Make a Set of Kids’ Playing Card Holders
Encouraging kids to play cards not only strengthens the bond between family and friends, it helps with math and other cognitive skills. It’s also a lot of fun for both kids and adults. When I started playing cards with my kids, the main stumbling block was that their hands weren’t coordinated and large enough to deal with all the cards they were dealt, so I made them these simple holders.
A Little Wider
With his rabbet plane held on an angle, Brown widens the mouth of the groove, allowing kids to more easily insert cards. This could also be done with a file or course sandpaper.
Chamfer the Edges
A block plane eases all four edges to eliminate the chance of splinters. Here, Brown is heavily chamfering the two upper edges of the holders.
Ease the Edges
Make sure all the sharp edges are gone, so nobody gets a sliver.
Apply a Finish
A simple, wipe-on finish is perfect for this small project. A couple of coats will add some protection, and keep the wood looking new.
The holders I made are 12″ long and they work well. Usually some of the cards have to overlap each other, but that’s no problem. In terms of width, the 1-1/2″ holders I made are stable, without being cumbersome. I wouldn’t make the holders any thinner than 3/4″, as a certain amount of mass is required to help keep the holder from tipping over while kids handle it. My holders are about 15/16″ thick, and are made from white ash.
Start by breaking out stock long enough for all the holders you are going to build. It’s easiest to work with one long piece, rather than a few shorter pieces. Aim for 7/8″ thick x 1-1/2″ wide stock, but there’s no need to be overly accurate.
I used a thin kerf blade (3/32″ wide) to machine the groove in the holders. At first I made a test cut with an ultra-thin 7-1/4″ diameter blade that was 1/16″ wide, but I thought the kerf would be too thin for my kids to easily insert cards into the groove. Tensions can sometimes run high while playing cards with kids – there’s no reason to make matters worse.
Tilt your table saw blade to 10 degrees, and set the blade height to cut about half way into your stock. Adjust your rip fence so the groove will be slightly on the user side of center, so when the cards are sitting in place they will be centered above the holder. In hindsight, I may have put a bit too much thought into perfecting groove placement; pretty much anywhere will likely work just fine. Pass the workpiece over the blade to create the groove.
I used a rabbet plane to slightly widen the mouth of the groove, to make inserting the cards even easier. If you don’t have a rabbet plane, a file or some coarse sandpaper should do the trick.
To ensure nobody gets slivers, take a few passes with a block plane on all four edges. Spend a bit of extra time on the upper edges, as a small chamfer is a nice tough to these holders.
Cross-cut the holders to length then ease the sharp corners and edges. Sand the surfaces to remove any milling marks.
Apply a finish
I almost didn’t even apply a finish to these holders, but then remembered that kids are likely going to spill food or drink on them, or at the very least have dirty hands, so a light coat or two of finish will help keep them looking like new for longer. I wiped on a few coats of a food-safe finish with a cloth and let it dry. For once, a project that’s incredibly easy and low-stakes to finish!
If you really do want to get fancy you have a few options. A double-decker card holder, where the base is wider and thicker (about 2-1/2″ x 1-1/4″) and there are two grooves, is an option. The groove that’s away from the user is machined fairly shallow, while the groove towards the user is machined fairly deep. This allows the user to see both rows of cards at the same time.
Another option is to make a curved card holder. After breaking out the stock and temporarily fixing it to a workbench, install a bit no larger than 1/8″ diameter in your router. Secure your router to a circle-cutting jig, and then do some math. You will have to determine what radius will best work for the length of curved card holder you want, then determine where the pivot point of your circle jig should be attached to your workbench to produce the proper groove. It’s a lot more work than a straight groove, but it looks great when complete.
With your card holders finished, whether they are straight, double-rowed or curved, share them with the young kids in your life and deal the cards.