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"An Homage To Our Home Town" - Wood Wall Art

author-gravatar CaberMan Sep 24, 2017

Our family just moved from Southern California to Kentucky. Having been born and raised myself (and our kids) in our home town, surrounded by family and friends, it was tough to leave for the horse-filled pastures of the Bluegrass State. Once we arrived in our new place, we had to make it feel like "home" - and what better way than to have my workshop helper (a.k.a. my oldest daughter) help with a wood project that would always remind us of our loved ones and our old port town back in So Cal!

Safety first - always use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), most importantly being safety glasses.

The objective of our project was to make an art piece out of wood, which would both be aesthetically pleasing, and symbolize both our (okay, my) love of woodworking as well as our family and friends back in our home town on the Southern California coastline. As a family, we chose to use a ship's wheel as a motif representing our port town; for the "art medium", I chose to use 4 rough wood pieces, squarely aligned horizontally and glued to each other without spaces.

Step 1: Prep

I already had wood suitable for use in my shop - these were already somewhat milled pieces, with a live edge on a few boards. I started the project by sanding all sides with 60 grit sandpaper, then 150 and 200 grit paper, then ultimately using a card scraper, with a focus on the sides of the boards - these would be glued and clamped together. 

Step 2: Glue-Up

Next, time to create the large canvas for our artwork using the wood. First, a tack cloth removed all of the sanding dust. Next, I smoothed a bead of glue along the side of each board, and aligned each board next to each other, and used F-clamps to provide clamping pressure during the glue-up. 

Step 3: Artwork

While the glue was drying, I printed out my ship's wheel. With Microsoft Paint, I took a simple image file and printed it out over 3 x 3 pages - blown up to print on 3 pages wide by 3 pages tall, or 9 pages total. This was the layout that fit perfectly on my four wood boards. To get the paper printout ready, I cut the margins off each of the paper printouts, then taped each together so it formed the large ship's wheel image. By spraying the backside of the large paper with 3M spray adhesive, I then centered and carefully smoothed the paper onto the wood during the glue-up, where it stayed in place.

The rest of the technique involved removing the negative space and using outdoor paint to color a silhouette around the actual ship's wheel. To achieve this, I used a pocketknife to trace and cut into the wood around every edge of the ship's wheel, which took some time. Once complete, I peeled away the rest of the paper (the negative space), so that only the wheel itself stayed on the wood. My workshop helper and I then mixed our background paint (navy blue), and applied to the wood with brush strokes from the center toward the outside of the wood; once painted as desired, I removed the paper template very carefully to preserve the outline of our ship's wheel, and allowed the wood glue-up and paint to dry overnight in the garage.

After 48 hours of drying (probably more than enough), I applied an off-white paint color to enhance details and create the appearance of light and depth, then let that coat dry overnight as well. The next night I applied several coats of amber-tinted shellac to the artwork side, as well as all other sides, to seal the wood (and prevent any critters, fungus, etc. from getting in or out), and let that dry overnight on painters' pyramids. After drying, all wood and paint took on an amber tone similar to BLO (with the white paint taking on a gray-brown tone), and I applied a final very light detail with the white paint again to enhance the depth and light flickering off the ship's wheel. Of course, I had to also apply my custom-made workshop stamp in the corner.

Step 4: Hardware

The next day (close to end of a week after first starting the project), the wood art piece was almost complete. I purchased some steel strapping from my local Tractor Supply Company store, and held in a vice to cut to custom length using a hacksaw and file. After filing down the ends and corners, I screwed 2 cut straps to the back of the wood piece, effectively providing more cross-support (although some testing showed the wood glue held up plenty on its' own to keep all boards together). I also screwed some picture hanging brackets (with the D rings) to the back, close enough to the top without the rings showing from the front. As a final finish, I applied multiple coats of a homemade wax finish (mostly beeswax and turpentine) on the front and all sides, buffing in between coats and after the final coat in order to preserve a beautiful, hard sheen on the wood and paint.

Step 5: Hang, Admire and Reflect

At this point, the wood art piece was ready to show off to the family. Luckily, they were beyond impressed and happy with the work :-) . My wife helped eyeball the position of the piece on the wall, and with her help holding up the piece, I leveled and marked holes for installing hardware on the wall. Rather than screws, the gorilla-strength Monkey Hooks (or Hercules Hooks - as long as its the strongest ones) were simple to push and install in the drywall, and 2 of these were plenty strong enough to hold the artwork on the wall.

Deciding on the design and making the artwork with my oldest daughter was a pleasure - always finding ways to teach my workshop apprentice a few new things. At the end of it all, we created a piece of art that our family will see and be around every day, something for us to remember and reflect upon during the days between seeing our loved ones back home - a real heirloom our family will treasure for years to come.

Trimming the margins off, and taping edges together, from an image printed on 3 x 3 (9 pages total) is an easy way to get around not having a large plotter-style printer.

Spraying 3M adhesive to the back, applying to the wood, and using a pocketknife to trace the edges and peel away the negative space from the actual image.

Final image, after all excess paper/negative space is removed.

After we painted over the paper template, we start peeling away the paper to reveal the silhouette. My workshop apprentice (a.k.a. older daughter) was a big help with painting and removing paper.

Starting to peel a few of the ship's wheel's handles off of the wood.

Be careful in peeling the paper away - you don't want the paint to smear!

The result of removing the paper template - a simple silhouette. Attention to detail during the tracing/edging with the pocket knife pays off at this point.

The silhouette formed by the navy blue paint, plus the detail and depth provided by judicious use of off-white paint.

After a few coats of shellac to seal the wood and paint, the wooden art piece gains a nice sheen.

The wood after all paint and shellac has dried - ready for installing hardware for additional stability and hanging on the wall.

Metal strapping with holes, obtained from local hardware store.

Using a hacksaw and a file, the strapping (secured in a vice) is cut and rounded over to prevent cuts to people and damage to walls.

All strapping secured to the back of the wood piece with painters' tape. Pilot holes were drilled, and short screws installed through the holes to secure the straps across all wood boards. I initially planned on using finishing washers to secure the screws to the straps, but it turned out these were unnecessary as the screw heads were wide enough on their own, and the short straps along the top were replaced with D-ring picture hanging hardware screwed in directly above each strap (so as not to expose the D-ring when viewed from the front).

The final masterpiece, leveled and hung on the wall.

Thinking of our family, friends and our beloved port town, every time we gaze upon it!

Another Sockwater Workshop creation.


Very creative, looks great! I love the way the paint looks with shellac on it. Thanks for sharing!

@Sean  said:

Very creative, looks great! I love the way the paint looks with shellac on it. Thanks for sharing!

Thanks Sean, it was a blast to make and the family enjoys it!

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