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How to Make a Military Shadow Box: Detailed Guide for Every Step

Written by Everett Bledsoe / Fact checked by Brain Bartell

how to make a military shadow box

A military shadow box is like a display case for military service members to preserve their medals, awards, flags, etc. It is very meaningful and usually given to the member upon retirement.

So, if you are a spouse or a close friend of someone who is about to complete their time of service, it is a good idea to learn how to make a military shadow box and present it to your service member as a gesture of respect, gratitude, and admiration.

You will need to start by collecting information about what to put inside the box, map out your design, gather the necessary tools, and complete it by putting it all together. These are just the gist, but you can read on for detailed instructions. Make a beautiful military shadow box by continuing to scroll!


How to Make a Military Shadow Box Step by Step


Step 1: Collect Information

There is no standard military shadow box. These boxes come in all different shapes and sizes, depending on what is displayed inside. So, knowing what will be included in the box is the first step that you must take.


Collect information from official military service records or the human resource center. If the person you are making the shadow box for knows that he or she will be receiving it as a gift, you can directly ask about their badges and awards.

What can you put in a military shadow box?

These are a few suggestions of items that can be displayed in a military shadow box:

  • Insignia
  • Medals
  • Ribbons & Pins
  • Badges
  • Flags
  • Certificates
  • Considerations (Ex: Diplomas, Letter of Commendation, Postcards,…)
  • Uniforms

Essentially, anything that sheds light on your service member’s military story should be preserved for the years to come. Some items will vary depending on the military branch that your member is in. So, a USMC shadow box may be slightly different from an army shadow box.

Take time with this step and check everything carefully. You do not want to carelessly leave out an award or two, underestimating your service member’s achievements and contributions. You can also consider adding other items like photos for a personal touch.

Once you have compiled all the necessary information and have a clear idea in mind of what will be featured in the military shadow box, proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Map a Design

In this step, you will need military shadow boxes plans. If you have no idea where to start, try a quick Google search on military shadow box ideas. There are many designs that you can check out for inspiration.

On a piece of paper with a pen or pencil, sketch out your design on the box. Begin with simple shapes and layouts. Plan where and how you will be positioning your service member’s military tokens. It is important to determine the way and order of placements. Common approaches to categorizing are by time/date, type, shape, or precedence. But there are no fixed rules—so it is up to your discretion.

Then, draw out the details, including measurements. Do not skip the dimensions for interior dividers. The more extensive you are with this step, the easier it will be in the following steps.

In this step, you will also have to decide on the construction that you want for your box. There are military metal display cases and ones with wooden frames. Think about your access to the materials and your service member’s preference. Typically, these boxes are enclosed by wood with a glass front.

You should also choose a background color. Green is usually for the Army, black for the Navy, blue for the Air Force, and red for a Marine Corps shadow box.

We suggest you make many designs and narrow them down to one instead of drawing just one and forcing yourself to stick with it. This “drawing board” stage is not as exciting, but it is incredibly crucial. Take your time and be meticulous.

If you are stumped on ideas, consider watching YouTube tutorials for inspiration.

When displaying military medals in a shadow box, you may want to have accompanying label plates. You can also have a large brass plate that features your service member’s name, years in service, a quote, or a special story.

Step 3: Gather Materials


Once you have the foundations: information and blueprint, gather all the materials that you will need to assemble the shadow box. Aside from the main construction material that you have chosen earlier, you will need:

  • Gloves: To protect and keep your hands clean while working through the A to Z process
  • Ruler/Tape Measure: To precisely align the items on your box and cut the right dimensions for the components of your box
  • Hook: To mount items on the board of the box. Loop velcro are good substitutes if you do not have hooks
  • Glue and Drill: To fasten the joints of different components together
  • Scissors/Razor Blade/Pocket Knife: To cut the hooks and/or velcro to the appropriate size for mounting the military tokens
  • Hammer: Preferably a small crafting type of hammer to fix components of the parts together or to hang hooks on the board portion of the box
  • Circular Saw, Table Saw, Miter Saw: To do the cutting of all the pieces for the shadow box
  • Bar Clamps & Strap Clamps: To hold components in place and make it easier for assembly
  • Glass Cutter: To cut the glass for the front of the shadow box
  • Cloth: To keep your working space tidy and easier to manage throughout the DIY process
  • Sanding Machine (Optional): To smoothen out the wooden components. If you do not use wood, you will not need this
  • Cleaners: A glass cleaner to make sure that the front has a flawless finish and a furniture or wood cleaner, for the same reason, if you choose to have wood framing

Step 4: Assembly


Now is the moment of truth. This is where you actually make the military shadow box. Below, we have a summarized guide on how to assemble the typical wooden-framed and glass-front military shadow box.

  • Find a spacious area to work
  • Lay out your wood on a flat surface
  • Cut it up based on your predetermined dimensions
  • Sand to smooth all the sides of your wood
  • Wipe the wood clean and leave it to air dry
  • Join the already-cut components using glue and a drill
  • Cut the glass to make sure that it fits into the front of your box
  • Attach all the sides and panels to complete the box
  • Hang the military tokens in the box with the help of hooks or loop velcro.

For details, watch:


With that, you have reached the end of this article on how to make a military shadow box. Hopefully, this has been helpful. Good luck with your military shadow box, and when you have given your service member a nice surprise, be sure to check back here and share your experience with us. We look forward to hearing from you soon!

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