Introduction: Scrabble Letter Holders
This is an instructable on creating a functional object and overcoming the challenges presented by particular materials.
What I will be making is a letter holder for a Scrabble game. Mom and Dad are short two of these in their Scrabble set, and Mom’s birthday is coming up, so this will be a nice thing to make. I had some scraps of Teak, Walnut, and possibly Birch lying around, so I decided to make my letter holder out of these. Teak requires some special care in gluing, as it is an oily exotic hardwood. We’ll get to that below. This project is small in scale, so that presents some challenges too, mainly in clamping.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
Teak, aprox 3/8 x 5/8 at 8” long
Walnut, aprox 1/2 x 1-½ at 8” long
Birch, aprox 1/2 x 1-½ at 8” long
Acetone (If using Teak or other exotic hardwood)
Gloves resistant to Acetone
Paper Towel or rag
Router table with 3/8 cove bit
Oscillating sander, with 60 grit and 120 grit paper
Sheet sanding paper in 60, 120, and 220 grits
Short piece of +/- 3/8 dowel to help sand the channel
Sanding Sponge in the 100-120 grit range
Chisel, Utility Knife, or tool to clean squeezed out dried glue
Saw~ I happened to have a Japanese pull saw that worked great
Step 2: Initial Sketches and Material Selection
I took some rough tracings of one of the Scrabble letter holders that my parents still had. It would be overly difficult to recreate the profile exactly, but this gave me a basic idea of scale and form required to hold the letters. Because I’m using what I had around, my finished piece is going to be a little beefier than the actual Scrabble letter holders, but that’s OK. The scraps of wood that I have are of a size that I can make work. My design was to use the narrow strip of Teak to be the bottom part of the tray and the Walnut to be the vertical part of the tray. For the second letter holder, I used Birch instead of Walnut.
Step 3: Route a Groove for the Bottom Tray
I used a 3/8” cove bit to rout a groove in the Teak pieces that would form the tray portion of the letter holder.
A moment for some true confessions on safety. These are very small pieces that I’m working with, and I passed my fingers quite close to a running router bit. If anything, this heightens the truths that we always need to heed in the first place. Be aware of where your fingers are at all times. Take small passes, especially when dealing with dense hardwoods. Be willing to lose your workpiece instead of your fingers. So in retrospect, I could have done this safer. Point taken and I still have all my fingers. (My friend and I have a wager on how much I’m going to get blasted on this, so please keep it to a minimum. I have $5 riding on it!)
Step 4: Sanding, Sanding, And...
Sanding, sanding, sanding. For starters, one edge of my Teak pieces had a rough-sawn edge. I took out my Fein oscillating sander and got rid of it easily by using a 60 grit paper. For sanding the groove that I routed, I found the best method was to wrap sheet sandpaper around a dowel and run it back and forth over the channel. I started with 60 grit and progressed down to 120. For the flat parts I used a piece of scrap wood for a sanding block, and a sanding sponge finished off any "not so square" areas nicely. I’m not concerned that it end up being a perfectly uniform channel, but that it be look and feel smooth to the touch. I held them in place with a spring clamp so I could sand them.
Step 5: How to Glue Teak
Teak is an oily hardwood that doesn’t take glue well. The folks at Gorilla Glue were really helpful and sent me their guide for gluing Teak. Since there are some really specific directions, and the pieces will be small and tricky to clamp, and Gorilla Glue can be messy, I used some scrap sections of teak and walnut to use as a test piece. Doing so helped inform how I went about gluing the real pieces.
The actual gluing procedure is:
Sand the teak. Wipe away dust. I went ahead and did the same for the other piece of wood, which was Walnut in this first one.
Wipe with Acetone to get rid of the oil in the wood. I used my disposable vinyl gloves for this part. The acetone will evaporate almost immediately. Again, I did this to the Walnut as well.
Dampen both surfaces to be glued with water. I made a couple of passes with a wet cloth to make sure that the water wasn't being displaced by any remaining acetone.
Apply thin bead of glue to both surfaces. I stayed gloved up for this part too.
Leave open for 5-10 minutes
Clamp securely for 24 hours.
So for my test glue-up, I cut off a 2-3 inches off of each piece to use as a sample. This glue-up is pictured above. While I gained an appreciation of the squeeze out that happened, I was surprised to see that the excess could be pretty easily cut away and sanded off. Most importantly, the glue demonstrated that it had achieved a strong bond.
Step 6: Gluing Trial Run and the Real Deal
When I glued up the actual workpiece, I used 3-4 bar clamps tightly spaced. The spring clamps weren’t completely holding the pieces together, so I only used them as a second set of hands while getting the bar clamps just right. I used a scrap piece of wood with a sandpaper shim to rest one of the pieces of wood on in order to help get the bottom edges flush. I knew I wouldn't get this perfect and would be sanding the whole thing flush after the glue had dried. That's ok for this project. I left the whole thing clamped for a little over the 24 hours that was suggested.
Step 7: Unclamping, Finish Cutting, and Sanding
Once I got the clamps off, I first cut the letter holder to it’s final length, which is at least long enough to hold seven Scrabble letters. The Japanese saw I had did a really nice smooth cut. I then had to clean up any glue that got where it didn’t belong, which was mostly on the bottom edges that I had a hard time getting flush. I used a chisel to scrape off the big stuff, and then used my Fein with some 60 grit sandpaper and powered through the rest. I then moved down to 180, and sanded a chamfer on all of the corners. I finished with a hand sanding with 220.
(Note that pictured here is the second one I made, and I used Birch instead of Walnut.)
Step 8: Finishing
Now that everything is sanded smooth, it's time to finish. I have access to samples of Penofin, which is a Brazilian Rosewood oil for decks and fences that comes in a variety of colors. It’s made up North in Ukiah, California, and their folks are very helpful. I don’t have any Teak oil, and don’t envision doing a lot of work that would call for it it, so I didn’t want to buy a quart just for this project. Penofin, being a hardwood oil, is a close enough cousin. I used their Clear product out of the "Verde" line, which is acceptable for indoor use. After I applied it, it made the Scrabble holders take on a lovely glow, and being an exotic oil, it can be rejuvenated at any time, just like Teak oil.
One thing that became apparent was that I was not fastidious in getting excess glue out of the joint on one of these pieces. You can see it above. It's not perfect, but it's not a disaster either, so I'm OK with it. A thought came to mind that I might have seen it better if I had wiped down the project with a little water. Live and learn.
Step 9: Reception
Mom’s birthday was in late July, and she loved it. I was very happy
So to wrap up, I hope you enjoyed this intractable and are inspired to make functional (or not-so-functional) objects using what you have available to you. Of note, all of this wood was scrounged from shop back in 1985. I also don’t have a table saw, planer, or even a hand plane. Most of the wood was S4S, but a couple of pieces had a rough edge. Because they didn’t have to be “exactly plane,” using a course grit on a Fein tool to take off the mill edge was perfectly adequate. That’s to say, use what you have; you may already have a tool that will do the job, and as Mr. Kennedy said in shop, this is all about problem solving. Thanks to Dad who always does stuff around the house and helped me to not be afraid to try things out.
Thank you, and have fun.