Busy Board

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I didn’t take as many photos of this as I should have, but it kind of came together in fits and starts when I could work on it and I may have forgotten my camera a few times. In any case, this is a great gift for the toddlers in your life, and it’s very simple to make: grab a board, paint it up, add bits of hardware and you’re set. It’s all the stuff that small children are fascinated with around the house in one convenient spot where they can play with it safely.

So I started with a wide pine board, which I cut in half. I made one for Rosa and one for Gen. Zod for Christmas.

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Drilled screw holes at all the corners so it could be mounted on the wall for added security.

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I later put felt at the corners as well so it could also lay flat on the floor without damaging anything.

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Sanded and spray painted it.

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Added stripes to make it look like a construction sign.

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They didn’t come out perfectly, but if you’ve ever seen the types of signs the construction workers make around here this is a freaking masterpiece in comparison.

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Then I gathered an assortment of hardware: slide bolt (also known as a barrel bolt), casters from my old computer desk, a padlock, spring door bumper (the kind that makes farty noises when you twang it), a hinge from a door and a security chain. I discovered that if you screw one side of a hinge too tightly to its surface the hinge won’t turn (or won’t be moveable by a toddler in any case), so make sure to adjust that accordingly if you use one.

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Then I just painted around them with some craft paint for visual interest and added a little caution sign at the top. Now it’s a toddler trap, because they can’t stay away!

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Yet another gel transfer. But different.

There’s a story behind this one. My dad, in his office, has a massive collection of pictures of various RCN ships he was involved with, ships’ crests, together with some sketches my grandfather did during the war. It’s a very nautical room. For his birthday yesterday, I wanted to give him another nautical trinket, using that nifty new technique I learned of gel transfers … but on wood.

The two most important ships in his history (that I can remember at least) are the HMCS Miramichi, which was his first command, and the HMCS Regina, which he commissioned as Executive Officer and which was the last ship he was on before we moved to Ottawa and he eventually retired.

In debating which ship to use, I was having trouble finding a good one of the Miramichi. It’s no longer at sea so there aren’t too many shots of it on the internet (if you do a Google image search you come up with only a handful of pictures of the exact Miramichi – 163 – I’m looking for). Except perhaps this one, which looked really familiar to me:

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You see those two people standing in the foreground? That’s my mother on the left, and the short one is me. I have my hands behind my back because I used to like to stand like a weirdo, and my mother is taking a picture with her camera, which is why her elbows are up. There weren’t many other little girls living on that particular base at that particular time, so it is definitely me and my mum. Whenever my dad went off to sea we would go down to Duntze Head (which is where those cannons are) to wave goodbye. When he came back, and he sailed past our house (yes, I was that lucky), he would have someone signal us in gibberish Morse code. It became a sort of tradition.

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So anyway, because I’m actually IN that photo, that’s the one I have to use, naturally. It’s not a terribly high-quality shot – taken before digital photography became really popular, this was clearly developed from film and then scanned on some terrible early digital-era scanner (I am that old), so when you blow it up it doesn’t look perfect. But the nice thing about these gel transfers is that the lack of detail actually improves the result. So I cropped it to fit on my work surface, boosted the contrast, and desaturated it. Remember when you do this to print the image with a laser printer or photocopier, as inkjet images are too heavily sunk into too many layers of the paper to work properly. Also remember to print it in reverse!

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My supplies: 8″ x 10″ artists’ board canvas ($3 at Dollarama, bonus!); reversed laser printout on regular printer paper; sponge brush, gel medium, and a squeegee.

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We’ve done this twice before. You’ve probably got it down pat. But I’ll do it for you again, just so you can be confident. Use the sponge brush to smooth a generous amount of gel medium evenly across the surface of the board. Pay close attention to the edges, as they will tend to accumulate less medium (though it enhances the effect in the end if you aren’t looking for perfection).

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Make sure there aren’t too many big brush marks on the surface. These are fine; you just don’t want huge peaks and valleys of the stuff.

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Use your squeegee to flatten the image face-down on top of the gel medium. Set that sucker aside to dry for a couple hours.

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To rest for readiness, peel up one of the corners a bit and see how much toner stayed stuck to the surface. If it’s all still stuck to the paper, you either didn’t use enough gel medium, you used the wrong type of printout, or it’s not dry yet.

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Spray the surface of the board with water and let it sink into the paper.

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Use your fingers or a soft cloth to rub off the bits of wet paper. You will likely have to let it dry and wet-rub it again a couple times before you get all the white paper off that you want.

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Finally the surface was as smooth as I could get it.

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The yellowish tint of the wood underneath added an antique cast to the picture that I quite liked, despite the pixellated nature of the shot.

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I painted the sides of the board frame a mixed turquoise with craft paint, then sprayed the whole thing once with a satin-finish sealant.

