Introduction: DIY Minimalist Wooden Wallet
This instructable will outline the process to create your very own wooden wallet from common materials. This wallet is a slim, minimalist replacement to the bulky, unattractive one you're used to carrying. It is built to hold around 3 credit cards and a few loose bills -- greatly simplifying the random collection of cards and papers shoved into standard wallets. Additionally, this unique wallet will be a great conversation starter and can be easily fabricated in a few hours of tinkering.
There are a few main steps:
1&2) Processing wood for the build
3) Assembling the wallet frame
4) Making the folding flap and hinge
5) Making the wallet magnetic clasp
The tools required are:
The materials will include:
4x4 dimensional lumber (about a foot or so)
Glue (gorilla glue and tightbond)
Small magnets (1/16" thick and 1/8" diameter)
TearAid or Canvas
I've also included some commentary on lessons learned along the way and optional fabrication techniques at the end.
NOTE: As with any other rigid wallet, this one is intended to be carried in a front pocket, it wont conform like a fabric one will to a back pocket and could end up getting broken if you sit on it the wrong way.
Step 1: Processing Wood for the Build [CUTTING WOOD STRIPS]
For this project I used a 4x4 piece of lumber. A 2x4 could also be used, you just need to have at least a 3.5" wide piece of wood.
Using a table saw, set the height of the blade so it will cut through the thickness of the 4x4
Next, set the fence spacing so that your cut will shave off a 3/16" thick piece.
HELPFUL TIP: When cutting thin pieces of wood you need to take certain considerations. I would suggest being careful not to entirely cut through the wood (so as not to completely separate the thin slice). By stopping short you avoid the risk of the slice falling into the path of the blade and being destroyed. Once the blade has stopped you can break off the slice and sand of the nub left behind.
Re-adjust the fence setting to cut off another 3/16" slice. Repeat the cut a few times till you have plenty to spare (there is a pretty good chance you'll damage at least one slice while building the wallet and extra will come in handy...)
With a few strips cut you'll need to cut some spacers for the wallet mid-layer. This consists of cutting several long strips (1/8" wide and 3/16" thick)
Step 2: Processing Wood for the Build [CUTTING SPACERS]
Take one of the wood slices previously cut and use it to create several wood strips to be used as spacers.
Readjust the fence spacing so that you are cutting off a 1/8" wide piece of wood. Again, you'll want to be extra careful to not cut all the way through the wood so the strip doesn't fall into the path of the blade.
HELPFUL TIP: I personally found, due to the length of the slices I was using, that the strips would start to vibrate and then break off in the saw blade. I found it was better to stop the blade after about 6 inches, break off the strip and then restart the cut.
Repeat the process until you have several strips to use.
Step 3: Assembling the Wallet Frame
With the wood cut you are ready to assemble the wallet frame
First, you need a size reference -- so grab a card from your old wallet to use as a tracing guide. This will let you know how much room needs the be left between the spacers in order for cards/money to fit smoothly into the wallet. (For reference, cards are typically 2.125" x 3.375")
If necessary, trim the wood slice to be used down so that is is only 0.25" wider than the traced card (accounting for the 1/8" thickness of each spacer on either side of the tracing)
Glue the wood strips on either side of the outline. I used gorilla glue as it sets quickly and minimizes the risk of things shifting during cure.
HELPFUL TIP: I placed the strips so that they extended beyond the edges of the wallet edge and outline. I did this because it allowed me later to sand/cut the excess flush rather than risking having voids/gaps in the wallet side-walls from spacer strips not coming flush against each other or being too short.
Continue gluing strips until you have spacers on 3 edges of the wallet as shown. The next step will be to create the front face, flap, and hinge.
Step 4: Making the Folding Flap and Hinge
Using another one of the wood slices created in the first step, we will cut a front face and flap.
This part of the design could be affected by your personal taste, since the angle of the hinge is more cosmetic. I liked the look of a 20deg cut. Using the angle guide on my table saw I set the cut to 20 degrees from horizontal (or 70 degrees from the blade). After making the cut you will have 2 pieces of wood -- one will become the flap and the other the wallet front
Glue the wallet front to the wallet frame previously made.
HELPFUL TIP: You want to be very careful about the placement of glue during this step as once the front is in place you wont have access to the inside of the wallet to clean up excess glue.
Next you'll need to make the wallet flap. You can use the other half of the angled cut previously made. Trim it to match the overall length between the front face and the top edge of the wallet. In this case, you'll need to account for the width of a strip (1/8") above the top of the traced card outline as well as an additional 1/8" (this space will be used for a magnetic clasp to seal the wallet which will be discussed later)
With the wallet flap cut you need to attach a wood strip to the flap underside to close off the top edge of the wallet. Do this by temporarily attaching the flap (via tape) and then placing the strip onto the edge of the flap and closing it while the glue hardens.
NOTE: Now would be a good time to use a power sander and sand paper to remove excess material from the spacer strips as well as shape and round the wallet to fit better in the hand...
Finally, the hinge needs to be attached. I considered several options and will discuss them further later. The option I went with was to use a clear, tear-resistant, tape used in the repair of tears and punctures in sails, inflatables, exterior fabrics, etc. This hinge material is called "TearAid" and is easily available on Amazon.
The process for application of the hinge is straight-forward:
1) Cut off a patch of the hinge material
2) Adhere the patch to the wallet front
3) Using a razor knife and a straight-edge, trim away excess material
Step 5: Making the Wallet Magnetic Clasp
The final step is to create a way for the flap to stay closed--this is done with the use of small, powerful, neodymium magnets in the flap.
I purchased a set of magnets on Amazon for a few bucks, each magnet is 1/16" thick and 1/8" in diameter.
NOTE: In an earlier step, when placing the top spacer strip, an extra 1/8" gap was included between the top of the card outline and the bottom of the strip... it is into that extra space that we will place the magnet.
Using a 1/8" drill, mark the spot in the corner of the wallet (in the corner along the long edge of the flap), and drill CAREFULLY until you have created a hole deep enough so that the magnet sits in it and comes flush. You will want to be careful not to drill through or over drill so the magnet is recessed in the hole. I stopped multiple times while drilling to check the fit of the magnet
Once the hole is drilled, drip a bit of glue into the hole and then push the magnet into the hole. The glue, once hardened, will ensure that the magnet doesn't come lose or fall out of place during use. While waiting for the glue to hold you can clamp the magnet into place by putting a stack of magnets on the back-side of the wood.
HELPFUL TIP: The hardest part of this step will be working with very small magnets and keeping track of their respective poles. Remember, opposites attract -- so if you bring two small magnets together in the wrong orientation one of them is bound leap out of your hand and disappear. By the end I was glad I had a lot of magnets to spare! ;) Try do as much as you can with the bar of magnets rather than individual magnets, this makes them easier to hold/manipulate as well as keep track of their orientation.
While waiting for the glue on the first magnet to set, you need to build the stack of magnets that will go on the underside of the flap. The idea is to build a stack that can be glued into a hole in the flap and extend from that hole, past the spacer strip, and contact the magnet in the other side of the wallet. As each magnet is 1/16" thick and the spacers are 1/8", this will require a stack of 3 magnets.
You want to secure the magnets permanently to each other, do this by placing a drop of glue between each magnet and then putting them together and allow the glue to set.
The final step of the process is to place and drill the hole in the underside of the flap.
Positioning the hole: Place the magnet stack on the magnet already embedded in the wood. Place a dab of glue on the top of the stack and close the flap. The glue will transfer to the underside of the flap and give a visual marker of where to drill
Drilling the hole: As before, drill very carefully until you have a hole deep enough for one of the magnets of the stack to go into the wood and sit flush. Place some glue in the new hole and close the flap on top of the stack. (one of the magnets will go into the new hole and the flap will close flush if you have done this correctly)
NOTE: I found that it was a bit tricky getting the wallet open because all the edges were flush and there wasn't anything to get a hold of so I took a hand saw and cut away the spacer strip in the corner next to the magnet. That gave be a place to grab onto on the flap and solved that problem.
THAT'S ALL FOLKS
You can pretty up the wallet with some sanding/finishing and place a polyurethane sealer to protect the wood.
Step 6: Notes From Future Me -- Lessons Learned
Here you can benefit from lessons I learned along the way:
1) Wallet material
My first version of this design was made with oak harvested from a log. It was a LOT of work and headache processing the wood into consistent strips, which is why in this iteration I went for pine from common lumber. However, while the oak was difficult to source, it was a much harder wood and did not take scratches like the pine version did. It became pretty clear that a soft wood was not the best choice as it would quickly get scratched and dinged in use. I did another iteration with a birch hardwood veneer that avoided the difficulty of processing raw wood but required the fabrication to be done using a laser-cutter (more on that later). It was pretty clear, hardwood is the way to go with this.
If you want to be able to use the process outlined here with a hardwood you can still do that, there are hardwood suppliers that sell quarter-sawn oak. A 6/4 quarter-sawn board can be cut into two 3.5" strips, and then those strips could be glued together to create a 3.5" x 3" cros-section. From that point forward the process outlined here could be followed as if a 4x4 of dimensional lumber was being used.
If you decide to move forward with common lumber, try and use douglas fir rather than pine (while still a soft wood it is harder than pine), and rather than using polyurethane to seal the wood, use a hardened epoxy clear-coat similar to that used on tables or bar tops. The epoxy will shield the wallet from taking damage like scratches, dings while in use.
2) Hinge material
My first iteration (the oak one) used a canvas hinge instead of the TearAid. I really liked the look of the fabric hinge but after time (about 4 months of use) the hinge began to tear. That is what prompted the decision to switch to TearAid due to its tear resistance. I also briefly considered using leather for the hinge but I haven't yet tested that.
If you opt to use a fabric hinge like canvas or leather (or even a rip-stop/seat-belt material) the process to attach it is easy:
1) Cut out a piece and lay it across the flap/wallet front interface.
2) Mix quick-setting epoxy and glue the fabric to the wood. Ideally you want to harden the fabric with the epoxy everywhere BUT where it needs to be flexible for the hinge. Be careful to not let the epoxy bleed into that hinge line.
3) Laser Cutting
I wanted this instructable to be applicable to those who have conventional wood-working tools. For those lucky to have a laser cutter (or access to one) this become a much easier build. All the pieces can be cut from a 3/32" birch veneer available at Home Depot. The cutting process will take about a minute and then all that needs to be done is to glue the spacers to the front and back pieces as outlined. Images of the laser-cut pieces are shown as well as the assembled wallet.
4) Design update
With the laser-cut iteration, I took the opportunity to add a design feature that may be difficult to include with conventional tools. The divot in the bottom of the wallet was placed so that cards could be pushed up from the bottom instead of having to be pulled out. The first iteration showed that if the wallet was packed too full it could sometimes be tough to get a single card out without having to empty to wallet. (It wasn't too bad since the wallet only holds 2-3 wallets and a few bills but hey... improvement is improvement)
Runner Up in the
Pocket Sized Contest