Category Archives: Laser engraving

Prototype Walking Stick


We have planned our annual family reunion [aka get away] for this year to be Rumbling Bald at Lake Lure.  From what I understand this is where parts of the original Dirty Dancing movie were shot. Anyway since there are several hiking trails and lots of scenic spots to walk, I thought it would be a good project to make everyone a walking or hiking stick.  This meant mass producing 38 walking sticks!!  These would break down into two sections and fit into a carry bag which my wife would sew together from canvas.  Well the reunion is fast approaching and I just finished the prototype.  So maybe next year!! They might still work if we have a beach get away!

After some investigation, I found that the ideal length of a stick suitable for hiking and walking should be a length determined by holding your arm at your side at a right angle and measure the distance from your out-stretched hand to the floor. I made a cartoon illustrating this measurement and sent it out to all the families. Fortunately for this year, very few people responded.  I picked one of the kids that did respond who also loves hiking and camping, and used his measurement for the prototype…. 41 inches.

The design was comprised of a decorative topper with a lanyard and compass, a wood upper section 1 1/8 inches in diameter with a standardized length of 24 inches, a wood bottom section with a length customized to the user, a brass coupling to connect and unconnect the two sections, and a brass fitting on the bottom section to accommodate an interchangeable tip, a stainless steel point and a rubber point.

hiking stick jenny skip
Finished hiking stick

The topper was padauk cut to a 6 inch length, a hole drilled for the lanyard and then turned on the lathe to a pleasing shape.  This topper tapered down to 1 1/8 inch diameter to mate with the upper section of the walking stick.  The topper was sanded up to 320grit and then friction polish applied. For a finishing touch, I laser engraved the user’s name on the topper.

cane topper jenny skip
laser engraved topper with leather lanyard

A 2 foot length of 6/4 mahogany was ripped to a square cross section and then turned on the lathe to 1 1/8 inch diameter using a spindle roughing gouge.  The spindle was then off set from center slightly and grooves cut at the upper end to enhance the grip on the stick.  The spindle was sanded up to 320 grit, given two coats of dark walnut stain followed up by friction polish. This resulted in a beautiful finish. However for a walking stick with a lot of outdoor use, maybe a wiping polyurethane finish may have been better.  We will see as my son is going to give this prototype a good working out as a test.

hand grooves jenny skip
Grooves cut into the walking stick where the hand grips it

The topper was attached to the upper section of the walking stick with a dowel. The bottom of the stick was drilled with a 3/8-inch bit to a depth of 1 inch so that one end of the brass coupling could be inserted with epoxy.

The bottom section of the walking stick was produced much like the top section, only cut to length to provide the overall 41 inch length.  Two distinct differences, however, in its construction. On one end of the spindle a 1 inch long 12.8 degree taper was turned using a bedan.  The other end of the spindle was countersunk with a 7/8 inch Forstner bit and then a 3/8 inch hole drilled in the center. This allowed me to insert the other part of the brass coupling in the recess so when the two parts were screwed together, you would not see the brass coupling and the joint would be difficult to discern.  I could have done this drilling on the lathe but the bottom section of the walking stick was too long for me to mount a drill chuck on the lathe with a bit with the lathe bed I was using.

Here’s the You tube video that shows some of the process details.

I installed the coupling, the brass fitting for the walking stick tip, the leather lanyard with a nice silver bead on the end [compliments of my wife’s bead stash] and glued a small compass on the top of the topper.  DONE!!  And maybe done for a year.  It will be mailed off to one of my sons for testing.  I am also concerned that the coupling between the two sections of the walking stick may be a weak link. We’ll see if it holds up or if my son ends up careening down an abyss later this summer.

compass on top jenny skip
compass on top

A Project to Honor My Spirit Animal

Hey, remember a couple of posts back, when we looked at taking non-credit college courses online?  [Creativity and Connections] I took a Coursera class taught by some instructors at the University of Florida, called Healing With the Arts.

The class took us through a module a week, covering visual arts, music, dance, creative writing, drama, and we breezed through many interesting forms of expression. Although my life was hectic during the time, I’m now on the final week of the class, and I found myself needing to submit a final project, so here I am.

