26 December 2010

G.I. Treasure Chest

Government Issued:
Treasure Chest #25

For about three weeks now, I've battled the cold shop of December. My mission was simple. Take some beautiful poplar and make a box for an upcoming event. The organizers offered no limitations. I elected to combine an old ammo can I had laying around with my standard cryptex lock mechanism made from wood. The wooden box is built into the metal container and does not come out unless persuaded with the correct tools.

I wanted a box that could withstand the weather, as I expected January in western NC to be cold and wet. I am also working on unique boxes for a much larger project with a couple of other fellas in my region that will take advantage of large caches over miles of expanse I expect this box will find a home in one of those most secretive of those caches. I'd hate to have this one come up missing given the time and effort expended. I don't see it succumbing to the weather.

#25 because there are 5 disks with 5 different numbers. Right now I have filled them with pennies with different dates. I also have individual numbers and letter which spell any five letter word or incorporate large solution to a complex math problem.

The photos tell a little of the story. Just enough to make you ponder. Enjoy! If you have questions about the construction, reach me via AQ. If you have questions about the location and the solution...hmmmmm.

Parts and Pieces!

Of course, this is the
meat of the locking mechanism

Open! Notice the knob
on the right is pulled away from the side...

Closed! The knob is now tight
and the bolt inside the hole
is now visible

The most simple of locks! The two equal compartments offer plenty of room
for a 3" x 3" stamp and logbook.

Locked and Loaded! The right side offers enough room to unlock it by gently pulling on the knob.
Also has just enough room for a small book of clues.

30 August 2010

Sundial Letterbox

I recently tinkered in the shop with a plywood form, a bag of 80 lb concrete, some PVC, and a little quick set mortar. The photos below show a unique letterbox that would be perfect for any garden. This one is for my good friends in DC. I hope they find it. ***Spoiler Alert***

26 April 2010

The Ultimate Letterbox

A couple of years back I found the Ultimate Letterbox. My co-worker had picked it up years before and had it laying around our office in a state of disrepair. It was built in the 1930's as indicated on the bottom. We couldn't just put it anywhere because it weighs about 70 lbs. Mounting it...the location needed to be perfect and the method to mount it had to be sturdy. Undoubtedly, it would require someone's permission to hide it in plain sight. My secret partner couldn't have done a better job in finishing the project off.

To get it up to standards, I spent an hour or so sand blasting the years of paint from the surface to get down to the cast metal. Once that was accomplished, I put five light coats of Krylon industrial red primer everywhere I could get it. After several days of drying, I hit it with several coats of silver with a special hammer texture. I hand painted the black lettering with enamel and added some laminate placards to indicate this as a novelty item and not a mail box. Of, course I had to include the Atlas Quest and LBNA logo on the front just to make it a really obvious HIPS box.

The lock for the depository is a standard lock found at Lowes with just a few modifications to make it work with this box. The inside is volumous. It's a great spot for a large logbook and has plenty of room for hitchhikers. The location of the box...and more importantly, the key...well, that's a secret!

18 March 2010

An Inspiration

A few years back I hunted a box in Long Beach where the planter appeared to take advantage of a black PVC pipe buried in the ground in a raised planter at a business. It was tucked neatly under some very robust greenery, so if you didn't know it was there, you certainly wouldn't notice it. The black pipe was exposed only a couple of inches and had this cool rubber top on it which covered the contents perfectly, really making it a "hide in plain sight" (HIPS) box. Not sure if the planter put the pipe in the ground or just happened upon it. I suspect the former.

Inspiration comes at the oddest times. This was one of those moments. Fortunately it happened early in my time in this hobby. Unfortunately, it now nurtures my addiction. You see, when it comes to actual letterboxing...not just the fun part meeting the people on the journey along the way...I am fueled by the plant rather than the find.

