What do you buy your sister for her birthday when she already has everything? Answer: Nothing. You make something instead.
This project started out looking quite different from the end product, as I kept on changing and adding a few details as it progressed, but the basic idea was always the same: recover wood from a broken old pallet, join and shape the planks, and then add a series of branches made out of copper. The branches would then transform into leaves and/or photo holders, and would be set at different heights over the wood so it would look more three dimensional.
Step 1: Materials, Tools and Preparation
The stuff I used is very basic and extremely cheap: wood slats recovered from an old pallet, and copper wire.
For the pallet, I am lucky enough to work in an industrial sector of our city, so every now and then some companies leave old and broken pallets out for the garbage company to pick up. I just got to one of those pallets first, and that was it. You can also get a whole bunch of them for free off of site like kijiji, so take a look if you don't have easy access to them.
As far as disassembling the pallet goes, it's quite simple and there are tons of videos on the net about doing this (so I won't go into too many details about it). You basically need to separate the planks as carefully as possible to avoid braking them (especially if they are old and gnarly, which would offer a look you'd probably want to keep). Once separated, use a stiff hand brush with soap and warm water to thoroughly wash the boards and then set them to dry.
Copper - I stopped by the local hardware store to buy it, and basically picked up about four meters of coiled copper wire that did not have the plastic shielding around it (about $3 a meter). It's composed of about seven relatively stiff copper wires which is excellent for this project. One end of the cable remained coiled (representing the bottom of the branch), and you just uncoil some of the wire strands as you build the higher (and thinner) branches which then also becomes leaves and photo frames.
I used a combination of power and hand tools, and aside from the regular assortment of stuff you'll find in a tool box, you'll need a scraper (or planer), an angle, circular saw, clamps, wood glue and a drill.
A rough sketch of what you want the branches to look like always helps. I taped four letter sized sheets of paper together and then drew the branches and frame locations on it. This would later on serve as a guide to size the wood panel and lay down the wires.