At one guided imagery session, the instructor encouraged us to become acquainted with our own “Spirit Animal.” [Being a Harry Potter fan, I usually substitute “Patronus” whenever the phrase Spirit Animal is used.] During the actual session, one of my cats, Ponyboy, burst into the room and insisted on cuddling with me at the exact point in the guided imagery when I was supposed to come to a clearing in the forest and meet my Spirit Animal. So, he became, in actuality as well as in imagination, my Spirit Animal.

This video goes through the process I used to create a bracelet that has a drawing I made of Ponyboy, laser engraved on it. As shown in the video, you could make a drawing, reduce it or enlarge it, or you could use a photograph, or you could laser engrave a .pdf you found on the Internet. A client could change up the decoration on the bracelet, using colored yarn, different beads, or any number of variations. If the laser printer was used in a hospital setting, it would need to have some ventilation.

Altogether a very interesting class! I will keep going back to the journal I created for the class, and try to keep it going to stimulate creative projects that have other good, healing results!

It’s no puzzle why ghouls like Halloween

by Skip

ghoul puzzle jennyskip
ghoulish ghoul puzzle

According to :

“Come Halloween, miniature ghosts, ghouls, and goblins ring your doorbell. But each of the three freaky frights has a different history and personality.”

“One of the only features these staples of the supernatural share is their ghastliness. Ghosts are considered to be the souls of the dead. They are imagined as disembodied spirits, and are often visualized as vague or evanescent forms; hence, the white sheet routine. The Old English gast means “soul, spirit, life, breath.” A red blood cell having no hemoglobin is also called a ghost. ”

The details behind ghoul are far more malevolent and may have inspired a horror film or two. “

According to Wikipedia,

“A ghoul is a monster or evil spirit associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh.”

“In modern fiction, the term has often been used for a certain kind of undead monster. By extension, the word ghoul is also used in a derogatory sense to refer to a person who delights in the macabre, or whose profession is linked directly to death, such as a gravedigger or grave robber.”

This puzzle started with what I envisioned as a ghost.  However, my skill at drawing in a Word file is extremely limited. So, as you can see from the file I ultimately loaded into the Full Spectrum laser, this could have been anything; ghost, ghoul, goblin or even a skull.

After I cut out the puzzle, I glued on a back to make it a tray puzzle, and after sanding each piece, I put the puzzle together and gave it a white primer coat of paint.  I did have to sand each edge of the puzzle a little to loosen it up. The laser makes such a fine cut that it is very difficult to take it apart and put it back together.

After applying the primer, I turned the puzzle over to my wife to again use her artistic talent to make a pearl out of a pig’s ear, although a pig’s ear probably looks a lot better than my puzzle outline. My wife really got into this which really worries me about what goes on in her mind!!  After all, she use to work for the property tax collector’s office, so she is familiar with ghouls…which I think inspired her to paint such a ghastly figure!  Compare this to the sweet Jack o’lantern she painted last year for my Laser Jack puzzle.

Hope you enjoy the outcome!  Subscribe to our YouTube channel and our blog for more projects.


What do the CNC, Laser and a Light Switch Plate Have in Common?

You can make a light switch plate with a CNC machine, and then engrave a decoration on the plate with a laser.  I was inspired by Kenbo Studio’s YouTube channel A Cut Above,  when he used a scroll saw to cut out a switch plate in the shape of  Star Wars droid R2D2.  My grandchildren love Star Wars, so I searched the internet for Star Wars images and landed on a cartoon image of R2D2, a good test image for my project.

Before I post the details of the project, let me digress into the history of the light switch, which is so cleverly hidden by this switch plate. Wikipedia gives a brief history:

“The first light switch employing “quick-break technology” was invented by John Henry Holmes in 1884 in the Shieldfield district of Newcastle upon Tyne.  The “quick-break” switch overcame the problem of a switch’s contacts developing electric arcing whenever the circuit was opened or closed. Arcing would cause pitting on one contact and the build-up of residue on the other, and the switch’s useful life would be diminished. Holmes’ invention ensured that the contacts would separate or come together very quickly, however much or little pressure was exerted by the user on the switch actuator. The action of this “quick break” mechanism meant that there was insufficient time for an arc to form, and the switch would thus have a long working life. This “quick break” technology is still in use in almost every ordinary light switch in the world today, numbering in the billions, as well as in many other forms of electric switch.

