Periodic Table of the Elements Blocks




I made small building blocks representing the elements.  I milled down a poplar board into 2.75" cubes and laser engraved each side with a different property.  Made a great birthday present for my 4 year old nephews. 

I made this at Techshop using the planer / joiner, table saw, chop saw, router, and laser cutter.  Their website is, check them out!

Step 1: First Steps With the Board

I purchased a 10' x ~2" x ~7" poplar board from Aura Hardwoods, down the street from Techshop.  I cut it in half to make it easier to work with.  

It got a little rain on it, so I started off by drying it in the powder coating oven at 200F for 30 minutes.  

I tried to match the dimensions of the 2 blue blocks shown.  

For the first pass through the joiner, use the ruler to set the height.  Try not to take off more than 1/8" per pass, especially the finishing passes that need to look good. 

Make sure not to plane it down to the final thickness, just get it close, but leave yourself room to take more off later.

Step 2: Individual Blocks

Take the board and measure it to see how many blocks wide you can make.  I was just too narrow to fit 4 wide, so I made 3 2" boards.

Using the table saw, cut each board into 3 thinner boards.  Using the saw stop, I made each board 2" wide.  

Then put them through the planer to get them down to the final size.  Plane all 4 sides of the boards to make sure they are completely square.  

It is important to pass all the boards through each step before changing settings.  It will be difficult / impossible to get back to the exact same setting later.  

On the chopsaw, use a scrap 2x4 as a stop that you can ram the board up against to get consistent width blocks. This took a few test cuts to get the width close to the other 2 dimensions.  

Make sure the saw is cutting perpendicular by measuring the blocks after they come out and stacking them up to check for errors. (leaning)

Step 3: Routing

Using the table router, I chamfered the edges on each block.  I used the 45 degree straight edge and it made the blocks look instantly more professional.  I used the medium speed on the router; that can be adjusted with a dial on the router body.

Get comfortable, pull up a chair, this part take a long time.  I had 120 blocks from cutting up 4 of the boards in the previous step, and each block that I routed took just under a minute. 

Re-route a block if you need to re-setup  a second day.  Use the fine adjustment knob to control the height of the bit until the blade is barely making contact with the block.  

Step 4: Laser

Finally time to laser engrave the blocks.  

Line up the blocks and arrange them with their grains aligned.  This will make dimensions in the laser cutter easier to predict and control.  

I used Adobe illustrator to make an array of linked text boxes that I pasted data from an excel spreadsheet into.  I then had to manually format it and adjust the font and text size.   I saved that as a pdf and imported it to corel draw.  

In corel draw, draw rectangles around the block's borders and print that as a vector.  Run the vector print with the lid up and the pointer on to make sure the borders of the cubes are where you think they are in the print document.  Rerun this vector print until you get the borders right.  Place guide lines there and then lock them so they can't be moved. 

Import the pdf and move the data so that they fit inside the gridline boxes you just made.  ReSave the document and name it something meaningful and then print.  On the laser, that new meaningful name will come up.  This makes it much easier to ensure that you do not print the wrong job.  

For raster, I used 20-30% speed and 90% power.

And then you are finished. 

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    9 Discussions


    5 years ago

    This is a pretty cool way to trick kids into learning. You should add like weight and number on the sides.

    rasha yellow

    5 years ago

    People will buy those blocks
    It's a fun way to learn .


    5 years ago

    Cool gift. Great job. Thanks for sharing. You got my votes.


    5 years ago

    Ooh. Sell these for a few hundred on Etsy! Might include additional info like proton number and chem symbol


    5 years ago

    love these! I am the market that Kiteman is referring to:)


    5 years ago on Introduction

    These are great - do you realise that, if you get your price right, there's an actual market for things like this?