The ideal was originally spurred by my coworker Dave who made a simple wooden dreidel for his wife who is a teacher. She wanted to demonstrate the game to her students.
With the holiday season fast approaching I was thinking about family and identity and of course gifts. I knew that I was going to go home and record my folks stories about their childhood, and I also knew that it would probably be enough that I was secretly coordinating with my sister to bring her home from Shanghai for the holidays but I had an extended family to think about and Alex! Well we had just gone to Israel with Taglit Birthright in August, so what about some jewish cultural artifacts?
I had appropriated a chunk of walnut from the garbage cans at my previous job. We had used hundreds of feet of beautiful american walnut and the offcuts were getting tossed. Out of one I made a little pedestal, mostly to test out my new hand router.
These offcuts combined with a small sheet of maple that I picked up from Rockler made some lovely accented blanks. These were glued up, sanded flat on one side and run through the table and miter saw to square them up.
Before I dig in I had to plan out the profile. Now the dreidels of my childhood were round on the bottom:
So I attempted to make a test dreidel with a rounded bottom, but it wasn’t working very well. While testing my housemate Dillon challenged me to make one with a pointed base.
Now I was resistant to this idea at first, that wasn’t how I remember dreidels looking but there is apparently a metric ton of literature regarding spinning tops and advanced physics. After making a quick mockup out of some 2×2 we had lying around the house the results spoke for themselves, and honestly it’s much easier to make consistent points then it is consistent curve, unless I had a lathe….hummm
I digress, the next step for this was to plan out the final design and in a move that was very in character for me I went and made a 3D model. These didn’t need a 3D model but I feel like creating CAD designs allows me to start to solve problems in 3D space I otherwise might not have ever thought of…
Armed with the design I glued up those three off-cut pieces that can be seen above into my “Test Dreidel” If you look closely in the image below you can see that it’s made from three smaller pieces laminated together.
This fella worked great and all the other pieces admired it and wanted to be like him:
But dreidels aren’t just a profile cut they also have emblems embossed on the sides so with Alex’s help I sat down and used some simply typographic techniques to design a hebrew ‘font’ all my own. I got some push-back on some of the letter, especially the original Shin seen in the image below but eventually I had a batch I was happy with and set up a file to be laser cut.
Making the test piece convinced me that if I wanted to be consistent I would need to do the inlay before cutting the points, the work just became too difficult to handle and register once it was in its final shape. So all of these parts got drilled with a forstner bit and inlaid with a laser cut piece of maple!
All of the maple inlays were sanded flush on the disc sander.
When it was finally time to cut the points I made a jig that allowed me to more accurately replicate the same cut on every piece. The bottom of the inlay was lined up with the marking on the jig and then rotated till each face was cut.
I managed to miss a step in here but before the points were added the tops of all of the blanks were drilled with a 3/8″ bit to allow the stems to be glued in later.
You may be wondering about the little stems, they were actually made out of a narrower piece of the same walnut that got roughed to something resembling an octagon on the bandsaw and then chucked into a drill and turned against sandpaper till they were round. This is not a good way to make a dowel because it 99.999% of the time results in a taper. But I actually wanted a taper for these, it felt good in the hand and meant I needed to be less accurate with my hole drilling/ fitting.
After a final glue up and sanding all of the parts were finished with 3 coats of a wipe on polyurethane over the course of 3 days, sanding in-between of course.
If you looked at these and went “Hey the hebrew isn’t in the right order” congratulations, you’re better at this then I am. Even though I consider my girlfriend a jewish scholar and my sister is running a jewish community in Shanghai I was not knowledgeable enough at the dreidel game to know that the characters went in some kind of order. But now I know the phrase:
“Nes Gadol Hayah Sham”
נ (Nun), ג (Gimmel), ה (Hey), and ש (Shin)
Literally: “A great miracle happened there.”
You can be sure that knowledge will be incorporated into all future projects!