So last Friday was my lovely wife’s birthday and she had mentioned wanting something cute to hold her pens. We had recently seen where someone had drilled holes into a small block of wood to hold their pens, so that was a great place to start. Off to our local Woodcraft I went!
It’s important at this point to note that this project was a surprise to the wife, so all photos and video were taken with my phone by myself, so please excuse the lower quality photos!
This is a roughly 7.5″ long by 2″ tall by 2″ deep block of Texas Ebony. It’s technically a turning blank, for making pens or other type of items, but for our purposes it was perfect! It’s sourced by a guy in Houston I believe and sold through our local Woodcraft. This particular piece was about $15. It has a beautiful combination of light sapwood and dark heartwood. I chose to use the sides with the dark heartwood to be the front and top of our project.
For this project, we needed several items:
- block of wood of your choosing
- drill press (not pictured)
- drill bit, size depends on pen diameter; this project used a 3/8″ bit
- paper drill hole template
- spray adhesive
- sand paper (pictured further below)
- finishing oil; in this case a Watco Danish Oil in Natural finish
- piece of tape to mark the depth on the drill bit
Step 1 – Adhere Template
The first thing we need to do is adhere the template to the block of wood. In my case, I created the template in Photoshop and cut it out so it would fit perfectly. Follow the instructions on the can of adhesive for applying it to the paper. For the HDX, after spraying it on the paper, I waited about 10-12 seconds to let it tack up before applying it to the wood. This gives it good adhesion but still allows me to re-position it if necessary. Take care to make sure the corners and edges get enough glue or the paper will pull up when the drill press is going through it.
Step 2 – Begin Drilling
Now we need to set the depth of the drill bit so we know how far to stop. If you can do this on the drill press, that’s even better. If not, you can just measure the depth you want it to go and add a piece of tape to the drill bit. This creates a depth gauge that won’t hurt your wood. Again, the photo quality is crap, but you can see what I mean in the photo below.
Once it’s set, get ready to drill, baby, drill! Oh, is that Sarah Palin reference too much? My bad!
Yay! Your first hole! Mine too. Oh did I tell you I had never used a drill press before this day? I did do a few test holes on a scrap board, but I didn’t have time to learn it’s ins and outs as it was pretty late the day before her birthday. That’s OK, it just makes it look even more handmade, right? Right??? Anyhoo, below is a little video of the hole actually being drilled.
Something about the contrast between the light and dark wood, and the way the drill bit makes those curly shavings, really stuck out to me. I just have to share it with you!
OK, back to work. Finish drilling out all of those holes. It might take a few minutes, but go slow and line them up great. I went on later to make 3 more of these with different woods and I figured out a method that got them almost perfectly lined up. For now though, feast your eyes on this beauty!
Step 3 – Sanding
Now that you’re all done, peel off the paper template and throw it away. It has served its purpose. You might have some sticky residue left behind. Depending on the type of wood you have, you’ll want to remove it in different ways. For the Texas Ebony, it was easy enough to just scratch it off lightly with my finger nail. Texas Ebony is a very dense, hard wood, so it holds up to the pressure much better than a softer wood. Once it’s clean, we’ll start sanding.
Not pictured above is the 80 grit sand paper I used at first. You might notice in the picture where all the holes are drilled, that there is a scratchy area in the top middle of the front face. That was my bad. Accidentally let the block hit the drill bit while in motion. Have no fear, the 80 grit did a great job knocking the surface down so they aren’t visible.
Sanding takes a while and it can do a number on your arms. Also, remember to wear a mask! You don’t want lungs full of sanding dust… So start with the 80 grit, and get a nice smooth surface. Hit it up again with the 150 grit, rubbing your fingers across to find rough areas still. Finally hit it with the 400 grit. Once you’re done, and you’ll know when you’re done, it’ll feel smooth as silk on a babies bottom! Feel free to smooth out the edges of the holes you made as well. They’ll have a few fibers sticking out that you’ll want to knock down and smooth out.
Step 4 – Finishing
The look of this block was just stunning as it was, but I knew a good oil finish would really pop the colors and enhance the darkness of the heartwood. After a quick googling of what oil works best with the Texas Ebony, I went with a Watco Danish Oil, Natural finish. It goes on smooth and doesn’t change the color too much, but really pops those colors.
For our project here, I used a basic foam brush to apply the oil. You could use a rag if you’d like, or whatever your preferred method.
Sweet baby Jesus! Look at that! The difference is astounding and it’s just beautiful!
You can put 3-4 coats of oil if you’d like. It won’t pop the grain up, so there’s no need to apply, sand, apply, sand, apply… You just apply, let it sit for the amount of time between coats that is recommended on the can, and apply again. For this project, I only gave it one coat. It achieved the look I was after and it’s going to sit on a desk forever, so it doesn’t need much.
The Final Product
That’s it guys. A very simple project today. There are only a few steps to this one but the end result can be quite lovely. Total time, not including taking pictures and videos, was probably about 45 minutes, not including making the template in Photoshop. That took a while as I kept changing the layout.
A few things to note. You might notice a bit of “damage” to the corner in the photo above. This came with the wood at purchase and I decided to leave it instead of trim or sand it away. It helps add to the character of the wood. Also, it’s very important to know the diameter of the pens that will go in these holes. I made an assumption and choice 3/8″ holes only to find that the pens are closer to 7/16″ or even a 1/2″, so they don’t actually fit in this block… It’s great for pencils though!