Category Archives: Woodworking

Christmas Projects: Wooden Tic-tac-toe Game

Looking for CNC projects to do for Christmas, I came across the Vectric Labs Blog where several ideas for Christmas projects were posted. One of the projects that caught my attention was a Tic-tac-toe game by Beki Jeremy in a 2014 blog post. This looked like something I could handle. I could use some ½ inch Baltic birch plywood and a couple of bit changes on the CNC machine and produce one, maybe even two or three.
Tic-tac-toe has always been a fun and often spontaneous game for children and adults alike. Children want to challenge adults to a game; that is, adults who can figure out how to lose, to make the children look good!

According to Wikipedia, a form of Tic-tac-toe may have been played during the time of the Roman Empire, first century BC. The game played at this time went by the name of Terni Lapilli. It is reported that the grid for this game were found chalked all over Rome.
In Claudia Zaslavsky’s book Tic Tac Toe: And Other Three-In-A Row Games from Ancient Egypt to the Modern Computer it is indicated that Tic-tac-toe may have had its origins in ancient Egypt. More recently, the game has taken on several different names including Noughts and Crosses, of British fame (1864) and Tick-tack-toe (1884). The American name of Tic-tac-toe didn’t come about until the 20th century. Wikipedia also reports that “In 1952, OXO (or Noughts and Crosses) for the EDSAC computer became one of the first known video games. The computer player could play perfect games of Tic-tac-toe against a human opponent.” By 1975, MIT students used Tic-tac-toe to demonstrate how a computer made almost entirely out of Tinkertoys could play the game.

Often the best outcome for two good players is a draw. If you really want your head to spin on your shoulders, delve into the combinatorial of Tic-tac-toe, the possible board layouts and game combinations. Look at the strategy of winning or obtaining a draw by choosing the first available move from a list in Newell and Simon’s 1972 Tic-tac-toe program. See more Newell and Simon here. But if advanced calculus is not your thing, get Newell and Simon’s list and challenge some unsuspecting five year old to a game of Tic-tac-toe. Or if you want to engage in an experiment to use Tic-tac-toe as a pedagogical tool to teach this five year old good sportsmanship, you could just cheat and beat the five year old.

For this project, I mounted a 2 foot by 2 foot piece of ½ inch Baltic birch plywood on the CNC machine’s sacrificial board. I pulled up the Tic-tac-toe file and checked the various tool paths to make sure it would work with my plywood. I did have to change the cutting depths to 0.51 inches to insure that I could cut all the way through the plywood. As it turned out, it would have been better to set this at 0.53 inches for my set up since the 0.51 inch setting was a hair short of cutting completely through my plywood sample. Other than this change, I used the original settings.

I loaded up the g-code for the profile cuts first and used a 1/4 inch shank 90 degree engraving router bit to make these cuts. Following all the profile cuts, I changed the bit to a ¼ inch shank 0.25 inch spiral up cut end mill to make the pocket cuts. Following the pocket cuts, I loaded up the various g-codes for cutting out the game board and X’s and O’s. These cuts provided tabs to keep the parts together until the parts could be separated with a sharp chisel.

All that remained then was to sand, seal and paint. Oh, and then to challenge my wife to a Tic-tac-toe game. Of course I would go first. 


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!


I’ve been making jigsaw puzzles for over 20 years, first for my children and now for grandchildren. The tools I use include scroll saws and bandsaws. The first puzzles I made were tray puzzles. Sometimes I traced my children’s hands on a piece of 1/8 inch thick Baltic plywood. I would then cut out the traced hands and separate the fingers from the palms. The hand shapes were cut from a square piece of the plywood, which then became a fitted frame for the hands. This frame was subsequently glued onto another square piece of 1/8 inch thick plywood to back up the frame and produce a tray to hold the puzzle pieces. I would then paint each finger a different color, as well as the palm pieces. I would then pick out a lighter color to paint the parts of the tray. Then using rub-on or vinyl letters, I would put numbers 1 thru 10 in each tray opening for the fingers. On the corresponding finger puzzle piece I spelled out the numbers: one, two, etc.
The pieces were then top coated with lacquer. All the paints were toy grade and non-toxic. However, note that the size of these pieces would pose a choking hazard for small children. ASTM F963 gives the standards governing children’s toys. As an example, a toy part must not be of a size to pass through a 1.68-inch diameter hole in a jig that is 1.18 inches thick. 

