The Depot

How to Make a Shadow Box

Some people are good with their hands and some can barely use a screwdriver. There are those who are more comfortable than others when it comes to creating crafts or building projects from scratch. They can visualize raw materials and turn them into something special.

For those who are not-so-skilled in the woodworking vocations, luckily the internet is packed with lots of friendly how-to videos and plenty of articles to show you how to make a shadow box. The primary tool you need is patience and ensure to bring that military-grade attention to detail because working with wood can be rewarding, but equally frustrating if the woodshop is not your second home.

The first thing you need to do is determine what type of wood you’re going top use. Shadow boxes are usually made with cherry, mahogany, maple, oak, walnut, pine, and other types of woods, but lately individuals constructing their own shadow boxes have also turned to reclaimed wood. Old doors, barn walls, porch planks, wood floors, you name it, can all be repurposed and used in building a shadow box.

Once you’ve figured out the kind of wood you need, you will need to determine what type of glass you want to use. You can use glass, acrylic, and even polycarbonates or any other lucid material that you prefer. You also have to decide if you want clear glass, tempered, smoked, non-glare. These can usually be purchased at home improvement stores and you can cut them to size. Pay careful attention to the thickness you purchase. Like wood, glass can also be repurposed and using reclaimed glass adds a touch of romanticism to the project, especially if you know the history behind the reclaimed items.

PRO TIP: As a short cut, some do-it-yourselfers have used a picture frame as a door for their shadow box. Essentially, they find a frame they like and they build a box behind the frame, attaching the frame with hinges to the box. The key here is to find a frame you like, in the dimensions you need, in the wood grain that fits your taste. This is probably the simplest way to answer the question, how to make a shadow box.

Once you’ve determined the kind of wood and glass you’d like to use, and the materials needed to assemble the box (wood glue, nails, screws, etc.), you need to determine what type of tools you will need. The average person doesn’t have a great woodworking setup in their homes, but that does not mean that you still can’t do it yourself. The typical shadow box can be constructed with handheld tools like a saw, hammer, tape measure and drill.

Remember those videos and articles about how to make a shadow box mentioned earlier in this article? Well, most of those will list the materials you need in order to tackle your shadow box project. The tools and raw materials will likely be shared with you, so can piece together what you think you need in order to make a shadow box.

If you find that you lack the tools needed to make a shadow box, consider renting some from the local home improvement store. Military base hobby shops are a great place to work with borrowed tools as well. In addition, some home improvement stores and craft shops have free workshops where you can sign up and build items using their tools. If all else fails, you can always buy the tools and add them to your toolbox.

The main thing to remember when you ask yourself how to make a shadow box is that the box will hold many of the priceless items that you hold near and dear, many that were hard-earned like Ranger tabs, combat action awards and badges, and certain medals for work you’re proud that you performed. You want to house your military memories in something that you can be proud of.

So, use an internet search engine and ask the question how to make a shadow box. If you find that the project is overwhelming or that you will be punching above your weight class as a craftsperson by trying to make a shadow box, then you should reach out to the professionals at USAMM and order a shadow box.

Ordering a shadow box from USAMM is much easier than building your own and they can also fill it with all of the medals, patches and insignia that you’ve earned. How to make a shadow box is an easy question to answer. The steps, materials and tools needed can be looked up anywhere on the web, but if you are asking that question, maybe it is best to leave that task to the professionals.

How To Display Military Medals in a Shadow Box

Serving in the U.S. military is not about the individual. Our men and women in uniform perform their duty for many reasons. Some are patriotic and serve because of love of country. Others feel that their duty is to care for the person standing to the left and right of them in the ranks. And some feel an obligation, a debt, to give back to the country. Whatever the reason for their service, one thing is certain, those who serve do so unselfishly, putting the needs of the nation, the service branch and their units before their own.

Once a military member hangs up his or her boots, many veterans capture and preserve their military service by creating a shadow box or having one ordered. Shadow boxes capture a unique period in a person’s life and unlike the selfless military duty that the contents represent, shadow boxes should be customized and personal, regardless of whether you put them together yourself, or allow a professional to assemble it for you.

There is no incorrect way to display your service pride in a shadow box. What goes into a shadow box is completely up to the individual whose service is reflected in the box. While military medals are for most veterans the primary items that are encased in a shadow box, it isn't uncommon to see ka-bars displayed alongside of military medals in shadow boxes, dog leashes and collars sharing a shadow box with military medals and even an old c-rations can that had a piece of shrapnel in it, proudly displayed alongside of military medals, patches, pins and stripes. Each shadow box is unique to the individual it represents because each person’s military experience is so unique to them.

For many, shadow boxes include a veteran’s rank, earned badges, professional designations and qualifications, and of course military medals, awards and decorations. Some believe that because the military is a place of order and discipline, that a shadow box has to be structured accordingly. Not true. If an individual wants his shadow box to only include his Purple Heart, dog tags and his Zippo lighter, then his or her shadow box should only include those items. If the veteran does not want the rest of their military medals included in the box, they’ve earned the right to determine what is best reflective of their military service.

However, if a veteran decides to display medals and ribbon racks, then it is advisable to place the medals and ribbons in order of precedence according to the veteran’s military branch. This not only shows respect for the services and the awards and decorations, but also to the millions of individuals who might have earned the military medals.

Ranks, if included in the shadow box, should probably go in order of precedence as well just to make it easier to explain to individuals who are unfamiliar with military service.

The bottom line is that there is no limit to what can be included in a shadow box. Flags and photographs can also be included along with other mementos from a veteran’s military service, as well as military medals. What goes into a military shadow box and how it is arranged is completely up to the veteran.