Another one bites the dust…

The New Year Day’s weekend saw me finally making some headway with my pen rack idea. After doing a final sketch in Paper, I scaled it up and traced the design onto plywood.

Dremel 4000 blueprint - pen rack final

At present, the only accessories in my arsenal that can be used for cutting are the EZ456 cut-off wheels, which are intended for making short cuts in metal: cutting off rusty bolts, re-slotting stripped screws, etc. Out of necessity, I’ve been using them to make cuts through wood, but the results have been far less than perfect. The cut-off wheels were certainly not going to work here, where more intricate cuts were necessary. In the past, I probably would have resorted to the inelegant but functional technique of drilling holes along the perimeter and then joining them with the 191 high-speed cutter, however this was no longer an option after the cutter’s recent demise.

Dremel 4000 - fretsawI was hoping that my father-in-law would provide a solution, and he didn’t disappoint, emerging from his toolshed with an old, rusty, but still functional fretsaw. (It looks something like the sketch on the right, and you can also learn more here if you are too young to know what it is 🙂  I personally hadn’t seen one since I was a teenager in a country that no longer exists, but it is apparently possible to pick one up on Amazon). These saws, or their motorized equivalents – scroll saws, are exactly what you need to cut out of thin wood a shape that is more complicated than a square. The saw blade’s thinness allows it to turn almost literally on the spot, although you have to be careful not to put too much torsional stress on it.

I started cutting out the first  shape and quickly remembered that while these fretsaws are great for intricate cuts, fast they ain’t. So, back to my standard approach – pre-drill a bunch of holes, then join them with the saw. Except… Drilling in plywood should be easy, right? Well, it was, until I got to a spot where the drill bit went through the plywood’s top layer, but then started sliding around on top of the second, gouging a wide pit in the top veneer. I recovered and finished the hole, drilled a few more holes further away, then followed my outline back to near the same spot. The same pattern repeated itself: drilling started well, then stalled on the underlying layer and started “skating” around. Except this time, the 150 drill bit snapped right at the collet and flew into a wall.

Dremel 4000 - 150 drill bit brokenMy best guess is that the inner layer of the plywood happened to have a knot in that location, and its density was too much for the drill bit to go through smoothly with the light pressure that I was applying. As it started dancing on the surface of the knot, at some point my pressure turned from vertical into lateral sufficiently for the bit to break. How can this be avoided in the future? By applying more pressure than is necessary to drill through the top layer, so that the drill bit bites into the second layer more quickly and cleanly? Having a better / sharper / stronger bit? Working on a drill press certainly would help – is there a 220-10 workstation in my future? That’d be nice!

I ended up cutting out most of the first shape with just the fretsaw. It took a while, but I got through it in the end. I then used the 408 60-grit sanding band, the 932 grinding stone, and the 413 240-grit sanding discs to do the final shaping and smoothing of the “Christmas tree”. The final touch was applied by borrowing my father-in-law’s drill with an 8mm bit to drill out 3 holes for the interconnecting dowels.

Then I got started on the second “Christmas tree” shape. Then the rusty blade of the old fretsaw finally said “No more!” and snapped right in the middle. My workday was over.

Here’s the fruit of my labours:

Dremel 4000 - Xmas tree pen rack part


  1. Mari

    Perhaps this blog assumes professional feedback about your work. But I can only give my-kind-of-feedback. I admire your skills – you have ideas, you do some research, you draw sketches, then you take wood in one and the Dremel in another hand and voila! I haven’t seen anyone working on something being so passionate about it (except our kid blowing bubbles and then running after them). Plus, you write very well. This will be the The Dremel Amateur book one day. 525 pages. Keep going, no matter how many saws you break.

    • drnik2k5

      Thank you, baby! The day I achieve the same focus and dedication as Des when she chases soap bubbles, I’ll rename the blog “The Dremel Guru” 🙂

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    • Nikita

      Thanks for the tip, Joe. At the time, I didn’t have that attachment yet, so had to resort to the jigsaw. I’ve since bought the cutting kit, but my experience with it has been less than perfect: at least with soft materials like the thin plywood used for this pen rack, the cutting kit’s bit has been too eager to rip the material and leave very messy edges. Watching the video you shared makes me want to give it another go though.

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