The toggle light switch was invented in 1917 by William J. Newton.

“As a component of a building wiring system, the installation of light switches will be regulated by some authority concerned with safety and standards. In different countries the standard dimensions of the wall mounting hardware (boxes, plates etc.) may differ. Since the face-plates used must cover this hardware, these standards determine the minimum sizes of all wall mounted equipment. Hence, the shape and size of the boxes and face-plates, as well as what is integrated, varies from country to country.

The dimensions, mechanical designs, and even the general appearance of light switches changes but slowly with time. They frequently remain in service for many decades, often being changed only when a portion of a house is rewired. It is not extremely unusual to see century-old light switches still in functional use. Manufacturers introduce various new forms and styles, but for the most part decoration and fashion concerns are limited to the face-plates or wall-plates. Even the “modern” dimmer switch with knob is at least four decades old, and in even the newest construction the familiar toggle and rocker switch appearances predominate.”

This brought to mind a two-button light switch that I saw at my grandmother’s house when I was a child.  At the time, I didn’t realize the historical significance of this type of switch!  Today,  a light switch takes on many shapes and types. We can control our lights remotely with our smart phones. I have a lamp in my house that has a built-in speaker to play audio files, that can be controlled with my smart phone.  We have light switches with built-in occupancy sensors to control the lights. I have even worked with light switches that provided a binary input to a microprocessor to control the air conditioning system at a laboratory.   But enough digressing… back to the project.

Using Vectric software and the dimensions of a single switch cover plate,  tap files were generated for the plate outline and the switch plate hole. The Shark CNC machine was fired up and a wall plate cut from1/4 inch thick Baltic plywood. After separating the wall plate from the tabs holding it in place, I set the plate under a store- bought switch plate, which was used as a template to drill the screw holes.  I could have used the CNC machine to do this, but it would have meant a bit change.  If I was making a number of these at one time, it may have been worth the extra step to change the bit. The wall plate was then given a quick sand, and then painted with a high gloss white primer, followed up with a clear coat of lacquer. 

Next, I moved the plate over to the Full Spectrum 40-watt laser to engrave a cartoon image of R2D2.  I’m still working out the details on how to line up the laser image on a project, so it took a couple of test runs to finally get the image centered on the wall plate. With the white paint and clear coat on the plate, it only took one pass with the laser to get a satisfactory image. I did reduce the speed to 80% and left the power setting at 100%.

I’m going to continue to experiment with this project using different types of wood.  I may also try to not only engrave the piece with the laser, but also to cut out the shape using the laser. I also want to try to improve on the use of the CNC, to provide a profile on the border of the switch plate. I think for the time being the grandkids will be happy with an image of their favorite cartoon figure. I might make some switch plates with a feel-good motif for the parents, too… maybe a plate engraved with the words  “When In Doubt, Turn It Out!”

light switch plate
light switch plate


nostepinne, winding a center-pull ball of yarn: Quince & Co Kestrel 100% organic linen

Is it the wand of Dumbledore, or the wand of Mickey Mouse the sorcerer, or maybe the switch your Aunt Gertrude chased you around the house with? No, no, no it’s a nostepinne!

The first I ever heard of the nostepinne was a few years ago when my wife asked me if I could make a yarn swift and a nostepinne.  Oh yeah, I can do that…. Sure… they are made out of wood, right?  After some research I found out what these devices accomplish for knitters. In the case of the swift, it is a device to hold a skein of yarn while it is wound into a ball.  The nostepinne is used to wrap the yarn into a ball that will feed yarn from its center (a center-pull ball).

Wikipedia says that:

   “The nostepinne, also known as a nostepinde or nøstepinde, is a tool used in the fiber arts to wind yarn, often yarn that has been hand spun, into a ball for easily knitting, crocheting, or weaving from. In its simplest form, it is a dowel, generally between 10 and 12 inches long and most frequently made of wood, around which yarn can be wound. Decoratively and ornately carved nostepinnes are common. The top of the nostepinne sometimes incorporates a notch or a groove, which allows one end of the yarn to be held secure while the rest is wound into a ball”

If you go to Spinartiste , you will find some images of very ornate nostepinnes.  This site states “The word “Nostepinne” has originated from Scandinavia and in Norway, it is actually called ”Nøstepinne” where the “ø” is pronounced like the “u” in the word “hurt”. In Sweden, it is often called ”Nystepinne.”

The traditions associated with nostepinnes in Norway were many… they were given as Christmas gifts, engagement gifts, or a gift from a boy to a girl to show her he was interested in her.  The more accomplished wood carvers would hollow out the handles of the nostepinne with captive balls inside.  These could also be used as baby rattles.

I have made my wife a couple of nostepinnes and even a swift. This time I decided to be a little more adventurous and add some carvings and maybe even some laser engraving to keep up with our theme of bringing 21st century techniques to 19th century crafts.

The design I lasered onto the handle of the nostepinne is derived from Norse Symbols And Their Meanings


A modern representation of the Web of Wyrd, the matrix of fate (wyrd) as woven by the Nornir, the fates of Norse legend. The emblem, nine staves arranged in an angular grid, contains all of the shapes of the runes and therefore all of the past, present, and future possibilites they represent. The web of wyrd serves as a reminder that the actions of the past affect the present and that present actions affect the future; all timelines are inextricably interconnected- in a sense, it is a representation of the tree of life.

Tooth Fairy Lidded Box


Several years have passed since I took on the parental role of the Tooth Fairy, but now, with 18 grandchildren, my thoughts have turned back to this custom as I watch my children turn into Tooth Fairy proxies. I must say, I was a very clever Tooth Fairy protégé.  I won’t share the details of the deception I practiced on this blog site in case some of my more tech-savvy grandchildren read this blog. I have sent my underhanded Tooth Fairy techniques to some of my children via secured server (the one in my laundry closet).

The history of children being paid for their lost teeth goes back to early written records of the Norsemen and Northern Europeans. In Northern Europe this tradition was called ftand-fé or tooth fee.

Wikipedia  on dealing with the use of baby teeth:

“During the Middle Ages, other superstitions arose surrounding children’s teeth. In England, for example, children were instructed to burn their baby teeth in order to save the child from hardship in the afterlife. Children who didn’t consign their baby teeth to the fire would spend eternity searching for them in the afterlife. The Vikings, it is said, paid children for their teeth. In the Norse culture, children’s teeth and other articles belonging to children, were said to bring good luck in battle, and Scandinavian warriors hung children’s teeth on a string around their necks. Fear of witches was another reason to bury or burn teeth. In medieval Europe, it was thought that if a witch were to get hold of one of your teeth, it could lead to them having total power over you.

The modern incarnation of these traditions into an actual tooth fairy has been dated to 1927, 1962, or even 1977 However, there is an earlier reference to the tooth fairy in a 1908 “Household Hints” item in the Chicago Daily Tribune:

“Tooth Fairy.

Many a refractory child will allow a loose tooth to be removed if he knows about the tooth fairy. If he takes his little tooth and puts it under the pillow when he goes to bed the tooth fairy will come in the night and take it away, and in its place will leave some little gift. It is a nice plan for mothers to visit the 5 cent counter and lay in a supply of articles to be used on such occasions. Lillian Brown.”

There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on what the Tooth Fairy looks like.  Images range from dragons to little fat men, to little winged girls.  The general view is that the Tooth Fairy is more like the little winged girl.  This was the image that came to my mind when, as a child, I put my tooth under the pillow. Practically, this could have worked since the average tooth payout was a dime and I could see how a little winged girl might be able to sneak under my pillow, take my baby tooth and leave a dime. But with the 2013 survey by Visa Inc. reporting the average US payout as $3.70 for a baby tooth, I’m not sure a little Tooth Fairy could carry around this much cash. It may still be a bargain for the Tooth Fairy since  adults probably paid the dentist several hundred dollars for the care of this tooth that ultimately fell out!

