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How to alter cigar boxes

August 17, 2012

My twin grandaughters will be three next week……Sophey and Sidney. They are currently into dressing up, make believe, and all things pink and purple, frilly, teddy bears, and dolls. I wanted to make them something that they could use every day and also put in their very own “Princess Room”….a walk in closet that their mom has converted to a play room for them. It is painted pink and stenciled with butterflys and flowers and comes complete with their own sized hanging rods, shelves, and hooks for all their girlie goodies. I decided on “treasure boxes” made out of old wooden cigar boxes after seeing one that my daughter in law had made with family photos for Gabriela….my other soon to be three grandaughter…. to tote her treasures around in. It was just so cute and Gabriela says all the people on it are her friends so it is am important little box ! I had never altered a box before but figured it couldn’t be too hard.

Here are my completed boxes all ready to be wrapped and mailed. I will show you how I did them.


First of all you have to find a smoke shop to buy the cigar boxes from, or perhaps you already have some stashed or you can always con a friend into giving you a couple of hers! Since I am not a smoker I had never paid any attention to where there might be a smoke shop nearby, but found one only a few blocks from home. The owner was glad to sell me as many as I might want… $2 each, I thought it a good buy. Be sure to get the wooden ones, as they will stand up over time.

All you then need are a few basic things to get started: a box, a pair of scissors, some Mod Podge, all purpose glue, and brushes to apply the Mod Podge. I like to use the one inch foam brushes but regular small flat brushes work just as well. Mod Podge is a white liquid glue like substance used as a glue and a sealer. It is water based so is easy to clean up and dries to a clear matte or shiny finish, depending on the kind you choose. For these two boxes I used the matte finish.


I made the mistake of removing my lids completely from the cigar boxes. I would not do that again. One of my box tops is loose and a bit wobbly. The other fits very tightly….and I loosened it up by rubbing a bar of soap along the edges to lubricate it a bit and make it fit into its slot easier. Had I not removed the lids I don’t think I would have encountered that problem.

After choosing your box, you will want to decide on a theme for it. Obviously I chose teddy bears and dolls for these little girl birthday boxes. I then went to the internet and found photos of dolls and teddies, printed them out, and cut them to fit. I started with the box lid, under the lid, the bottom inside of the box and the very bottom of the box. I used just one photo for each of those surfaces so I only had to cut one image. See photos below……




To adhere the photo to my box surface I applied one medium thick layer of mod podge to the back of the image and carefully placed it over the wood surface. You do not want to apply the mod podge to the wood itself as it tends to make the paper then want to bubble and crease. I learned that the hard way and re-did a couple surfaces because of that. Once you have applied the mod podge to the back of your image and laid it gently in place, you have a minute or so to play with it before it will harden and you can no longer move it. I used a dry flat paintbrush to smooth the images……starting in the middle and working my way out…..very similar to the way you would use a brush with wall paper, smoothing as you go. The boxes are small ….the dool box is 8 inches square and the teddy bear box is 6 inches square, so it only takes a few seconds to actually apply the image and smooth it out.

Once you have done that you just have to wait for it to dry… least 15 min……before you can apply a top coat. That is part of why it takes quite awhile to do the boxes. I put five coats on the tops of my photo images, but they are hard and clear and very durable now.

After applying photos to the lids, inside bottoms, and very bottom of your box, you will want to find photos to cover the four sides….. inside and out. As you can see on my boxes I used lots of images and laid some over the tops as well. It is just fun to find lots of variety, but takes time to cut to size, apply them to the wood, and then apply the top coats of mod podge.  Here you can see some of my sides close up……




Once you have all the wooden surface covered you are ready to embellish your box and that is where the real fun begins. Let your imagination go wild and just have fun.

You can see that I put velvet ribbon around the perimeter of my doll box and pink and white trim around the teddy bear box. I put vintage buttons in the corners, added a butterfly to the doll box and then used old belt buckle that I removed the metal fittings from for the tiny picture frames that I put each girl’s little head in. I put a little plastic ribbon with rhinestone in a doll’s hair and on a teddy bear’s ear and put a brass moon and stars in the bottom of one box. I used small glass and porcelain drawer pulls for the handles on the tops of each box.

Lotsa fun …..very inexpensive….and a gift sure to be treasured for a long time to come. I learned a lot with these first two boxes and now have plans to do some more sophisticated ones for the upcoming fall arts and crafts shows. When I get some of those completed, I will continue with Lesson #2 on how to alter cigar boxes!

Have a great, cool week end. Try some craft projects. They will always keep you busy and happy.

Chatty Grandma








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  1. jeannie lindberg permalink

    Wonderful instructions. I am going to try this. Thanks 🙂

    • You certainly can do it! I forgot to mention that I used an all purpose fabric glue for attaching the buttons and ribbon and super glue to secure the handles. Have fun! 🙂

  2. Ann permalink


  3. Thank you! Lotsa fun to do.

  4. Ann permalink

    just gave your address to a friend so she can follow your directions and use up her cigar boxes! These are really pretty. But guess I said that already!

    • That’s great. Thank you. Hope she has fun.

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