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It doesn’t suit my gray walls but I think it will look great on my dad’s wall!

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Safari Bookends

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These are all over the internet, but I think they’re totally badass anyway.  They’re quite cute, if you make them right, but it was late and we were tired so we made them a little wrong.  But I like ’em even so.

We start with some plastic animals I got at Target, and which I sprayed copper because I thought we were going to do this differently than we did.

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Then you take your animals, clamp them solidly to a surface, and saw those kitties in half.  This ain’t no magic trick.

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Use a file to smooth out the rough edges.

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Then you measure your podiums.  We made our bookends out of this nice solid, heavy piece of wood, so it would actually hold books up and stuff when stuck together in an L shape.  Remember: measure twice, cut once.

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The Pie is afraid of table saws, so he stood at the other end of the garage while I risked life and limb to get these pieces of wood cut.

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But the only thing I cut was the wood, which is a bonus. We used a fine sandpaper to smooth off the rough corners.

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Here we are checking to see if we measured correctly.  Turns out that we didn’t, and the tiger ones were a total failure.  No matter: let’s press on.

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Here’s what they will sort of look like when they’re done.

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Using a drill press to start off the screw holes.  I’m wearing mittens because it was like -29°C outside and my garage isn’t heated.

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Screwing in the screws.  Because the wood was so thick we used decking screws, which are super long.

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Spraying.  I decided I wanted gold animals, not copper, so they got another coat of spray paint.

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Ready to glue.  I used GOOP, an all-purpose adhesive that dries clear and is super strong.

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You lay the glue on and give it 2 minutes to cure before attaching it to the other surface.

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I left these overnight to dry.

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The next day I cut little felt squares for the bottoms so they didn’t scratch any surfaces.

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And here it is completed.  Please ignore the fact that the one side is taller than the other. And that they’re currently not holding up any books.  Late.  Tired.  Cold.

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Found Wooden Candle Tray

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I found this hunk of wood in the park back in the fall, and it was interesting enough that I brought it home.  I left it in the garage for a few weeks to dry out, then I dropped it a few times to make sure the wood was solid enough to work with.  And only a few little pieces broke off, so I knew I was good.

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First we leveled out the wood with these little screw-in feet.  I’m not sure what they are actually called, but they were in a baby food jar in the garage so I’m going with that.

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Then I measured a routing drill bit to fit the size of a standard tea light. Sorry for the blurry.

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Then we drilled holes in our hunk o’wood.

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Stained it.

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Post-staining.

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Sprayed it with lacquer.

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And here is the finished product.

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And the finished product on fire.

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How’s THAT for instruction?

Rustic Pencil Holder and Homemade Pencils

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I saw this about a year ago, and I remember thinking at the time that it was such a simple yet elegantly nifty project I would have to make it sometime.  What better time than the present?

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I wrangled a log out of the mildewed pile in our dilapidated excuse for a shed and got to work.  You can of course use any form of windfall or anything you find lying around.  I’d love to try this with driftwood, if I still had my beach handy.  As it was a pretty long chunk of wood, I figured I’d make three pencil holders, just to spread the love amongst my Christmas gift recipients.

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I also thought I might make them slightly angled, so that all the pencils or pens could be viewed from one side, instead of them all being on the same level. So I sawed them accordingly, in varying thicknesses.  Actually, the Pie did most of this because I took too long.  But we didn’t really try too hard to get things level or straight — the crooked adds to the charm, and I swear we did this on purpose.

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And then the bark, which had been sitting and drying out over our kitchen heater for two months, just peeled right off so easily.

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I used a butter knife to get the thinner inner bark off.

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Now you drill your holes.  I used 3/8″ and 1/2″ drill bits, to accommodate skinny and fat pens and pencils. You know, like the fat ones you pick up from the bank or that you get in swag bags at conferences and stuff.

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You can space them out evenly or put them in randomly, whichever floats your boat.

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To make sure that all your holes are uniform in depth, use a bit of tape around your drill bit to mark how deep you want it to go.  When the line of the tape touches the wood, you’ve gone far enough.

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In addition, if you are pursuing an angled approach, make sure that your drill is going in perpendicular to the surface upon which the wood is sitting, not perpendicular to the surface of the top of the disk.  Although I suppose you could do that, too, if you wanted your pencils to stick out at an angle.

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Then I sanded, to smooth out the edges and to make the top nice and even.  You don’t want splinters in something you’re going to be touching all the time.

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I stained one of them as well, again for kicks.

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To go with the pencil holders, I thought I would include some pencils I made myself.

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I got the idea from here, but modified it so it was easier for me (because I found this actually quite difficult).  You need some 2mm pencil leads, the kind that go into architectural drafting pencils (also known as clutch pencils).  They tend to come in small plastic boxes of 10, and you can find them at art supply stores or on the internet.

