Penmaking articles Penmaking Tips
Secret Compartment Key Chain

Secret Compartment Key Chain

by Joseph M. Herrmann of Timber Treasures
Reprinted by permission from Creative Woodworks and Crafts Magazine

Dymondwood or wood of choice—one piece 1" x 1" x 3"
Tools: chop saw; pen drilling vise; drill press with 10mm drill bit; pen insertion tool; pen knife; mandrell with bushings; lathe with assorted chisels; disc sander; handheld electric drill with Velcro sanding system,
buffing system; pen assembly press
Danish oil
No. PK-1067 Secret Compartment Key Chain Kit, $2.65 ea.*
No. PK-1110 Dymondwood Blank Assortment, $16.70/6*
No. SG-THICK Thick Superglue, $3.95 ea.*
No. SG-THIN Thin Superglue, $3.95 ea. plus postage*

*Available from: Steebar Corp., (973) 383-1026,

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people request that I make needle cases and toothpick holders. In fact, there have been enough requests that I seriously researched the procedures involved in making them.
The more traditional ones are made entirely of wood and resemble little turned boxes. Turned boxes, however, require a high tolerance between the body and lid in order to be successful. If the fit is too loose, the lid falls off and if it is too tight…well, you know what happens. I eventually decided that they just were not profitable enough to make when you factored in the labor involved.
Then I found these “Secret Compartment” key chain kits and I knew that I had the problem solved! These kits can be made without the key rings for use as needle cases.
But, if you leave the ring on, “Uncle Bud” will always have a place to store an extra toothpick to replace the one that he usually has hanging out of his mouth!

Wood selection
As with other kits, I made this key chain from a small piece of scrap like those we all have laying around the shop. Most often, I try to make them from high color
woods, so I use a lot of Dymondwood and Colorwood. (Colorwood is similar to Dymondwood except that the colors are more in the pastel range and it is not resinimpregnated.) Unlike some of the other kits, key chain colors do not seem to be gender specific. Highly figured woods also sell well and wood from around knots and other defects are great sources for this material.

Design considerations
I usually make these key chains not as a single, straight tube, but shaped more like a large barrel. I just think it looks better design-wise. I also do not turn a lot of “curlicues” and other small details into the wood, because of the time factor involved. Plus, I do not like a turning that appears to be too “busy”; I think that this detracts from the beauty of the wood and looks too amateurish. Simple is always best, but then again, that’s just my opinion.

Preparing the blank
Whenever I use Dymondwood, I cut the blank about 1/4" to 3/8" longer than the tube. This permits me to salvage the blank in case the Dymondwood “blows out” the end during the drilling procedure. I use my chop saw to cut my blanks to length, but other methods can be used—they can even be cut by hand. In fact, Steebar sells a mini-aluminum mitre box with a small saw (No. PK- 1241, $16.75) to do just that! Note: in a recent Creative Woodworks & Crafts article on making Corian® pens, the author recommended using a small amount of water in the hole to dissipate the heat in order to prevent similar “blow outs” in the material. I tried it again here and I can’t say that it actually helped for certain, but it surely can’t hurt!
It is critical that you preserve as much of the material as possible when you turn it to round. Therefore, drilling the hole dead center is important. Connect the corners of the blank to locate its center and set the drilling vise up on the drill press so the point of the bit hits the center of the blank.
This kit uses a 10mm tube. Chuck a 10mm drill bit in the drill press and drill the hole. Be sure to raise the bit often to clear the chips and to dissipate the heat generated by drilling.

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