Robert LeHay used to roam antique stores with his parents and grandparents, all of whom were in the antiques business.

Then he started helping his parents make Shaker furniture to sell alongside their antiques. One day, he saw that the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester was offering a class in making Shaker boxes. Curious, he signed up – and his future was set.

LeHay now makes up to 1,500 reproduction Shaker boxes a year at his home in Embden, where he mills the maple and pine lumber for the boxes himself and paints them in all-natural finishes, such as milk paint, dyes, Tung oil and carnauba wax. (Milk paints are a historical finish made from milk and lime, with pigments added for color.)

“The original boxes, most of them in the 1800s, were painted with milk paint,” he said. “Of course at that time, when they were brand new, the colors would have been a lot brighter and over time they kind of darken up, if you will, and get a little bit more muted.”

LeHay fastens his boxes with copper tacks that have been given an aged finish.

His techniques are so historically accurate that he is listed in the Early American Life Directory of Traditional American Crafts, which is vetted by museum curators.

The boxes are sold wholesale to stores that sell historical items, such as museum shops. His retail customers are often people interested in antiques and who own historic homes.

“For the most part they do use them use as decorative pieces, although they certainly are useful for containers for various items,” LeHay said. “Some people use them for jewelry boxes. Historically, they were used to store food items and dried products like grains and so forth.”

Depending on the size of the box and the quality of the finish, an original Shaker box may sell for $150 to $1,000 or more, LeHay said. His reproductions cost between $19 and $78 on his website.