Sliced Wood Art

Conference Room Art  This triptych is made of 2x2s and 4x4s sliced into uneven pieces (1/2"-1 1/4"), painted, stained, and wood glued to 1/4" pieces of luan. The whole piece was then stained with a mix of stain and hand rubbed poly.
Conference Room Art This triptych is made of 2x2s and 4x4s sliced into uneven pieces (1/2″-1 1/4″), painted, stained, and wood glued to 1/4″ pieces of luan. The whole piece was then stained with a mix of stain and hand rubbed poly.

Recently, I made the artwork pictured above for our conference room at work, so I thought I would share how I made it.  For this project, you’ll need:

  • 3 – 2’x2′ sheets of luan, which you can find precut at the local home store
  • 3 – 8′ long 2″x2″s
  • 1 – 8′ long 4″x4″ (You can get the store to cut these in half for you if you need to fit them in a car.)
  • Access to a miter or chop saw, capable of slicing 4″x4″s, along with knowledge and accessories (safety glasses) for safe use
  • A piece of sand paper (I used 60 grit because I had it handy, but almost any will do for this.)
  • As many different colors of acrylic or other paint as you wish to use.
  • Small paint brush
  • Cup of water to clean brush between colors
  • Paper towels
  • Pieces of cloth (An old ripped up tshirt cut into pieces will do nicely.)
  • Wood glue (One bottle should do.)
  • Dark stain for “dirtying” (Remnants from a previous project are fine. Mine was called Kona)
  • A premixed stain/poly blend (I used one called Bombay Mahogany)
  • Hand-rubbed polyurethane (It will be in a rectangular can)
  • A throw away bowl or plastic cup
  • Picture hanging hardware, preferably wire and screws

Once you have the materials together, here’s what you do:

  1.  Slice the 4x4s into uneven slices between 1/2″ and 1 1/4″.  You’ll need 98 total pieces of 4×4 to cover 2 pieces of 2’x2′ luan, and you probably won’t be able to cut all the way to the end of the board without the saw blade kicking it at you.  Because of that, I would reccomend cutting most of them well under the inch mark.  Just remember not to make them all the same thickness.
  2. Slice the 2x2s in the same manner.  These will feel easy after the 4x4s!  You will need a total of 256 slices to cover one 2’x2′ piece of luan with these.
  3. Once you are done with cutting, take a break and contemplate whether you ever want to see a miter saw again!!! 🙂
  4. Next, use your piece of sandpaper, or a sanding block, to sand off just the scraggly edges of the blocks.  If you have a big box hanging around the house, you can sand into the box while watching a marathon of something good on Netflix.  May I suggest Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  I wouldn’t worry about getting the blocks smooth.  The defects and roughness give character to the finished piece.
  5. Next, you’ll want to divide the blocks into groups, based on what colors you plan to paint them.  There is no hard and fast rule for this, but I had as many piles as paint colors plus a pile to leave unpainted.  I had no less than 4 blocks per color of 4×4 slices to allow for 2 per board.  I picked a dominant color (aqua in this case), a dark neutral color (dark brown) and the unfinished pieces for the biggest piles.  Each of these piles had about twice the pieces of any other color, to give the piece focus and balance.
  6. Now you are ready to paint the pieces and continue the Netflix marathon.  It is not necessary to paint the backs, since they will be glued to the board and invisible.  I tried to use the sides with the most dings, grain, and character for the front.  Might sound crazy, but this piece is all about character and variation… no room for perfect here!
  7. When you are done painting, it’s time to “dirty” the blocks.  Use the ripped up tshirt cloth to lightly rub some of the dark stain onto some areas of the blocks (even the unpainted ones).  You can rub the stain on the edges and/or parts of the top.  Don’t drown the cloth in stain.  A little goes a long way.  You may wanted to do the lightest blocks when the cloth is almost in need of reloading, so that you don’t make the light blocks too dark.  This process should be quick and not even slightly exact.
  8. Now, you can use the cloth and more stain to stain the front and edges of the luan boards.  There will be some small gaps between blocks in the finished project, and the stain will make them look like shadows instead of naked boards. You can be more generous with the stain here because you want the whole board dark.
  9. Once everything is dry, you can lay the blocks out on the luan.  Two boards will have 7 rows of 7 – 4×4 slices (which will have an overhang on all sides) and one board will have 16 rows of 16 – 2x2s (which will have very small gaps between them.)  Try to evenly distribute the colors while keeping a look of randomness.  I call it strategic randomness, if you’re looking for an oxymoron.
  10. Now you can glue down your slices.  Make sure to make the overhang even on all sides of the pieces covered with 4x4s.  These will be right up against each other.  Make sure the 2×2 slices are flush with the edge.  You will have space between these pieces, and you should distribute them evenly to keep the gap from being noticable.  It’s not necessary to cover every speck of block with wood.  I went one row at a time and put a squiggly line of wood glue under each row.  I left all of the unglued blocks from other rows in place as I worked, to keep the spacing right.
  11. Let the pieces dry overnight after they are glued.
  12. You can now put on the finish coat of poly.  Mix a tiny bit of the stain/poly mix with a bunch of the hand rubbed poly in a throw away bowl or plastic cup, and use another piece of tshirt to rub the entire piece (including sides but not back) with the resulting slightly tinted, hand rubbed poly.  This should not drastically darken the piece, but it should soften the colors and make the piece look aged.
  13. Yay!!  You have created art!!  Now, you can ventilate the piece to get rid of the delightful smell of poly, wait for everything to dry, and use your favorite hanging hardware to hang the piece on the wall!
  14. Finally, sit back and enjoy your hard and fun work.  You have earned a rest.

I hope you enjoy making this project as much as I did.  Even if you decide not to make this project, I hope you find one you enjoy!  If you do make the project, I would love to see it!  Happy crafting.

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