A few  months ago I turned a small lidded box for one of my grandchildren to use as a tooth fairy box. I used pyrography to place her name on the lid of the box and some decorative piercing around the side. It was an ugly prototype but my son loved it and took it home to his daughter. The moral of this story is to never bad mouth one of your creations, no matter how ugly it may be, because in the eye of the beholder (my son), the pig’s ear evidently had a silk lining.

So, on to prototype two.  I took a piece of southern magnolia, my favorite prototype wood, and turned a 4-inch long, 2 ¼-inch diameter cylinder between centers and then cut a ¼-inch long  tenon on one end.  I mounted the blank in a scroll chuck and used a 1 ½-inch Forstner bit to drill out the bottom to a 1 ¼-inch depth to accommodate an electric tea light with a fake flame. Originally I was only going to drill to one inch because I had some of the tea lights that light up on the inside and are flat with a little fake wick. The flame would cast more light above the tea light, which would better suit the purpose of my design.

I then sanded the bottom inside and outside of the box.  I turned the box around on the lathe, setting the bottom of the box in the scroll chuck. I didn’t worry about chuck marks on the box because I had plans for dealing with that later. I then used a parting tool to form a 1 3/4-inch diameter tenon about a ¼-inch down from the end of the blank.  This tenon would provide the socket fit for the lid. I then sanded and applied several coats of sanding sealer and parted off the lid.

Using a 1 5/8-inch Forstner bit, I drilled down to about ¼-inch above the hole drilled into the bottom of the box for the tea light.  The  ledge this formed would be used later to support a clear plastic disk. Then, using the tenon on the lid as a guide, I opened up the sides of the 1 5/8-inch hole for the lid tenon to fit. I used a parting tool to cut three decorative grooves  in the side of the box just below the lid opening. Later I would drill holes around the box in the grooves to let the light through.  I sanded and finished the top portion of the box.

Wrapping the top section of the box in paper towel to protect it from the scroll jaws, I turned the box around and secured it in the chuck. I didn’t worry too much about the scroll making marks on the sides of the box since the jaws sat in the grooves I had cut.  I then turned grooves in the bottom section of the box where there were scroll marks, did some light sanding and applied another coat of sanding sealer to blend in with the top portion of the box.

I was going to laser engrave a cartoon figure of a tooth holding a toothbrush, with the child’s name on a contrasting piece of wood, and glue this to the top.  This is why I only made the top ¼-inch thick on the prototype.  However it was easier to just laser engrave directly on the lid, so in the final versions of this box, I made the lid ½-inch thick to begin with. Since I had originally thought of gluing on the engraved cap to the lid, I had used a pointed live center which left a divot on the top of the lid. This would have been covered up by the engraved cap. On the final versions, I used a cup center.

The laser engraving worked well on the sanding sealer surface. I didn’t fuss about centering the image on the prototype so it came out a little off center with the divot in one of the eyes!

tooth fairy box craftsbyjennyskip
prototype 2

I cut a plastic disk out of the side of a clear plastic container that rice came in. After drilling all the holes in the grooves, I placed the plastic disk on a bed of thick super glue applied to the ledge in the box. This let the light through to the upper part of the box where the holes had been drilled and acted as a bottom for the upper compartment holding the tooth and cash!!  I must mention here that when the Tooth Fairy visited my house when I was a child, I received a dime for each tooth. This dime wouldn’t have much effect on the amount of light getting into the upper compartment of the tooth box. In testing the final version of the box, a paper bill was folded and inserted into the box and the tea light was turned on. The light seemed to still shine through the holes. If the Tooth Fairy decides in the future to use debit or gift cards, I’ll have to revisit the design!

If you were to use the other flameless type tea light, you could drill holes around the bottom set of grooves in the box to let the light through.

The most recent version of the fairy tooth box is shown below.  I’m not satisfied with the proportions of this box. The height-to-diameter ratio is about 1.77 which should be pleasing to the eye,  but to me, the box seems to be too tall.  Maybe if the box was tapered with a larger diameter base it might be more esthetic. The location and the spacing of the grooves needs to be investigated also. I plan to work on the design and will provide a post in the future to describe these efforts.

lidded box, orange and blue
most recent prototype


A special thanks to my friend Adam and one of his relatives for the wood.

