Clef inkstand

Let’s discuss something that involves a few, simple parts:


Like most things that require a few, simple parts, I had to get several tools and spend several times the amount of time I estimated.

If you want to make something curved out of wood, you have a few options.  If it is the 1700s, and you are building a ship in the U.S., and you need strong pieces, you find a tree with the curve you want, cut it down, dress the wood, and use that.  If you don’t need strength, need it done now, and have a brand new bandsaw, you might just cut the shape out of whatever you have handy.  If the curve you want isn’t more than 90 degrees or so, and you want to do it properly, you steam bend the wood.  If you want to cheat, you use flexible plywood.  If you won’t or can’t use flexible plywood, want to do it without steaming anything, and have a lot of veneer around, you make laminar curves, which can allow you to do truly odd compound curves.

To make laminar curves, you start with a few pieces of thin, flexible piece of wood (like veneer).  Layer the pieces, putting a skim of glue between each layer.  Before the glue sets, bend/twist the assembly into the shape you want, allowing the layers to shift over each other as they flex.  The tricky bit is that you need to find a way to hold the wood into whatever shape you want it to finish in.  For big stuff, you’ll want to make a frame to hold it in the right shape, and to allow use of pipe clamps between the halves of the jig.  For small work, spring clamps are useful.

How hard could it be, right?  I figured I could make something small out of strip veneer, the sort that you use to cover the edges of plywood; it comes in a roll, is usually 3/4″ wide, and often has heat-activated adhesive on the back so that you can iron it on.  This latter idea works better than you would expect.  3M or a competitor are to be credited.  The working assumption was that this veneer tape is thin and narrow enough to allow more interesting curves to be made, and that it is cheap.  What to make?  How about a little inkstand?

I got a hole saw of the same diameter of my ink bottle, a small grommet kit from the local craft store, and the veneer.  I cut a disk of (I think) poplar, that I had handy, and I had a bit of cork lying around, so I cut a little bit of it out in the shape shown above.   I glued one of the grommets in the “doughnut hole” created by the guide bit of the hole saw to hide a little damage around the hole.

I cut the veneer down the middle, and stained it.  What color to paint the inkstand base?  I’m not terribly clumsy, but figured black would be a good bet for the bottom of an inkstand.  This decision was aided by the presence of a black rattlecan in my “misc.” drawer.  Done.


I decided to use grommets around the base to hold the two layers of veneer to each other.  Because I was going to oppose the glued sides of the two strips of veneer, and because the veneer had been stored in a roll, I essentially had to coerce two opposed springs together.  (As an aside, I really hate doing anything with springs.  They can’t be reasoned around, and you usually can’t “cheat” setting them up.  Force is usually the only option.)  The grommets would aid glue-up by allowing me to divide the work into several sections.  To prepare, I mocked up the pattern I wanted, and then drilled holes through the veneer at the correct places.  Do note that the holes are at different positions on the two strips, since the curve of one has a larger radius than the other when in place.  I then hammered the grommets into place.  Once I was sure that this part of the veneer would stay in place, I heated it with a travel iron (the only use of my travel iron – it works poorly on clothing) to encourage the veneer’s heat-sensitive glue to melt together.

The rest of the veneer curving was accomplished a little at a time, using the iron, tape and a $.38 spring clamp that proved more useful in 15 minutes than many tools I own have proven themselves in a decade.  Time, place, tool, etc.  A little cleanup with a razor blade, and:


It looks rather like a treble clef, I think.  This may just be due to the mental associations with old dip pens, though.  It’s hard to think of them apart from french doors, parchment, classical music, and a breeze bearing the noise of carriage wheels on cobbles.


The pen support really isn’t strong enough.  It can hold the cheap plastic pen for a while before fatiguing, but anything heavier would bear it down.  A third layer or a wire core might help.  Still, a useful exercise to find out the limits of small laminar curves.

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