How often do you have someone in your family (could also be your inner circle of friends, or yourself) who needs a tool you don’t presently own? It can seem like an almost daily occurrence for me (ok, I’m exaggerating a bit, but not too much). Many times in the past we’d just head out to go purchase the tool, but I’ve become more aware that I can make some tools, and if it’s doable why not save some $$$? I know I’m always assessing how much time is allotted on a project, to determine the actual overall cost, but if I already have the components and am not in the middle of a job, why bother?
I’ve always enjoyed making all sorts of things, and over the weekend, I made a letter opener. I know they cost nearly nothing at most stores, but I was able to use some Mesquite we harvested from one of our old trees, for the handle, making it somewhat special. My son mentioned he wanted his own letter opener for work, so he didn’t always have to go searching for one, and many times come up empty.
I was looking at some of the things on my bench, to see if I had anything I could make into the letter opener. After looking at some possibilities, I found what would end up as my components. I had a thin ruler that had some wear on it, that I thought might make it easy to initially slip under the letter’s seam, and I could live with using it in a second role.
I took the ruler over to my vertical belt sander, and after drawing a basic shape on the ruler, began to sneak up on my lines. I wore some gloves I use when working on my car’s engine compartment, so I wouldn’t burn my hands or get a metal splinter. In a couple of minutes I had the basic shape I was after. I modified the shape of the ruler’s edges, so they narrowed down further, almost to a point. To do this part, I decided to use sandpaper and some elbow grease, as it would be easy to take too much material off on the belt sander. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture any photos relating to adjusting the ruler’s shape.
Now it was time to turn my attention to the Mesquite that would be the handle. I took the block of wood over to my band saw and split it down the middle of the long edge. With this completed, I had two identical blocks, both half the thickness of the original. I found the centerline on the face of the blocks, and then determined how deep the ruler needed to sit, to have enough strength. I decided 1″ should be adequate, since there normally isn’t a great deal of stress on the letter opener, and the edge is quite thin, which should also help minimize the forces. I placed the ruler down on the inside face of one of the blocks of Mesquite, and marked around all three sides.
|Lines stamped with chisel.|
I transfered the layout to the inside face of the other block, too. Since the ruler I used is very thin, there isn’t a great deal of wood that I need to remove. I took a wide chisel and staked in the lines marking the sides of the ruler, on both blocks. I then chose a different ruler that was just slightly wider than the ruler, and staked in the last lines.
Now that the wood was all marked and staked in, I needed to remove a thin portion of waste, from each block. I chose what I see as the best tool for the job; the Lie-Nielsen No. 71.
|Lie-Nielsen No.71 next to Mesquite held in vise, high enough to remove necessary wood.|
I set the cutter out to take a very thin shaving, and since I’d staked in all of the lines, it was just a matter of staying inside the lines. I tested the ruler after each pass, to make sure I wasn’t removing too much wood. On something like this, you can decide to remove all of the wood from one side, or half from each side. I decided to do the latter, and after my second pass on each side, I was ready to glue the ruler and handle assembly together. I decided to use some quick 5-minute epoxy I already had in the shop, which has good holding power. I grabbed a piece of 150 grit sandpaper and roughed up the end of the ruler that would live inside the handle, moving the paper side-to-side across the ruler’s face, so the epoxy would grip it better.
I applied a light coat to the inside face of both Mesquite pieces and the ruler. I held them all together using two parallel faced clamps, until the glue was dry.
|Parts clamped together with epoxy. Mixing plate on left.|
I usually mix my epoxy on a paper plate, with a wooden toothpick, and I keep the plate in the same area as my project. I provides me an idea when the glue should be close to cured, when the toothpick is solid with the plate. I always give the glue a little extra time, just to be sure.
After the glue was dried, I drew a basic curve on both sides of the block, and removed the excess wood at my band saw.
|Initial handle curve from band saw.|
I worked the edges with my flat bottomed Lie-Nielsen Boggs spokeshave, to get rid of any saw marks, which takes very little time. After playing with the letter opener for a little while, I decided on a different shape for the handle. I removed some of the excess with a hand plane, and then shifted over to some Auriou rasps, to create the new curves.
|Finished letter opener.|
|Handle photo taken with iPhone 5.|
It was quick and easy to follow up with sandpaper, to 600 grit. I applied two coats of a clear shellac, to which I’d added a drop of TransTint Honey Amber. After the shellac was dry, I lightly sanded it with 600 grit and then applied a light coat of wax.
Thanks for reading my blog. Let me know if you have any comments or questions.