Daryl Aukeman, Hudsonville, MI

616-322-2232 cell

616-896-0157 home

Daryl has an unbelievable supply of wood which he will be selling to us wood-starved Florida woodworkers.

Christmas Tree Puzzle

By now you bloggers and YouTubers are probably growing weary of the Christmas ornament challenge. We did our share by turning a snowperson on the lathe. After looking at all the YouTube entries up to now, I am totally impressed by the creativity and talent that has gone into these. From Sam the Wyoming Wood Turner’s beautiful inlaid globe with magnetic attachments to Mitch Peacock’s Incense smoking snowman to Mike Waldt’s snowman or Christmas man, as he called it for a while, with a red proboscis!

By the way, some woodturners across the pond are cranking up a wood turning symposium! This is fantastic! I know how much trouble it is for my wife and me to host our 10 kids, spouses and 17 grandchildren for Christmas…. But a symposium for the British Isles and Irish ……..

promot 2016
UK-Irish Woodturning Symposium 2016

I regress…. Anyway we wanted to make another project for the holiday season, so I proceeded to draw (my 1 year grandson could have probably done better) a Christmas tree flanked by candles, with a star topper and a banner at the bottom to date the drawing, using Microsoft Word. You can see from the photos below that this was crude at best, but after all, Grandma Moses got away with primitive art work! I saved the “artwork” with Word in an XPS document format, loaded it into the Retina Full Spectrum software and cut out what was to be a tray puzzle featuring the tree. I used 1/8 inch Baltic birch plywood with a laser power setting of 100% and a speed of 100. My laser is a 40 watt laser.

laser cut tray puzzle
tree puzzle cutting lines

As a side note, someone on the laser forum asked if this laser could cut paper. Ummmmm…I could see an experiment formulating! I took a stack of 8 sheets of standard weight copy machine paper and placed it in the laser. I grabbed my fire extinguisher, and with the laser still set at 100%, “fired” off the laser. I let it cut out the flame over one of the puzzle candles (an interesting choice for the graphic) before turning the laser off. The top sheet of paper was cut neatly with a little brown around the edges, but by the time I got to sheet eight there was nothing but ash. So I set the power at 20% and left the speed at 100. This time I let it cut out more of the puzzle image. When I stopped the laser, I wasn’t even sure it had cut the paper. There was a faint black line outlining the image. On close inspection, I found that the laser had cut through the top sheet of paper as if it had been cut with a razor! The second sheet was partly cut, and the third sheet only had what appeared to be a printed image. None of the other pages were affected.

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Once the puzzle was cut and sanded, my wife applied her artistic skills and turned a disaster into a beautiful Christmas tree scene with presents and all!

Christmas tree puzzle
Finished puzzle

The tree that my wife depicted on the tray puzzle represents a modern-day American Christmas tree. The history of the tree as a symbol goes back to the time of the Egyptians, but the evergreen tree really only became a Christmas symbol in the 15th or 16th century. It was introduced into American culture in the 18th century. Google history of the Christmas tree for some very interesting history of this tradition. What does the use of a tree symbolize? Why an evergreen tree? What does the triangular shape of the tree symbolize? What does the star tree topper symbolize? Why put presents under the tree? What are the symbols of other winter holidays, such as the menorah of Hanukkah and the kinara of Kwanzaa?

Halloween Woodworking

An inspiration from one of the You Tube woodworkers: Mitch Peacock’s Hallowood 15 challenge. We haven’t risen to the level where we are confident to take on You Tube challenges yet; maybe next year. But perhaps we can participate through a blog post.
We are still learning how to use some of this new technology, so we set out to see if we could make another tray puzzle, this time with a Halloween theme.

My wife drew a jack-o-lantern outline for me to vectorize and input to the laser software, so I could try cutting out a puzzle with a Full Spectrum laser. My ineptitude in dealing with all the software left me high and dry. I could get the drawing scanned and saved in an XPS format, but when I pulled it into the software all I could do was get a raster file, which I could use to burn an image on the wood but not cut the wood. Evidently you need to use drawing software that lets you save your file in a vector format. So I used the drawing software that came with the laser, albeit pretty simple, and I was able to hammer out what looks like a jack-o-lantern outline with lines added for the puzzle cutouts. My wife can then add embellishments to make it look like a real jack-o-lantern.

