Introduction: Woven Wood Cross in Time for Easter
First Prize in the
Hand Tools Only Contest 2016
I wanted to get this Instructable up in time for Easter. It's an easy and elegant project requiring minimal tools and supplies.
This project began as so many do - my wife sees a picture of something and asks me if I can do it. In this case, she saw a picture of a cross stitch that depicted a woven cross. Trouble is, I knew she wasn't asking if I could do a cross stitch - that's one of her specialties. No, she wanted me to figure out a way to make it in wood - one of my specialties.
I had my doubts. If you're familiar with the works of M. C. Escher you'll know that not everything that you can represent in two dimensions can actually exist in three dimensions. I was afraid this cross might turn out to be one of those. If I bend the wood to position the way it looks in the picture, will it come out to the appropriate angles to join together like the picture indicates it will? Well, you never know until you try - so I told her I'd give it a shot.
Eight strips of the veneer of your choice, each 3/8" wide by about 12" long. I used an eight foot roll of 3/4" wide cherry veneer from the local hardware store ($2.99) and cut it lengthwise into 3/8" width strips then into 12" pieces.
Mounting board/frame of your choosing. I'm showing it surrounded by a shadow box frame, but use your imagination.
About 2 feet of thick cardboard tube.
One miniature bungee cord (8") - got mine in a pack of six at the local dollar store.
Two 1 1/4" diameter wood disks.
Clear epoxy glue.
Finish of your choice. I used Danish Oil.
Mineral spirits possibly - see instructions.
Saw - coping saw to cut curves is great.
Step 1: Making the Form
Taking measurements from the picture, I figured the strips of wood should be about 3/8" wide and the diameter of the cross members should be about 1 1/4 inches. The cross would be about ten inches tall and eight inches wide. The wood was the easy part. A trip to the local hardware store produced an eight foot roll of cherry veneer that was 3/4 inches wide. No big problem - just slit it down the middle and you have two 3/8" wide strips. How I was going to make it into a cross shape was another matter. I figured right away that I needed a form of some sort that I could wrap the strips around and glue the ends together where they met. Rummaging around in the basement I was lucky enough to find a thick cardboard tube that was 1 1/4 inches in diameter.
But wait a minute - if you wrap and glue the strips around a cross-shaped form, the form will be trapped inside the wood strips. So you need to make a cross form that you can disassemble and remove after making the wood strip cross. I cut a piece of cardboard tube 10 inches long for the vertical piece of the cross form and two 3 3/4 inch pieces that would be the arms of the cross. I traced the arc of the vertical piece on one end of each arm piece and then cut and sanded these to the mark until they fit snugly against the vertical piece (Figure 1).
I also cut two wood circles 1 1/4" in diameter and cut a U shaped groove from the edge to the center of each of these. Then I drilled a hole through the vertical cross member at the center of where the arms would go. I removed one hook from the end of the 8" bungee cord, slid the end that still had a hook into the groove in one of the wood disks, threaded the other end through one arm, through the hole in the vertical cross member, and through the other arm. Pulling that end all the way through the second arm piece, I then slid it into the groove in the other wood disk. This drew the arms to the vertical cross member to make the cross I needed for my form (Figure 2). When the wood strip cross is finished, just slide this end out of the groove in the wood disk and remove the bungee cord. Then slide the arms out from inside the wood strips and slide the vertical cross member out. Mission accomplished!
Step 2: Getting Back to the Bare Wood
Since the wood will be bent so that both front and back sides show in the finished project you need the wood to be bare on both sides.
You will find that your veneer is (a) equipped with a layer of glue on the back, (b) does not have glue, but has a very, very thin layer of paper on the back, or (c) is just plain wood.
If it is just plain wood, lucky you! You can skip this step altogether. If you are using pre-glued strips from the local big box hardware as I did however, you're going to run into three problems. Here's how I solved them:
Problem #1 - If your veneer is pre-glued, you first need to remove the glue. I tried a rag and some mineral spirits and, while it worked, I determined that it would take approximately forever to get the glue off all of the wood strips. So I went for the wholesale approach. Pour about half an inch of mineral spirits into a wide bowl and toss your wood strips in. Let them soak for about an hour. Take them out and you should find that the glue will peel right off the backs in one long strip. At worst, you'll have to scrape just a tiny bit with a fingernail to get some of the glue off. Let the veneer dry.
Problem #2 - Whether or not your veneer was pre-glued you may still have a very, very thin layer of paper on the back. I did - even after the mineral spirits bath. Put a pot of water on the stove, dump your veneer strips in, and bring it to a boil. Let it boil for a half an hour or so. This will soften both the paper and the wood. Take the strips out and lightly sand the back to remove all of the paper. Now you're down to the bare wood.
