Introduction: 14 Ways to Make a Tealight Hole
I love me some tealight holders. And that being said, this Instructable is not actually about the tealight holder but the tealight hole. I give you 14 different ways to create that hole in what might one day be the integral part of a telight holder, and I hope that it will inspire you to make your own.
Why tealights? Because I consider them to be fairly safe as far as candles go. They are hard to topple, come in predetermined sizes and are pretty versatile from a design point of view because you always know where the flame will be.
I will forego the usual materials and tools list for this one. Each step will give you one way for a certain tool to make a tealight hole. As far as material goes, I used a leftover board cut into blanks of equal size. Also, I want to mention that some of these tools, like the fretsaw, require starter holes. I will also assume that you have the outline of the hole you need traced onto the pieces for reference.
Step 1: Please Watch the Video!
You can also find all of these methods in this video, available both in English as well as German. I would appreciate it if you shared them if you find them useful, and subscribe to my channel if you take kindly to my kind of videos.
On to the actual tealight holes!
Step 2: Drill (Press) 1 - Forstner Bit
This is by far the easiest way to make a tealight hole. Put the bit into your drill press (you can also use a hand drill if your aim is good) and drill the hole. You will have to hold the part down somehow. That can be done by hand on the drill press, but gets trickier when you also have to hold the drill, so in the later case I would recommend you clamp it down so you can focus on holding the bit steady.
A depth-stop on the drill press is also helpful to make sure you do not overshoot while still getting a hole that will leave the tealight flush with the surface.
Also, the fortner bit leaves a good finish on the inside of the hole with a crisp edge on top.
Step 3: Drill Press 2 - Small Bit
For this method you need a small drill bit, preferrably a brad point bit. Small here means about 3/32" to 1/8", or 3-4 mm. The problem with smaller bits would be that they are too easy to break in the process.
Start out by drilling a series of holes along that line. Try to arrange them as close together as possible, but you will notice that once you get too close to another hole the bit is likely to drift into it. This will leave you with a perforated circle.
Now comes the fun part, because there is a risk of breaking the bit. To avoid that go slow and do not force it. The idea is to hold the piece freehand with the drill in one of the holes you already made, and then tilt it back and forth in order to remove the material left standing. You can also push it sideways against the bit to remove material, but keep in mind that this is not what drills have been designed for and will take some time.
The furface finish for this method is negligable, and would require some file or sandpaper to be made presentable.
Step 4: Jigsaw
I recommend to clamp the piece to the side of a workbench in order to give it enough surface to rest the tool on. I used my shopmade vice for that, but you can also improvise with clamps and by screwing pieces to the bench.
While you can "plunge" your jigsaw blade into a solid wood surface - even though I have not done so myself yet - I do not think that this would work within the confines of a tealight hole. As such, the jigsaw needs a starting hole, and for that you also need a drill bit large enough to allow for the jigsaw blade to pass through.
Once you have the hole in place insert the jigsaw, switch it on and carefully follow the line while staying inside of it. Depending on your blade you will have to backtrack and remove material in the kerf in order to get around the hole. Since the jigsaw is not known for its superior cut face finish, you should not expect a perfect outcome, but you can clean it up a little if you run the saw slowly along the line as a finishing cut.
Like I said, the surface finish will not be perfect, and need some attention.
Step 5: Scrollsaw
The scrollsaw also requires a starter hole, but since it uses a much thinner blade it can make due with a much smaller starter hole. On the other hand, the thinner blade will have to do a lot more work in clearing the kerf of such thick a material, and it will probably take you a while to get around. Also, the blade is more likely to drift, leaving you with a slightly beveled hole that might cause the tealight to get stuck halfway.
Make sure not to go too fast, and be prepared to break a blade or two while doing this.
The surface finish is better than most saws, but it is harder to keep the curve even, so expect some buldges that you can either contend with or sand away.
Step 6: Table Saw 1 - Table Saw Sled
I have said it before and I will say it again - the table saw sled is a versatile jig that should be in every shop. Not only does it improve safety when operating the table saw, it also adds a slew of new possibilities to it. But enough pep talk. For this variation, the piece needs to be cut in half, which can also be done on the table saw using the sled.
