Ohh maps, I could literally sit around all day and explore google maps and not even miss dinner. I have many flaws and this might be one... Anyway, ever since moving to DC I've been wanting to do some sort of a project incorporating the streets of the city. The layout of the streets and even the shape of the city have a really interesting history behind them which makes for a very interesting map to look at. I got my hands on some old wall studs when a row house was being renovated downtown that dated back to about 1880 so I knew I had to use that material for this project. The pieces ended up being southern yellow pine with some really cool looking grain. This project was a huge learning experience for me, as much as I love to flaunt my skills as the "J-Carve", the project tested the limits of the machine, but also my knowledge base. I knew very little about more complicated CNC projects and had never used Illustrator before this project, but that's when you learn the most, when you jump right in! I decided to go with clear water to make a cool subtle 3d effect on the otherwise very flat map, and then some weathering on the surface added some nice pop.
Step 1: Materials & Tools
- Reclaimed wall studs
- Wood glue http://amzn.to/2kID2jI
- Epoxy resin https://amzn.to/2tPEyTY
- Weathering accelerator https://amzn.to/2wKjsHg
- Tung oil finish http://amzn.to/2i4ltW7
- T-track table https://amzn.to/2wTSBJ9
- Jointing sled https://amzn.to/2oMMxhY
- Bar clamps https://amzn.to/2wTKJYd
- Chamfer router bit https://amzn.to/2wTTu57
- Palm router base https://www.rockler.com/rockler-compact-router-sub...
- T-track table stop https://amzn.to/2NpqQm6
- Bench cookie kit https://amzn.to/2wPTpPa
- Glue applicator set https://amzn.to/2wR0hvN
- CNC http://bit.ly/2Q43Mrd
- Miter saw http://amzn.to/2j614UM
- Table saw http://amzn.to/2j4bvVU
- Pipe clamps http://amzn.to/2jkLLbO
- Screw clamps http://amzn.to/2k4EvjT
- Glue scraper http://amzn.to/2jrxJR0
- Router http://amzn.to/2yH6t8G
- Mechanical pencil https://amzn.to/2wIv51G
- Circular saw http://amzn.to/2pindD0
- Palm router http://amzn.to/2rtBgq7
- Belt sander http://amzn.to/2oS8zyE
- Spindle sander http://amzn.to/2jmRXik
- Micromesh sanding pads http://amzn.to/2jwzHiZ
Step 2: Gathering the Materials
Just like every fairy tale, it all started at an old rowhouse in Washington, DC where I saved some wood from the trash via the rack on my Element. The wood used on this project all came from this batch on my roof earlier this year which used to be wall studs in this building, full rough sawn 3x5".
Step 3: Preparing the Map Template
Well I'm a bit of a map nerd and ever since I moved to DC last year, I've been wanting to make a map of the city because both the shape of the city and the layout of the streets have a really cool history behind them. I was able to pull the street map from openstreetmap.org as a vector file and modify it in Adobe Illustrator to fit my needs. I purposefully did it this way so that it was able to be hand carved (with the color coded roads) and also be CNC friendly. For those of you who want to dive into this deeper, I made a full tutorial of this process on my YouTube channel "Jackman Works".
I decide on 4 feet tall for the map, because "Jackman Sized"..., print it out, tape it together, and cut it out with my Jackman Sized utility knife, appropriately enough.
Step 4: Resawing and Cleaning Up the Faces
This paper map is then used as a template to determine the length that I need to make the wall studs to use for the map and I cut them all down on my miter saw. My plan is to resaw these in half, so each of these lengths will actually yield double what is shown here.
My table saw is used to resaw these studs right down the middle, splitting them in half, giving me 2 - 2.5x3" pieces.
Now the faces of all of them can be cleaned up using the thickness planer. Luckily they are fairly flat, so I can pull out any small bits of warping during the glue-up and the rest will be removed when I flatten the slab later. For now, I just plane down each face until all faces on all of the pieces are smooth.
Step 5: Cleaning Up the Edges
The edges are a different story, these are going to be glued to each other, so they need to be perfectly straight so that I get a perfect joint. I use the jointing sled in my table saw to cut down one edge and make it flat.
I can then run all of the boards through a second time, this time cutting them down to width and using the new flat edge as a reference surface against the table saw fence. Face shields aren't usually necessary PPE on the table saw, but you can never be too safe with reclaimed wood.
Step 6: Lining Up the Pieces
All of my southern yellow pine lumber is now all cleaned up and looking pretty, so I use my paper map to line all of the pieces up within the extents of the border of DC.
With the layout determined, I draw triangles on the face of the panel so that I don't lose the positions of any of the pieces during the glue-up. A glue-up with this many pieces is always a little chaotic, so it's always goo to plan ahead as much as possible. Especially with the amount of clamps that I like to use...
Step 7: Glue-up
... As I was saying... Pipe clamps are used as a flat reference surface to lay all of the pieces on and also to clamp the pieces together. Screw clamps hold the edges of all of the pieces flat relative to each other so that they don't lose their alignment when the big clamps put the squeeze on.
The clamps definitely come off easier than they go on.
Step 8: Flattening the Slab and Cutting It to Size
With the panel in one piece, I can go ahead and flatten it. I pull out my flattening jig, attach it to my workbench, and go to town making a bunch of sawdust. I pass over the entire top surface and then flip it over and do the other side to, bringing it down to thickness.
So the city of DC is actually laid out in quadrants, centered on the capital building. So my plan is to split the panel into the 4 quadrants. This will do a few things for me, it'll make the large map easier to handle, it'll make it so that each of the quadrants fit on the bed of my CNC, it'll create a cool shadow line to define the quadrants, and it'll make me fell less inferior. Anyway, I clamp a straight edge to the slab to cut it in half and then cut these 2 pieces in half using a crosscut sled on my table saw.
Step 9: Pick a Team!
Uh oh, it's carving time! That means it's time to choose a player, it's either the Inventables X-Carve CNC or the Jackman J-Carve CNC. I chose the J-Carve per usual, it's never failed me until today (that might be foreshadowing OR IS IT?!).
Step 10: Hand Carving (J-Carve)
So this is why I printed out the map in "color" the different shades show me the thickness of all of the lines, so I can cut all of those roads and then change the depth of cut on my router for the other roads. I trace out the lines on one quadrant using the paper map and some carbon paper. This mechanical pencil is the best thing ever because it has a metal tip that works perfectly for tracing patterns like this when you retract the lead all of the way.
And then it's just a bunch of pain staking carving, but I've done worse than this before, pallet wood shot glasses come to mind. I install the Rockler handle base thingy on the base of my palm router and use that as the final piece to form my human powered CNC.
Step 11: Booting Up the CNC (X-Carve)
Meanwhile, the real X-Carve CNC is getting booted up. With the previous vector map that I pulled into Illustrator, I can modify it by trimming it around the city border and modifying the different road layers line thickness until they look good on the CNC preview. I actually ended up modifying this slightly and pulling the water out as a separate tool path, I'll explain more about why I did that later.
Well the first quadrant is clamped down and everything is zeroed and ready to go, time for the race to begin! Don't look so eager, I know, this storyline is just as hard for me to follow and I'm the one who is telling it.
Step 12: The Battle Begins... and Ends
So the CNC gets to work carving out the roads and border. It has one advantage over me and that is everything. Well really it can use the thicknesses of all of the roads at the same time and use that to most efficiently cut out that pattern, while I'm over here throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it'll stick. But the CNC is happy and isn't that really what matters in the end anyway?
I have to say though, the layout of the city streets in DC is quite interesting, they are grid shaped while also radiating out from the center of the map (kind of). It does form a cool pattern though, and that's all that matters right now because we're just looking at the streets and not attempting to drive on them. Score!
Well it seems the X-Carve has built up quite an impressive lead on me. But there is one thing it never considered, it is electrically powered and not peanut butter powered like myself. However it can destroy my entire project with one false move, so I think I'll just let it be at this point.
Step 13: Cleaning Up the Map and Painting
Alright, enough with the shenanigans! Lokes aside, CNCs are really powerful tools and I feel like they are often just used to make trinkets or just mass produce items that you could more easily make by hand. My goal is to push this a little further and see what the limit of the technology is. Afterall, it's just another tool in my woodshop to work in conjunction with the likes of my table saw and miter saw, so I want to see what it can do! CNC motivational speech aside, I clean up the cuts with a utility knife and some compressed air, the areas of the wood with a lot of pitch are the worst because the sawdust likes to stick together in those cuts.
With the border established now on all of the quadrants, I want to have the wood frame it with about another 1/2" of wood outside of that. I use my compass to traces a line that runs parallel to the city border and this establishes the outer border of my actual wood map. I then cut the straight portions with my handheld circular saw and the curved portion on my bandsaw.
