Whenever friends come over, one of the first questions that’s invariably asked is “What’s on tap?” (sometimes it even comes before hello!). I’ve been brewing my own beer on and off since I graduated college. It started out as a way to save money on the yellow fizzy stuff I was drinking at the time, but quickly turned into a gateway into the wild and wonderful world of beer. This was just at the beginning of the craft beer revolution, when the most exotic beers available were Sam Adams Boston Lager and Bass Ale.
I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be cool to have a small blackboard or two to advertise what I had on tap without having to constantly field question, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to make one. Until the other day.
There I was wandering aimlessly around my shop, as I often do, just tidying up, gazing loving at my tools, sitting on my workbench (all woodworkers do this, right?), when I noticed a scrap piece of blackboard material I had leftover from the Wood Whisperer’s charity build a couple years ago. Then I looked at the Langdon mitre box I’m still getting accustomed to. And back at the blackboard material. And it occurred to me what had to be done!
I puzzled over wood selection for a little while before deciding on white pine. I remembered Shannon Rogers talking about how nice “good white pine” is to work and that our perception of pine has been poisoned by the home center, so I’ve been picking up a couple boards every time I visit the lumberyard. And what could be more New England schoolhouse than a pine-framed blackboard?
And I have to say I agree wholeheartedly that good pine is a great wood to work. The “good stuff” is very straight-grained with very few knots, and having the same hardness as swiss cheese makes it a joy to plane.
I had originally decided to mould a curved profile with hollows and rounds, but it occurred to me, as I was staring at 4 rough-cut pieces, that it was too late. Whoops. So I went ahead with a simple rabbeted detail. Each of the pieces received a 1/4″x1/4″ rabbet on the back to hold the blackboard material and a 11/16″(?)x1/4″ rabbet on the front to provide a shadow line and some visual interest.
I had originally planned to glue the panel in place, but when I went to glue it up it again occurred to my that whatever mythical material this “blackboard” was made of (something like rough melamine) wasn’t going to provide a solid enough bond. After failing to glue it up, I resorted to a picture-framing technique using brad nails.
I had some cut brad nails on hand, which turned out to be perfect. Cut nails are shaped like little wedges, tapering to a point on 2 sides while the other 2 sides are parallel. I inserted the nails the “wrong way”, with the tapered side against the blackboard material. With full-size cut nails, this would split the wood along the grain, but with the little brads, it just wedged the blackboard material tight to the frame. If I ever do one of these again, I think I’ll set the blackboard in a groove like a traditional frame-and-panel, but the brads seem to be going their job for now.
I finished it with a very light coat (maybe a 1/2 lbs cut at most) of blond shellac to control blotching, which I mostly sanded away, then two thin coats of Arm-R-Seal (gloss then satin), and wax topcoat.