Stand both pieces on end, i.e. with the freshly cut face down, and one of the sides with the sketch of the desired hole facing towards the blade, which makes it visible from above. Make sure to hold both pieces well at all times while keeping your fingers away from the blade. Note that I cut both pieces seperately when I did this - it would have cut my time in half doing both at once.
Now, with the blade lowered down to almost zero, align one end of the sketch with the blade. Push the sled over the saw and keep the pieces held firmly in place. Check the mark it made against the sketch and raise the blade if necessary. Repeat that process to hog out the material, always raising and, after half the hole, lowering the blade accordingly.
While the table saw in general leaves a good surface finish (depending on your blade), in this case you will get an analogue looking pattern that might or might not do it for you.
Step 7: Fretsaw
Basically, the fretsaw is the manual version of the scroll saw (while some would argue that the scrollsaw is the motorised version of the fretsaw. Personally, I like the fretsaw a little better because you have more controle over the blade, but that is probably personal prefference.
I have mounted this piece in my vice, but you could just as easily use a simple fret saw support (link to another 'Ible of mine). In the vice, I can cut maybe a quarter of the circle before I have to re-mount the piece. And like on the scrollsaw, it is likely to break a blade here unless you have superior fretting skills.
The surface finish is better than most other methods. and since you can take your time guiding the blade you might end up with a better curve like on the scrollsaw - but that all depends.
Step 8: Compass Saw
The compass saw is somewhat akin to a manual jigsaw, at least in the sense that it is meant for cutting curves and that you onnly need access to one side of the wood. Still, in this case it is quite cumbersome to use, especialy since only a small portion of the blade fit into my starting hole.
In effect, this is more like rasping away material than using an actual rasp, and after making one cut of roughly the diameter of the hole I started angling the blade to make more cuts and free up space to make more of them. At the end, I tried using the saw to clean up the hole and work my way to the line, but it was not a happy experience.
The surface finish is as can be expected, pretty rough and uneven. I should note that maybe my compass saw might not be the sharpest tool in the shed.
Step 9: Table Saw 2 - Cove Jig
This is a technique that in my opinion does not see enough use - cutting coves on the table saw. To do that, you need to run the piece over the blade at an angle, and if you want to know more about it I recommend Matthias Wandel's article about the subject. He also has a cove calculator so you know which settings give you which cove.
The jig I use consists of two plywood pieces that attach to the tracks of my table saw using hex bolts. One bolt runs in a slot to allow for different angles.
To get that angle I use a different approach than Matthias calculator. I raise the blade to the depth of the hole and place both halves of the blank against one side of the jig, one in front of the blade and the other behind it (see the first picture). It is a little hard to describe, but I try to position the pieces so that the edges of the sketch align with the points where the blade protrudes from the table. Then I move the cove jig to fit, correct the angle and repeat until I think I have it set up correctly.
The second part of the jig is not strictly necessary as long as you make sure that the blade always pushes the pieces against the first auxilaury fence you should be fine. But I prefer the additonal safety of a second, parallel fence for the workpieces to slide between.
Once everything is set up and tightened down, I lower the blade to barely above the table and make the first cove-cut. Keep in mind that with this technique the blade will make contact with more wood than in a straight cut, so raise it more slowly than you would for a normal operation. Also, you should use a sacrificial piece behind your workpiece as well as a pushstick both to help push it through as well as to keep your fingers off the blade.
Also, note that you can alter the cove further by tilting the blade. Keep in mind that you get parabola shapes rather than true semi-cicrles. To accommodate for that, I tilted my blade slightly and flipped the piece over on the final pass.
The surface finish is good for this technique, but the hole might not come out quite round due to the nature of coves.
Step 10: Router
Let me start by saying that this would have been a lot easier with a guide bushing and a template, something that many routers come with. I on the other hand chose to go freehand, and it shows.
Again I have clamped my piece fluch into my vide to provide surface for the router to prevent tilting. Then I simply lowered the bit and started following the sketch by eye, which was not the easiest thing to do either.
In the end, the bit would not extend as far as to complete the hole from one side, so I flipped it over and did the rest from the bottom. Why do I know this was the bottom? Because I messed up as you can see in the picture, so this will definitly not be the top.
The surface finish left by the router is generally good, with some tearout to be expected. My hole did not really turn out round, but that can be helped using a template and either a guide bushing or a pattern bit.
