The Clipboard

The decades-old clipboard leaned against the old stereo equipment stand in my den. I had recently tucked a few reminders of what needed prompt attention–some Russian Cyrillic cursive practice, Russian vocabulary drills, and a “Human Rights Campaign” bumper sticker. (The bumper sticker was on top because I want to send a contribution to the HRC.) I picked up the clipboard and pondered the textures and colors of its materials. My mind drifted nostalgically to it origins.

The item was the mandatory Industrial Arts project I crafted during the tenth grade wood-shop segment of the class. We students were given oak and walnut boards and a spring-loaded clip. The month-long assignment was to construct an attractive clipboard. We were given the required final dimensions of each slat along with the final length, width, and thickness of the assembled project.

We learned basic safety lessons for powered table saws and the hand tools we needed to use to shape the pieces. We used hand planes and sanding blocks to bring the slats within the required parameters. Wood glue, I think it was Elmer’s Glue, was used to join the slats. They were kept in place by using a large wooden clamp.

With the pieces firmly attached to each other, each corner was rounded for aesthetic and safety reasons. If memory serves me correctly, I traced a 25-cent piece as the template for the corners. After the corners were trimmed, it was time to sand the project with various grades of sandpaper installed on a sanding block. With the sanding complete, we were given the option of using varnish or shellac. I applied two coats of shellac with light sanding in between the coats. After the finish had cured for a day, I drilled two shallow pilot holes for the short wood screws to attach the spring-loaded clip. I was pleased with the completed clipboard and so was the shop teacher.

I paid the required project fee out of my own pocket because I made the clipboard for dad. I gave it to him as a gift the following Christmas. He must have liked the clipboard because he regularly used it until his dying day. Dad enjoyed figuring “back of the envelope” calculations with envelopes held firmly in place with the clip. Sometimes he doodled and sketched highway construction profiles that he was developing. There were small drawings of ditches, intersections, culvert excavations, and bridge approaches.

Dad’s favorite projects were bridges. Each bridge had different requirements and dimensions. He particularly loved to design truss bridges because the geometric, triangular elements were open overhead for drivers to see. He had to figure the proper proportions of compression and tension to ensure the integrity and strength of the bridge. He sketched the triangular shapes and wrote the mathematical formulae along the margins of the paper.

Dad never wrote cursive except for his signature and initials. He prefered printing because drafting blueprints required printed words not cursive. Dad had the neatest, most precise handwriting of anyone I personally knew. Mundane communication by personal letters and memos were all written in dad’s blueprint style of printing. Oddly enough, dad’s signature had the approximate appearance of a truss bridge’s side profile.

As I hold the old clipboard in my hands, I feel the joins of the slats; they’re still level without ridges. The shellac finish remains silky smooth to the touch. The spring-loaded clip is tarnished and needs cleaning. It’s oddly comforting to once again own the clipboard. It’s a reminder of dad plus it’s a handy artifact that is still quite useful today.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 19th century English engineer, John Fowler. “Engineers are not mere technicians and should not approve or lend their name to any project that does not promise to be beneficent to man and the advancement of civilization.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Contemplation, Meanderings, Transportation, Youth and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Clipboard

  1. Pingback: The Clipboard - MOODY STORIES

  2. Watts Nexx says:

    Wonderful memories beautifully connected allowing us to share. Thanks.

  3. I made a vertical paper towel holder in 8th grade shop class that is still in the family. I can relate a bit to the sentimental value your clipboard posses and the pride you have in the way you made it (I don’t have such detailed recollections) and how it was used by your dad. Incidentally, a woman was our shop teacher. That was highly unusual in those days and maybe even today.

    • swabby429 says:

      A female shop teacher would be a great addition to our school system. We did have the option to substitute six-weeks of shop for the girls’ Home-Economics in place of six of the shop’s share. This all seems so quaint and sexist today. In hindsight, I wish I’d have taken the six-week Home-Ec option.

  4. What a great memory, and a well made clipboard! Maggie

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