A little history to equate this project to the past:
According to the website

“The practice of decorating jack-o’-lanterns [the name comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack] originated in Ireland, where large turnips and potatoes served as an early canvas. Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America, home of the pumpkin, and it became an integral part of Halloween festivities.”

The website has the story of “Stingy Jack” and many other great current and historical content related to Halloween including a video by a master pumpkin carver. The carving of these jack-o-lanterns thus finds its beginnings in Ireland and Britain in the early 19th century. Lighted gourds may date back over 700 years, but not as a Halloween practice.

So here was the procedure for making the Hallowood puzzle:

• Produce a drawing using a vector format. I used the drawing software that came with the laser engraver. It didn’t give us a lot of avenues for creativity, so the pumpkin is pretty simple. My wife embellished it, which made up for the simplicity.

pumpkin drawing

• Laser cut the pattern. I used 7 passes for a laser setting which was perfect for cutting through the 1/8 inch hobby plywood piece. The pattern was about 8 inches by 8 inches. If I had a better grasp of drawing this pattern I would not have cut out each tooth separately. The teeth were too small to be effective puzzle pieces. We left out the teeth and my wife ultimately painted a yellow background on the tray surface. The laser produces such a fine cut that the puzzle pieces fit very tightly in the tray. I had to do some sanding to loosen them up a little.

• Remove the puzzle pieces from the frame and lightly sand the pieces. Cut the frame to size and cut another piece of 1/8 inch plywood to form the back of the tray. Glue the tray back on the frame. Round over the corners, sand and apply a sanding sealer, in this case spray lacquer. Apply a sanding sealer to the puzzle pieces.

• Put the puzzle together and paint. This was the tricky part. The triangles for the eyes and nose were not exactly the same; another result of not knowing what I was doing when I drew the puzzle in the vector format. So once the pieces were arranged properly, my wife came up with a way to paint the pieces so their orientation would be obvious.

• Sign, date and apply a clear coat and give it to some deserving child of appropriate age.

tray puzzle Hallowood 15
tray puzzle ready to put together
wooden puzzle Hallowood 15 Challenge
painted puzzle

Birdhouse Build

The recent Summers Woodworking Birdhouse Challenge encouraged me to get into the shop and resurrect my birdhouse plans. Although I didn’t create a fancy birdhouse and I didn’t finish it in time to enter the contest, I enjoy making bird houses.

Some 10 years ago I had the honor to coach a scout for his Eagle project.  It was hard to contain my excitement when the scout asked if he could do a woodworking project. Another member of our scout group suggested that we build birdhouses and contact a local Audubon Society member to get guidance and to be the project sponsor.  The project developed from that point on, and soon a group of young men, young women and several adults began the construction of 150 kestrel nesting boxes. The kestrels were struggling in Florida at that time due to destruction of their habitat by fires. At the completion of the project, many of the youth were able to see the boxes they made mounted some 30 to 40 feet above the ground on power poles. The following year, the sponsor reported that many of the boxes had been used by nesting kestrels and that the project had been a major success.  A year or so later, we found ourselves working on another project for our sponsor: blue bird boxes.

Currently, we’ve decided to build a blue bird box for a blog project. I hope the information we share here will encourage woodworkers to seek out their area’s local needs for bird nesting boxes, and will participate when possible.

On the Cranmer Earth Design Information website you can find an interesting history of birdhouses.  The use of man-made birdhouses goes back as far as the 15th century. Materials used for birdhouses ranged from baskets to bark to pottery.  When English immigrants reached the eastern coast in the 18th century they found that Native Americans were making bird houses out of birch bark.  The Native Americans saw a need to bring birds to their area, and recognized that birdhouses could help accomplish this goal.  Europeans built birdhouses to collect eggs or trap birds. Early American settlers wanted to attract birds for insect control.

