use for society! And if it’s done around Father’s Day, they will all have a present to give.

29 Jasper R June 22, 2012 at 11:31 pm

‘learning country’ should be ‘learning outcome’. We (aspiring) geography teachers only think of countries and such, must be the reason of this error!

30 James Hendricks June 23, 2012 at 1:36 am

Saw Imperial measurements and left. (The Metric system is the manliest)

31 Darren Bush July 2, 2012 at 2:50 am

C’mon, James…seriously?

English system: 1,000-4,000 years old, invented by kings.

Metric system: 300 years old, invented by a French vicar and amateur astronomer.

You can decide which is more manly for yourself. :-)

32 Michael September 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Darren: If being manly measuring system means that it has to be hardly used in the world, above all not in countries that are famous for their engineering, a system that was invented way before most of the technical achievements we depend upon today and being resistant to any kind of progress, than the imperial system is for you, right.

33 Michael September 20, 2012 at 2:39 pm

But nontheless: I will definitely build this one!

34 Samuel September 25, 2012 at 8:19 am

And what about buffing your shoes before putting them on ??

35 Nick September 25, 2012 at 5:13 pm

So I’m looking around at ones that are available to purchase, and even peeked at some other plans, and this one is easily the best, since it’s the only one I can find that has those dowels for shining. I am going to have to build this,

36 Bruce Allan West October 19, 2012 at 9:20 pm

This thing is awesome! I’ve been getting lazy about my shoe-shining because my method is very tedious. Time to take a new approach. I’m making this contraption ASAP.

37 Darren October 21, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Just finished my shoe shine box as a birthday present to myself. I made a few adjustments to your procedure.
1. I raised the measurement one end pieces to becoming 6 1/4″.
2. The top piece would then be on a upward slant instead of leveled.
In all it’s a great project idea. My father and brother actually schooled me on how to use a power saw. They taught me the tricks of the trade with their constructing expertise. Finishing the shoe shine box has inspired to build other items such as: a step stool, and a tv stand! Thanks for the post Brett!

38 Dimi February 7, 2013 at 10:05 am

OMG! Genius!

39 Serge July 22, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Just ouot of uni with a long summer before my first job i had hoped to get into a bit of DIY, woodworking over the british summer to keep me occupied and learn some new tricks. This seemed like the perfect start but lo and behold! the art of woodworking is on decline and I found out how difficult it is to get into it, ignoring the high investment for all the tools, the hardest aspect is finding the wood – builder shops sell sheets too big for a small time hobbyist, and DIY stores are the same here. I have resorted to scavenging for scraps from shops. Hopefully will be able to get something sorted, but what is lacking in england is shared wood working spaces to make things like this easier.

40 Dern August 5, 2013 at 8:34 am

What kind of boots are those?

41 Izzy September 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Using panty hose to polish shoes is overrated. Either use an old t-shirt or get a professional-type shining flannel.

42 PT December 17, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Question: I’m going to make one of these for a buddy of mine for Christmas. What items are a must have to put *inside* the box?!

I’m know the brush, two styles of shine and a cloth, but is there anything else you all include?


43 George December 23, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Just completed my first shoe shine box! Protected the cedar and added extra charm with a coat of danish oil. If you really want to make the dowels spin dip the ends in beeswax for lubrication. Thanks for the cool post and Christmas gift idea.

44 Duke February 5, 2014 at 5:57 pm

I just finished my shine box. I did the end cuts at a 45 instead of a circle cut. Turned out great though. Thanks you for the tutorial.

45 Matt B February 18, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Something I picked up at USNA was that using the issued mesh gym shorts buffed and shined shoes better than any re-purposed t- shirt. Any cheap mesh athletic shorts will do, although if you can find a roll of the material it makes feeding it through a box like this much easier.

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