Introduction: Pressed Penny Board
Do you have any pressed pennies? They’re pretty cool and you can find them in a lot of touristy locations. You put a penny in machine, feed in 50 cents, and the machine smashes the penny and imprints a picture on it. You see them all over Disney World.
As a Christmas present for my niece, I was asked to make a display out of cherry to hold the pennies that she and her husband collect since they travel a lot. Here are steps in case you would like to make your own.
- Your choice of wood boards
- 5/16" router guide bushing
- 1/8" router bit
- Scrap 1/4" plywood or hardboard
- Your choice of finish
Step 1: Decide the Size of Your Board
Determine the size of the board that you would like to create. This step is important, as it impacts the number of pennies your board can hold. In my case, I want a board that is approximately 23.5” wide and 33” long.
I'm making mine out of cherry. My boards are roughsawn, meaning that they came from the saw mill and haven't been surfaced smooth. I can flatten the boards in my shop, letting me buy lumber a little cheaper. If you do not want to surface wood, you can use pretty much as flat boards from the big box stores or a lumber yard.
Make your penny board whatever size works best for you and your space.
Step 2: Cut Boards to Length & Width
Cut all of your boards to length and width so that they can be assembled to form one large board. You can cut these boards so that they run lengthwise or widthwise. For my board, I’m going to have them run lengthwise so that the end grain is on the top and bottom. I will have four boards that are 33” long, and when glued together, will be 23.5” wide.
You can cut your boards in any method that works best for you. A circular saw or table saw work great. I'm rough cutting mine with a bandsaw first. I will then take the board to the jointer and flatten one edge to ensure it's perfectly flat and square. I can then cut the other side using the table saw. By doing this, I will be able to put my boards together and get a nice seal and practically invisible seam.
Step 3: (Optional) Pre-assemble & Engrave the Boards
This step depends a lot on the style of board you want to create. I want to put engravings on my board using my Glowforge laser. I can’t fit a fully constructed board in the laser so I’m getting creative with how I glue the board together. If you want engravings and have a large CNC, you may be able to glue the boards together and then engrave your pictures. Or you could glue them together and engrave them by hand or with a Dremel. Since I’m using the laser, I’m going to assemble by boards using loose tenons, but not glue the boards together. This is just for alignment purposes. Dowels or pocket hole screws on the back would work just as well. With all the boards together, I’m cutting the entire piece in half so that I have four sections. This lets me put each section into my laser for engraving. Again, this is not necessary if you do not have engravings or have another way to engrave your pictures.
Step 4: Assemble & Glue the Boards Together
After I engraved all four sections, it’s time to reassemble the pieces into one large board. This time everything will be glued together. Some sort of fasteners are necessary for the bottom pieces to connect to the top pieces. Glue alone cannot hold end grain to end grain. I’m using loose tenons, but dowels or screws are also perfectly fine.
I have a Festool Domino that allows me to quickly cut the mortises and insert tenons. I have done this same thing using a $20 dowel jig. Regardless of the method you choose, the important part is ensuring that you have something to help hold the boards together and not to rely on glue alone.
Step 5: Sand the Board
Sand the entire board so that you have a flat surface to work with and no dried glue. This step helps with carving the ovals for our pennies. I use a random orbit sander and progress my way up in sanding grits. I use 80, 150, 180, and 220 grit paper. I have to ensure that no burning residue from the engraving is left on the board because that can effect the finish that I apply.
After I carve the ovals, I'll go over it one more time with 220 grit paper and I'll lightly sand the edges of the ovals. To sand the edges, I wrap sandpaper around a scrap piece of wood and sand those areas. Again, I work my way up in sandpaper grits.
Step 6: Make a Routing Template
Pressed pennies come in all widths and lengths. Just know that when carving your ovals, some of the smallest pennies may need a dab of glue on the back to hold them in place, and some of the smaller pennies may need to be bend at a slight curve to fit into the oval. I order to make the ovals, I created a template using Inkscape. This template lets me put 17 rows of 17 pennies on the board. The template is free to download on my website if you don’t want to make your own.
I measured some pennies and determined size ovals I wanted so that the biggest pennies didn’t have to be bend too far. Then, I made the ovals slightly bigger than this measurement that I wanted. I attached a 5/16” guide bushing to my palm router and inserted a 1/8” router bit. The ovals have to be larger than what I want because of the distance between the outside edge of the guide bushing to the router bit. With my template designed, I have the laser cut it out of ¼” thick plywood. You can also print out the template, glue it to a board, and cut these out using a scroll saw or jig saw.
I put a center line on my template. This will help with lining up the template on the lines that I will later draw on my board. I can then move my template from line to line, routing out all the ovals.
Step 7: Tape the Template on the Board
I added guide lines to the template that show me the center of my ovals. I then drew guidelines across my board that will help me to align my template. The center line on my template is lined up with the guideline drawn on the board. For my size board, I'm making 17 rows of ovals. Starting in the center, I marked a horizontal line. Then I marked eight more horizontal lines above that center link until I reached the top the board. I did the same thing for the bottom half, drawing eight lines until I reached the bottom edge.
I applied some double sided tape to the bottom of the template, and stuck it to my board. You only need a few pieces of tape since it's very strong. I put one piece on each end and a tiny piece on each side. Then I place the template on the line.
The bushing is great for tracing around the template. I set the router bit so that it’s slightly protruding above the bushing and routed out each oval. The depth of your ovals is completely subjective. Make them as deep as you’d like.
Step 8: Route Out the Ovals
Using a 5/16 inch router guide bushing and a 1/8 inch diameter router bit, I cut out the ovals. I ended up with 17 ovals per row.
My template allows me to route the ovals on half of the board. After routing one side, I flip the template over and route the ovals for the other side of the board. By doing this, I didn’t have to make a template that’s 23.5” long and take the time to cut out so many ovals in my template. From time to time, you have to change the double sided tape.
When I get close to the engravings, I skipped over the ovals in those places. How close you make the ovals to the engravings is completely up to you.
Step 9: Add Hanging Hardware
I used a keyhole router bit to cut out two holes in the back for screws so that the board can hang on the wall. You can also simply buy hanging hooks if you don’t want to do this step.
To make it easier on me, I made a jig out of scrap wood. The jig is a rectangle that is the same width as my router. I can plug the router bit straight down and the router doesn't wiggle side to side. I can only move the router towards me. This results in a nice, clean keyhole for mounting screws.
Step 10: Apply Finish
Apply finish to your board. I’m using General Finishes Arm-R-Seal semi gloss. I have an Instructable on how to apply wipe-on varnish if you’d like more details.
Using a rag, I wipe the finish on the board going with the grain. I also put finish inside each oval. Admittedly, this was time consuming. After each coat, I lightly sanded the board with 400 grit paper. Then I vacuumed the dust and reapplied finish. I applied three coats of finish on the board.
Once the third coat is dry, I lightly sanded the board with 2000 grit paper. This takes off any rough texture and dust nibs, and it gives it a silky smooth feel. An additional step that I sometimes take with projects is to apply a little orange oil/bees wax at the end. This seems to give the board a nice texture when someone touches it.