Thursday, May 19, 2011

wooden rainbow arches (a tutorial)

There were some requests for a post on making the rainbow arches, but as I am thousands of miles from my dad's woodshop, this will be a tutorial without the aid of photos. This is a straightforward project but does require special tools and a fair amount of patience. But the end result is a gorgeous, versatile heirloom toy.
These can be stacked in endless combinations.
They can be a spectacular play structure for tiny toys.

They can be used as tunnels, boats, to create mazes... so many possibilities!

Materials for a 12 arch rainbow:
  •  A 14" x 7 1/2" piece of hardwood, about 2 1/2" thick. Oak, Elm or Sycamore are some suitable options.
  • A drawing compass.
  • A Bandsaw. I asked my dad if a jigsaw could be used if one didn't have access to a bandsaw. He said that jigsaws typically wouldn't be powerful enough to make smooth cuts through such a thick piece of wood - the blade would bend and result in a slanted cut.
  • Sanding equipment. I used an Oscillating Spindle Sander and a Belt Sander, but plain old sandpaper will accomplish the same thing, just a lot more slowly.
  • Craft paintbrush.
  • Non-toxic liquid paints such as liquid watercolors.
  • Beeswax Polish. I purchased mine here.
Prep: Make sure your wood is squared before beginning.
Safety: Wear safety goggles and proper ear protection when using the bandsaw and sanders. Make sure they are in proper working order to ensure safe use.

Step 1. Use the drawing compass to draw a template of the arches on your wood.

Mark where the midpoint of the bottom of your board is.
 Place the point of the compass on the midpoint and draw a semi-circle with a 1" radius.
 Keeping the compass on the midpoint, increase the distance 1/2" at a time and draw a series of arcs, 12 total.
half template
 Step 2: Cut along the arches using the bandsaw.
  • Cut away the outside portion first.
  • Go slowly and steadily for smooth cuts.
  • Instead of simply pushing the wood through the blade, think of yourself as rotating the wood around the blade. This will help your cuts be smooth and your arches be uniform.
  • Start with the largest arch and work your way down to the smallest arch.
Step 3: Sand the arches
  • If using power sanders, gently and evenly rotate the arches along the sander.
    • Use a table belt sander to sand the outside of each arch.
    • Use an oscillating spindle sander to sand the inside of each arch.
  • If using sandpaper
    • Start with the coarsest grit (60) and sand all surfaces of the arches.
    • Use progressively finer grit (higher number) sandpaper on all the arches up to at least 220 grit.
  • Wipe the sawdust off the arches
Step 4: Paint/Dye the arches
  • If I had more time and more know how, I would have attempted to dye the arches using natural substances (e.g. berries, roots, etc.). I found some interesting tidbits about dyeing wood online, but decided to go the easy route and use paint in the interest of actually finishing this project!
  • I wanted the wood grain to show through the paint, so I thinned it a bit with water before applying it to the wood. I applied paint and let it dry, then applied more layers as needed to get the look I wanted. Because I allowed the grain to show through the colors were somewhat muted, but I liked the end result. Using more opaque paint would ensure brighter colors.
Step 5:  Protect with beeswax.
  • Apply beeswax with a soft cloth, working it into the wood.
  • Let dry.
  • Apply additional coats as desired
  • To maintain your arches, periodically reapply beeswax.


    1. You, my dear, need a woodshop/workshop!

    2. Hello,

      My name is Colleen and I am an assistant for Jaime and Jacinda at We absolutely LOVE this tutorial! Would you be interested in posting it as a guest tutorial on Prudent Baby?

      You can reach me at:

    3. I want to make this for my girls! I've made smaller arch type things and found that it needed to be more than 1/2" or else the pieces can kind of bend, or give, and feel like they could snap if you tried it. Did your come out ok with each arch being 1/2"? I haven't used such thick wood yet, so am thinking maybe if it's 2 1/2" thick it won't do that? What wood did you use? I have some beech. Also, on the little dollhouse puzzle one, I can't imagine my bandsaw getting the little curves under the chairs. Your dad's did? Oh, I so hope you reply to me, I'm desperate to start this but need to know if the 1/2" width ended up being ok or not! I couldn't find a way to contact you on your blog other than comments. Rachel

      1. Rachel - I think the 2 1/2" depth of the wood helps immensely in the stability. There was, unfortunately, a weak spot in the wood I used. After many times of being dropped on the floor, the two largest arches finally gave way along the weak spot - so very sad! If it weren't for the weak spot (my dad warned me about it but I didn't listen!) the 1/2" thickness would have been sufficient. Slightly thicker (5/8" or you could even go up to 3/4") would obviously make it even sturdier. I think any thicker, though, would be overkill.

        I used sycamore (thus the weak spot). I would think beech would work fine.

        The curves under the chairs were achieved with multiple cuts (i.e. cutting out triangular pieces or even straight pieces perpendicular to the curve). It was by no means a smooth cut and the underneath required a lot of sanding as a result.

        Good luck!

    4. Thanks so much! I made the rainbow with 3/4" arches and next I will tackle the house!

    5. Love it!! Had to pin. I've been wanting to make these, and a friend just got a band saw!

    6. Where did you purchase your wood? ive looked all over the internet after not finding it at lowes.but what would you expect form an east TX store...

      1. I have the same question. Did you ever find it?

    7. Where can I buy a piece of hardwood this thick? My local home improvement store only sells pieces of red oak that are under an inch thick. Thank You!

    8. Thanks so much for this tutorial. I generally can't bring myself to buy something I can make myself, and I really admire these stackers. I have a bandsaw and the willpower, and now, instructions!