Making Wooden Vertical Blinds General Woodworking

Vertical blinds. Yes, the 90’s are back!
To be perfectly honest, I was never a fan. Especially the really cheap thin plastic ones that became so common. However, they do have their place and can look good under the right circumstances.

This is the window in my living and as you can see, it faces out onto a fairly busy street:

My preference would be to leave it as it is – uncovered – and let as much natural light in as possible. But there are times when some privacy would be nice, so I though that vertical blinds would be a good solution.

The Slats

This has been something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time and I figured the biggest stumbling block would be making slats that are flat enough. My original idea was to use very clear spruce construction lumber that has been drying for at least a year. And keep my fingers crossed that they didn’t turn into hockey sticks when I cut them, or after they are hanging for a while. Another option would be a more stable hardwood like poplar, but that would involve a two hour trip to a lumber supplier that carries it. The idea was to paint the blinds white, so the look of the wood itself wouldn’t matter.

Then I thought that maybe a better way to go would be to use a better quality hardwood and just clear finish it. I have ash and that has a nice light colour and has good stability, so I picked out five boards:

Now, I’ll confess that these are not the best that I had. In fact, I deliberately selected some of the worst ones from a stack of twenty for this. My main criteria was flatness. Especially flatness over half the length, since I would be cutting these boards in half.

After cutting them in half, I ripped them down the middle to produce twenty pieces. I then made a shallow cut on each edge on the table saw to guide a freehand cut on the band saw:

The reason for the cut was to try to get a more straight reference for the band saw cut. Some of these were bent a bit farther than I’d like and the guide cut worked to flatten those as much as possible. The target thickness was 3/8″ and these boards started off 1-1/8″ thick, so not a lot of leeway.

A better approach would be to use twice as much wood and joint each slat perfectly flat before planing them down to the correct thickness. My frugality and distaste for wasting good wood prevents me from doing that, though.

After the resaw:

There are three groups of flat, here: nearly flat, slightly bent and almost too bent. At this point they are close to 1/2″ thick, so running them through the jointer to improve the flatness is not an option – there would be enough left on the ends.

So I ran them all through the planer to get them down to an even 3/8″ thick:

I know, they look good in this photo, but at least 1/3 of them are too bent to be used. But I have a trick to try that might save them.

But before that I need to cut them to the right width – 2-1/2″. To make the first cut as straight as possible, I made a quick extension for my table saw fence from a piece of 2×2:

It just hooks into the front using a plywood bracket:

I ran all of the slats through on one edge with this, then took it off and cut the other edge to the correct width. Some ended up being just slightly less than 2-1/2″, but still perfectly usable.

Or, usable if I can get the bend taken out. Here’s my first attempt:

I wet the concave side (facing down), then put weight in the middle to bend them the other way. The idea is that the water will soften the wood and allow it to stretch and after it dries, it’ll stay that way. Classic wood bending technique.

That first try was successful for a few slats, but there were ones that were more stubborn. The next day I tried again, but this time I put the wet side up (in the hot sun) and bowed the ends down:

I wet the pieces several times and left them to dry all day. And while they weren’t perfectly flat, they were flat enough. They matched the ones that were slightly bent.
I should mention that I started with forty slats and only need thirty four, so could reject six.

The Mechanism

All the while I was working on the slats, I’d been thinking about the mechanism that operates the blinds – makes them rotate to open and close. My original idea was to make it like the plastic ones, totally enclosed in a box at the top. But then I decided that I could make these a lot more interesting (interesting blinds – that’s a thing) if I left the mechanism exposed. And rather than one long one, I could divide it into three, one for each window unit.

To start, I made the hangers from a 3/4″ dowel I made on my router table (details in the build video below):

I used a dado blade and a simple fixture to hold the parts while cutting the slot. The slot is just a bit more than 3/8″, for a fairly loose fit on the slats.

Making the parts look interesting consumed a lot of time. Here I’m sanding one of the racks on my newly rebuild spindle sander:

The video below shows a lot of the details on making the individual parts for the mechanism. After each one was done, I took it outdoors and sprayed on two coats of water based polyurethane finish.

With all of the parts made I brought them in and installed them in the opening:

It is exceedingly difficult to get a good picture showing how these look. I had to set up three very bright lights in the room to get this one:

And I’m happy with how they turned out and very happy with how they work. I like how they fit into the window opening and not out on the wall – it gives them the very custom look they deserve.

How long did this project take? I worked on these for a week, but not steady. The slats were the biggest part, especially trying to straighten the ones that were too bent. Making the linkages less fancy would have shaved a couple of hours off, but I think the end result is worth the extra time.

Here’s the full build video showing more of the details: