Introduction: The Best Back Scratcher Ever! (or a Zen Garden Rake)

About: Just your typical Evil Mad Scientist, constantly thinking of new inventions to subjugate the world with! I'm big on hydroponics, electronics, and small portable nuclear fusion power plants. I just go crazy o…

I *love* a good back scratching, hence I've gone through several back-scratchers over the years. I like the ones that are telescopic or retractable, so they store nicely. However they invariably start to retract themselves right when I'm getting to that particular itch, and they are never long enough. It's maddening. So the non-retractable/non-telescopic ones are my preference, however they never have much style to them. For a tall man they are never really long enough either. So eventually I set out to make my own.

I call this the "best back-scratcher ever". Mostly because every time I use it I hear the words "this is the *best* thing I've ever made!", slip inadvertently from my lips. Promptly followed by "ohhhhh that's the spot!" and so on.

So I love cheap materials and I love the look of bamboo. One day I sat down with a pack of bamboo skewers and set the gears in motion. Basically If I wrapped 6 skewers around a center one then I'd get a nice rigid stick (or pole), if I put two of those together for length then next all I'd have to make is a small rake on the end.

You could also use this to make a nice stylish rake for a zen sand/rock garden. Everyone in the shop thought that is what I was making. Speaking of which, I should mention that "I made it at TechShop".


wood glue (I used brown Gorilla Glue)

A cheap pack of bamboo skewers. I recommend finding the fattest ones you can. The thinner they are the harder it will be to work with them. Since they are cheap, get two packs. That way you have plenty if you have to start over on any of the steps. And you can always use them for the BBQ anyway.

Some plastic wrap (I used this as a wrap while gluing). AKA Saran Wrap, or celophane wrap.

A small hand saw, although I recommend a rotary tool with a wire brush and a cut-off wheel, and maybe a drill bit. You'll want a drill bit the same width of the bamboo skewers.

Some strips of plastic wrap (celophane/saran wrap).

a drill or drill press (or you can use the rotary tool/dremel).

A needle file

Step 1: Make the First Cane for the Handle

Basically we want to make at least 3 of what I'm calling "canes". Taking one bamboo skewer and coating it with glue, I wrapped 6 skewers around it to make a thicker more sturdy "cane".

So I start by making the cane for the first half of the handle. From my experience it is easiest to make one cane, then once it's dried, make the second cane and mate them together with glue. Since we are going to eventually join two canes together we need to off set some of the skewers so that they interlace together tightly.

This is a messy and somewhat complicated project so I highly recommend you lay down a couple layers of newspaper on your work surface prior to starting. Get your gloves ready and set them aside. Get your strip of plastic wrap ready and set it aside where you can easily grab it once you need it.

Since I'm using Gorilla glue we have to make sure that all of our 7 skewers are dampened with water. Gorilla glue needs moisture to cure. I personally like the brown gorilla glue over the white (quicker drying) for this project. With our skewers dampened I then place a quarter sized dot of glue on the newsprint or on a small lid or something. Then we put on our cheap gloves to protect our hands. Next we coat 3 of the skewers, tip to tip, with glue. Then bring the other 4 up and mix them all together so all of them get coated with glue. Make sure all the skewers are facing the same way. So all the pointy ends are together and all the blunt ends are together.

Then I tied a half hitch (the first part of tying your shoes) at one end of the bundle with the plastic wrap to keep one end in a nice cylindrical shape. Then I tightly spiraled the wrap around the bundle on up to the other end, where I tied it once again. Your bundle should be tight, and well clamped at this point.

Now is the time to do two things. First, we offset some of the skewers. Second we introduce a slight twist into the bundle. To off-set some of the skewers, I held the bundle with the blunt ends toward me, then used another skewer to push the tips of the bundled skewers deeper. You have to do this slowly while the glue is still wet. I pushed the center skewer and three of the surrounding skewers in about a little over an inch (3 cm). I made sure they were each a little off from each other.

Once our off-sets are done, then I like to introduce a slight twist into the bundle. But only for the handle canes, not for the rake head canes. I think it makes it look more stylish and helps to hide some of the seams when we add the second half of the handle. I just grabbed the bundle with both hands with a hand on each end, then twisted each hand in opposite directions. I do this slowly and with some force. The bundle will slip a bit under your gloves, which is fine. Just keep repeating this process for 10 minutes or so. It's eventually stick with this slight twist. Then we can set this cane aside to dry.

Step 2: Make the Cane for the Head of the Rake.

