Turn Those Exotic Leftovers into Clip Art

Comments (0)

This article is from Issue 5 of Woodcraft Magazine.

There’s nothing more satisfying than starting and finishing a project in a single shop session. This laminated clipboard is not only easy to make, but it also makes great use of all the cutoffs building up in your scrap barrel. 

If you’re like me, you cringe when your spouse pays $20 or more at a craft show for something you just know you could do cheaper, faster and better yourself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking craft shows – my wife and I have done them ourselves from time to time – it’s just that woodworking egos sometimes suffer when spouses think they have to pay for a wooden item they like. I mean, why didn’t they just ask?

(In reality, I know why, at least in my case: If Sally just asks for it, she knows it’ll take forever for me to get around to it. On the other hand, with a simple $20 investment, she’s now assured that I’ll immediately turn around and start knocking that item out myself by the dozen just to prove I can do it better – thus guaranteeing an endless supply of gifts for family and friends. Yeah, I’ve got her figured out, all right ... or is it the other way around?)

Such was the case when she bought a laminated clipboard from a craft show not long ago. Sized for a legal pad, the clipboard was laminated from half-dozen wood species, and featured a stylish chrome-plated clip. Finished in durable polyurethane, it could clearly stand up to the kind of abuse I generally dish out to desk accessories.

And, of course, it got my I-can-make-those-myself juices flowing.

Getting started

Laminated clipboards, to me, have all the characteristics of the perfect shop project.

First, a clipboard is among the easiest of projects to make, but the beauty of the combined woods in the finished product belies its simplicity. The project also goes together very quickly; in fact, the lengthiest steps are waiting for things to dry. Finally, because their small size allows them to be made with cutoffs and scrap, chances are that all the materials you need are already in your shop. The only supply you’ll need is the metal spring-loaded clip that attaches to the board.

Clipboard clips can be mail-ordered from a number of catalog or online suppliers in a number of styles, finished in either bright steel or brass. In a pinch you could also buy a cheap clipboard (they only cost about a dollar at your local office supply store) and simply drill out the rivets holding the clip in place.

The first thing you need to do is decide what size your clipboard will be. Note pads come in all sizes (Fig. 1), so choosing your pad is the first step.

Here’s where the fun begins. Make a quick trip to your scrap barrel and see what you’ve got. I got lucky for the clipboard I’m laying out in Fig. 2, in that I had ample cutoffs in cherry, walnut, padauk and oak. Deciding on a uniform look, I arranged them in a mirror image. However, a random arrangement of wood species and cutoff sizes can look just as handsome.

Of course, you can always go to your table saw and create new cutoffs for your clipboard in any species or size you want. And if you’re making more than one clipboard at a time, consider milling a number of extra long pieces to glue up a lengthy workpiece. This way, you can cut multiple clipboard blanks from a single laminated piece of working stock.


You may be lucky enough to have cutoffs in all the lengths you need. If not, crosscut them to an approximate length – 2” or 3” longer than your selected notepad is fine. It isn’t necessary that all the strips be exactly the same length, since we’re going to trim the pad later anyway. Likewise, since the workpiece will take a few trips through the planer later, it’s also fine if some of the strips stand a bit higher than the others when you’re laying them out.

With your layout determined, apply a line of glue to the inside of each strip (Fig. 3).

With the workpiece glued, apply clamps (Fig. 4). Notice that I’ve alternated the clamps on opposite sides to more evenly distribute the clamping pressure and keep the laminated panel as flat as possible.

One of the inevitable parts of the gluing process is squeeze-out. Some woodworkers like to wipe off excess glue right away. Others wait till the glue has dried and scrape it off with a chisel. I prefer something in between. You’ll find glue is easiest to remove if you wait for it to gel a bit. Depending on the brand of glue you use, the time will vary, but here I’ve waited about 20 minutes. By then the squeeze-out has become firm and putty-like, and scrapes off easily without leaving residue behind (Fig. 5).

Sizing the workpiece

When the glue has completely cured, remove the clamps in preparation for sizing on a thickness planer. 

Before running the panel through your planer, be sure that one side of the glued-up panel is flat. It’s essential that the finished clipboard be perfectly flat, but it’s a mistake to think that a thickness planer will do the flattening for you. It’s easy for a glued-up panel – especially one laminated from several strips – to become slightly warped or twisted while clamped. When this happens, the panel will not sit flat on the planer bed as it moves through the cutterhead. As a result, the cutterhead may simply follow the curve, giving you a nice, smooth panel of the right thickness, but still warped. If you make sure that one side will sit flat on the planer bed, by either flattening it with a hand plane or by running one side over the jointer, you’ll get a flat panel when you do the thicknessing and surfacing in the planer (Fig. 6).

You can make your clipboard just about any thickness you like, but it’s best to make it no thinner than 3/8” for strength. I actually like a clipboard with a bit of heft, so I milled this one to 7/16” thick.

Once you’re satisfied with your panel, mark it for size by placing your selected pad and a clip in place. I like my laminated strips to be offset to one side of the panel in the finished clipboard, but orient yours the way you like; you can even mark cutlines on your clipboard so the laminates run diagonally. The only caveat is to avoid locating the clip where the mounting holes will line up directly on a joint – locate it so the mounting holes fall within one of the strips. 

I’ve placed a dowel into the clip to keep it in the open position (Fig. 7). This allows me to place it directly over the pad where it will be attached, as if it was holding the pad in place, and still keeps the mounting tabs of the clip flat on the workpiece. Mark the pilot holes for the clip at the top, and allow a comfortable border around the pad. For this clipboard, a border of 3/4” at the sides and bottom works well. For a clipboard that I plan to use a lot while standing, I’ll sometimes make the left-side border a bit larger – since I’m right-handed, this gives me a larger gripping surface on the left.

Trim the panel to size (Fig. 8), and then drill the pilot holes for the mounting screws. For ease of assembly later, it’s a good idea to go ahead and attach the clip temporarily to tap the screw holes; this will help you avoid accidental scratches later.

Final shaping and finishing

At this point, I elected to round the top on the bandsaw for a nice shape, but you can leave the top of the clipboard square. Sand both sides of the clipboard with increasing grits of sandpaper till smooth (Fig. 9).

Since the clipboard will see a lot of handling, you’ll definitely want some type of durable finish. A satin polyurethane is an excellent choice. Whatever final finish I put on my projects, I almost always put a coat or two of Danish oil on first. As you can see in Fig. 10, the oil makes the most of grain and figuring in the woods I’ve used for this clipboard. (I frequently use multiple coats of Danish oil as the sole finish for some projects, but clipboards require more protection so a topcoat is a must.)

When your finish is dry you can buff it up a bit more if you like with some paste wax, using a 0000 steel wool pad as an applicator.

Finally, attach the clip permanently. A short length of dowel inserted into the clip will keep it in the open position, making it easier to attach the mounting tabs with screws.

Clipboards make for easy and inexpensive projects, so think twice the next time you start to toss those thin cutoff scraps into the trash or fireplace. Personally, I’ve always felt that there is no such thing as scrap wood.

A.J. Hamler, editor-in-chief of Woodcraft Magazine, isn’t really cheap – he just likes to turn what other people call “trash” into useful woodworking projects. He lives with a very well stocked scrap barrel in Williamstown, W.Va.

Ken Weaver

Ken Weaver’s company, K&P Weaver, is one of the country’s foremost providers of authentic historical baseball uniforms and gear. Weaver does special projects for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and supplied the uniform of the ghost of Babe Ruth for the HBO documentary, “The Curse of the Bambino.” 


Write Comment

Write Comment

You must be logged in to write a comment. Log In

Top of Page