Make a Business Card Holder
Photos by Rob Brown
Illustration by Len Churchill
|INFO:||DIFFICULTY – 2/5, LENGTH/TIME – 2/5, COST – 1/5|
When I started my business I had postcard-sized business cards made up. One of the first things I did was to make a nice holder to display them while I was showing my work at home and design shows. Though I’m going to detail a holder for a standard-sized business card holder here, the same steps and techniques can be followed to make a postcard-sized version.
While you’re making one, it might be a good idea to make a few more as gifts.
Because this holder is quite small I wanted to keep the overall design simple. A rectangular piece, with gently curved front, would provide a stable base, while straight uprights with grooves hold the cards in place.
Solid wood is great, but for a punchy project like this, figured veneer is even better. Two contrasting species and figures is what I feel works best, but I’ll let you make the final decision. I used MDF for the base and solid maple for the uprights. If you don’t enjoy working with MDF you can use plywood or solid wood.
The veneer I chose had a tight figure to it. Since the areas where the veneer will be seen are small, a larger pattern will not look as powerful.
If you don’t like the idea of using veneer, solid wood will work out just fine for this project. I would reach for something with figure, or a bold colour, though. It will actually be a much quicker, easier build if you skip the veneer.
Cut the base material to 5" wide × 4" deep and draw a centerline on its upper surface. With a set of trammel heads and a beam add an 8" radius curve to the base, so the center of the base is about 3" wide. Use your bandsaw to cut the arc in the base, but don’t throw away the offcut just yet. Do your best to produce a smooth cut, as there will be minimal sanding before applying the veneer to this edge. Speaking of that rough-cut edge, gently smooth it, but don’t remove too much material. The offcut will act as a caul to press the veneer in place while the glue is drying, and too much sanding will produce variation between the two parts, causing gaps.
Even Curve – When cutting the curve into the base Brown made sure to use a smooth pressure to cut an even curve. Very little sanding was required.
Curved Caul – With the offcut acting as a curved caul, Brown clamps veneer on the curved edge of the base.
Add some veneer
Lay out and cut pieces of veneer to cover the top and bottom surfaces of the base, as well as the four sides. At least 1/8" overhang is recommended, though even more is safer. Apply the bottom veneer and trim it flush when dry.
The next step is to add veneer to the curved front edge of the base. If there happens to be a gap after it’s been applied, the top veneer will cover this up. Add glue to the curved edge, rub it in and let it dry for a few minutes. This helps the final glue line from being too starved and weak. Apply another layer of glue to the edge, bring the strip of veneer into place and secure it with some tape if needed. Bring the outer caul into position and apply some clamps. As the caul is thin it should flex to close any gaps nicely. Not much pressure is needed. Let the glue dry thoroughly before taking the clamps off and flushing the veneer with a knife, block plane and sanding block.
Applying the back and side edges, in that order, is next. Use short, straight cauls to apply even pressure, then flush the veneer with the upper and lower surfaces. The upper veneer can now be applied using cauls and clamps. When dry, trim the overhanging veneer flush. The three contrasting plugs are strictly for looks and should be drilled, installed and flushed now.
Break out a 12" long piece of non-porous hardwood to 5/8" thick x 3/4" wide. Cut strips of oversized, contrasting veneer for all four sides. The whole 12" length of this strip will not be used in the final piece, but it makes machining much safer and easier. Apply two opposing veneers with clamps and cauls, let them dry, and then trim them flush before doing the same with the other two sides.
The grooves that hold the business cards can now be cut. Machine a 1/4" wide x 1/4" deep groove into the center of the 5/8" wide edge. Break out the two uprights from the stock by making one cut right in the center of the piece.
Those two cut surfaces will be the base of the uprights. Now cut the two uprights to length, with a 15° angle on their upper ends. Ensure the angle is cut the correct direction, relative to the groove, with the longer edge towards the center of the holder. Add a small piece of veneer to the upper edges, then trim it flush with a sharp knife and straight file.Three Decorative Plugs – Drill the holes with a 3/8” brad point bit, then cut and install the plugs. Carefully flush them when dry.
Apply Veneer – Sandwich the solid core between two slices of veneer, and use a caul on each side to spread out the clamping pressure. This is the technique Brown used to apply all the veneer.
Joining the parts
The width between the uprights depends largely on the depth of the grooves you machined into the sides of the uprights. The distance between the two inner faces of the grooves should be about 1/16" wider than the width of a business card. A standard business card is 3-1/2" wide, but I would check yours before proceeding.
Position the uprights on top of the base in the correct location, and pencil in a light outline. Drill two clearance holes in the base, and a pilot hole in the bottom of each upright. Install the uprights and check the width with a business card. If the distance is too small it will likely be easier to deepen a groove in an upright than to reposition one of them. A 1/4" wide chisel or the edge of a flat file will help out here.
Add a finish
It’s probably easiest to apply a finish to all the parts before they get assembled. Once all the pieces are sanded, add a small piece of masking tape where the uprights will meet the base. This will protect any finish from weakening the joint between the uprights and the base after assembly. Just be sure the tape is only under where the uprights will be located.
I wiped on many coats of shellac until I was happy with the look and feel of the parts.
Remove the tape on the base and rub a bit of glue into the lower end of the uprights. Again, this will fill up the end grain and produce a stronger joint. After a few minutes add a bit more glue to the joints and drive home the two screws to secure the uprights. This might be the simplest, most stress-free assembly ever.
Apply an adhesive bumper under each corner of the holder and fill it will business cards.
If you have postcard-size business cards the basic process to make a holder is exactly the same. The overall dimensions of the base I made were 8" x 3", and the uprights were 2-3/4" long; all the other details were the same as the standard-size business card holder I outlined here.
With this business card holder on your desk the person who notices it will surely be impressed with how gorgeous it is. With any luck they will actually be a woodworker too, starting a conversation, and possibly making a solid business connection. How do you display your business cards? If you’ve made another type of card holder share it with others at the end of this article on our website.
Angled Clamping – Once the two uprights are separated from each other, and cut on an angle, Brown applied veneer to their ends. One of the uprights was oriented with the groove facing up and the other had its groove facing down. With one upright clamped to a flat board that had a small notch cut into it, Brown brought the two uprights together, with their angled ends almost touching. He then inserted a metal rule between the parts to act as a caul to spread clamping pressure, and used a longer clamp to bring the two parts towards each other.
Add a Finish – With the parts complete, sand them and apply a finish to each part, before gluing and screwing the uprights to the base. Brown padded on shellac, as it’s quick and easy. A piece of tape over each screw hole will keep finish off the wood, and provide a better surface for gluing down the road.