How to make a shadowbox

Showcase your cottage treasures with this easy project

By Catherine DohertyCatherine Doherty


Photo by Edward Pond

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By taking any object, no matter how seemingly ordinary, and putting it in a shadow box, you elevate it to art and encourage everyone to take a second, closer look. And even if you’re not trying to make objets d’art out of your spice jars, these shadow boxes made from old window frames are an elegant storage solution for cramped kitchens.

We liked the rustic look of the original peeling paint on the window frames we found, but you can paint them, or sand and stain them, along with the shelves and backing board. If you use more than one colour or plan to leave some parts unfinished, paint each piece and let it dry before assembling the box.

What you’ll need

  • Wooden window frame
  • Pine moulding or pine boards
  • Masonite board
  • Glue
  • Nails
  • Mitre box and saw
  • Sandpaper (optional)
  • Paint
  • Paintbrush or small roller

1. Salvage an old wooden window from the dump, a flea market, or your own back shed. Wearing protective gloves, use a putty knife to remove putty from window edges. Remove glass, or break it and pull the shards away from the frame with pliers.

2. Prepare the frame. If you plan to repaint, sand the original paint off the frame using 80- or 100-grit sandpaper. Sanding is not recommended if you suspect the paint contains lead. In that case, carefully scrape away any loose bits and then repaint.

3. Determine the depth and style of your box. We chose nominal 1×4 pine moulding for the larger shadow box (for a box 4″ deep), and 1″x 2 / 2″ pine boards for the smaller box.

4. Make the outer box by cutting boards at a 45° angle using a saw and mitre box, or a compound mitre saw, and gluing them together to line up with the frame of the window. Reinforce the corners with nails. Glue and nail the box to the frame.

5. Add shelves by measuring and cutting pine boards, aligning them with the panes of the window frame, and fitting them inside the box. Glue and nail the shelves to the box.

6. Cut a piece of Masonite to fit the back of the shadow box. Paint it, let dry, and glue and nail it to the back of the box. We painted the inside of the boxes using Spring Meadow Green (2031-40) and Honolulu Blue (2066-60) from Benjamin Moore.

7. Mount it on the wall with appropriate hardware and stock it with your favourite cottage treasures.

Full shadowbox

Photo by Edward Pond


This article was originally published on January 14, 2011

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Catherine Doherty