By Andrew Waser and Michele Lanan
Wood has great potential for use as jewelry. It’s lightweight, easy to work with, abundant, and, as a natural material, it possesses near-infinite diversity. Wood also lends itself quite well to reuse. Gorgeous pieces can come from the most seemingly unlikely sources: a scrap of old hardwood flooring, a broken antique trunk, or even just a neglected remnant from the corner of a woodworker’s shop.
Here is a simple project that takes advantage of these properties. It requires only a small piece of wood – easy to acquire. In addition, it incorporates another item you may have – leftover colored pencils – that gives the finished pieces a very distinctive look. However, the jewelry you can create using these methods is by no means limited to this design. The general process described here can be adapted to incorporate other types of wood, colored resin, or even materials such as glass, stone, and metals.
Notes: Most of the materials for this project can be purchased from your local hardware store. The jewelry findings (jump rings, earwires, chain, etc.) should be easy to locate at any craft or beading store.
This project requires only three tools – a hacksaw, power drill, and pliers – to complete. However, there are a few other woodworking tools that we recommend if you are fortunate to have access to them. A band saw or scroll saw will make quick work of most cutting tasks, and a random orbit sander (or other power sander) is useful for the first stages of sanding. If you do use these tools, be very careful – not just for your own safety, but also because they can very quickly ruin your project if you make a small mistake.
In addition to the standard warning that you’re probably expecting (always wear eye protection when working with tools!) we strongly suggest that you do all sanding outside and wear a proper particulate respirator (rated NIOSH N95 or better) to protect you from inhaled wood dust.
Small block of wood
Colored or regular pencils, pencil nubs, or other cylindrical objects
Sandpaper, both coarse and fine grit
Epoxy (not quick-drying)
Pencil eraser, if needed
Wood finish or stain We recommend choosing a finish that is considered “food safe,” such as tung oil, mineral oil, or beeswax, and avoiding anything containing solvents or penetrants (some of them can do strange things to colored pencil lead).
Cord or chain for pendants
Jump rings and ear wires for earrings
Drill and assorted bits
Hacksaw and/or coping saw
Hammer, if needed
Step 1: Gather your raw materials. You will need a small piece of attractive wood from which you will eventually cut your jewelry. Exact size does not matter, but we recommend something at least 1″ x 1/4″ x 5″. Almost any hardwood will do, but avoid extremely hard ones since you will be doing a lot of sanding and sawing!
Additionally, you will need to acquire some colored pencils, graphite pencils, or other interesting cylindrical objects. Old pencil nubs that are too short to write with are perfect, as long as you like their color.
Step 2: Find a drill bit that roughly matches the size of your pencils. We used a fancy caliper, but you can use a ruler or even just hold the two up to each other to compare. If in doubt, go to the next larger size of bit.
Step 3: Drill holes through your block of wood. The location and pattern of the holes is up to you, but be careful not to drill too close to an existing hole or the edge of the block. Use a scrap piece of wood underneath to protect the drill bit and your work surface.
Step 4: Using a hacksaw, cut the pencils into pieces that are approximately the same thickness as the wood. Don’t worry about being too precise – if in doubt, cut the pencils a bit longer than necessary.
Step 5: Flip your block of wood over and cover the bottom with a strip of masking tape. Ensure the tape is smooth and firmly attached (use one of the pencil bits to flatten it, as shown in the picture).
Step 6: Mix up a batch of epoxy. Be very careful to use the proper ratio of resin to hardener and stir everything well. Once the mixture is ready, flip your block of wood back over. Use your stirring stick or similar implement to transfer a small bit of epoxy into each hole. You don’t need much – just enough to fill the gap between the holes and the pencil pieces once they’re inserted.
Step 7: Hold the block of wood down firmly so that no epoxy leaks out the back. Insert pencil bits into open holes. If using different colors, arrange them as you see fit. If the pieces get stuck, tap them gently with a hammer or block of wood. Once you’re finished, put the piece in a safe place and wait for the epoxy to cure (typically overnight).
Step 8: Retrieve your block. Peel the masking tape off of the back and make absolutely sure the epoxy is dry before continuing. It’s now time to cut the block into thinner sheets. First, cut off any pencil ends that stick out. Next, draw a line down the side of the block, approximately 1/8″ from the top, and carefully cut off a sheet by following this line. Once you’ve done this, you can keep cutting the block into pieces, or you can proceed onward and make jewelry from the first one (or two, if you are making a pair of earrings).
Step 9: Starting with your coarsest sandpaper, sand down the surfaces of your wood pieces until reasonably smooth. Place the sandpaper face up on a flat surface and rub the block across the paper rather than sanding from above. Once the surface is flat, polish out the remaining scratches with fine-grit sandpaper. The lead from your pencils may smear across the surface during sanding, but you can remove any stray marks with an eraser or with careful sanding of the stain.
Step 10: Determine the location and rough outline of jewelry pieces to cut out. For complex shapes or specific sizes, you can print out an outline on the computer, cut it out, and trace it. For matching pairs of earrings, take two sheets and trace the identical pattern on both. Use your hacksaw or coping saw to cut out your jewelry pieces!
Step 11: Smooth out the edges on the pieces you just cut. Use fluid, sweeping strokes against the sandpaper to create a nice rounded side.
Step 12: Drill a hole in the top of your earring or pendant. If you are attaching metal findings to your earring or pendant, this should be a very small hole, 1/16″ or so. You could also make a pendant with a larger hole to hang from a cord directly.
Step 13: Apply a protective finish or stain.
Step 14: Attach findings. For a pendant, you will need one large jump ring and the cord or chain of your choice. Bend the jump ring with pliers until it can be worked through the hole in the pendant. Slip the cord through it and bend it back into shape. For an earring, you need two jump rings and an earwire. Attach one jump ring through the hole in the wood and then use the second jump ring to connect it to the earwire. When you make the second earring in the set, make sure that its earwire points in the opposite direction so it will hang symmetrically.
Step 15: Wait for the finish to dry completely. Your jewelry is now ready to wear!
About the Authors:
Andrew and Michele are artists/designers/tinkerers/scientists/musicians and many other things as the situation demands. They run a small art and design company, Xylocopa Design, in Tucson, Arizona.