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How to Build a Shadow Box

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I decided that I needed to learn how to build a shadow box when my sister asked me to preserve her wedding bouquet!  Be sure to check out our DIY Wedding Bouquet Preserving post for that story!  Now, of course you could buy a shadow box and Michael’s has many inexpensive options – but I was struggling to find one with a good depth for the flowers!  I wanted something with about 3″ depth and kept finding most shadow boxes were only 1″-1.5″ deep.  Also, building my own allowed me to select a perfect size for my project.  I ended up making the box 20″ x 24″, which was also a difficult size to come across. 

picture frame

Step 1: Decide on Box Size & Get Materials

Since I was making this box for a specific project, I was able to settle on the size by measuring some of the flower/stem lengths.  Initially, I thought I would make my box 16″x20″.  However, after taking some measurements and realizing how many flowers I had, I decided to go larger and make the box 20″x24″.  

With my size, I did some quick math to determine how much material I needed to buy.  I bought one 8ft. 1 x 3 board to use at the box part and one 8ft. 1×2 board to use at the front frame.  Then I grabbed one 15/32in. 2ft x 2ft sanded plywood board to use at the back board.  I had some scrap plexiglass that I planned to use for this project but you can also grab an acrylic sheet from your local hardware store. 

Step 2: Cut Wood to Size

wood glue

Using a miter saw cut the 1×3 board to create the box, I made 2 cuts at 24 inches, and then 2 cuts at 18 1/2″ inches.  This makes the overall size 20″X24″ taking into account the width of the boards.

Next, adjust your miter saw to the 45 degree mark to cut the front frame boards.  Cutting the front frame at a 45 degree angle creates a nice finished corner.  I started by cutting an angle on one side, then measured at 24″ and cut the angle out from there.  Then I cut the sides of the frame the same way starting from the short angle and measuring to 17 3/4″ inches and cutting the angle outward.

Hint: Wait until after you fully build your box and frame before cutting the backboard and acrylic panel. 

Step 3: Create inset for Acrylic Panel & Backboard

You could consider this step optional as you could glue and nail the backboard and acrylic panel to the back of the box and frame; however, this would create some gaps between the frame and the box as well as the box and the wall once hung up.

For me I wanted a clean finished look where the wood all fit together without gaps, so I choose to route out to make a ledge for the panels to fit into.  

How to Build a Shadow Box

I had to get a little creative to make a guide to ensure the router didn’t route to deep or to far into the wood.  I used scrap wood and clamps to create a guide to push the router against to ensure I cut a straight edge.  The Ryobi router that I have has an adjustable depth so I set the depth to 1/4″ and then just placed the wood to be routed against my guide and ran through them!

Step 4: Build the box

tape measure

To build your box grab your cut 1×3’s, a square, and your nail gun.  You will want to make sure your square is secure and hold your two boards together making sure to keep them square.  

I started by making two “L’s”; attaching one of the long sides to one of the shorter side.  Then, put the two “L’s” together keeping each corner I was working on push tight into the square. 

Then I filled all the nail holes with Elmer’s WoodFiller in natural, then once dry I lightly sanded the filler flat with a fine grit sanding block.

Step 5: Build the Front Frame

Following the same method that I used to build the box, I built the front frame.  I placed the corners inside of my square and held them tight.  First creating two “L’s”, then joining the “L’s” together. 

However, since the front frame was cut to create 45 degree adjoining corners I used a few different sizes of nails to attach the boards to one another.  I used 5/8″ nails at the points and then 2″ nails as the angle widened. 

With the frame built, I again filled all the nail holes with Elmer’s WoodFiller in natural, then once dry I lightly sanded the filler flat with a fine grit sanding block.

How to Build a Shadow Box

Step 6: Cut the Acrylic Panel & Backboard

As I shared in step 2, it’s best to wait until you have your frame and box built to cut your panels.  Now you’re at this point!  With your frame and box built you can get an accurate measurement for the length and width for both the backboard panel and the acrylic panel.

Measure twice cut once! 

After marking the panels, I used a circular saw to cut both the wood backboard and the acrylic panel. 

