Monday, May 30, 2016

Hexagons, Part 1 - Getting started and working through ideas

I wanted to make a hexagon. Why? Well, I play board games and often times they are on hex maps. What is a hex map? It's like graph paper but instead of squares there are hexes. Always trying to find ways to merge my hobbies I thought it would be cool to be able to make hex map themed items. I pondered for awhile and came up with a number of ideas:

  • Hex map shaped trivet
  • Table top
  • Gaming Board
Next I started thinking of how I'd make the hexes.

Idea #1 : Inlay

I was thinking I could build a template and use my router and a pattern following bit to create a groove I could later fill with a contrasting wood inlay. 

It'd have to be a short piece because I'd want to be able to make small boards (1' x 1') and larger boards (4' x 8 '). A 4 foot wide template would be difficult to use on a small board. It would be easier to create a 1 foot long template that I could use on a section, move it and then route another.

It seemed like a good idea until I tried to figure out how to create the template. The accuracy needed is well past what I could do by hand. I thought about hiring someone with a laser cutter to do it for me so I started putting some thought into what it would look like. I'm still thinking through this process but I wondered if there might be an easier way.

Idea #2: Veneer

A lot of cool things can be done with veneer. I could cut out little hexagonal shapes from paper backed veneer, tape them together and then glue them down to a substrate. On the downside, I've never done veneering. On the upside it would give me an excuse to buy a vacuum bag.

Then I thought about having to cut out thousands of little pieces of veneer to a relatively precise shape. That doesn't sound like a good idea for a first veneering project. 

Then I started thinking of how I could use jigs and my power tools to cut the veneer more precisely and in bulk.

Idea #3: Parquetry

I didn't think of a good way to cut veneer on the table saw but sitting at work in a boring meeting I came up with a way I could make a hexagonal column. I could then cut pieces off of the column and fit them together. This form of woodworking is called parquetry.

I've run a couple of sample columns and it seems to work relatively well and consistently. There are a bunch of pluses to this approach. Since it ends up showing end grain so it'll be like a butcher block and I can worry less about face grain and grain direction. I can make my final work piece any thickness I want within reason. I can make hexes up to a couple of inches high out of a single board and if I want bigger I can laminate my blanks.

I think I have a solution I like.