Now when I first made these puzzles, I had no knowledge of these standards and after all, the puzzles were for my children, and not for sale! But I don’t think the children’s mother would look favorably toward having my toys choke the children. As luck would have it, my children were old enough at the time to safely handle the puzzles I made. Another popular tray puzzle I made was a segmented, multicolored caterpillar. The caterpillar was divided into 26 pieces. Each piece was labeled with a capital alphabet letter. Under the corresponding piece the tray was labeled with the lower case letter. Since then, many other puzzles have found their way from my scroll saw to the hands of my grandchildren: free standing puzzles, interlocking puzzles and more tray puzzles. My wife has provided the artwork in many cases, while I cut it into irregular interlocking pieces, to confuse the innocent.
I found over time that not only was the size of the puzzle piece a function of the child’s age but the number of puzzle parts was also a function of age. The table below is a general recommendation for the number of puzzle parts.

• Ages 2 – 3          4 to 12 Pieces
• Ages 3 – 5          12 to 50 Pieces
• Ages 5 – 6          50 to 100 Pieces
• Ages 6 – 7          100 to 200 Pieces
• Ages 7 – 8          200 Pieces
• Ages 8 – 10        300 Pieces
• Ages 12+           500+ Pieces

Wikipedia describes the history of puzzles:

“A jigsaw puzzle is a tiling puzzle that requires the assembly of often oddly shaped interlocking and tessellating pieces. Each piece usually has a small part of a picture on it; when complete, a jigsaw puzzle produces a complete picture. In some cases more advanced types have appeared on the market, such as spherical jigsaws and puzzles showing optical illusions.”

In addition, newer puzzles can be spherical and 3-dimensional. Wikipedia continues…

“Jigsaw puzzles were originally created by painting a picture on a flat, rectangular piece of wood, and then cutting that picture into small pieces with a jigsaw, hence the name. Alternatively, it has been believed that the name of the puzzle may have given the tool its name. The origin of the name Jigsaw is not entirely known. Some speculate that upon completion of some difficult puzzles, the player would then perform a victory jig upon the puzzle. Performing this jig on the puzzle would check the structural integrity of the puzzle. Once the jig was observed upon the puzzle, the person who saw the jig would confirm that the structure was sound, hence jigsaw. This origin has little evidence to back its story and is based merely on interesting hearsay. The John Spilsbury, a London cartographer and engraver, is credited with commercializing jigsaw puzzles around 1760.[1] Jigsaw puzzles have since come to be made primarily of cardboard.”

I’ve been specifically inspired by Hans Meier who is a member of the Gwinnett Woodworkers Association and who has several You Tube videos on scroll saw puzzles. I highly recommend his videos for detailed techniques on making a variety of puzzle types.

The project chosen for this blog post is a tray puzzle for one of our 5 year old grandchildren. He loves birds, fish and animals, so we chose a parrot. And even though he has worked puzzles we have made with 48 pieces, this picture lends itself to 12 pieces which is on the lower end of the recommended number for a 5 year old.
My wife, the artistic one of our blog team, sketched a parrot which I was able to divide into 12 puzzle pieces. This sketch was subsequently mounted on a 1/8 inch thick piece of Baltic plywood.

The parrot tray puzzle was a 13 step process:
1 Select a puzzle subject. In this case the grandchild dictated the subject matter.
2 Sketch an outline of the puzzle subject, a parrot. My wife sketched the parrot and selected the colors. The sketch is then divided up into the required number of puzzle pieces attempting to select areas of the figures that will either make it easy or difficult to solve the puzzle. It’s important to consider the size of the pieces.

puzzle sketch jenny skip
prepping the sketch
3 Use contact spray cement to attach the sketch to a suitably sized piece of 1/8inch thick plywood.

puzzle jenny
sketch mounted on plywood
4 Drill a starter hole in the sketch with a 1/16 inch diameter drill bit. Think about this location. The object is to be able to completely cut out the whole figure from the board, leaving the remainder of the board as the frame for the puzzle.
5 Using a number 0 46 TPI spiral scroll saw blade, the outline of the subject (in this case the outline of the parrot) is cut out.

scroll saw blade jenny
scroll saw blade
6 Once the subject has been removed from the frame portion of the board, the subject is cut into pieces. For the parrot puzzle, 12 pieces were selected. The body parts of the parrot were selected to be parts of the puzzle. Several miscellaneous cuts were included to add some challenge to solving the puzzle.

cutting out the puzzle pieces
7 Use mineral spirits or a heat gun to remove the paper sketched pattern from the frame and puzzle pieces.
8 Lightly sand the frame and puzzle pieces.
9 Cut another 1/8 inch thick piece of plywood that will form the back of the puzzle (i.e. the bottom of the tray). Lightly sand this board.
10 Glue the tray bottom to the bottom of the frame.
11 Apply a sanding sealer to all the puzzle and tray parts and lightly sand with 320 grit sandpaper.
12 Paint the puzzle with toy safe acrylic paint and apply a clear top coat of lacquer.

13 Mail puzzle to subject grandchild and wait for kudos!! parrot puzzle
parrot puzzle (with Grayzie the cat in background)

a Wooden Root Beer Tote

As we experiment with 21st century technology, we find that unless we put a lot of our 50-year plus brain cells to work, this new technology will often move us backward, in lieu of forward, with our craft. In keeping with our blog’s theme, we decided to take a 19th century brew and apply a 21st century twist to it.

We love root beer. One of our children really loves root beer (at one time he actually placed 99 bottles of root beer on a ledge in our kitchen). Another son spent 2 years in the UK, where there’s not much root beer for sale. We bought some 2-liter plastic bottles of Mug Root Beer from Wal-Mart and spent about 10 times the price of the soda to ship it over to him. While my wife set out to explore the history of our favorite root beer, IBC root beer, I set out to construct a beer-of-the-root tote.

Many of my favorite You Tube woodworkers have designed and produced beer totes on their channels. Not being a beer drinker, in the purist sense, I’m not sure why you really need a beer tote. From what I have seen, beer bottles usually come from the store in a nice cardboard tote. In fact, even our IBC root beer comes in a nice cardboard tote. But I digress… on to the application of 21st technology to construct a wooden root beer tote.

As luck would have it, I found a CNC model of a beer tote on the Vectic web site. The model was complete and provided the g-code to run our Shark 3.0HD CNC machine. The model called for a 24-inch x 24-inch board, in my case a piece of 0.45 inch thick Baltic plywood. I anchored the board to a sacrificial board on the CNC machine, loaded the g-code and pressed go.

Shark CNC making beer tote jenny skip
ready to be cut out

As a side note, I did check out the tool paths to make sure I had the correct router bit installed, a ¼-inch end mill, and that I had the right cutting depth set for the plywood used. When the CNC machine had done its job, I separated the pieces and performed a dry fit.

beer tote parts cut out by CNC
parts and pieces cut out

This is where my lack of close attention to details caught up with me. First, I had somehow neglected to include the cutouts for the wedges that were designed to hold the tote together. This problem could be overcome with some strategically placed glue. So after a dry fit , I added a little glue, sanded the tote and applied a coat of white primer in preparation for my wife’s 19th century enhancements.

parts of beer tote
parts prepped for assembly

However (the eraser word) another synapse short-circuit became apparent when I tested the fit of the IBC root beer bottles. They didn’t fit!!! Evidently they are larger in diameter than an average beer bottle. After some serious hammer applications and some significant trial and error with the oscillating spindle sander, the bottles fit. The tote was reassembled and a coat of red, white and blue paint was applied. My wife added the finishing touches.

CVC root beer tote jenny skip
the tote

Root beer was popular in 19th Century North America. A tourist back then could find root beer throughout the country, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the same drink from town to town. The root used to make the concoction might be sarsaparilla, burdock, dandelion, or sassafras (real sassafras roots and bark were banned by the FDA in 1960 so now artificial sassafras flavoring is used). A foaming agent could be added, along with spices such as hops, anise, ginger, or many other choices or combinations (see Wikipedia’s article for the whole story).

We remember having homemade root beer at Halloween parties in the days of our youth, made memorable with the addition of dry ice, so it looked like a smoky, spooky potion! If you’re feeling adventurous, you might want to try Dr. Fankhouser’s Homemade Root Beer tutorial. It’s powerful stuff, so take care!

Root beer? Check. Root beer tote? Check. Now we have to figure out where to tote the root beer.

Making Flying Objects to Help Make-a-Wish Foundation

One of my YouTube heroes, Steve Ramsey of Woodworking for Mere Mortals, has just started a campaign to support the Make-a-Wish Foundation, entitled Makers Care. This campaign was inspired by the need to provide transportation for children to support their wish. Steve will donate $5 for every picture submitted of an airplane made (up to $2000 I think), to Corporate sponsors are matching his donation. In addition, the website also provides a vehicle for anyone to donate to this cause, and offers random prizes for participation throughout the campaign. Thanks, Steve, for all you do to inspire woodworkers and for supporting our many ill children that have so many needs!
Our submittal is shown below. They aren’t planes but they do represent a method of transporting not only corporate executives (even presidential hopefuls), but also our troops, rescuers, medical transport, etc. So hopefully Steve will accept our photo contribution. Just in case, we are making a donation through Makers Care. If you are reading this blog, please support this effort… you will bring so much joy to the lives of these children!!

wooden toys
helicopter toys made from wood scraps

The wood for these toys came from my cut-off bin, and I used non-toxic acrylic paint. These toys are for designed for kids age 4 and older.

More than One Way to Make a Bench

This project started over a year ago with a call from a dear friend, Dwayne Barber, who has a company that specializes in supplying large renovation projects with unusual sizes and species of wood.  Dwayne calls me regularly to tease me with special deals on wood, like 16/4 slabs of air-dried perfectly clear cherry or 14 inch wide 8/4 slabs of perfectly clear air-dried padauk

A year ago it was a load of walnut including 16/4 and 12/4 air-dried boards. Included in the stack of this walnut were two beautiful 12/4 natural-edge slabs about 2 ft. in width and 10 ft. in length.  What immediately came to mind was a trestle table to replace our 50 year old colonial maple table, which had suffered years of functioning as the children’s layout table for science projects or Dad’s assembly table for woodworking projects. But I ramble…. Following the construction of a new natural-edge walnut table (which by the way is now functioning as an assembly table for a new display cabinet), the decision was made to start replacing the maple side chairs with benches, a more reasonable solution for supplying seating for our 18 grandchildren when the swarm attacks our home for holiday meals.

natural-edge trestle table in use as assembly table for display cabinet

For inspiration, I turned to Fine Woodworking Winter 2015 Building Furniture edition. The bench I selected was the one included on page 112 described by Daniel Chaffin in his piece entitled “Trestle Table with Modern Appeal.”

plans from the article
plans from the article

I was fairly true to the design, but since I had to glue up two ¾-inch thick boards to get the bench legs up to thickness, I felt I needed to cover up the joint, which would be exposed in the final construction. To accomplish this and to add a contrasting accent, I decided to ebonize strips of cherry with black India ink and use these to cover the joint.  In addition, I added ebonized strips to the seat edges.

first bench: note ebonized wood accents
second bench

Two benches down and six to go.  In order to move this project along, I decided to make a significant leap into 21st century technology and use a CNC machine to cut the bench legs.

So in lieu of the conventional shop equipment I used for the first two benches: table saws, drill presses with large diameter Forstner bits, and routers, I turned to a machine which, when programmed with the proper software, and loaded with a solidly anchored piece of wood, would cut out the legs. I place emphasis on the anchoring and software because it took several unsuccessful attempts to finally cut out the legs. 

wood for CNC machine
positioning the wood to be cut into a bench leg

My learning curve was sharp, and the project required a few support phone calls and trial/error attempts before I was done.

bench leg cut from CNC

Somehow, pushing the go button and watching this machine carve out the legs was awesome to witness, but I missed finessing with the more conventional tools, to shape the legs.  I’ve done projects totally with unpowered hand tools, and I appreciate the feel of the wood fibers surrendering to a sharp hand saw or chisel. But at my age, sometimes I have to succumb to more modern approaches to get the job done. After all, there is always the satisfaction of sanding and finishing!!