Step 7: Attach Backboard to Box Frame

To attach the backboard panel to the box frame I used liquid nails in the corners and then tacked all the way around with my nail gun and 5/8″ nails.  I then decided to run a bead of caulk on the inside of the box so there were no visible gaps between the box frame and the panel. 

How to Build a Shadow Box
How to Build a Shadow Box

Step 8: Paint the Front Frame and Shadow box

How to Build a Shadow Box

You could choose to paint or stain your wood!  I chose to paint this one.  Since this was for my sister’s wedding bouquet and her bouquet was all white flowers I wanted to pull in this grey/blue color from her wedding scheme.  I used a mixture of paints that I had on hand and also decided to add water to the paint to water it down so that it went on lightly and allowed some of the wood grain to show through.  

How to Build a Shadow Box

Step 9: Attach Acrylic Panel to Front Frame

To attach the acrylic panel to the built front frame I used just a few hand hammered tacks to hold it into place.  I wanted to be careful to not create any scratches on the panel.  I took my time to ensure I was able to get the tacks in at a good angle with a strong hold.

How to Build a Shadow Box

Step 10: Fill the Box

How to Build a Shadow Box

This box was built to hold my sister’s preserved wedding bouquet.  Her bouquet was made up of several different flowers as well as different greenery.  I spent a few weeks setting the flowers into silica gel drying bead and allowing them to dry over several days.  I have a whole post about how I dried the flowers and placed them in the box!  Check it out here!

 

Looking for a how to on preserving your wedding bouquet!  Check out our post here!

Step 11: Attach Front Frame to the box

Once my box was full of flowers, it was time to seal it off!  I used liquid nails and then tacked the frame on with 1″ nails using my nail gun.  I only used 4 nails, I wanted to minimize too many hole repairs.  Using Elmer’s WoodFiller in natural, I filled in the nail holes; then I lightly sanded with a fine grit sanding block, and used a small amount of paint to cover the filler.

I choose to seal and nail my frame on, again since this was for a preserved bouquet, this method was the best option for this project to best minimize air, dust, and dander.  However, another option to attached the front frame to the box would be to use some jewelry box hardware.  There are many options for decorative hinges and latches which would allow you to still open the box. 

How to Build a Shadow Box
How to Build a Shadow Box

How to Build a Shadow Box Links

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Home Depot: 1 in. x 3 in. x 8 ft. Premium Kiln-Dried Square Edge Whitewood Common Board
Home Depot: 1 in. x 2 in. x 8 ft. Premium Kiln-Dried Square Edge Whitewood Common Board
Home Depot: Handprint 15/32 in. x 2 ft. x 2 ft. Sanded Plywood
Home Depot: OPTIX 20 in. x 32 in. x 0.093 in. Acrylic Sheet
Home Depot: Rust-Oleum Painter's Touch 32 oz. Ultra Cover Semi-Gloss White General Purpose Paint
Michaels: Black Shadow Box by Studio Décor®
Etsy: Customizable EXTRA LARGE Size Wooden Shadow Box Display Case with Hinged Glass Lid (21"x25"x4" Exterior)
how to build a shadow box

How to Build a Shadow Box

Prep Time 1 hr
Build Time 4 hrs
Dry Time 1 d

Equipment

  • Miter Saw
  • Circular Saw
  • Nail Gun
  • Router
  • Disposable Paint Brush

materials
  

  • 1 in. x 3 in. x 8 ft. Premium Kiln-Dried Square Edge Whitewood
  • 1 in. x 2 in. x 8 ft. Premium Kiln-Dried Square Edge Whitewood
  • Handprint 15/32 in. x 2 ft. x 2 ft. Sanded Plywood
  • Acrylic sheet
  • Wood filler
  • Sanding block
  • 5/8” nail gun nails 
  • 2” nail gun nails
  • Paint (color of your choice!)
  • Small nail tacks
  • Liquid Nails

Instructions
 

  • Decide on Box Size & Get Materials
  • Cut Wood to Size
  • Create inset for Acrylic Panel & Backboard
  • Build the box
  • Build the Front Frame
  • Cut the Acrylic Panel & Backboard
  • Attach Backboard to Box Frame
  • Paint the Front Frame and Shadow Box
  • Attach Acrylic Panel to Front Frame
  • Fill the Box
  • Attach Front Frame to the box
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