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I intend on using a band saw to cut out large meeples (the wooden pieces from the board game Carcassonne) from a 2x4 board. I'm worried about cutting my fingers.

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What tool can I use to help keep my fingers out of harm's way? I've noticed push sticks, but the only ones I can find are push sticks that help you re-saw boards with a band saw. Is there a similar tool to help protect your fingers as you guide the board to cut out shapes?

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chain main gauntlets! –  Tony Aug 5 at 19:17
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Having been subjected to this awful game, I feel the need to point out that the answers so far seem to be focused on the square game pieces but the question is about safely cutting out the tiny figurines atop them in the photo. –  ArgentoSapiens Aug 5 at 20:18
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Gloves are only for the suicidal. Either the saw will cut right through them, or it will pull your entire hand into the saw, or if they do truly resist the cut, will cause the saw to block. In that case, you'll possibly have the snapped sawband moving at 15-20 meters per second come flying towards your face, which is no fun. High power saws (like bandsaws, circular saws, or chain saws) cut through human bodies at insane speed before you even realize. Never have any part of your body closer to a power saw closer than 10-15 cm. No excuses. If the part is too small, use a coping saw. –  Damon Aug 6 at 17:49
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Just go to meeplesource.com and buy some blank meeples. –  Jim Green Aug 7 at 17:04
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@Tony: You say that as if it's a joke, but I've actually seen chainmail gloves sold as hand protection for chopping vegetables. As Damon says, it's not the best of ideas when working with power tools, but when the blade in question is held in your other hand, that's actually a very good way to protect the gripping hand. –  Mason Wheeler Aug 7 at 18:10

10 Answers 10

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Create a jig to hold the pieces in position for the various cuts. The jig will allow to maintain a safe distance from the blade and if designed well will give you a secure grip on the piece being cut.

Also try to design your cuts for mass production. For example cut the gap between the legs and around the heads while all the pieces are still one long piece of wood. Then cut the gaps under the arms and free each piece from the strip at the same time. You may want to consider leaving 4-6 inches of uncut wood at each end of the strip to give you something to hold on to while cutting the last piece on the strip. When freeing pieces from the strip start in the middle and work each half of the strip to your 4-6" handle.

I've included an image of the cuts I would plan, and a simple diagram of a jig to hold the piece while cutting.

Meeple Jig Diagram

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+1: Great idea for the jig design, and an awesome, very clear illustration! –  Doresoom Aug 7 at 13:40
    
wow, thanks for the illustration. So many awesome answers it was hard to choose one. :) –  townsean Aug 7 at 14:00

Do not wear gloves while using a bandsaw (or any powered saw, drill press, or planer for that matter). The gloves will give you a false sense of security and do very little to protect your hands. In fact, they may end up getting your fingers pulled into the blade if the material catches. Which would you prefer: a cut fingertip, or a mangled hand?

The best way to protect your hands is to be very deliberate about every movement you make around the saw, and keep your hands away from the blade by using a push stick or push block. If the cuts you are making are simple straight lines, get a miter gauge that slides along the miter slot that is present in most band saw tables.

Assorted Push Sticks:

enter image description here

Miter Gauge:

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EDIT:

After a clarification from @ArgentoSapiens, I realized you're looking to cut the smaller person-shaped game pieces and not the board tiles. The way those are most likely cut in the factory would be with a router table and specialized router bits. Stock would be fed through to create one very long "extruded" meeple which could then be cross cut into many smaller pieces that are only 1" or so thick. You could probably do this with just a few router bits if you've already got a router and a table. This would be a much faster and safer way of doing it.

If you don't have a router and router table, then I suggest using a band saw or scroll saw as you planned. However, don't cut the stock into roughly "meeple" sized pieces first. Plan on wasting a lot of wood for safety's sake ($3 for another 2x4 is well worth keeping all of your fingers intact). Keep each work piece attached to a larger chunk of wood that you can use to safely feed the rest of it into the band saw. Then when you have all the detail work completed, finish up by making one last cut to sever the finished piece from the larger chunk of wood.

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+1 for the bare hands! It's really easy for the blade to snag a loop of fabric and pull your hand in... –  bitsmack Aug 5 at 19:43
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+1 for routing to produce the extruded meeple. I suspect that just a couple of common bits combined with multiple passes are all it would take. Given the need to make more than two of them, that seems like the right way to approach the problem. –  RBerteig Aug 6 at 21:48
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+1. I'd further suggest using an abrasive tool to make any fine cuts or touch-ups after the meeple are cut from the larger piece. A small sanding drum might give a burn, but it won't remove a finger. –  Phil Frost Aug 7 at 11:33

Don't. Use a coping saw with a very low profile or spiral blade. Woodworking small enough pieces to worry about your fingers means it'd be just as easy with a hand saw. Doresoom's edit about routing is most likely how they are factory produced.

enter image description here

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A fine choice for someone without a scroll saw. It takes some practice of course. If you're making a fair number of these, get a good one and don't skimp on the blades. –  Tony Ennis Aug 6 at 1:32
    
@Tony ah, I missed your first line. I was searching for those blades for a band saw, totally forgot about scroll saws. –  Mazura Aug 6 at 1:48

For cutting meeples, I would not use a band saw. I would use a scroll saw. Unless you have an insanely narrow bandsaw blade you won't be able to navigate the turns. An option is to use a drill press to bore out the armpit and crotch area of the meeples. You could probably use the bandsaw to remove the rest of the waste.