So why do we build birdhouses today? Birdhouses can help offset habitat destruction by either natural or man-made means. It’s interesting to note that we build birdhouses for birds who do not naturally build freely supported nests in trees or structures, but look for cavities to nest in.

The birdhouse construction for our blog project follows the recommendation of the Audubon sponsor we used on earlier projects. It also follows fairly closely the recommendations outlined in the website .  This website provides the dimensions used in this project, specifically the size recommended for an Eastern blue bird.

blue bird house plan
Blue bird house plan from

The hole size and location accommodates the habit of the blue bird to fly directly into the birdhouse.  There is no perch, because one is not needed, and a perch would provide predators a platform for entering the birdhouse. The wood used is untreated cedar (treated lumber should never be used).  It was also our impression that, for at least these bird types, the house should not be painted. One side of the box is hinged, to open for periodic cleaning. 

hinged bird house
hinged side, to open for cleaning

In many cases other animals may use the box when the birds are not nesting and their nesting material needs to be removed.  A removable nail is used to lock this side in a closed position. This side is also designed to leave a gap just under the roof’s edge for ventilation.

bird house
sides have gap for ventilation

Another side is also cut to assist ventilation.  The floor of the box is notched for drainage, and slightly elevated from the sides of the box to help keep the interior dry.

birdhouse floor
Notches in the floor for drainage

It is also recommended that a ¼ inch groove be cut underneath the three exposed edges of the roof to prevent rainwater runoff from following the edge of the roof and curling back on the nesting box walls.  The diagrams do not show it here, but it is also a good idea to cut a series of grooves on the inside face of the front side of the box. This is better illustrated in the construction photographs.  The grooves provide a “toe hold” for the bird fledglings to climb out of the box.

birdhouse toe holds
grooves serve as “toe holds”

When the nesting box is completed, it can be mounted on a pole or fence post four feet above the ground, in an open area.  The website above gives specific positioning guidance for various types of bird houses.  Our Audubon consultant suggested mounting the blue bird boxes on a post in a location with bushes about 10 feet in front of the box. This provides an opportunity for the fledglings to practice flying back and forth from the bushes to the box.

blue bird house
blue bird box sketch from

It isn’t always easy to insure that the location you pick will be free from predators such as cats, snakes or raccoons.  The website above provides some guidelines for adding structures to the birdhouse or support to protect against predators.

For our project, we selected cedar as the construction material, specifically nominal 1×6 cedar planks.  A four foot length will provide enough wood to make all but the roof.  A 1×10 board is needed for the roof, but if you are only going to make one birdhouse, you can purchase some extra 1×6 and glue up a panel for the roof. This is what we did, since we had extra 1×6 boards and no 1×10’s. We used Titebond 3 glue since this joint would be exposed to the weather.

You’ll find that for some other box types, the back board for the box not only extends below the bottom of the box but also above the roof.  This expedites attaching the box to a pole or other structure.  This was the case for the kestrel boxes we built.  In the case of the kestrel boxes, the roof butts up against the back board, leaving a seam where water could leak in. To prevent this, a sealant was run along this seam.

The construction of the box calls for galvanized nails. We found during the assembly of the 100 plus birdhouses that it was quicker to apply Titebond 3 glue to the joints and then use a pneumatic crown stapler to hold the joints together while the glue dried. This method seemed to hold up as well as using galvanized nails. The main reason we chose the method we did, was because we had several young people doing the construction and driving galvanized nails into the cedar with a hammer proved to be a challenge, unless we predrilled the holes.  The cedar was very prone to splintering.

Here’s a little you-tube of the nesting blue bird box build:

The cedar boards from the big box stores could be easily cut to size with a chop saw.  It would be recommended to use some kind of jig to nip the corners off the floor piece, to keep your hands well away from the chop saw blade. The hole for the entrance was drilled with a Forstner bit. A jig was also used to cut the grooves on the back side of the front wall. The depth of cut was set on the chop saw to 1/8 inch, and the board was fed by hand as the chop saw was repeatedly lowered onto the board.

If you’d like to provide some housing for our feathered friends, get into your shop and chop some wood! And as always, focus on what you are doing, and be safe!