DIYdiy projects

DIY Project: Embellished Wood Pencil Block

by Kate Pruitt

There’s a wonderful trend going on right now, which I predict will last from here on out: household goods made from simple, natural, organic materials. The increasing popularity of leather, wood and metal objects is wonderful news for the DIYer because all of these materials in their raw state are relatively inexpensive, easy to manipulate, last forever and need almost no treatment or embellishment to look really beautiful. While hunting down great gift ideas for our 2012 holiday guides, we’ve come across many beautiful wood and metal pieces, but we wanted to try making our own budget-friendly versions.

Inspired by this super simple wood toothbrush holder, I decided to make a wooden pencil block from a piece of 4″ x 6″ lumber. A little sanding and drilling is all it takes, and the beauty of the wood speaks for itself. However, I wanted to put my own spin on it, so I created an organic pattern that followed the subtle imperfections in the wood using small brass and silver nails. It seems tedious, but it’s actually really fun, and in just one afternoon, I think you could bang out several of these and have your holiday gifts covered. The variations on nail patterns are infinite, but I love the idea of a monogram, either small in the corner or large in the center; geometric shapes or stripes; or just a random constellation-like pattern. Happy crafting! — Kate

Read the full how-to after the jump . . .


  • 4″ x 6″ x 6″ wood block (you can find this at lumber yards and have them cut it for you)
  • drill with a 1/4″ boring bit and a regular drill bit
  • power sander (optional, but recommended)
  • sandpaper
  • 2–3 boxes of brass escutcheon pins (available at hardware stores)
  • 1 box wire brads (#18 x 5/8″)
  • hammer
  • clear waterproof polyurethane (or another wood sealer)
  • paintbrush
  • clamp



1. If your lumber wasn’t cut for you, use a saw to cut a 6″ length off of your 4″ x 6″ board. Sand it down slightly just to remove rough spots, but don’t do a full sand. Clamp the piece onto a stable surface and mark where you want your cubby holes to go. I did alternating rows of 4, 3 and 4, but you could also place them randomly or in a regular grid. Be sure to leave a 1″ border on all sides. Use your small drill bit to make guide holes.

2. Swap out your small drill bit for a 1/4″ boring bit and drill 3″ down into the wood at each marked dot.

3. Once all the holes are drilled, sand down the entire piece with several rounds of different grits: course, medium, fine — even extra fine if you want a super smooth finish.

4. Turn the piece upside down to empty the sawdust from the holes, and use a small scrap of sandpaper to smooth out the top of each hole. Hot tip: Tape or glue a strip of sandpaper around the base of a pencil or dowel: this makes a handy sanding tool for those hard-to-reach spots in the holes.

5. Once the piece is sanded, wipe it down with a cloth to remove any dust. Now you have a beautiful wood pencil block, and if you like it plain and simple, you could easily coat the piece with a clear sealant or wax and call it done. I wanted to add a little embellishment to mine, so I decided to create an organic nail pattern. To do this, simply draw a light pattern onto the wood (or eyeball it like I did) and carefully hammer in small nails one at a time. It seems tedious, but it goes fairly quickly, and it’s really fun to watch the pattern take shape.

I used a mix of brass escutcheon pins (basically really tiny nails) and silver wire brads (also another term for really tiny nails) for a mixed metal look. You want to make sure your nails are less than 1″ long so they don’t poke into any of your holes when you nail them into the wood. Because they are small, it’s quite hard to pull them out if you bend the nail at the last second, so go slowly and carefully and hammer straight down.

6. Once you are happy with the nail design, you can stain and/or seal the wood. I decided to stain my block with a water-based oak stain, then sealed the entire piece with waterproof polyurethane. If you are using this block for pens and pencils, the sealant is an optional step. However, you could also use this in the bathroom for toothbrushes, in which case you’ll want to waterproof the whole piece, including the holes. Allow the whole piece to dry overnight after staining and sealing.

You’re done! You can give the block away as a lovely holiday gift, or keep it all to yourself :)

Suggested For You


  • I love this. I struggle to come up with gift ideas for the men in my family but this could be the winner this year. The whole time I was reading this though I was envisioning using pieces of driftwood, most of the sanding would already be done for you too.

  • Would it work to add the nails *after* staining? I’m concerned about getting the stain on the nails.

    • You can definitely nail after staining! However, the stain does not stick to the nails, and will wipe right off with a cloth. So you can apply it before or after – whichever you prefer. Good luck!

  • This is amazing ! It looks so beautiful with the nail embellishments. I may give one to my grand father. Thanks for the idea ! (and the eye candy)

  • I like the way the embellishments highlight the natural woodgrain. Very cleverly done.

  • Awesome idea and it looks very high end! I like the staining idea to bring out the wood grain. I think the saw is going to see some action…thanx!

  • I love the wood, metal, organic and geometric all coming together in this beautifully functional piece. I may not have that many toothbrushes in my household of one but I certainly have a lot of colored pencils and pens!

  • How fun! I want to do this for some of my fountain pens, but wouldn’t want the wood to wear their finishes. Is it too difficult to add felt or something to buffer?