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How to Make a Guillotine for Middle School

Updated February 21, 2017

Middle school students are often assigned guillotine construction projects in social studies while studying French history or in science as an example of a simple machine. Children need adult supervision when working with power tools and sharp objects. Creating a functioning miniature guillotine is inexpensive and requires minimal skills, but patience and concentration are essential. Impress teachers by demonstrating the guillotine's ability to replicate its intended purpose by placing small pieces of paper under the blade and slicing through.

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  1. Cut three 4-inch sections and a 2-inch piece for the base frame. Assemble the pieces with the short side as the rear, and secure with wood glue and finishing nails.

  2. Cut four 2-inch posts, and nail one against each inside corner of the base frame to construct the guillotine posts. Secure with wood glue.

  3. Cut two 6-inch sections for the blade track. Create the blade channels by carving a line through the centre of each section approximately 1/8 inch in width and depth. Glue a 2-inch piece of wood to the top and bottom of both track pieces, and clamp together until dry.

  4. Cut four 2-inch sections of wood and two 4-inch pieces. Set the mitre saw blade angle at 60 degrees and cut one end of each piece.

  5. Set the blade track assembly on the base frame. Attach the 2-inch angled supports against the back and sides of the blade track assembly, and lean the 4-inch supports on each blade channel piece to brace the blade track. Nail and glue all the pieces together.

  6. Cut a 6-inch piece of balsa wood to serve as the table top, and glue to the frame.

  7. Drill a hole in the centre of the top piece of the blade track assembly and a hole in each blade channel side approximately 1/4 inch below the top edge. Insert a short dowel through one of the side holes. The dowel should barely touch the sides of the blade track so it travels smoothly.

  8. Tie the ceiling fan cord around the middle of the dowel, and glue a razor blade across the dowel with the blade side pointed down. String the cord through the hole in the top piece and pull tight. Line up the blade edges in the channels.

  9. Release the blade until it reaches the balsa wood. Knot the ceiling fan cord so the blade will not drop too far on release. Pull the blade back to the top and insert a toothpick in one side hole to keep the blade in position until released.

  10. Tip

    If the dowel does not stay balanced, tie the ceiling fan cord around both ends and thread through the centre hole to operate as a single line.

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Things You'll Need

  • 1-by-4 inch wood beams
  • Mitre saw
  • Drill
  • Razor blade
  • 2 clamps
  • Wood glue
  • Hammer
  • Finishing nails
  • Balsa wood
  • Dowel rod
  • Ceiling fan cord
  • Toothpick

About the Author

Adelaide Tresor

Adelaide Tresor has been a technical writer and book editor since 2006. Her work has been published by Thomson Reuters and Greenhaven Press, including several "At Issue" titles. Tresor holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and is also a certified teacher with experience in English, mathematics, chemistry, and environmental science. She currently teaches AP Physics.

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