In 2013, two traditions converge for a once-in-a lifetime event. The American holiday of Thanksgiving falls on the first day of the Jewish festival Hanukkah, and many are calling it “Thanksgivukkah.” This hasn’t happened since 1888. Because the Jewish calendar and the Gregorian calendar don’t match day-for-day or month-for-month, it’s projected this occurrence won’t happen again for a few thousand years. Which means we need to take full advantage of this rare moment.
One of the central elements of Hanukkah is the menorah: a holder for nine candles (one for each day of the festival and an additional candle to light the others - called the “shamash” or helper). Menorahs can be made of many different materials including wood, metal or glass. But this is Thansgivukkah, and I wanted to bring some American tradition to the piece of functional art. Thus was born the decorative corn menorah.
Step 1 - Begin With the Base(ics)
I started with a 3-foot length of 1x4 poplar. I knew that the decorative corn was roughly 1 ¼-inches in diameter and I needed nine areas for candles, so I measured 2 inches in from one side of the board, then marked each point for a corn cob, giving 1-inch distance between them. Once those marks were in place and I knew my overall length of board needed, I used a jigsaw to ease one end to a simple curve and cut a simple handle at the back.
Now that I had a rough shape for the wood, I could get to work on the detailing. A router bit carved a decorative ogee along the top edge. I drilled pilot holes for 1-inch #6 screws that will stand proud of the top edge of the board and give me something to affix the corn cobs to. Then came the sanding. And more sanding, using progressively finer grits, until the board was smooth all around. This was especially important around the curves, where the wood grain tends to pull up.
All that sanding paid off when it was time to apply a stain-and-seal to the wood. I did three coats, sanding between each, until the wood warmed to a nice gloss. I drove the screws through the bottom of the board, and it was ready for the corn.
Step 2 - Cut Your Corn Cobs
I knew I’d need a saw with a very thin kerf to get as clean a cut as possible on the corn. An oscillating multi-tool was perfect for this because of the fine blade and fast vibrating action. I removed the tip of the corn so I had a flat surface to start with, then cut roughly 1 ½-inch pieces from the corn.
The kernels were very hard and instead of being cut by the saw, they tore from the cob and ricocheted around my work area. But when the dust settled, I had my eight standard height candle holders. The shamash is traditionally taller than the other candles, so I cut its cob at approximately 2 ½-inches.
Step 3 - Final Assembly
Measuring off the bottom diameters of the candles I was to use, I selected a ¼-inch drill bit and put shallow holes in the tops of all the corn cobs. They’re mostly pulp in the middle, so this process was easy. Same went for seating them on the screws sticking up from the board.
The menorah was complete. All it needed was candles to be lit, starting at the first sundown of Hanukkah. And the menorah was ready for the Thanksgiving table as well, perfectly fitting that traditional autumnal decor.