Problem #3 - In the process of stripping the wood down, you will probably discover some strips that have been joined together - especially if you used a roll of pre-glued veneer as I did. You won't be able to use these strips, so replace them with pieces that don't have a joint and put them through the treatment above. Figure 3 shows the zig-zag joint where two strips of veneer have been joined together to make one longer strip. Can you see it? The process of soaking the veneer in mineral spirits and boiling it in water will weaken these joints so they will eventually (or immediately!) fail. Since you only need eight 12" long strips of veneer for the project and an eight foot roll of 3/4" veneer is enough to produce 16 strips you'll have plenty to spare.
Step 3: Wrapping the Veneer
While your veneer is flexible, it is not flexible enough. Dump the strips into a pot of boiling water (again) and let them soak until they are very pliable. Print out the picture of the finished cross to use as a reference. Take the first strip out of the water, wipe off the excess water, and lay it on the arms of the cross (I started at the bottom), mimicking the angles shown in the picture. Wrap a strip of painter's tape (I cut mine down the middle to half the width) around the end of the cross form to hold this strip in place. Again, observing the picture, wrap the strip up and around the vertical cross member, and around one of the side arms. Secure the end with painter's tape. You'll observe that the second strip of veneer follows the first one, so lay it in place next, securing the ends with another layer of painter's tape at each end. Try to wrap each strip so that it is as close as possible to the surface of the form, but don't try to pull them terribly tight - you'll need a bit of leeway so you can weave subsequent strips into them.
If you started at the bottom as I did, you should continue the process from the arm where you ended the first strips and go to the top of the vertical cross member. You do not have to worry about weaving the veneer at the ends of the cross at this point - you'll do that later. But where the strips cross the center of the form, you need to weave them as shown in the picture when you apply each strip now.
Continue the process from the top of the cross form down to the other arm and finally from that arm back down to the base until all strips are applied and woven together at the center of the form. You should now have something that looks like Figure 4. Lay it aside for a day or so until the veneer dries completely.
Step 4: Gluing the Veneer
You'll be working from the back side of the form for this step, so use the picture of the finished cross from the back (Figure 5) as a guide for weaving the ends of the strips.
Once the veneer has thoroughly dried, carefully remove all the painter's tape holding the strips in place on one arm of the form. You'll find the veneer has pretty much dried to the shape of the form and the strips will behave themselves. On each arm you will have four strips of veneer that have to be woven just a bit, so refer to the picture and weave them into place. Mix up a small batch of clear epoxy with a toothpick. I used Loctite Quick Set epoxy which gave me a working time of 5 minutes and was able to do two complete ends with a batch of epoxy. You may want either a slower setting epoxy to give you more working time or you may do just one end with each batch of epoxy. Just don't rush yourself.
Take the toothpick and apply epoxy between the layers of veneer at each of the three intersections where the strips end (there is no need to glue the intersection that is not at the end of the strips). See Figure 6. Try very hard not to get any epoxy on any of the wood that will face outward or on the form itself. Use a small clamp to hold each glued intersection in place. Since the top and bottom of the form are open, you can use simple spring clamps when doing those ends. On the two arms that are covered by the wood disks you'll have to use a mini clamp that can open wide enough to clamp around the entire 1 1/4 inch diameter of the form (Figure 7). Let the glue dry.
Step 5: Remove the Form
Remove your clamps. Slide the hookless end of the bungee cord out of the groove in the wood disk and remove the bungee cord and the wood disks. Pull both arms of the form out. If you happened to get a bit of epoxy on the front facing side of any strips or on the form, use a long, straight Xacto blade and run it gently between the wood strips and the form where they may have been glued together until you can easily slide the form out. Do the same for the vertical member of the form. Take a pair of scissors and carefully trim the excess ends off each strip of wood (Figure 8). The cross itself is now complete. Apply the finish of your choice.
Step 6: Making a Mount or Frame
Use your imagination here - there are many ways you can make your cross into a stunning piece of wall art. Some ideas that come to mind:
A. A simple painted or stained wood plaque in whatever shape you think would look nice - a dab of glue at the end of each arm of the cross would do it.
B. A Lucite rod mounted on a wood or Lucite base. Run the rod up through the center of the cross and glue the cross to the rod at the back top and bottom. This would make a really nice free-standing display.
C. For this Instructable, I decided to make a shadow box frame to both highlight the three-dimensional nature of the cross and to provide a bit of protection as well. I used invisible thread to float the cross about one half inch in front of the back board and painted the back board the same color as the wall on which the frame hangs. Figure 9 shows the completed cross - unretouched - installed in the frame. If there's any interest, I could do a separate Instructable on making the shadow box frame.
There you have it - a really eye-catching cross that would make a wonderful gift for someone you love - less than five bucks for the materials, a few hours work spread over a few days and very simple tools - what more could you ask for? Thanks for visiting my Instructable and I hope it inspires you to try it for yourself.
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