Give That Man a Cigar (pen)–Part 1

Not that this was planned to go along with WordPress’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Grid…but there is a grid included in the project… stabilized cigar
grid inside the vacuum chamber

For more Weekly Photo Challenge: Grid click here.

Not being a cigar smoker, I don’t fully appreciate the culture of cigar smoking but I do have a relative that does. I thought I’d see if I could take a cigar (in this case, one that was made in the Dominican Republic) and make a ball point pen out of it by turning the cigar on a lathe.  In order to accomplish this, I considered two alternatives; stabilize the cigar with some kind of resin or grind up the cigar and mix it with a resin to cast a pen blank.

The option I chose was to stabilize the cigar with resin and use the stabilized cigar as a pen blank.

stabilized cigar parts
stabilized cigar parts after undergoing the treatment listed below

As I prepared for this project I couldn’t help but reflect on the memorable times my family spent visiting Ybor City near Tampa, Florida and eating dinner at the Las Novedades or Columbia restaurants.  I can remember the waiters having fun with my brother and me by seeing just how much Cuban bread we could eat at one sitting.  I can still remember how fantastic that bread tasted once we had lathered it up with (what seemed like) a pound of butter!

The history in this area is steeped in the manufacture of cigars.  I learned that in the cigar factories, a hundred or more (it seemed like that to a 10 year old) Cuban immigrants sat at tables rolling cigars while a man sat at a lectern in the middle of the room reading aloud articles from the newspaper.  Ybor City’s cigar history goes back to the 1880’s.  By the 1930’s there were 150 cigar factories in this area and Tampa was referred to the Cigar Capital of the World. For more history of this era of cigar manufacturing visit Save Cigar City’s page.

Dominican republic cigar
cigar made in Dominican Republic

Taking the cigar, I used the pen kit tubes for the Roadster pen to measure off the lengths of cigar I needed for the pen parts.

Note: If you go to the Craft Supplies web site to check out the link, you may see another link for a “Cigar Pen” kit, too. But don’t be fooled, that kit is for making a pen that faintly resembles the shape of a cigar, not a pen from a real cigar like we’re making here!

I wrapped the cigar at the cut point with blue painters tape to help support the cigar when I cut it into two parts.

prepping cigar for pen kit
cutting the cigar into lengths that will fit the parts from the pen kit

The two cigar sections were then placed in a Turn Tex Woodworks Juiceproof vacuum chamber for the stabilization process. The chamber was supplied with a plastic grid called a pressure fit submersion plate that can be used to anchor the cigar parts in the chamber when the Cactus Juice is added.

vacuum chamber
placing grid on top of cigar parts in vacuum chamber

Enough of the Cactus Juice is added to completely cover the cigar parts with an additional inch or so to allow for the Cactus Juice to ultimately be absorbed by the cigar parts.

adding Cactus Juice to vacuum chamber
pouring the Cactus Juice into the chamber

The lid is then placed on the chamber and the chamber is connected to a vacuum pump.  As the vacuum pump runs, it evacuates air from the chamber and the voids of the cigar parts.  As the air leaves the voids, you can see the Cactus Juice “boil” as the air bubbles up through the resin.

bubbling in the chamber

After about 20 minutes, the bubbles stop, indicating that most of the air has been removed from the cigar samples. The vacuum is then released and the cigar parts are allowed to soak in the Cactus Juice for about 20 minutes.

Following this soaking period, the cigar parts are wrapped individually in aluminum foil and then baked at 220 degrees F for two hours.  

cigars stabilized with Cactus Juice
stabilized cigar pieces ready to go in the oven

Next post: Part 2, turning the stabilized cigar on the lathe and turning it into a pen…