Introduction: Tealight Diorama on the Table Saw

A simple way to turn a piece of scrap wood into a small yet cozy mountainscape diorama. While it is arguably easiest to make on a table saw, you can use the basic principle with other tools as well.

Materials

  • Piece of Scrap - this will be the main body of the diorama. The beam cutoff I used was about 4''/10 cm square, a good size in my opinion. It should also be long enough so you can safely guide it on your table saw - unless you use a sled, then it can be as short as the final piece. You can laminate smaller pieces together, or mill up your own stock from a branch, but for the sake of simplicity, I would go with a scrap piece of ready-to-use size. The Important thing is that you make the cuts in the next step perpendicular to the grain of the wood! You need to slice across the grain, not with it! Also, try to avoid knots since they will not break the way we want them to.
  • Paint - to add some color to your diorama. I used gree, light brown, gray and white to paint the little mountains, and then some spray lacquer. Anything is optional here as long as you like the end result.
  • Tealight - optional in making this, not optional in enjoying your project in all its glory.

Tools

  • Table Saw - this is kind of mandatory for this project, but with a little ingenuity, that is to say, a way to safely hold the piece, you can also do this with a circular saw. If you have a miter saw that has a depth stop, that would work, too. It might even be doable with a jigsaw or a bandsaw, but I have not tried it with either, and it will probably not be as easy.
  • Forstner Bit (or spade bit) the size of a tealight - this is necessary if you want your tealight to sit in the traditional round indentation in the wood, which is the way I prefer it since it gives the whole thing more stability. Check out Step 2 for several other methods of getting that hole made.
  • Paintbrush - for painting, and slightly optional. I have used paper napkins as impromptu brushes to great effect in the past.

Now let's make some mountains!

Step 1: Slicing the Blank

Now comes the fun part - slicing wood. Well, not actually slicing, because most of what we do here are non-through cuts. Basically, we are cutting slots into the beam, and to do that, the safest route to go is to use a miter gauge which (usually) comes with your table saw. A shopmade sled would work just as well (just search for "crosscut sled" here on Instructables. Make sure you have a good hold on the piece, and never force it through the blade if you meet any unusual resistance.

You can see in the pictures that there are three sections - let us call them foothills, tealight tableland, and mountains. Both foothills and mountains will cereive a number of slots (say 3-4) of decreasing depth, with material left standing between them.

Start with your table saw blade set to 2/3 the size of your stock and make a cut about one to two blade widths into the piece. Then lower the blade a bit and move the piece over twice the width of the kerf plus a little more. Repeat the cut. Do that two more times - now we have reached the tealight tableland.

To clear that out we leave the sawblade at the same height and do repeated cuts right next to each other. Just make sure that the remaining material is thick enough to receive a tealight hole later. Also, keep a tealight handy to gauge when our plateau is wide enough for it, because then we get to repeat the same process we used for the foothills, but this time we call them mountains. Keep lowering the blade, and after 3-4 slots we are (almost) done!

Last, cut off the piece. My saw would not go high enough so I cut a slot as deep as possible, then flipped the piece and finished the cut.

Step 2: Deviating From the Title...

As I mentioned in the introduction, there is one part of the project that while it can be done on the table saw (check out the video in this step) is a lot more easily done with a forstner bit of the appropriate size. In theory, you could also cut the front and back mountainscape off of the beam completely and glue both to a small piece of scrap that leaves enough space between them for the tealight to sit in.

Either way, make sure that the candle is held properly to make it as unlikely as possible for anything to go wrong later, say, by knocking it over. As always, there is a risk attached to candles and fire in general, and it is your own responsibility to take all the necessary precautions to keep yourself safe. As a general rule, do not do anything you do not feel comfortable with. This pertains to the table saw as well.

Step 3: Breaking the Slices

Did I say the table saw was the fun part? Well, not quite. This is the actual fun part, because here you get to break wood with your bare hande! Granted, the slices are pretty thin and break very easily, but still, you can derive a meassure of satisfaction from this!

As I mentioned before, we have cut the wood across the grain, which makes it not only very prone to breaking, but also very flexible as far as those break lines are concerned. That makes it easy to work with the natural weaknesses of the material in order to create what is basically a mini mountainscape.

If you are afraid of ruining your diorama-to-be, you can make another piece and cut a few slots in order to practice with these. Just keep in mind that each slice is bound to break differently, and that you can make small corrections to get to where you want by breaking off smaller pieces. While you could glue pieces back on I would not recommend that because it might show later.

I would recommend that you aim for several peaks, each a little lower and to the side from the one behind it. The photos should give you an idea of that I mean by that.

Step 4: Paint the Job

I did not record much of this step, but it is prett straightforward and you can see the final result in the picture.

For me, the idea was to recreate a "natural" gradient from lush green over rocky terrain to the snowy top. Maybe you want to do something completely different, like mountains on mars with reds and oranges and a small stranded astronaut painted in, or waves breaking in swirling colors of blue and foamy white. If that is the case, go for it and please share your creation!

Step 5: Seal the Deal (optional)

This step is not strictly necessary - all the hard work is already done. As an experiment, I used gold glitter effect spray paint on this one, and it did not come out as bad as it might sound. But it did not really add much in terms of sparkle to the project, either. It did however make the green parts look like lush meadows dotted with flowers, if you are into that sort of thing.

I also gave it a coat of "pure" spray lacquer, just because.

Step 6: Be Inspired!

Thanks for checking out this Instructable. If you want to see this made please check out the video on my YouTube channel - in case you are interrested, there is also a German version of said video. (And if you contemplate subscribing to my channel, rest assured that my newer videos are better than this classic).

If you make it, please share it, and let me know what you think! And as always, remember to be Inspired!

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