How to Make a Guillotine Model for a School Project

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Things You'll Need

  • 2 feet of 1/4-inch-thick wood

  • 10-inch piece of 1-inch wide by 1/8-inch-thick balsa wood

  • Razor knife

  • Square

  • Sandpaper or disc sander

  • Small clamps

  • Wood glue

  • Picture nails

  • Small hammer

  • Hand drill

  • Round toothpick cut in half with end points trimmed away

  • Light string

The guillotine is an easy historical device to make a mini version for a school project.

The guillotine was not actually invented by Dr. Joseph Guillotine, a French doctor and lawmaker who in 1790 pushed for a more humane method of execution. Whether you believe a guillotine is humane, building one as a school project is one example of simple and effective engineering. Basic tools and a bit of skill in measuring and construction are required, and you can have a working mini version of this device in a few hours.


Step 1

Cut the pieces for the base frame and lay them out to check for fit. You will need two 4-inch rails for the sides, one 4-inch bar for the front and a 1 1/2-inch rear bar. Use the razor knife and sand away any rough areas on the ends. Lay the rear bar at the end of the 4-inch side rails. Lay the front bar across the side rails on the top 1 1/2 inches in from the ends. Glue the pieces together and use the picture nails to tack them together.

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Step 2

Cut four small upright posts to hold the table top, each at 1 1/2 inches long. Glue and nail into the inside corners of the frame you made.

Step 3

Cut two 6-inch uprights for the blade posts. Using the square, draw a line down the center of one vertical side of each upright; cut a channel with your razor knife along this line 1/8 of an inch deep and wide. This will be the channel for the blade. Cut two pieces of 1 1/2-inch wood to use as spreaders. Glue them to the uprights at the top and bottom and clamp together to dry.


Step 4

Use the square to mark a 60-degree angle on four support pieces; lay them against the upright frame. Cut them so you have six pieces: four 2-inch posts with an angled cut at the top end, and two pieces 4 inches long with an angle at one end. Set the upright frame in place on top of the base frame on the long front spreader bar you glued on top of the two side rails. Glue and nail the four 2-inch supports to the back and sides, and the two 4-inch supports in the front, all leaning into and bracing the uprights.


Step 5

Cut 6 inches of the balsa wood piece and glue to the frame for the table top.

Step 6

Cut a blade from the remaining balsa wood. Use a three-piece design and cut two smaller bracket pieces, then an angled blade that you sandwich and glue between them. The bracket pieces should be a half-inch long; the blade point should be 1 inch below the bracket bottom when they are glued together, so cut it 1 1/2 inches and then cut the angle for the blade edge. Drill a small hole in the center near the top for the string. Drill a small hole in the side with the long side of the blade for the release pin.


Step 7

Create a stock for the bottom where the blade meets the table top between the uprights. Cut two pieces of the 1/4-inch-thick wood at 1 1/2 inches long. Cut two very small pieces to fit between them at the outer edges, making an open slot for the blade to slide into. Cut a half-circle on the bottom edge of each side for the stock. Trim the edges to fit neatly between the uprights before gluing together. Glue the two outer pieces with the two small side wedges at the ends, clamp together and let dry.


Step 8

Drill three small holes for the blade mechanism: one in the center of the top bar on the upright; one in the left side upright just below the top edge; and the third on the right side down near the table top. Place half of the toothpick in this lower hole; glue in place. Run the string down through the top upright. Now place it through the hole you drilled on the blade and make a loop; tie a knot at the top. Tie it off on the outside of the upright to the toothpick.

Step 9

Lift the blade to the top and put the toothpick in place through the side upright and into the blade. Pull the pin to release the blade.


Always wear safety glasses and gloves when working on wood projects.


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