GazetteXtra do-it-yourselfers Andrew Reuter and Nick Crow share their successes (and failures) on a variety of topics.

ProjectLab: A quick and dirty pencil-sharpener clamp

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Andrew Reuter
September 2, 2015

Sometimes, you just have to get something done. It doesn't need to be perfect. It just has to work. And work quickly. This is one of those quick and dirty projects.

Not too long ago, coworker and fellow DIYer Catherine W. Idzerda stopped by my corner of the newsroom.

“I need you to drill a hole in my desk,” she said.

The reason? She had acquired a neat old pencil sharpener, and she wanted to attach it to her desk. Though she knew she could do this task, she believed I would have steadier hands and might drill a straighter hole.

I love to help people, but I was hesitant to take on this project for two reasons:

—I don't like damaging things that I don't have to damage. One neat drill hole now becomes an ugly scar later.

—I like to keep the maintenance people on my side. Would they mind if Cathy and I modded her desk? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, getting permission could delay the project. Best to avoid work that needs an OK.

Regardless, Cathy's plan was sound. The pencil sharpener needed to be securely attached somewhere, or else it wouldn't be usable. You might as well throw the thing away.

There also was a ton of value in attaching it to her desk, versus attaching it to a wall. If she could reach over and sharpen her pencil instead of getting up and walking to a pencil sharpener, she would be able to work faster and be less likely to get distracted.

Whatever solution we came up with, it had to be nearly as quick as drilling a hole in a desk. I didn't want to hold her up while I dreamed up the “perfect” fix.

I took another look at the desk. My proposal: Use the cord-hole built into the desk, below right, to mount a pencil-sharpener clamp of sorts to the surface, with a carriage bolt and wingnut holding it all together. At left is either a sloppy sketch of the design or a long-lost Surrealistic masterpiece. You decide.

Cathy agreed that the idea was worth pursuing, as long as I didn't have to spend any money on it.

Here's what I did to make this thing:


This seemed like a good opportunity to get rid of some scrap. I picked a 1x4 chunk of pine that was long enough to serve as both the top and bottom.


I based the dimensions on the pencil sharpener footprint, adding about an inch on the front and back so there would be enough room to mount the thing. Whatever wood was leftover would make up the bottom clamp. The table saw made quick work of this.

I could have left the wood alone here. Instead, I used my router and a ¼” roundover bit to add a decorative edge to the top piece. This absolutely wasn't necessary. I did it anyway because it was quick, it was fun, it made the piece surprisingly prettier and I needed the practice.


I started by drawing two lines from corner to corner on the board to make an X. At the center of the X was the center of my board. I had some long ½” carriage bolts sitting around, so I decided to use one for this.

I then used a 1 ⅛” spade bit to drill a countersink hole. This would keep the top of the carriage bolt head below the surface of the wood, keeping it out of the way of the pencil sharpener's bottom. I used a ⅝” spade bit to drill through the wood for the bolt itself. I used the same X trick and the ⅝” bit on the bottom board.

The last step here was to predrill some holes to screw the pencil sharpener into the base. For this purpose, plain old 1” drywall screws would be fine. Their dull grey color even matched the pencil sharpener.


Everything looked good during a test assembly, so I got out some sandpaper and gave it a quick once-over. Then I applied a coat of Johnson's Floor Wax. I started using this stuff based on the advice of a random forum. The idea is it's an easy-to-apply protectant for quick wood projects. Rags covered in this stuff also won't spontaneously combust, unlike some other other finishes. But now I'm reading that light waxes like this don't do much at all. For now, no harm, no foul.


This is where I hit pretty much my only hitch: My donor bolt was too short when combined with the thickness of the desk. Oh well. I ran down to Ace Hardware, grabbed a longer bolt and was good to go. A wingnut and washer on the bottom provided enough clamping pressure to hold the whole nine yards together.

Cathy gave the pencil sharpener a spin. The mount worked. Glorious news. A few months later, it still seems to be holding together.


Difficulty: 2 stars out of 5. Pretty easy.

Skills required: Troubleshooting. Minor woodworking skills.

Tools required: Saw, drill bits, screwdriver. Hand tools would work fine if you skip the router part.

Supplies: Scrap wood, screws, long carriage bolt with washer and wing nut.

Cost: Roughly $5 for the hardware, if you can dip into your scrap wood collection. If you can't, it might be another $5 for wood.

Was this worth doing? Oh yeah. This rig worked way better than I thought it would. I could see this clamp being useful for a lot of things, actually. Even without the cord hole in the desk, I suspect you could modify this to clamp onto the edge of a table or workbench.

If I did this all over again, the one thing I would change would be to use use a thinner bolt. That carriage bolt I had lying around was way overbuilt for this. The thinner ones are much cheaper.

Have you done any quick-and-dirty projects lately? Any recommendations for what to use as a quick and easy wood protectant? Let me know. Send me an email at [email protected], find me on Twitter at @andrewreuter or leave a comment below.

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