How to Make a DIY Memorial Shadow Box: Step-By-Step

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When someone dies, you may want to come up with things to do in memory of a loved one so you can permanently memorialize your loved one in your home.

Creating a memorial shadow box is an option to consider. A shadow box is a small standalone cabinet with a glass front. You can use it to display various items that might remind you of someone who died.

Jump ahead to these sections:

You can buy a shadow box or you can create one yourself. Doing so lets you exercise control over the finished product.

This guide will cover the basic steps of creating a shadow box and offer you ideas of what you might display in one.

What You’ll Need to Create a Memorial Shadow Box

The specific items you’ll need to create a shadow box can vary depending on the types of materials you want to use. However, to create a basic DIY shadow box, you should stock up on the following:

  • A wooden picture frame, glass panel included
  • Plywood (6mm)
  • 1-inch by 4-inch lumber
  • Strong glue
  • Drawer knob
  • Basic tools and equipment, including a hammer, sandpaper, saw, 1-inch nails, a ruler, a drill, and two 1-inch hinges and screws.

You might also want to paint your shadow box. If so, choose acrylic paints of your preferred color and use a foam brush to apply the paint.

You may even consider making a list of engraving ideas to potentially add to the box once it’s finished. You’ll need a small engraving knife to do so.

Steps for Creating the Shadow Box

Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to make a shadow box. The process is actually fairly simple. Just follow these basic directions:

1. Remove picture frame backing

Start by removing the backing of your picture frame. Depending on the type of frame you’re using, you might also need to use a hot glue gun to glue the glass panel in place. Be careful when doing so — you don’t want any glue residue to mar the panel’s appearance.

2. Trace and cut

The plywood will serve as the back of your shadow box. To ensure it’s the right shape and size, place the frame atop the plywood and trace around the edges. Then, carefully saw along the lines.

3. Cut out the sides and top

Now, saw your 1-inch by 4-inch lumber into your pieces. The length of two of them should be the same as the width of the picture frame and plywood backing.

The length of the other two should be the length of the frame, minus the thickness of the other two pieces. Sand all the pieces once you’ve sawed them to the appropriate sizes.

4. Glue

Apply a line of glue along one of the plywood rectangle’s short sides. Place one of the shorter pieces of lumber onto the line. Make sure you apply the skinny side of the lumber to the glue.

Repeat on the other side and use clamps to ensure consistent pressure until the glue fully bonds. Hammer a few evenly-spaced 1-inch nails along the top and bottom of the plywood once the glue has dried to keep the lumber pieces in place.

Next, repeat this process with the remaining sides of the box, using the long piece of lumber now.

Optional step 1

When the glue has dried and you’ve nailed both the tops and bottoms to the plywood backing, you can choose to add shelving to the shadow box. Whether you do so will depend on whether you plan on showcasing several small items or one large one.

If you do choose to add shelving, saw pieces of lumber so they’ll fit snugly inside the shadow box between the sides (use a tape measure to determine the appropriate length), sand them down, and glue and hammer them in just as you did with the sides and tops.

Optional step 2

This is the point when you’ll paint your shadow box if you wish to. Wait for the glue to thoroughly dry, then apply acrylic paint with a foam brush. You’ll probably need at least two coats.

You can paint the shadow box any color you want. That said, it may be smart to choose a color that contrasts with the items you plan to showcase. This will ensure they stand out.

5. Add the knob

Although a shadow box doesn’t technically need a knob, adding one will make opening and closing your shadow box much easier.

To do so, measure to find the center of the left side of the frame. Drill a small hole through this point. Make sure you drill through the back of the frame, then screw in the knob.

6. Add hinges

With the frame face down, measure four inches from the top of the opposite side of the frame and attach one piece of the hinge on the edge, then do the same four inches from the bottom of the frame. Then rest the frame on top of the box section you’ve already constructed and carefully screw in the second part of the hinges when it’s perfectly aligned.

You’re finished! Depending on where you plan to display your shadow box, you might want to add rubber grips to the corners of the bottom, but this isn’t always necessary.

Ideas for Items to Put Inside a Memorial Shadow Box

The items you choose to include in a shadow box or memory box should be personal. That said, if you’re struggling to come up with ideas, you may consider a few of these:

Photos

Many people choose to display photos in shadow boxes. If you go this route, you may want to (very carefully!) affix the photos to the back of the box so they don’t just fall to the bottom.

You can also add some smaller items at the bottom of your shadow box to give it a sense of greater depth.

Postcards and similar items

You might want to use a shadow box to visually symbolize the happy memories you shared with someone before he or she passed away.

These memories may involve vacations. If so, consider decorating the back of the shadow box with items that remind you of those trips. These can include postcards, maps, and even restaurant menus if you have them on hand!

Collectibles

Did your deceased loved one ever collect any items that could fit into a shadow box? These might be figurines, rocks, coins, and more. If they did, place a few of their most prized items on display!

Special occasion reminders

You could potentially display many items in a shadow box to highlight certain special occasions or milestones.

For example, if you still have wedding name tags, you could add them to the box. holiday cards, happy retirement letters, and various other items might also serve this purpose beautifully.

Seashells

Did the person you’re memorializing love the beach? Consider adding some seashells to the shadow box!

You could affix these to the back of the box, place them on shelves, or, if you want to get really creative, modify the shadow box idea by filling the bottom with sand, placing seashells atop it, then gluing and nailing the box shut. The result would be a miniature beach scene!

Flowers

Flowers are also a popular choice for shadow box items. You might use a shadow box to display flowers if you’re creating a box in memory of someone who enjoyed gardening.

While the flowers will die over time, some people feel the delicate look of dead flower petals has a strangely comforting but mournful quality.

Tickets

If you and the deceased bonded over trips to movies, concerts, sports games, or any other type of event that requires a ticket, consider gathering up some of those tickets and displaying them in a shadow box.

Military decorations

If you’re creating a memorial shadow box for a veteran, you might use it to showcase any medals or other decorations your loved one earned.

Memorial Shadow Boxes: A Constant Reminder of Those You’ve Loved

Displaying a DIY shadow box in your home is one idea to consider if you’re looking for creative ways to remember someone. Now that you know how to make a shadow box, it’s an even better idea!

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