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Project Idea: Karate Belt Display

by Forrest Bonner
Huntington Beach, CA

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

My two grandchildren have been taking karate for quite some time now. They just earned their Junior Black Belt so I thought it appropriate to build a display for them to show all their belts.

Searching the web for ideas I rather liked this one.

Using SketchUp I designed a similar unit that would be easy to build. As you will see at the end with all the belts attached, I somehow misunderstood the number of belts: they have 10 belts each, not 13.

Poplar was my choice of wood since it is inexpensive, machines well, and painting is planned.

In chalking out the pieces there were, as usual, some spots that you don't want to use. My lumber supplier makes allowance for bad spots in calculating board feet.

With all the pieces marked up it was time to cut the long boards into more easily handled pieces.

The rough boards were ripped and then crosscut to approximate size.

The result was 25 pieces including spares. The cross members where the belts will be tied were left double-long to make thickness sizing less work at the planer.

All the rough pieces were taken down to within about 1/8-inch of final thickness after jointing.

They were then stickered and left for three weeks to adjust a bit to my 'shop.' Room is an issue that generally keeps me down to no more than two projects at a time. Each night my wife's car goes where you see the planer. Well, it is left outside a few times a year.

After jointing again and planing down to final thickness it's off to the table saw to cut everything to proper length.

All of the thin strips that are in red in the SketchUp picture were to be half-lapped for strength. A jig on my table saw sled allowed me to very accurately cut each half-lap. The piece that the strip is resting against in this picture below is a precisely sized shim to control the width of the joint: make one cut with the shim, remove it, move the strip against the stop, cut the other end, then cleanout anything in between.

All of the holes for attaching screws were drilled and countersunk before cutting the half-lap joints.

The pieces are now ready to do first assembly for fit-check.

Each half-lap joint will be secured by a slightly shortened #8 by 1/2-inch screw, so those positions were marked to allow me to use a tapered drill for maximum thread engagement. The strips are only 1/2–inch square which means I get slightly less than 1/4-inch thread engagement.

The only #8 by 1/2-inch screw in my shop was a silicon-bronze square head. All other screws are Phillips-head brass.

Each cross member is attached to the spine with two #8 screws. I put spacer blocks in between them and aligned the ends against a stop block attached to my table.

Everything fit! The name banner head was not yet done since that was a difficult task given that I wanted filled-letters but had no CNC router available.

The strips were painted flat red after assembly to fill any gaps. The entire displays were going to be dis-assembled so they could more readily be shipped. Yes, unfortunately, my grandchildren live all the way across the country.

After painting the belt holders, I attached one belt using hook-and-loop ties on each end.

Then the thought hit me that I couldn't remember during the design phase whether or not I had left sufficient room for multiple turns of the belts at each end of the horizontal mounting pieces.

Fortunately I had.

I planned to hand rout the names into the banners so I needed a way to write the characters. I solved that problem by printing the reversed names from the SketchUp file on to Avery Easy Peel Address Labels with the labels all removed.

I learned this from a Steve Ramsey video .

And it works nicely.

I used a Whiteside SC 39 Round Nose bit in my router and followed the letters as best I could. This was one of my many practice sessions. I was down about 1/8-inch.

After routing the banners, I made a template of the final shape and used it to mark each banner and cut the waste on my bandsaw.

The curved top was smoothed with a spokeshave as I had done to smooth the template.

Both banners were painted flat black after routing and sanding.

The paint in the letters was removed with my Foredom to provide a clear wood surface for the epoxy to stick.

The letters were filled with a long cure epoxy diluted with an oil base gloss white paint.

A disposable syringe with a fine-cut nozzle was used to inject the epoxy/paint mix into the letters. I ruined one banner by putting in too much epoxy which, when settled, spread over the area outside of the letters.

So I carefully added just a bit of epoxy/paint and used a thin metal probe to push it into location. If more mixture was needed, that was much better than too much to begin with.

They turned out just fine. The font is a Korean–based Nanum Brush Script chosen since karate came from Asia.

The displays were dis-assembled and each mating surface was marked so re- assembly would get back to the original. I packaged everything needed to re- assemble: pieces, screws, hook-and-loop, and the hardware to hang them on the wall.

The package was shipped off to South Carolina and on a visit a few weeks later we put them together and added the ten (not thirteen!) belts. They are continuing their karate lessons so I think that I will, in the future, have a shot at correcting things.

Happy Girls!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email Forrest at

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