I have two hobbies, at least. One is woodworking. Building furniture and other objects for my house. I was perfectly happy having this be my one main hobby and creative outlet, but you can’t always do woodworking. It’s loud, messy, and demands me to be outside. All of which I love about it, but sometimes it’s too dark, too early, too late, or too hot to do it. However, I still require a creative hobby for those times. What was I to do? I needed an indoor and quiet hobby to go with my outdoor and loud one.
Enter counted cross-stitch.
Yes, in October 2020 I decided to begin counted cross-stitching as a hobby. I chose this because it met all of my above stated criteria: creative, quiet, indoor, less messy, etc. Plus, it’s more portable than woodworking. I also had a comfort level with it already. It wasn’t something I had to learn from absolute scratch. My mother was an avid cross-stitcher in the 1980’s-90’s, and I remember trying my hand at it as a child. Then, I didn’t have the attention span to stick with anything as detailed or involved as cross stitching. Furthermore, in the pre-internet 80’s and 90’s, plus the culture of toxic masculinity that I was bathed in, there was no real encouragement for a young boy to take on a hobby so strongly associated with women throughout the ages. And assertions of “Rosey Grier did needlepoint” would have had no affect on me as I didn’t know who Rosey Grier was, and even if I had, it wouldn’t have salved the self-consciousness that toxic masculinity requires.
A lot of my first approaches to my new hobby were based on “What did Mom do?” I remembered mom using hoop frames for her projects, so I bought some hoop frames. Mom wrapped her thread on these cardboard cards, so I went looking for them. What I found were plastic versions of these. However there are a couple of problems with these. One, is that they’re plastic with all it’s inherent environmental consequences. Two, in order to write the thread number on them you can’t use a pencil or pen. Those don’t work on the plastic. You have to use a fine tipped sharpie for it to show up. Then the sharpie ink wears off quickly with normal use. There’s no way to keep the ink on the card permanently. So I needed another solution. Upon further trips to the craft store I did find some cardboard thread cards which actually cured both problems, but I thought the paper was too thin and flimsy. It would just wear out with frequent use and need occasional replacement. So, I didn’t like that solution either.
I had another problem. Stacks and stacks of scrap wood in my garage. I’d kept a bunch of it to use for campfires when we go camping, but thanks to COVID we’ve not been camping in ages much less had any fires. Also, it’s hard to get rid of scrap wood because there’s always the thought, “maybe I can use that some day.” Some day usually never comes, though.
The light bulb turned on and “some day” did actually come. I could resaw my scrap 2-by stock down real thin and shape it into serviceable thread cards that are made of natural products, reusable, and will permanently take ink. Born was the idea of the wooden thread card!
I took whatever sizes of 2-by stock I had laying around (2×2, 2×4, etc.) and trued the edges first on the table saw. I sandwiched the wood between the fence and blade, then, removing the wood I brought the fence in 1/16”. I ran the wood through the saw creating a flat edge parallel to the fence. Next, I flipped the wood around and repeated the process giving me two quality edges to work with.
Now that the prep work was done I could get to the card making. After a bit of trial and error I figured the the best way to get a strip of wood the best size was to move the fence 1/8” after every cut. Allowing for the 1/16” blade kerf this gives you a strip of wood ~1/16” thick.
NOTE: Don’t worry if your strips break at knot holes or other imperfections. You’ll have a lot more wood than you’ll likely need for your cards. Keep any length longer than 4” and trash the rest.
Next, move to the miter saw and set up a stop block 4″ from the blade set to 0 degrees. Take a stack of your trim pieces as thick as you’re comfortable with and cut through the stack. Set these aside and continue cutting 4″ pieces until you’re out of trim. Go through your pieces and throw out any which are unusable.
Now, it’s time to cut the thread notches. These notches I eyeball in the approximate center of the wood of one end and cut to a length of 1/4″-1/2″. I’ve tried a few methods for this. First, I cut some short stacks on the table saw. This both created larger than necessary notches at 1/16″ and put me at the limits of my safety tolerance. Next I tried using a pull saw and coping saw. In both cases, the kerf was smaller, but rougher and less accurate. I’ve finally settled on using my scroll saw which gives me the clean kerfs and optimal safety. You can do these in short stacks to save time.
On to the shaping. This is the most time consuming part of this whole process, at least the way I do it.* I can’t shape the pieces on the scroll saw because they are too thin and just split the wood down the grain. I first tried using a rasp and file to get the shape I want, but even putting short stacks together this took A LOT of time and effort. Then, I had the bright idea of using a drum sander on my drill. This increased productivity about 5x, and made the process much more feasible, but the heavy drill created control a factor, especially if you’re trying to do a lot of cards. Then, I bought a Dremel and using its drum sander attachment. I’ve found this to be the best method, so far, to shape the wood. It provides me the efficiency of the drill method and increases my ability to control what I’m doing.
Following the shaping, I give each individual piece a good sand on all surfaces, including the thread notch. Wipe any excess sawdust of them, and then they are ready to use.
The drawback to using the wooden thread cards is that they increase your storage needs by a factor of 2, at least. However, I feel the benefits far outweigh this lone drawback. I have a stock of natural tools which will last essentially forever and can be disposed of guilt-free. It also has the advantage of using up the waste from my other hobby. I can write on the cards what thread is contained on it, and should I ever need that card for another color, I can simply paint over the obsolete information and replace it. I call this a win!
Right now, I have enough thread cards for all of my open skeins of thread (excepting white, but I have my reasons for that). And I have enough cards cut out to last me a good long while. When I need more colors opened I still have my plastic and paper cards I can use in the interim, but when I’m ready, I can have as many new wooden cards as I need within an hour or two. I’m pretty happy with the end results here and I’ve had a lot of fun iterating my process. So much so, that I’m considering selling them on Etsy. I hope you like this idea, too.
*Next time I start this process, I’m going to try shaping the wood on the scroll saw before resawing them on the table saw.