Those who I've had the luxury of crossing paths with have heard the disclaimer. If you're a purist who really embraces the leaves no trace principles of letterboxing, then my boxes are probably not going to be enjoyable to find. There are times I have gone to great lengths to plant HIPS boxes. Sometimes it means disturbing the environment (urban or otherwise), generally long enough for me to make the box blend in with its surroundings. When I am done, I hope I have left only a little trace of my existence.

I've wandered off track again with philosophy.

The inspiration of that little black pipe manifested itself a few years later. Naturally, I wanted more than the cool rubber cap to protect the contents as the location for the plant couldn't have been more in plain sight. Those who have found the box know what I am talking about.

After spending about a week of designing the device and a couple of weekend days in the shop, I came up with this HIPS letterbox. You'll just have to imagine finding a black pipe with a cool rubber cap on top, sticking out of the ground only an inch or two. Then think about what it took to plant it.

06 March 2010

Simple Cipher Disk

I've got a few old pieces of laser-engraved, 2 inch dowels laying around the shop from when EllBee challenged me to recreate a Jefferson Wheel Cipher. At the time, I had access to a laser at my work and friends in the CAD world to help make sure 26 letters were spaced correctly and precisely around the dowel.

To make a long story short, I presented the wheel cipher to EllBee at a delightful coffee shop named the Java Mio in Petersburg, VA. As we were fondling it, one of the wait staff came by and saw it and said, "Cool, a Cryptex...does it open?" The DaVinci Code has been recently released so I knew what she was talking about. Unfortunately, I had to tell her "No, it was not a cryptex, but rather a reproduction of device used for encoding and decoding messages in the early 19th century." She clearly was not as smitten with the device with that explanation. Her reaction clearly got me thinking, however.

My National Treasure: Book of Six Secrets letterbox was created shortly thereafter. Six different wheel ciphers packaged in one neatly wrapped book, all based on significant historical events of American history. My contribution to the box is based on Thomas Jefferson and his leadership with the Lewis and Clark adventure.

Back to my story...after the release of Six, I began researching and plotting a wooden cryptex. Hadn't seen much on the internet that resembled what I had in mind. There was a creator of a very nice precious metal device ($$$), and of course, the reproduction DaVinci Code model you see in the SkyMall magazines on airliners. Nothing made of wood that resembled my reproduction wheel cipher. After figuring out the mechanism of the inside, my Cryptex! letterbox was born...but that's another long story.

Back to the topic of this blog...the wheel cipher disks are chopped from a 12 inch long, 2 inch dowel that has been engraved on a Universal Laser with a rotary fixture accessory that allows engraving of cylindrical products. I recently found out this process is very expensive in the real world. Fortunately, I had some fellas (with equipment and skills) who helped me out for the small price of a friendship.

The simple cipher disk you see is two sections from that dowel. Each disk is 1/4 inch wide. The two disks together in the photo are about 5/8 inch wide. The offset of the letters in the boxes is to allow for the 1/8 inch saw kerf when chopping them off with my miter saw.

It works by encoding a message.
Take the letter on the right side of the disk. is the decoded letter. The encoded letter you want to use is the letter abeam it on the left. When the reader is deciphering, they naturally start on the left side and read right. Your encoded message of "JKK" means nothing unless you have this disk in front of you. Decoded, the message tells the reader that you are my "Best Friend Forever" or "BFF". OK, I was limited in what I could use with the picture, but hopefully you get the idea.

I recently put a box in the ground that incorporates one of these deciphering tools.

15 February 2010


My wife Tina got me this for Xmas last year. In case you're wondering, Astoria, Oregon is where we we lived last and still have a house which we hope to return to some day soon...and this shirt was right off-the-shelf from the gift shop. We were having lunch there when a wait staff came out wearing one just like it. We knew immediately I had to have it.

