Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wooden "Viking" Comb

I've been growing a beard and decided it would be fun to have a wooden beard comb.  I looked around for examples and found this instructable.  It looked like a fun little project so I decided to do a quick run through and see what I could come up with.

The only part of the instructable I used was the scraping tool he made to file down the teeth.  I crafted the scraper out of a reciprocating saw blade, but ran into problems when I went to use it.  I think I may have overheated and untempered the steel when I filed it down using a disc sander.  The edge fell apart when trying to use it and I had to resort to other options.

I eventually managed to rough out a comb for myself, then my sister saw it and decided she wanted one.  I was using red oak for the comb portion and told her to take her pick of woods to make the handle.   She grabbed a nice piece of contrasting bloodwood.  This was my first time working with bloodwood, the stuff is HEAVY and extremely hard.  The first time I ran the stock over the jointer it sounded like I was trying to cut a metal beam (pretty sure I chipped a blade, shhhh don't tell my stepdad!).  Since I was using some exotic wood, I decide to make things a bit fancier.  I eventually decided on a coved design with a curved handle.

Going into this project without a plan was extremely fun. I just sort of winged everything free hand and decided on the next steps as I went.  Hadn't originally intended on making a case for it, but once I had the comb roughed out I decided it merited one.  I ended up planing down an old oak cabinet door to 1/4 inch for the main part of the comb.  Oak is fairly hard, and extremely porous, so perhaps not the best choice for making fine cuts.  However, oak has cool primal connotations (at least for me) and the pores will likely help with distributing oils, which is the main benefit of using wooden combs.

I found that the easiest way to form the teeth was to:
  1. Put a tapering cove on the tooth area using an oscillating spindle sander (could also be done with the end of a belt sander, or an oscillating orbital sander).
  2. Cut straight teeth on a bandsaw (I used 3/16" spacing on center between cuts).
  3. Taper the teeth, again on the bandsaw. 
  4. Using a 1/4" chisel, round and taper the teeth by hand (time consuming, but end result is great!)
  5. Fold up some sand paper and either sand between teeth by hand, or mount the sand paper in a scroll saw to take down the bandsaw blade marks quickly.
It might be a good idea to space the teeth out more, perhaps use a table-saw to make the spacing cuts so that there is a full 1/8th inch between teeth.  The comb works fine as it, but I've read that women prefer wider spaced teeth so that they can more gently tug out snags.  If I were to make more of these I'd probably build a rotating tapering bit that I could chuck into a drill.  Would make things much faster and would hopefully result in a smoother shape and less sanding.


I considered putting some 1/4" neodymium magnets in the case and running stainless-steel wire down the outer parts of the comb so that it would lock itself in place, but the amount of pull the magnets had on that tiny amount of metal was pretty minimal.  I decided against using magnets and instead relied on friction to hold the comb in place.  Worked out perfectly fine.

The runes cut into the case are the 5th-10th century anglo-saxon alphabet known as futharc.  I cut them out by hand on a scroll saw table, pretty time consuming, made me wish I had a CNC machine, maybe I should make one.  The runes phonetically spell out my little sister's name.  According to some sources the runes each have their own meaning in addition to their phonetic sound, usually corresponding with the shape and sound of the letter.  In this case the meanings of the runes work out to Torch-Ash-Thorn-Ride-Bow-Need.  We were pretty excited to have the "bow" rune in there, traditional archery is one of our family's favorite hobbies.

Getting decent fits on the oak inserts wasn't as difficult as I feared it would be.  I ended up just cutting some long strips of oak and then sanding them down with a block sander until they had a slight taper.  Then I'd push the oak as far as I could into the cut, mark it, and cut it to length.

Here's what the comb looks like currently.  I still need to do a lot of rounding, sanding, and oiling.  I'm liking it so much that I wish it had my name on it.

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Update:  I applied 4 coats of 100% Tung Oil finish.  To check out the results click here!