I like to introduce a slight twist into the bamboo skewers for the handle. I think it makes the whole thing look much more elegant. But for the cane from which we are going to make the "rake" it's better if there is no twist in them, so it should be straight as possible. This is because it's easier to drill the holes in a straight line for the tines of the rake and the handle attachment if there is no twist in the cane. Again make sure all the skewers are all facing the same direction.

Step 3: Make the 3rd Cane and Mate It With One of the Cane From Step 1

Ok now that the glue has dried on our first handle cane, we can make the second half of it. It's the same process as step 1. Spread glue around the 7 bamboo skewers. Bundle them into a nice stick with one in the middle surrounded by 6 on the outside. Then slip some down into the recesses we made in the first handle cane. Basically we are just off setting half of the skewers so that their joints don't match up with any of the others. This will make for a strong bond between the two canes so they don't come apart. No make sure to mate the straight (blunt) ends of the skewers together in the middle with the sharp ends pointing out at each end.

Step 4: Clean-up and Trim Canes.

Now some of the glue is going to have foamed up and gotten where we don't want it. So we just need to clean them up a bit for appearance. I did this by using a wire wheel attachment for my Dremel, at a low speed. This cleans up the extra glue from our canes quick and simple.

At this point I also trim off the ends of the canes, the pointy ends that is. I did this with the cut-off wheel from my Dremel. Trim both ends of the handle cane flat.

One end we want three of the skewers to protrude so that we can stick those into the head of the rake. So to do this we trim off two of the skewer tips on each side, as in the image.

Step 5: Make the Head of the Rake and the Tines

So the cane that we made for the head of the rake, we want to cut into rake head sized pieces. I was able to get 4 rake head pieces out of my cane. I found it's a good thing to have extra's of these. Because during drilling I ended up messing two of them up, and got two use-able heads out of it.

So I cut the rake head cane using a dremel with a cutting wheel. I find that for small delicate cuts such as this, it's been the best tool for the job. Other saws tend to tear up the bamboo skewers. I cut the rake heads about 2 inches (50mm) long, but you can adjust as you like.

Next I took them to the disk sander and evened up the cut ends. You could do this with some sand paper placed flat on the work surface and sanding them manually.

Next I cut the tines for the rake. Again I used a dremel with a cutting wheel. Again I cut them about 2 inches long (50mm). I cut them a bit long so that I could cut them down even later, after gluing into the rake head.

Step 6: Drill Holes in the Rake Head for the Tines.

Something that I should note here is that I found it easier to drill the holes for the rake tines in the rake head by flattening one of the bamboo skewers in the rake head a bit with a needle file prior to drilling. This gives us a flat surface and prevents the drill bit from moving around when starting the hole. I tried to get all my holes exactly the same depth but it didn't work out to well for me. But that's fine because I made them long so that I could trim them all to equal length later.

Step 7: Glue the Rake Tines Into the Rake Head.

So now we want to get the holes in our rake head and the ends of our tines wet, because gorilla glue likes moisture to cure. Then we spread a little bit of glue in the holes and a little on the ends of the tines, and insert.

I found that clamping a straight piece of wood (See picture) over the tines, kept them straight during curing. When it was done curing the tines were held in strong and straight.

Step 8: Drill the Slot for the Rake Handle Cane.

So basically we want to drill three holes close together to accept the end of the handle can we made and pre-cut earlier. I started out flattening the surface of the rake head where I wanted the handle to attach with a needle file. This will help keep the drill bit from floating around on us. I drilled three holes close together and then cleaned up the slot with a razor blade and a needle file.

I found that if I clamped the tines between two pieces of scrap wood I could get a pretty good 90 degree angle between them. You can see in the pictures I practiced my hole drilling a bit on the top piece.

Step 9: Mate the Rake With the Handle Canes

Ok same thing as before, get the slot wet and the mating part of the handle damp, coat with glue, slip the pieces together and let it dry. I didn't seem to need to clamp them together, but it might be something you might want to consider.

Once the glue had dried, all we need to do is clean up the extra glue that foams up around the joint a bit. Again I just used a wire wheel bit in my dremel, at a low speed.

Step 10: Finishing Up.

Now our tines are all going to be a tiny bit off of being the same height. So I trimmed them all even with a cutting wheel attachment on my dremel, then took them into the disk sander to get them all perfectly even.

The next step is to sand the ends of our tines smooth. The cut ends really are too sharp for a backscratcher so rounding the tips of them with some 220 grit sandpaper is an important step. You may end up going back to do it a second time, I did.

That's it we are done. I like the look of raw bamboo, so I didn't feel a need to finish them further. You could stain them and put a protective coating on them if you like. Or you could just coat the whole thing with a couple of coats of polyurethane.

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