My friend NeNe has a letterbox in the Astoria Brewing Company for which I provided a small wooden treasure chest.
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Trying something a little different

 Just for fun, I bought some quick set mortar the other day before the blizzard. Figured I needed to stay busy between trips to the driveway with the shovel. I envisioned an "In Memorium" marker that could be placed pretty much anywhere. These photos capture just the benchmarks of the effort, speaking pretty well for the how the project turned out. You probably can't see, but I put a couple of hand holds on the sides to make it easier to lift. I suspect I'll have to disrupt the ground about and inch or two, so it doesn't stand too proud above the surface. The marker is 6" x 9" x 2". Naturally, it's got a cavity underneath (not seen in the photos) that allows for hiding secrets. The cavity on the bottom is 4" x 5" x 3/4", just big enough for one of Gallant Rogue's vintage camo bags to compression fit inside.

I built a plywood form for the mortar pour that would allow reuse if the project turned out to be successful. I used an exacto knife to cut out letters and a silhouette of a man with a hat (This is suppose to be Mark) from a 1/32 inch thick rubber material commonly used by sandblasters to cut images out of stone and wood. This "Signblast Tape" allowed for easy cutting, adherence to the wood form without sticking to the mortar, and reuse if I do the project again.

The quick set mortar was ready to come out of the form in less than an hour. It came out very easily, as I sprayed PAM on the wood form as a divorcing agent prior to pouring. I strengthened the image with a little black permanent ink which permeated into the mortar (so I am hoping it stays visible in the wild for a little while anyway).

Not sure where to put this yet. It'll serve as a classic "Hide-In-Plain" sight (HIPS) letterbox. I envision it nestled away in a remote corner of a public park or behind a bench at a picturesque viewpoint somewhere here in DC. Hopefully no one will bother it.
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My Little Shop

Many folks inquire about "the shop". Conjured images of a large, heated spaces with a plethora of professional grade tools prevail. Sadly, the gypsy lifestyle of serving the public prevents me from acquiring, accumulating, and moving unlimited amounts of tools. So I remain disciplined. Some of you might be surprised how quickly one can reach your maximum allowable weight in a government-funded move. As it stands now, my tools add up to over to 1500 lbs of our 17,000 lbs of stuff. I always move them myself with a U-Haul.

I've added some photos of the toys in the shop. The staple is the tablesaw, but the benchtop drill press and ancient sliding compound miter saw see the most action when I am tinkering with letterboxing concoctions. What's missing? Lots! My wish list includes a planer and upgrade to floor models of a drill press and band saw. What you don't see is the vast numbers of hand tools that come into play nearly ever day. Those pictures simply won't fit on this blog.

In one of the photos, you can see how I heat my shop :)

Nothing fancy!

12 February 2010

New Logbook

Here's some photos of my current logbook. I cut two panels (6 1/4" x 3 3/4") out of 1/4" birch plywood and gently rounded the corners and edges. They are sized to hold 4" x 6" index cards, yet not interfere with the Bind-It-All holes. The wood makes for a very firm surface to stamp on in any environment. I used industrial quality double sided tape to adhere the leather to the wood front and back panels. The blue front and back pages are also taped to the wood, so they can be removed later. They essentially hold the cards and binding to the covers. On the outside, I embossed the front after stamping it first with a black Staz-On ink. The embossing powder has adhered very well. On the binding of the book and back cover, I stamped other images with black Staz-On as well.

11 February 2010

First Order

Here's a snap shot of a long term project that I recently had a chance to work on. With the blizzard raging outside, I finally broke out my tack hammer and leather clad a special box. The leather was courtesy of my good friend Mama Fox.

What's inside? Oh...well...I can tell you this diamond shaped box is blue inside, but the rest of what lies under the lid...that's a secret, of course.


I truly enjoy reading, viewing, and listening to the works of others on their blogs. Those who I follow inspired me to try to create a site where I can give others a glimpse into the odd world of "X" Marks the Spot creations.

Things I create are often a result of letterboxing, a unique hobby of treasure hunting. We find and collect art work in many different forms. The hunt is always a challenge and I truly enjoy capturing a great image by an outstanding artist, but what I really enjoy is trying to make my boxes unique enough to put a huge smile on the face of the finder when they discover it.

Here's my well known secret...I usually mark my boxes with...an "X". I hope you get a chance to enjoy one soon.