wooden sunglassesWhen ever I start some kind of a different woodworking project that I have never attempted before, I have learned that making a prototype or working model of the object is a great way to learn about how to build it. And this is the case with making Sunglasses. I have never attempted to make sunglasses with wooden frames, but have always wanted to do do this. I have seen them - rarely - so I know it can be done but have no idea what the pitfalls might be.  The first thing I need is lenses and the quickest and easiest place for me to acquire sunglass lenses is ... you guess it one of the Dollar Stores. I picked out a pair of sunglasses, that looked to me, like they would be something I could work with. Fairly flat lenses 9or so I thought) and not fancy. Something actor Jack Nicholson would wear - how could I go wrong with that?

I had given this project a fair bit of thought and I theorized that I could pop the existing lenses out of the frames, then use the frames as a template to make the new wooden frames. It all worked in my head, too bad it didn't quite work in practice.


After spending a couple of hours making a jig to hold the sunglass frames, which I would then use a patterning bit in my router table to easily make the inside of the frames, I had made myself a beautiful jig that anyone would be proud of ...

... then came that time of putting the jig into action. The first side on the patterning went fine but the second side did not. Near the end of the cut the bearing on the router bit, which has a fair bit of vertical play - decided to ride up over the very thin plastic frames, making the lens hole too large to fit the sunglass lenses I had popped out earlier.

Well ... that didn't work, but that why we make prototypes, models and mock-ups, to see how it will work and what might go wrong.

Next - Plan B
I will simple place the sunglass lenses on the wood that needs to be cut out and draw around them. This will require some measurements to make sure the lenses are positioned properly, and that is what I did.

Next .. the holes where the lenses need to go need to be cut out, first I drill a hole in the wood where the lenses will go, then cut them out with the scroll saw, being careful to leave a little bit of wood so the lenses will have something to bite into ... and, in fact I will need to make a slot all the way around the inside of where the lenses need to go so they will have an area to pop into in the new wooden frames.

After the holes are carefully cut away and sanded to nicely accept the frames, next I need to cut the grooves where the lenses will fit. I used my rotary tool for this and I must say, it worked well carving away a nice slot suitable for the frames.

Unfortunately, the plastic lenses, do not want to fit into the grove and after putting on my magnifying glasses, I see why. When the lenses are laid on  flat surface, they are not flat ... far from it there are huge gaps on three sides which makes them exceeding difficult to try an put into the grove. The lenses are just too ridgid to stay, so ... Plan B-2 - I need to cut a rabbet that the lenses will fit into, then I can fasten them in once they fit better.

I spend another ... hmmm, well ... long time carefully carving the inside of the glasses and finally the lenses fit ... kind of.

By now the novelty of making wooden sunglasses is wearing thin, and ... I have also now decided that because the first piece of wood had to be abandoned after the router bit carved a bigger hole and I selected the Holly wood, which has very fine, almost imperceptible grain ... in fact, it looks like white plastic.  Doesn't even look like wood, which was the whole purpose.

The last 2 steps seemed easy ... now that the lenses fit, all I had to do was make the wooden frames thicker, to look like glasses. And now I understand why we have eye glass designers. They simply don't take compass and draw the thick line around the wood to make the frames which is what I did.

When I gave my new wood frame a critical look ... I had to laugh at myself ... honestly these are the worst looking sunglasses I have ever seen. So bad that after cutting out the arms for the frames I decide it wasn't even worth making the wooden hinges for it.

In the end, I had fun making these and actually learned a lot, but even more it gave me a new appreciation for people who do make wooden sunglasses because they probably went through much the same process as I did, and reminded me the value of mock-ups, modeling and prototyping.

Copyright - Colin Knecht