Stained Wood Pixel Art





Introduction: Stained Wood Pixel Art

Game.Life 2 Challenge

Runner Up in the
Game.Life 2 Challenge

I am going to show you how to make a piece of pixel art out of stained wood.  The organic nature of the wood adds a nice touch to the blockiness of the pixel sprite.  In this example I am going to make a sprite from Zelda on the NES, but these same techniques can be used to create any sprite.

This Instructable will show you how I make a Link sprite...If you like it you should check out more pieces I've made at


Step 1: Tools and Materials Needed

In order to make the stained wood pixel piece of your dreams you will need:
-wood for the pixels (I use select Pine from the local Home Depot)
-A table saw in case you need to rip the wood down to a smaller width
-A planar to make sure every strip of wood is identical
-A chopsaw to cut the pixels
-Clamps...a big help for cutting the blocks and gluing them together
-wood stain
-foam brushes for the stain as well as sealant
-sealant!  I use a high gloss finish
-Wood glue.  I use Titebond II wood glue
-A nice big straightedge for the gluing process
-Time and Patience...You're going to be cutting a LOT of blocks of wood...make sure you are mentally prepped!

One of the first things you need to do is create a template plan of the sprite you want to create.  Here I have an image of Link from Zelda on a grid.  I just went into photoshop and gridded out the sprite based on images from the game.  You will notice that I use this pattern to figure out how many of each colored block I need as well as planning out the grain pattern.  I like to create a checkerboard pattern with the wood grain because I think it makes the piece more interesting.

Once you have your pattern and know exactly how many blocks you need you can move onto the next step.

Step 2: Cutting the Wood

So you have your materials and tools and you know exactly what you need to start working.  Great!  Time to start cutting wood. 
First off, determine exactly how big each pixel square should be.  I've made pieces that use 1/2" pixels and some that use 2 1/2" pixels.  Figure out what you will need and cut ALL the blocks at once.  Resetting up the planar/chop saw for another run of pixels that match your first set is a real pain since the blocks need to be PRECISE.  If a block is off by even half a mm...throw that little sucker out!

For the piece in this Instructable I need to make 1" blocks.  My Select Pine strips are 1 1/2 inches wide so I need to rip them down a bit.  Rip them to be just a bit wider than your target, the planar will take care of the rest.  Once you have the ripped boards, run them through a planar to make sure that every single board is the EXACT same width. 

Now you have a bunch of boards that are all identical.  Next step is using the chop saw to cut the boards into pixel squares.  It's easy!  I use a 2x4 and clamps to setup a stop on my chop saw, then I cut test pieces.  If you can take two pixels, turn one 90 degrees so it is off grain and then fit them together and feel NO difference then you are good to go!  So start cutting.  I cut 4 boards at a time and I DOUBLE CHECK the length of the pixels every few cuts.

I cannot state enough how important it is to check the cuts A LOT.  If a piece is even a 'hair' off...that will mess you up when gluing...throw that little bugger out!!!

Step 3: Prepping Wood

So now you have a big pile of wood blocks that are all perfectly square.  Before putting the blocks together you have to get that wood colored.  You should have your template sprite ready to go, just look at the colors and decide what you want.  For the Link piece we will use Green stain, Red Mahogany stain for the brown, Golden Amber stain for the Triforce and Link's face/hands will be bare wood.

Count the number of blocks that you will need for each color and separate them.  It is always safe to add a few extras to stain just in case you need them.  Stain the blocks of wood per staining instructions.  Don't forget to stain the edges that will be showing!  Let the pieces dry for at least a day.

After a day you now have your pixel blocks colored and ready to glue together!

Step 4: Putting It All Together

The big day is here!  Time to glue the blocks together. 

The important thing here is to TAKE YOUR TIME and make sure everything is STRAIGHT.  It is really easy to get a line of pixels 'off' by just a hair and before you know it, nothing lines up anymore!

Here is what I do to glue it all together.  I lay down a long sheet of butchers paper on the workbench.  The blocks will be glued on top of this paper (but not glued TO the paper).  At the close end of my work area I clamp down a long metal straight edge OVER the paper.  The paper should be able to slide forward and back under the metal straightedge.

Lay out your first row of blocks starting at the TOP of the sprite.  Just a bit of wood glue on the right edge of EACH piece except the last one in the row.  now just press them all together while making sure they are flush to the straightedge.  Let dry for a minute.  Now you can pull the paper AWAY from you and the first row of glued blocks should move with it.  Put your second row of blocks down and glue them together against the straight edge.  Glue the FAR edge of the second row to the NEAR edge of the first row, move the paper down and you will have two rows glued together!  I use blocks of wood to press them down and make sure everything is flush.  Keep going all the way down the sprite!

Keep at it and take your time!  When done you will have your sprite glued together!  Great job!  Let that dry for at least a day! 

Step 5: Continuing to Put It All Together

Here are more shots of the piece coming together

Step 6: Finishing Touches

So now you have a glued together sprite that is all dry.  Pick him up and remove the paper backing...there will probably be some glue back here but no worries, no one is going to see this side.  Time to finish the piece.  These steps are all optional...but I like to seal the piece, paint the back and mount a support on the back.

I like to put a bunch of coats of Clear Gloss Sealant on the pieces.  It makes them look much better.  Be sure to seal the edges too!

After sealing I turn the piece over and cut some strips of wood to make a support structure for the piece.  Here you can see the simple pieces glued down to the back.  These make the piece stronger and also make the piece pop off the wall a bit (which I think looks awesome).

I like to use a router to cut a groove in the bottom of a horizontal support...this is what I use to hang the piece on the wall (screw head slides into groove).

Then I paint the back black to finish it off and that's it!  You now have a classy stained wood pixel piece! 

Step 7: Other Examples

Here are more examples that I have made.  All were made using the exact same techniques I used for Link.  Some use more colors than others, and some use a color wash instead of can really treat the wood blocks any way you want....the only limit is your imagination...and size of workspace.



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I have admired this instructable for a very long time and hope to do something similar. Unfortunately most of the 8bit sprites I had in mind are going to be way to big in 1" cubes. So 1/2" it will be! :P

far right is the one i want to use.

mike tyson punchout.jpg

what I do is take the image (like the one above) and bring it into photoshop. from there I just draw the grid lines in to match up the pixel size... I'm going to guesstimate that tyson on the far right panel is probably 2000-2500 individual blocks of wood....

i want to use the tyson pic on the far right. how do i transfer to graph paper...?!

I know you explained how to figure out how many blocks you need but I want to put together Mike Tyson from "Punch out." Could you explain how you calculated how many blocks you needed for Glass Joe...!! Thanks. I can give you my email if that's easier, just let me know.

Make a real life gif pixel art ;P. But rly great job. I totally love it!

And I'm going to do your Adventure set too! I thought I was the only one who liked that game lol

I just finished this project using 3/4 inch square dowels cut on a table saw with a C-clamped block guide for consistent length, it turned out really nice. My blocks were not as nice as yours (haha hopefully one day I'll have a planer), but all in all It looks killer. The sanding almost gave me arthritis or something, but it is well worth the pain. I probably sunk 24 hours of work and 45 dollars worth of materials from lowes... Tree shortage? lol
I had a blast working on this. It's really rewarding to see it coming together in the final hour or so.
Props dude