About a decade ago, a fellow woodcarver and master knife maker, Rich Notto, gave me a cute little wooden safety pin he’d made. It’s an unusual gift I hold dear to this day. Unfortunately, he passed away less than a year later and I never did find out where he got the idea. I’ve since looked around and never found another quite like it. To perpetuate this marvelous curiosity in his honor, allow me to introduce today’s useless piece of woodworking fun: the wooden safety pin! Wooden safety pins are very easy to make with basic tools and require less wood than you’d need to print this article. Let me show you how it’s done!
How to Make a Wooden Safety Pin – A Scents-less Project
If you’ve seen some of my other project articles you’ve probably noticed my affinity for wooden curiosities. I’ve made lots of practical items over the years – and more will be coming to Home Fixated, I promise – but my favorite projects are those that elicit a childish sense of wonder. This item has delighted me and many others to whom it’s been shown. I don’t know Rich’s method of production, but I’ve come up with a technique I imagine must be pretty close to his. At least with regards to the order of operations, which is a vital aspect of any project.
Hitting Up The Rattan Man
The key element of the safety pin is the 1/8” rattan reed used to make the shaft and spring of the pin. Rattan reeds can be purchased as scented essential oil diffusers. I searched all the local craft stores and couldn’t find any. The grocery store has them, but at a price that triggered a sharp pain in my cheap ass. So I found some on eBay and, as per my sickness, purchased way more than I’ll ever need.
Rich’s safety pins were about 2” long. Being your stereotypical man, I was compelled to make mine an inch longer. Who’s the real man now?! The reeds I bought are a hair under a foot long. I began by cutting them in half (approx 6”) with wire cutters. Wire cutters (or diagonal cutters, diags, dikes, side cutters, diagonal pliers, shear cutters… they answer to many names) are the best way to cut them. Saws cause fraying and splitting.
You Got Me Bent – Shaping The Spring For Your Wooden Safety Pin
As with many of my projects, I made these in bulk (a lot of 30) over a span of several days. When making only one, actual working time is probably around 15-20 minutes. But tool gathering, setup and soaking/drying time takes way longer. For the sake of time efficiency, it makes sense to build a handful or more at a time.
Soak the reed(s) for a while in room temperature water. The porous rattan wicks water and thoroughly saturates the fibers. After about 20 minutes you can do a flex test to see if it’s ready for bending. It doesn’t have to be a limp noodle, just soft enough to bend easily without cracking.
Any metal or plastic rod with a diameter of 1/4” or slightly less will work as a mandrel around which to shape the spring. I used a stainless steel chopstick that measures a tiny under a quarter inch diameter. A size 10 (6mm) knitting needle would work as well. Avoid unfinished wooden dowels, as they may absorb water, swell and crush the rattan.
Use your thumb to hold the midpoint of the reed against the mandrel and gently bend it around until you’ve created two coils. Hold it in place with a plastic coated wire twist tie and leave it on the mandrel to dry overnight.
Take your time. Rushing may crack the rattan. Also, don’t apply too much pressure. You want the rattan to retain its round cross section as much as possible. If you crush it flat, the spring will be significantly weaker. It’ll still work, but it won’t be nearly as satisfying to operate and will be prone to creasing, rendering it null and void. If it flattens while wrapping around the mandrel, either you’re wrapping too hard (use less pressure) or you’ve soaked the reed too long (allow it to dry a bit before continuing).
The Wooden Safety Pin Clasp
Making the clasp involves drilling three holes, countersinking, cutting out the shape, elongating one of the holes, sanding to final shape then cutting open the pin seat.
The pin clasps are made of 5/16” – 3/8” thick even-grained hardwood. The one Mr. Notto made is basswood. For mine, I used soft maple salvaged from a refrigerator shipping crate. What you don’t want to use is any soft wood – such as pine, cedar, spruce – that has denser grain at the growth rings, as your drill bit will wander no matter how hard you fight it. Trust me; I know.
Refer to the diagram above for layout information. First, define the overall dimensions (15/16” x 13/16”) and locate the center points for the three holes. Note that after final shaping and sanding mine all ended up at 3/4″ wide, which is exactly what I was going for.