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Then you need some thin paper.  I used a combination of newspaper flyers and origami paper for this, with the cheap newspaper on the inside and the nice origami pattern on the outside.  Cut the paper into squares that are the same length as the leads, which is usually about 5″.

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Take a paint brush and some glue and paint some onto the edge of one of the pieces of paper.

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Lay your lead onto the glued surface, just a little bit from the edge.  Fold that extra part over the lead and tuck it in.

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Now start rolling, carefully, putting even pressure on both ends of the lead.  You want the paper to be tight around the lead but you don’t want to put too much pressure on it that the lead breaks.  I definitely broke a few.  And go slowly, so you can make sure that the lead rolls straight in the paper.  Many of my pencils came out crooked and had to be trimmed later.

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When you reach the end of the paper, add some more glue and fasten the edge securely on your roll.  Repeat with more paper until you get to the thickness you like, with some nice patterned stuff on the outside.

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Put some glue on the outside, just to seal it all in.

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Allow your pencil to dry, then trim the pointy end of the pencil with a knife or a pencil sharpener, and you’re all set.

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Oddities in String Art: Arr, Sweet Arr, and the Howling Wolf

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Okay so I’m definitely behind the trend on this one, but it looks like so much fun that I had to try it out.  When I asked Stef what he and the Stone would like me to make for them for Christmas, he suggested some form of decoration for their home.  And as Stef is my favourite pirate, I made him a skull and crossbones. For a little bit of contrast I used gray crochet thread on the crossbones part, so you could differentiate it from the rest of the skull.  Then I thought it would be cute to add a cross-stitched platitude to the bottom in a nice bright red.  Instead of Home Sweet Home, I thought that “Arr, Sweet Arr” would be more apropos.

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These beautiful copper carpet tacks belonged to my great-grandfather (who never threw anything away) and they look fantastic against the wood.  You can use any kind of nail you like, provided it has a decent-sized head.

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For the People Downstairs, whose last name is lupine-related, I made a slightly cheesy wolf howling at the moon.  To get the template, I simply drew a large circle and then freehanded the wolf silhouette.  It took a couple tries, because I am not the artist my mother is, but it ain’t bad. It only kind of looks like a corgi.  But that’s cool too.  I used a more delicate white thread to pick up the slightly more elaborate pattern.

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Because of my latent inability to cut anything in a straight line, the Pie was kind enough to do the sawing for me, as I had to cut this piece of craft board (which I bought from Kent) into smaller pieces.  The wolf piece is 12″ x 12″, and the pirate piece is 12″ x 16″.

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Spray paint the boards the colour of your choice.  Black is a good go-to background.

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You can see how there’s a mottled texture to my paint — I ran out of one can of spray paint partway through, and like a good little soldier I sat there and drained all the air out of the can so it could be properly disposed of.  Because it was occasionally spitting paint at me while doing this, I figured I’d do it while pointing it at my painted surface.  And thus the weird texture.  But I’m going to roll with it. It adds character.

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While that is drying, work on your design.  On a piece of paper, sketch out the outline of the shape you want.  Mine are obviously pretty simplistic, due to my lack of artistic skill (I’m the only one in the family who can’t draw, go figure), but you don’t want to get too complicated when it comes to string. Basic and slightly embellished shapes are probably your best bet.

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Temporarily tape the design to your board, and carefully hammer in nails along the lines you’ve drawn, spacing them out evenly.  My board is only 1/4″ thick so I had to be careful not to hammer them in too far.

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I found a pair of pliers kept me from hitting my fingers.

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Once you’ve got all the nails in you can rip off and recycle the paper.

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Now, with your thread or wool or string or whatever you’re using, tie a knot around one of the nails and start weaving the thread around the nails, back and forth across the space you want to fill.  Don’t worry too much about a pattern (unless that’s what you’re going for).  Stop when you’ve filled it as much as you want to.  It’s a pretty fluid thing.

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And there you have it.  I screwed hanging hardware into the back and that is that.

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New Found Ornaments

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I saw something like this at a craft fair in St. John’s and thought that I could easily make my own with some found objects and some hot glue.  The “jellybean row” is an iconic element of St. John’s architecture: a series of brightly coloured and quaintly crooked wooden row houses that line most of the downtown streets.  So every craft fair and gift shop in the area sells some version of this, painted on mailboxes, pieces of wood, in stained glass (similar to the disaster I made last spring), and on pieces of shale, which conveniently break on a rectangular plane.

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So I found some pieces of this shale, relatively thin pieces that wouldn’t weigh down a tree branch.

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And I painted them to look like the crooked, shambling houses around here.

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And then I glued string on the back for hanging, with hot glue.

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An extra dab, for security.

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And that’s it!

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