I'd wanted to try my hand at making a memory game out of wood for a long time. My original thought was to create a series of numbers 0-9 including basic math symbols. Fun and educational in one. I also wanted to try chemical free ways of staining and sealing.
Step 1: Supplies We Used
- 2 pieces of 1/4" x 3" x 4' Aspen wood
- Ruler/Tape measure
- Triangle measuring square
- Miter Saw
- Various grades of sandpaper ~ 80 to 220 grit
- Computer & Printer
- Cardstock (to make stencil)
- Utility blade
- Cutting mat
- 4 bags of instant coffee
- Kitchen Pot
- Staining pad
- Beeswax as wood sealer
- Flannel or cotton cloth
Step 2: Choosing Wood
I needed 30 playing pieces to complete 2 sets of numbers and symbols. I decided to purchase 2 pieces of 1/4" x 3" x 4' Aspen.
The 1/4" thickness was exactly what I wanted and the width of the wood (3") was actually 2 9/16" and I found this to be the perfect sized square.
Using these measurements, you can get 18 pieces out a single Aspen board which will give you extra in case of mistakes.
Step 3: Measuring and Cutting
Starting at one end, measure in 2 9/16" and mark a dot in at least 2 spots. With a square, draw a straight line connecting your dots.
Using a miter saw, adjust the blade so it lines up with the mark you made. Slowly cut the piece to prevent or at least lessen the amount of splintering.
Repeat this process until all pieces have been cut.
Step 4: Sanding and Rounding Corners
Once all individual pieces are cut from a single piece of Aspen, clamp them together making sure they are as even as possible and using a palm sander, sand down each of the 4 sides, using 80 grit up to 220 grit, until smooth.
We also used the sander to round the corners so they weren't so pointed. When I had the look I wanted, I removed the clamp and lightly sanded the front and back of each piece.
Step 5: Staining & Sanding
Fill a pot with about 4 cups of water along with 2 instant coffee bags and let it continually boil down to almost nothing. What is left is a thicker oily medium, enough to stain about 18 pieces with 3 coats each.
When most of the water has evaporated, tip the pot and you'll know it's a good consistency when the watery part slides freely to one side and the thicker part moves much more slowly across the bottom.
Set out all the pieces on newspaper and with a staining pad, dip it into the coffee, again tipping it to get the more oily parts and wipe it on each piece. I found it soaked into the wood pretty quickly.
When all pieces are dry, lightly sand using 220 grit paper or higher. It may remove some of the stain especially on the 1/4" sides which kind of gives it an aged look.
Step 6: Making the Stencils
We used a 175 point, Arabic Black font and printed the numbers and signs onto cardstock. The appropriate font size will change based on type of font chosen.
Use a utility knife to cut everything out. Trace each number onto 2 pieces.
If you choose a different font or your playing piece is a different size, you can hold the paper up in front of your piece to ensure it will fit.
Step 7: Burning
Using a burning tool with a fine point tip, follow your traced lines on each piece.
Having never used a burning tool before, I found I had to hold the pen more upright because if I didn't, the base where the tip screws in, would touch the wood and burn it. If I stopped for even a short time before lifting the pen off the surface, I created divots on the piece.
Step 8: Sealing
Rub the beeswax into/onto all sides of each piece. It will have a sticky texture to it. Then use a flannel or cotton cloth to polish/buff creating a smooth, shiny surface.
Some recipes I found called for a mix of beeswax with olive oil and the like; which led me to people saying oils like this go rancid and I didn't want to risk that.
I was happy with how the beeswax worked on its own.
Step 9: Final Thoughts
Here are some things I might do differently next time plus things to remember:
- Try hardwood instead of softwood
- Decide the size you want each playing piece to be first and buy the appropriate amount of lumber
- I've heard you can place a piece a tape along your cut line to prevent splintering
- Watch the coffee so it doesn't burn
- I may use less water next time (there are many different suggestions on-line)
- Use a junk pot to boil the coffee down
- Remember, this is not like a store bought stain and results may vary
- Measure then cut, measure then cut, etc. Don't measure out all pieces at once
- Whatever tool you use to burn, consider what areas may touch the surface outside of the tip
- Read and follow all safety instructions for your specific tools
Thanks for looking!