If you insist on using the bandsaw, you must be sure there is no way a meeple (merpon?) can get between the blade and the hole in the table where the blade passes. If the area is large, clamp down a temporary zero-clearence table. To make one, get a square piece of plywood that's about the size of the bandsaw's table. Run it halfway through the saw. Stop the saw. Clamp the plywood in place. Now there is no room for your work to get wedged. I have been hit in my safety glasses my work falling into my bandsaw and inexplicably being shot at me.

Just how large are these meeples?

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I wanted the meeples to be roughly 3" x 3". I thought about a scroll saw, but I thought 2" material was too thick for the saw. –  townsean Aug 7 at 13:51
    
Them's some large meeples. You'll be ok with drilling out the arm pits and other 'tight' spaces, and removing the waste with the bandsaw. You probably won't need the zero-clearance insert though you can't go wrong by having one. Always wear safety glasses in the shop. –  Tony Ennis Aug 7 at 17:04

Actually, the way the manufacturer probably makes these is to run them through a moulding die so you get one long meeple, then you cut the meeples off at the thickness you want them. You could emulate the moulding die by make the cuts I labelled above using a table saw with the blade tilted (you can then use a push-stick to push your stock through safely), then put the blade at 90 degrees, set your fence the desired thickness from the blade and slice off a few dozen meeples. (what Doresoom said earlier; I was so wrapped up in my edits I didn't see Doresoom's great answer)

Long Meeple

Boardgame Geek http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/675992/how-are-meeples-manufactured has a forum thread were people guessed this method for manufacturing them. Unfortunately there was no practical guidance, they tended to get rather fanciful...

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If your fingers are getting too close to a tool, it's time for a jig. If I was going to try to do this with a bandsaw, I'd consider putting the piece I was working in a screw clamp. That would give you a larger object to manipulate, keeping your fingers away from the workpiece... and if you cut into the screw clamp that's not a disaster; they're wood so they won't hurt the blade, and they're fairly cheap (or cheap to cut new jaws for).

I agree that the manufacturers probably use router bits to cut these shapes. If I was going to go that route I'd design things so I was cutting not just an "extruded" man but a whole bunch of men hand-to-hand. Again, that gives you a larger object to manipulate and reduces risk. Then come back and rip that into sticks (the "extruded" shape Doresoom mentioned) and then crosscut at the bandsaw into individual men.

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+1 for the screw clamp. You'll waste less scrap that way if you're cutting more expensive stock. –  Doresoom Aug 5 at 22:40

Do not use a band saw. It will not come out well. You could consider a scroll saw, but I would not use that either if it was me.

The proper technique:

  1. Draw or print the figure on paper, cut it out
  2. Paste paper on a stiff piece of sheet metal
  3. Use tin snips to cut out the metal template
  4. Use a mill file to smooth the edges of the metal template
  5. Cut square blanks from 2 ft lengths of a 4x4 using the band saw (cut across the grain)
  6. Pencil the outline of the meeple using the template on the wood, endgrain up
  7. Use a chisel to cut off slabs along the line
  8. Sand using files and sand paper
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The template could also be made of plastic, plexiglass, masonite, thin plywood or other materials. –  Dennis Williamson Aug 6 at 15:35

Hand tools are definitely the way to go. A Dremel type tool or hand router may be used for fine work. If you need to do larger quantities, find a laser or water jet cutter in your neighbourhood.

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I strongly second the laser cutter idea. Fast and neat. And if you've never done it before -- here's a chance to find a maker-space type place where one is available near you. –  gwideman Aug 7 at 7:06
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there is a maker-space near me. I may consider that as I will need 30 large versions of these meeples. –  townsean Aug 7 at 13:55

I would protect my fingers by keeping them away from the blade. when I use my chop saw, I hold the piece I'm cutting by keeping it long and only cutting off the far end. It might call for sacrificing a little material since the last 4–5 inches is too short to safely cut that way.

For example, to cut squares for a checkerboard or chessboard, let's say I want to cut 32 one inch squares from a 2 inch wide board. I would cut down the middle of it to make a pair of one inch wide boards, then keep cutting off the ends of those until I have 32 squares.

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There's another option that's a good compromise between the overkill of a powerful band saw and the slowness of hand tools that others have suggested.

A band saw is going to be fast and offer you nice straight cuts but come on... Even after safety, consider how many separate cuts you're going to have to make on these little guys.

Personally I'd opt for using a scroll saw with an omnidirectional spiral blade. If you're not familiar with them, they're essentially a blade that buzzes up and down in a fixed position and you move the wood around them.

That does mean the output will be less accurate than some other tooling but that's not always a bad thing, especially when you're dealing with little characters like this.

enter image description here

You can injure yourself on them but if you use the guard you're reasonably looking at losing a bit of fingernail instead of slipping and losing a hand.

The machines are very cheap but you'll probably get through a few blades.

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Referring to other users here as 'wussy' is unnecessary. Being safety conscious is not a bad thing. A shame, too, because otherwise your answer is exactly what I was thinking. –  The Evil Greebo Aug 8 at 13:13

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