Step 11: Hot Glue Gun
While it does not actually shape the wood, the hot glue gun can create what is probably the most ready-to-use tealight holder in this series in the sense that it is the most visually pleasing one.
I used a leftover piece from cutting the blanks for the other holders,and I kinda cheated because obviously I need another tool to cut that into the short strips used here. You might be able to use a vice and break it with little tearout, making the jagged edge part of your design, but I would not recommend that - not only due to splinters, but also due to safety considerations since the broken-up ends would make it a lot easier for the wood to catch on fire.
I chose a triangular design where three pieces fit around the tealight. I rotated the middle ring by 60° to get a good overlap, and rotated the top ring by another 60° so it aligns with the bottom. You can use any amount of segments you like, especially if you are using up scraps of a particular size from a project.
There is no real surface finish here, just that of the wood you started out with.
Step 12: Lathe
The lathe is an obvious choice when it comes to creating round things, and the hole here is no exception. I should mention that I used a carbide cutter for most of the work, since this kind of turning is not something I have much practice with yet.
If you have a lathe and enough experience, you can create rather beautiful tealight holders with this tool alone. If you have a chuck for the tail stock you can make it even easier for yourself by using a forstner bit to create the hole and then shape the rest on the lathe.
But in this list of ways to make a tealight holder, the lathe is something of an outlier for me due to the learning curve as well as its ability to go beyond the mere hole for the tealight.
The surface finish here is as good as your lathe skills, but you can also sand it rather easily while the holder is still mounted on the lathe.
Step 13: Router Table - Pin Router
As mentioned before, there are different ways to guide a router - guide bushing or pattern bit for example - but there is also a rather esotheric one for the router table - the pin router.
The idea is to have a pointer or pin above the workpiece that shows you where the bit is underneath. Actually, it does not even have to be in the right spot for most purposes, as long as it stays in the same relative position. Once you have raised the bit you can follow any pattern or template afixed to the top of the piece and get it routed into the underside of the piece.
Remember to always move the workpiece against the spon of the router so that you, and not the spinning blade, controlls the piece.
Here, too, you could make it easier for yourself by using an actual template - a piece of stock with the right hole already cut into it, for the pin to register agains. I could have easily used the blank I drilled with the forstner bit if only I had thought about it. So I restricted myself to aiming by eye, and while it may show, I think the result is better than with the hand-guided router.
The surface of the resulting hole is similar to that of the handheld router - good but with a bit of tearout. In this instance, though, it is slightly easier to avoid and remove dents and buldges in the wall.
Step 14: Bandsaw
The bandsaw makes for a pretty simple hole-making experience - if you get your cutting path right.
My first idea was to cut the piece in half through the middle and then remove both halves of the hole. The problem with that, even though it might not be an issue here, is that you would lose a kerf-width of material, and the previously round hole would end up slightly squished. Granted, with the thickness of a common bandsaw blade it is unlikely that anyone ever notices.
But there is another thing to consider - for the hole to come out perfect you would have to align start and end of the cut on both pieces - otherwise, you end up having two telltale spots on the blank that mark the glue-line and marr the hole experience.
So what I did was starting with a tangential cut, and continued along the sketched circle as soon as I hit it. Then, once finished, I continued the original cut. This way, you get a consistent circle, and the through-cut will hardly be visible afterwards.
A bandsw's surface finish is not perfect and should probably see some sandpaper afterwards. Still, with a little patience, you can get decent results as far as roundness goes.
Step 15: Rasp
I did this mainly for fun, but it turned out easier than some of the other tools I used.
With a starting hole to fit at least the front half of my round rasp I start working my way inside of the line and rasp away in the vice. Once I had the center piece removes, I cheated a little bit and wider, half-round rasp to get the hole close to the line.
As can be expected the rasps leave behind a rather rough surface, but since you already have it clamped up you can easily give it another go with the file to improve upon it.
Step 16: Thank You!
I hope you enjoyed this exercise in making tealight holders - or at least holes. I hope that you find some inspiration in the use of these tools, and start on a project of your own, be it tealight holder or something else. Also, please share this Instructable so that others can benefit from it as well (and do not forget to check out the video in Step 2).
And as always, remember to be Inspired!
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Please be positive and constructive.