Brad point drill bits are recommended when making the wooden safety pins, especially for the two end grain holes. The point helps to center the hole exactly where you want it and offers a little anti-wander protection (but not enough to overcome softwood end grain density variations).
The two 1/8” end grain holes should be 1/2” deep.
Everything Including The Countersink
Countersink the 1/4″ hole from both sides approximately a third of the overall depth, leaving the middle third untouched. I found the best countersink to use is a 5/8” diameter, 6 flute bit. If possible, avoid using a countersink having only one cutting edge. I tried a single flute and it tore the grain. The 6 flute style gave me much smoother results.
The Hairpin Curves Of A Wooden Safety Pin
The diagram a couple sections back – along with the picture above – show the clasp’s shape. You don’t have to be exact. In fact, I eyeballed the lines I drew on every one I made. The line defining the longer of the two “legs”, ends around the edge of the end grain hole, as shown below. But it’ll work out fine if it gets fudged a tiny bit either way. In other words, it’s OK if you end up exposing the end of the hole. Both legs terminate a bit inside the 1/4” hole, leaving a gap that is narrower than said hole.
Cutting The Clasp To Shape
A good rule of thumb whenever making small parts is to keep them as large as you can for as long as you can. With that in mind, make the two cuts that separate the legs before cutting the clasp free from the stock.
Slotting The Seat
I couldn’t find official terminology for the slot into which the pin heads rests so I’m calling it the “seat”. The seat is in the shorter of the two legs. Use an 1/8” rotary burr to elongate the hole by cutting towards the outside edge.
Final shaping can be accomplished by carving, filing, sanding or a combination thereof. I used my handmade belt sander outfitted with a 120 grit belt. Admittedly, the clasps were tricky to hold onto during this procedure (working with tiny parts always has its challenges). But it took care of rough shaping in the least amount of time with the least amount of effort. Sometimes it pays to be as lazy as I am!
It can be tricky to visualize the contours you’re going for, so I’ll share with you the shaping sequence that worked for me. That way you have the benefit of my experience to aide your very first attempt at making a wooden safety pin.
Hand sanding was required afterwards to refine the curves and remove the various little facets imposed by the belt sander. If you want an easy way to give yourself carpel tunnel syndrome, try hand sanding 30 of these things. Even given that I did the initial shaping with the belt sander, I still suffered achy, cramped hands and had to take breaks after every 5 or so. Oh the things we endure for our craft.
Seated At The Slots – Time For The Payoff
Unlike Vegas, you’ll only see flashing lights and hear sirens if you cut your finger and start bleeding out. Fortunately, the stakes of this gamble are very low. Ambulance rides aside, you’re about to see the big payoff for your effort. The final step to clasping this clasp is to open the inside edge of the slot and transform it into the pin seat.
The only real danger here is of breaking the wood. If you take it slowly, don’t apply too much pressure and use a razor sharp knife you’ll have no problems. I managed to make 30 of them without a single break.
At this point, you may or may not choose to use the rotary bit again to smooth the inside edges of the seat. Either way, use your knife to flare the new opening a little and allow for smoother pin entry. You may also need to do some final touch-up sanding around the new opening.
The Return Of The Reed
We’re in the home stretch now! Go ahead and pull the dried reed off of the mandrel and remove the twist tie. It should now look like the one pictured above. Grab the two legs and spread them apart a little ways and let go. The spring is now properly tensioned.
Let’s Wrap This Rascal (Up)
All that remains is some light sanding, a couple drops of CA (“Super”) glue and a coat of clear lacquer.
Insert the untapered end of the pin into the hole in the clasp and test the wooden safety pin to make sure it’s inserted to the proper depth before gluing.
Finishing The Wooden Safety Pin
Once the CA glue has dried, lay the wooden safety pins on some scrap cardboard in the open position and spray from all angles with clear spray lacquer. When it’s dry to the touch, turn the pins over and spray the other side.
Let’s Pin This Post
Here’s my bounty of wooden safety pins. The pin singled out to the left is the one Rich gave me way back when; it was the inspiration for this project. I imagine he’d be pleased. Now get out into your shop and make some of your own. They’re sure to bring smiles to the faces of friends and family. Or make them to sell; it’s your life! We’re here to educate and inspire, not pin you down.
If you’d like to see this build in action, you can watch it here: