In This Post
- Starting in a Spiral
- How to Make a Hole in Balsa Wood
As you may recall, I wasn’t happy with how the staircase came out. The paint job was a bit weird, and there’s that “blump” in the middle. Still not sure how that happened. In any event, I decided to bash my way through this with a spiral staircase.
Spoiler alert: I love how it turned out. However, the road to getting there wasn’t easy, in large part because I didn’t know how to make a hole in balsa wood (or basswood, for that matter).
See, the thing about this hobby is that it’s expensive. Beyond buying the dollhouse kit, I have to decorate it. Well, I guess I don’t, but I want to. And that requires lots of extra tools (tile nippers, anybody?). And, well, money is tight these days, so I didn’t want to buy more gear.
That sent me on a mission to figure out how to create a spiral staircase without resorting to a kit and making a hole in balsa wood without buying a drill. It wasn’t easy, but after some fits and starts, I figured out how to make a hole in balsa wood — without destroying the wood!
Starting in a Spiral
Once I decided on the spiral staircase, I went down the research rabbit hole. Approximately 100% of every other “how-to” out there centered on drilling a hole into the stair risers, then threading them on a pole. The exception was using an old fan to make the staircase (which is cool), but in all cases, there’s one common element I’m missing: a drill.
I wasn’t about to go out and buy or even rent a drill just to make a few holes in some balsa wood. I’d probably use the drill again eventually, but I just don’t have the money to spend on it right now. And, truthfully, even if I had it, I don’t want to buy a drill!
So, I tried to build the staircase on my own without a drill. Needless to say, it was a disaster, which is probably why the drill a hole method is so popular. It’s the easiest way to get the project done, not to mention it creates a stable staircase.
I tossed out my DIY ideas and decided to go the drill a hole route, but without a drill.
How to Make a Hole in Balsa Wood
My first attempt at the staircase included basswood risers. As much as I like the stability and thickness of basswood, there’s no way I’m making holes in them without a drill. So, I went back to the store and picked these up:
Without even opening the packet, I can tell they’re balsa wood. They’re also super thin, which, I’m guessing, will make it easier to make holes in. This thought turns out to be true and also not true.
With a hole punch
I figure a regular old hole punch will do. I grab an old pair and check out the hole:
Convinced that’s a heart, I give the balsa wood a test punch. FYI, I did not press that hard. I was trying to make an imprint and see what was what.
Yup. That’s a heart. Good to know.
I lined everything up again and punched all the way through to see what would happen:
Cool. I now have new decoration ideas. The thing is, this was a pain in the butt to do. I had to use a fair amount of force to finish the punch. I figured it was because of the heart shape (and the age and rust) and assumed (hoped?) a circle would be easier to punch. So, I dug up my crafter hole punch with a plain old circle
I placed the balsa wood in and punched. It took a bit of force, but not as much as the heart. This is what I got:
Yeah. Not awesome. Part of me is not surprised, though. This is balsa wood. But it was a little too easy to punch, and my guess is because I didn’t place the balsa wood properly, meaning through the paper holder. What I should have done was this:
So I could end up with this:
Pretty, right. Problem is, I had to squeeze extra hard, and this is what the back looked like:
Sigh. Not so pretty.
I did a few more test punches, and it was clear the craft hole punch wasn’t going to work, either.
For fun, I tried a three-hole punch. It did not work. There are no pictures. Just take my word for it.
With a wood screw
Frustrated, I tried some things with the basswood that also failed. I took a nail and tried hammering it through the basswood, like a pilot hole for a screw. But while basswood is sturdy, it’s also rigid, and it kept snapping in half:
As I rummaged through my supplies, I found wood screws. Well, balsa wood is a wood, so why not?
I grabbed one wood screw and a Phillips screwdriver. Then I secured the strip in ye old miter box and started turning. The screw popped through the balsa wood pretty easily:
It’s a little splintery, but not so bad:
A little bit of sanding, and it’s all good.
That’s not to say it was perfect. But for the most part, this technique worked for me.
Finishing things off
I did one more thing that I do not necessarily recommend you do. Like ever.
I only had one size wood screw, which means I got one size hole. That’s fine, but the problem is this hole was a touch too small for the pole. And, since I don’t want to spend any more money than I already am, I got a bit “creative.”
Using the Phillips screwdriver, I opened the hole just a touch to ensure the risers could slide on the pole without damaging it. And it did a fantastic job of smoothing out the rough edges. I slid the screwdriver into the hole then turned like I was fastening a screw only not. As it turns out, the Phillips’s head was just wide enough to open the hole without destroying it.
Would I recommend that in general? No. I’d tell you to get the right size wood screw. But I really didn’t have a better option. Well, I do, but… you know. Money. Now I probably need to sharpen the edges of the screwdriver, but so far, so good.
What about a drill?
To be honest, I don’t know. I didn’t try one. But my gut says, no way. Balsa wood is too light and too thin. Given some of the problems I had with a simple wood screw, I think manual labor is your best bet.
It’s an Option
I know, it’s not much, but when it comes to making a decent hole in balsa wood, there’s not a lot out there. I’d say wood screws are worth a shot over anything else! Just make sure you get the right size screw, so you aren’t messing up your screwdriver.
What about you? Any advice for making a hole in balsa wood? Or working with balsa wood in general? Let me know!
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