Making a Magic Box: Stage 3

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Once I completed finishing the exterior of my magic box, I had to tamp down all my fears of failure and figure out how I was going to finish up the interior.  The whole point of this project was to create a place where I could store the bulk of my magical tools where none of them would be damaged if the box moved around, such as if I needed to travel to a circle.  I was particularly worried about my cup.  It’s vintage, it’s sterling, and it is light.  A solid knock could dent or even crumple it, so I like to treat it with kid gloves.  I knew, then, that I wanted to create inserts that were “custom molded” to all my pieces.

For this customization, I had thought about getting “pick and pack” foam, but it is a bit expensive.  Since I knew I eventually wanted to cover up the foam in fabric, it didn’t have to be the most good-looking foam out there, either.  Eventually I decided upon styrofoam, which broke my environmentalist heart.  However, it is pretty darn useful for this purpose.  Once you cut into it, all the little spheres that make it up easily brush away, which lets you “carve” to precision with very little effort or special tools.  In order to fit everything I wanted into the box, I needed two layers of 2-inch foam.  Styrofoam was still ridiculously expensive when I priced it out at craft stores and places like Joann Fabrics, but in one of my (many) recent trips to Home Depot, I realized that styrofoam insulation was the same thing as craft styrofoam, and it was way, way cheaper.  I think I picked up a 2×4 foot length of 2-inch thick styrofoam R-Tech insulation for maybe $8.  As it turned out, the plastic and foil covering the long faces worked out in my favor:  it made chopping the foam down to size much easier.

Once I got two lengths of foam chopped down to fit the inside of the box, I laid out everything I wanted to fit inside:  my wand, athame, white-handled knife, cup, pentacle, boline, pen of art, silver incense and salt spoons, and my cords and ritual jewelry.  I decided that I only wanted special compartments for everything but the cords and jewelry, which made laying everything out much easier.  For the second layer, everything was short enough that it could fit on one side, so I have a large, open compartment for assorted odds and ends on the other half.  Once I had everything laid out, it was actually a simple matter to carve the styrofoam.  I even used my white-handled knife to do it!  I used the “pick and pluck” method, so I cut straight down into the foam around the outlines I had made, then I cut a grid into each shape.  It made it easy to then pop out each cube, and then I used the tip of my knife and my fingers to smooth things out into the shapes and depths I needed.  (Pro tip: this is incredibly messy.  Make sure you have a vacuum cleaner on hand, lest you trail tiny bits of styrofoam throughout your house.)

Once I had all my shapes carved, I realized I had some areas I needed to reinforce because the divisions were so thin and the styrofoam so frangible.  One little brush, and several little spheres would break away.  Out of desperation, I turned to duct tape.  This was actually a brilliant solution.  It adhered well, was moderately repositionable if I made a mistake, and was very moldable.  In fact, once I reinforced the problematic areas, I decided to go ahead and cover the entire thing in duct tape for extra security.

This turned out to be a genius move on my part.  Once everything was covered in duct tape, I realized I could move the inserts around with no fear of damaging them or breaking them apart.  Better still, they provided a barrier to the styrofoam, which was a great benefit when I started to contemplate what adhesive I could use to stick silk to the inserts.  Eventually, I decided to go with a spray adhesive, 3M’s “General Purpose 45” which is photo safe.  On its own, it would have melted the styrofoam, but the duct tape covering prevented that.

Now, I was terrified that I would create a huge mess with the spray adhesive and the silk…and the silk was crazy expensive even after a half-off coupon.  But honestly?  It worked beautifully.  A liberal coating of the adhesive on the insert was enough to hold everything, but not heavy enough to bleed through the fabric.  And the adhesive stayed positionable for several minutes, which let me get everything “just right”.  With all the crazy shapes, there was no way I was every going to get the fabric to lie perfectly straight, but I loved the rumpled look I achieved.  The only tricky bit were the two parts that I let go entirely through the styrofoam:  the cup insert in the first layer, and the “open space” in the second.  I had to cut through the silk and stick the raw sides to the foam, and it looked very messy.  Eventually, it occurred to me to take strips of the scrap, fold it to create a clean edge, glue it to the vertical sides with Fabri-Tac, and then pin the top border with straight pins to ensure everything stayed neat.  It worked like a charm.

I covered a piece of poster board with the silk to line the bottom of the box, and I’m contemplating doing the same to the top with the piece I have left. I also covered the sides and the bottoms of the insert with some felt I had lying around, since it didn’t require hemming any ends.  I used Fabri-Tac and pins to adhere it, since I didn’t want to spoil the silk with overspray from the spray adhesive.

All in all, it looks far better than I thought it would and perfectly solves my tool storage issues.  I don’t have to worry when I transport my tools, and the box is perfect for daily storage, too.  Up to this point, I’d kept a full altar up, and frankly, that’s more bric-a-brac out than I’m comfortable with.  (I am NOT a tchotchke person.)  Now, I can simply keep my devotional altar up for daily purposes:  my deity figures and a couple candles.  I couldn’t be happier!

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9 thoughts on “Making a Magic Box: Stage 3

    • Hi Elisa! I guarantee you, this is not out of your league. The hardest part was finding a box the size I needed it to be. Refinishing it was a pain, but I only had to do it by hand because every surface was curved. Carving the styrofoam was an insane mess, but it was also incredibly easy. No technical skills required, really. In fact, I am working on converting a vintage suitcase to a magic box for a friend. I think it started life as an overnight bag from the ’50s. All I really have to do to it is clean it up a bit and carve styrofoam inserts. It should take a weekend, tops.

      • ooo i could do that with or for my tarot decks! though i frown as they seem to want to live where they are every time i move them things go wonky sigh

  1. What a beautiful piece! You are a mighty inspiration. I just picked up a couple of unique boxes/trunks at an antique mall and I’m hoping to do something like this with them. Thank you for the tutorial!

    Do you have more than one layer in the box in order to hold everything?

  2. I do have more than one layer. I have two “trays” of styrofoam. The cup goes through the first layer and most of the second. Everything else is sort of arranged around that. To remove the first layer, I take out my cup, then use that hole as a grip to lift the first tray out. If you were not going to go through the first layer, I might recommend embedding a couple lengths of braid or something to use as handles.

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