WOODEN FOOTBALL TRILOGY
This woodworker shares his method for making the maple laces.
SHOP OWNER: Aurčle Delaurier
LOCATION: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Of all my submissions to Shop Shots, my footballs generate the most response. Since I have already detailed how these footballs are constructed in Shop Shots #469 and #887, I didn’t see the need to belabor the point. One aspect I haven’t described is how the maple laces are made. I’ve also included information on the finishing process. Although the instructions below are for my mini (9/16 scale) footballs, it is a similar process for the full size ball.
On my previous footballs I made and glued on the laces before applying the finish to the entire football. As careful as I tried, I inevitably got some glue on the football near the laces, which made small blotches in the finish over the walnut. This time, however, I applied three coats of polyurethane (using fine sandpaper and steel wool between coats) on the football before gluing on the laces. I still managed to get unwanted glue on the walnut, however. So I carefully scraped off the glue with a utility knife and after the final coat of polyurethane was applied, there were no noticeable blotches. This image shows the cradle I made to hold the football while applying the finish. The screw tips securely hold the ball with the least contact possible making it easy to rotate the ball while finishing. The two small dimples created by the screws were touched up at the end.
I start by cutting out the two laces that run parallel to one of the football’s seams. Each lace measures 2-1/2” long by 5/32” wide and only 1/32” thick. They are glued with a 1/16” space between them and straddle one of the seams. I use cyanoacrylate glue (super glue) for the laces and clamp them down with my fingers. The thinness of the laces facilitates the gluing; if they are too thick it is more difficult to bend and hold. The two laces including the space measure 3/8” wide.
For the cross laces, I use a piece of 3” wide by 1/2” thick maple about 6-8” long. Ensure that the material is not too short as it can be unsafe to handle. With the table saw (router table would also work) I removed a 3/8” wide dado (3/32” deep) across the grain of the maple at a distance of 3/16” from one end. Due to the small dimensions of the laces, it is best that the wood grain runs along the length of laces to ensure greater strength.
I stood the maple on its edge and ripped the laces on my band saw at a distance of 3/16” from the bottom edge and about 1” into the maple.
With the maple lying flat, I cut away the piece to be used for the cross laces.
The top part of this image shows the newly cut out piece. On the belt sander, I sand off the outer edges of the piece shown in the lower part of the image; final sanding of the top of the laces will occur after all the laces are glued in place. I use a fine tooth handsaw and cut each lace about 1/8” wide. At this point, the laces resemble a telephone handset. While on its side, I hand sand each lace over a piece of 150 or 220 grit sandpaper to a final width of about 1/10 of an inch. I number the laces 1 through 8 which corresponds to the position where they will be glued (position 1 and 8 are at the extremities and 4 and 5 in the middle and so on).
Both feet of each lace must be sanded to match the curvature of the football. To ensure a proper fit, I place a piece of sandpaper on the football with the grit side out. I position lace 1 between two of the seams (as shown) and run the lace over the sandpaper in a motion that is perpendicular to the seams as indicated by the red arrows. Eventually the feet are sanded to the point where they rest entirely on the football. I frequently check the shape of the cross lace over the two longitudinal laces and continue sanding until the 3/8” wide underside part of the lace also touches the longitudinal laces. After all laces are sanded, I glue laces 1 and 8 into place. I then dry fit all remaining laces equidistant to each other. After marking their position, the remaining laces are glued into place. I run a sanding block (parallel to the longitudinal laces) over the tops of the laces, being careful not to contact the surrounding walnut.
Rather than make a display case this time, I decided to purchase one on the Internet. These cases are actually intended for mini football helmets but the proportions were right. I only had to glue on four acrylic posts (topped with hemispherical rubber bumpers) to support the football. Once again the trophy store I use to laser engrave my projects did an exceptional job. The artwork was a colored bitmap I acquired from the Internet. The artwork I submit for laser engraving must be simplified and I do this using software to make the image monochromatic. Naturally, some detail of the original image is lost, but the overall effect is still impressive.
There’s something about the size of these footballs that make them exciting to handle. It is fun tossing it into the air but hard to resist the urge to throw a long pass. This football measures just over 6” long and is 3-3/4” in diameter. Someone at our 2008 Grey Cup Party will be the recipient of this mini football, so I only have a few more days to play with it!
. . . Aurčle Delaurier