Extreme Science: Penny Shine

What you will need:

  • 5 ½” long piece of 2x4 wood
  • 3 ½” nail or bolt
  • Table saw
  • Drill
  • Drill bit
  • Vise
  • Sandpaper
  • Small cooking pan
  • Stove
  • Water
  • Adult supervision

PLEASE NOTE:  this project requires the use of power tools and boiling hot water.  Use all safety gear and standard safety precautions before attempting.


  1. Three ½” wide slots 1 ¾” deep into your piece of wood as shown;

  2. Sand all edges smooth.
  3. In a small pan, place enough water to submerge one end of the wood as shown.

  4. Place pan on stove on high heat and boil water for at least ten minutes.
  5. Carefully remove wood from pan and turn off heat.
  6. Place the soaked end of your wood into a vise and clamp as shown.

  7. After six hours, remove wood from vise.  The wood should remain compressed as shown;

  8. Drill a hole large enough to fit your nail or bolt through the two center pieces of wood as shown;

  9. Insert your nail or bolt through the hole as shown;

  10. Place a rubber band around your nail and wood as shown to hold it up out of the way for the next step.

  11. Stand your piece of wood back into the pot of boiling water the same way you did in the beginning, submerging the compressed end in boiling water to allow the wood to return to its’ original shape.  This typically takes about ten to fifteen minutes.Remove the rubber band and sand your completed wood puzzle smooth.


What is going on?

People have used hot water to manipulate wood for centuries making snow shoes and furniture for example.  By placing the wood into the boiling water we can increase the moisture content to allow us to compress the wood without causing significant damage.  After six hours in the vise, the moisture content decreased and the wood remained in its compressed state.  By placing the wood back into the boiling water, the wood returns to its original position as the moisture content rose.  I always enjoy watching as people try to figure out how you were able to place the nail or bolt into the wood, let alone drill the holes when they see that it is a solid piece of wood that has not been cut.

Try this:

Think of different objects that can be placed into the wood other than the typical nail or bolt….  The possibilities are endless.

Radical Rick

Extreme Science



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