Now that I'm pleased with the look of the thing, I'm going to destroy it by covering the entire top surface in black paint. This will include the roads and the border, but not the water (see where this is going yet?).
Step 14: Cutting the River and Pouring Epoxy
Well next I send it back to the CNC to cut out the water, or maybe I cut it by hand, you'll never know. This double cutting technique is what allowed me to make the roads and the water 2 different colors. After sanding everything flush in a later step, the roads will remain black since they're recessed into the surface and the water will be the color of the wood.
Tape is applied to the inside edges of all of the quadrants since some of the roads run past the edge, so this will create a dam for the epoxy to stop against. I mix up some 2 part epoxy resin and pour it all over everything, the bigger the mess you make, the better job you are doing (you should also know that I'm a liar). This is spread out to fill in all of the roads and water and also cover the map with a really thin layer to make sure that everything is covered sufficiently.
Step 15: Sanding Everything Flush
Then, after letting it sit and cure overnight (while popping bubbles for the first few hours), I can now sand to my hearts content. I use my belt sander starting with a rough 80 grit and sand the epoxy, and then the paint, flush with the surface of the wood until the wood is exposed. I then use a 120 grit belt on all of the surfaces to smooth it a little further.
This reveal was easily the best part of the build. The way that the funky grain in this old pine played with the meandering roads was enough to make your stomach feel a little uneasy, it was perfect.
Step 16: Weathering and Finishing Up the Edges
Now the water is all the color of fresh pine and so is the land surface, so I want to change that so we have a little contrast going on here. It's also lost a bit of the antiquey (think I just made up a word?) feel that it used to have and this substance will solve both of those problems. This is a weathering accelerator that I apply to the face of the 4 pieces that actually creates a chemical reaction in the surface of the wood, reacting with the tannins to create a weathered grey look.
The longer you leave it on, the darker it gets, so I let that do it's thing while I sand the edges of the quadrants. Spindle sander gets all of the curvy parts and belt sander gets the flat edges.
To add a bit more shape to a pretty flat piece, I add a bit chamfer around the outside edges of all of these pieces. I also decided to add a chamfer between the pieces to define the quadrants a little bit better. That chamfer between the pieces ended up being a bit larger than anticipated, but ended up creating a nice shadow line... glass half full.
Step 17: Creating the French Cleat Pocket
Hmm, this thing is going to be hung up on the wall so we need a way to hang it... that's very true Paul! So on the back side, I draw out a rectangular spot pocket that is then carved out with the palm router. I clamp the 2 top pieces together to have a continuous pocket between the 2 (and do the same thing to the bottom pair). Later, in this pocket I will install a french cleat that will mate up with a matching french cleat on the wall to hold everything up. I rough cut out the pocket by hand and fine tune the edges by clamping a straight edge to the board and following that.
Step 18: Finish Sanding
Now I can do the final sanding. This removes the darkest of the grey from the surface to leave behind a nice subtle aged look that helps show the history of the pieces of wood without screaming it in your face, exactly what I was going for. I sand with the orbital sander up to 600 grit.
Even at 600 grit, the epoxy portions are a little foggy and I want to make sure that you can see through the water to to the wood below, so I sand these water parts by hand with micromesh sanding pads up to 12,000 grit.
Step 19: Applying Finish
And then it's finishing time! I've done this so many times, but this one really blew my mind with the color that got pulled out of it. I used tung oil and usually on pine it's kind of dull, but the age of this pine along with the weathering finish really just popped.
I especially liked the way that the deeper chamfer was able to show off the depth of the river even better. Glass half full I tell you! I meant to do that!
Step 20: Hanging It Up
And after a few coats of finish, last step is just to attach the french cleat to the back of the panels, which is just a piece of 1/2" plywood with a 45" backcut on the bottom of the piece. The cleats are separate in each of the quadrants, but the top and bottom pair each share a french cleat on the wall.
If it looks good on the shop wall, it'll look good in your house - put that on a t-shirt (probably don't).
Step 21: Glamour Shots!
Then I just (potentially illegally) hang it on a fence to grab some glamour shots!
Map, Jackman for scale.
And wrapping it all up with an obligatory sexy pose (according to me and no one else). Thanks for checking out this build all the way to the end. Since you've wasted this much time already, please click on the link to the full build video below to get the full experience! It's worth it, guaranteed or your money back.
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