Keyholder project-Haunted by a ghost from Christmas past.

Last Christmas, Mom saw a quaint keyholder at a local shop. It had an Italian theme which she liked. But the price was steep considering the simple wood design so I said I’d make her one. And then I forgot.

With the new year came a chance for redemption. My goal this year is to have one hand-made item from me under the tree for each of my loved ones. Mom’s gift would be a stylish keyholder.

Whenever I start a new project I like to see what others have done to give me creative inspiration. So I scour projects on and look at commercially-available items on

The piece that piqued my design interest was this one listed on Amazon.

The metal work is stylish. But since I haven’t done any metal-shop things since junior high-school I focused on the tiles. I liked the idea of collecting 4 Italian-theme tiles, “laying” them on ¼” plywood, framing them in oak and finishing off the cracks between tiles with sand-colored grout.

I bought the tiles at the local big-box store. I chose four different ones so that each would serve as a visual reference—an icon if you will—for the placement of different sets of keys. Those kinds of things are important for older folks.

Then I laid out the tiles, made measurements to include all the spaces between the frame and tiles and came up with exterior dimensions of 18 1/4″ x 5 7/8″ x 1 ½”.

I find it easier to finish stock before cutting the miters and gluing them together. I started with the raw materials (2 x oak: 24″ x 2″ x 1 ½” material), and used my smoothing plane to “finish” the surfaces.

Then I cut the frame pieces to length with my precision miter box and routed a groove to accept the ¼” plywood backer board. I placed the groove so that the tile faces are relieved from the front edge by about ¼”. To do this I had to take into account the thickness of the tiles, backer board and tile adhesive. The latter I assumed would be about 1/8″ once I pressed the tile into the adhesive.

The next step was to finish the wood with Danish oil—three coats.

While that was drying I laid out the tiles on the backer board and glued them in place with tile adhesive.

After that cured, I dry fitted the frame sides with the backer board in place and tweaked the fit. This was followed by wood glue and a belt clamp to hold it until it dried.

To reinforce the glued mitered edges I cut spline slots in each corner using a jig and my router table. Then I glued in contrasting cocobolo splines, letting them dry over night. In the morning I used my low-angle block plane to plane the spline edges flush with the frame sides. Here’s what they look like.

I completed the tile work by filling in the spaces between the frame edge and tiles with grout. Before doing that however, I used masking tape on the upper portions of the inner frame sides so they wouldn’t get mucked up during the application of the grout.

After that dried, I touched up the Danish oil finish where I had planed the splines flush with the frame surface. Then I laid out the hooks (2/tile), drilled pilot holes for them and screwed them in place.

To hang the piece I added some hooks and strung wire between them.

The final touch was to sign and date the work on the backer board so that Mom would always remember when, and who (I have a brother and I don’t want him taking credit for my work) gave it to her.

Redeeming myself—Well, at least for this transgression

And here’s what I’ll be hanging for Mom in her kitchen soon after Christmas.


About The Write Biz

By day, I'm a mild-mannered copywriter who harnesses frontal-lobe creativity (right brain) to help B2B marketers generate leads and sales. By night I pick up hand tools to create wooden masterpieces...and give my black lab Bella the "red dot" laser to chase after.
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