Introduction: Dreamers, Shapers, Singers, Makers

About: Find more of what I do on my homepage - but no matter where you go, remember to Be Inspired!

This sign is inspired by a quote from an old sci-fi series, and for some reason, it stuck with me. By the very nature of how I made this sign, you most likely will not be able to recreate it the way I made it - and as well you shouldn't!

Maybe you have another quote that you want to do, or (more likely) you do not have the same crap laying around to adorn whatever quote you chose in the same fashion. This Instructable is about the techniques used and the idea behind them, to inspire you to make something unique!

Let me give you a quick overview of why I chose those four words, and then how I made the sign!

Step 1: Origins of the Quote

What it comes down to is that those four terms are used in the science-fiction series Babylon 5 to describe the group known as Techno-Mages. The whole quote goes like this:

"We are dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers. We study the mysteries of laser and circuit, crystal, and scanner, holographic demons, and invocations of equations. These are the tools we employ, and we know many things."

That resonated with me, and not just because it is a cool concept. I could make analogies to the maker community and how they very much like Techno-Mages in that they gather and share knowledge and apparently do magic every now and then, but I will leave the interpretation up to you.

For me, those four terms felt like a good quite to hang up on the wall, especially since I have found it hard in the past to pick any quote that I wanted to have on my wall - because there are so many good ones out there.

Step 2: Tools and Materials

Here are the tools you will most likely need to make this, but keep in mind that you can use whatever tool you have as long as it gets the job done. Also, if you chose a different design direction you might need different tools for what you want to achieve.

Here are the materials I used:

  • plywood - I used different thicknesses for different parts of this sign. The large backing piece was 3mm or 1/8'' thick, the letters about twice that. I also used some 3/4" or 18mm stock to make screw blocks.
  • wood - to make the boxes for the words. You can use plywood here, too, if you feel so inclined.
  • mdf - a small piece to make a hole position template.
  • wood glue - to keep the wooden things together.
  • paint - either to brush or to spray, depending on your artistic vision and realistic expectation.
  • decoration - This is a tricky position because I went through my shop and picked up pieces that I thought would fit the four terms. Here you will need to improvise, depending on what terms you chose.
  • screws - to attach the boxes to the back.
  • hot glue - because it is technically a material.
  • LED strips - for the backlight effect. I used neopixels, which are utter overkill. If you know what you want just use plain LED strips of the desired color. You can also use a decorative string if lights for this if you can get them where you need them to go.

And these are the tools I worked with:

  • computer - to make the templates, and that includes a printer to print them. If you are so inclined, you can also use a pencil directly on wood.
  • table saw - to cut the plywood to size. Other saws work as well, of course.
  • scroll saw - for cutting out the letters. While it will take longer, you can use a fretsaw as well.
  • sander - to remove templates, pencil marks, and sharp corners.
  • brushes or sponges - to apply paint. This also depends on your artistic vision and what you have on hand.
  • clamps - to keep things close till the glue is ready.
  • hot glue gun - useful for gluing detritus to wood.
  • drill press - to make holes in places where you need them and
  • drill bits - to do the actual hole-making. You need drills for both pilot holes and through holes for the screws you use.

Step 3: The Words

I got lucky in that the four words I chose to put on this sign all have pretty distinct meanings and themes attached to them. I searched the internet for fonts matching what I had in mind, and created the templates for my signs in Inkscape, using a template to get them all the same size.

Inkscape is a free vector drawing program and not hard to learn. For this, all you need is the ability to write a word, draw a square, and size the one to fit the other. Then I printed these templates out - two per page - and cut them out roughly to place them on the wood.

When picking good-looking fonts you should keep in mind that you will need to cut out those shapes. So while a smudged-looking font may look awesome on the screen, think about how much fun it would be to cut those lines out on the scroll saw first. Also, consider that you need a pilot hole to thread the saw blade through, so fine details would get lost anyway.

Step 4: The Wood

For the letter pieces, I used what I would call medium plywood - 6mm or 1/4" thick. That should be sturdy enough for the letters while at the same time not coming out too heavy in the end. I recommend you cut the pieces you need to the right dimensions from the start - that is the box you used for your templates in Inkscape. That way, you do not need to clean up afterward.

To adhere the templates to the wood you could use spray adhesive, but I have found that it does not stick too well in the long run. And since I did not want to have to realign templates or losing pieces mid-sawing, I chose to use wood glue. That will cause more work in its removal later, but also make sure that the template stays put.

Also, you can use solid wood here, but plywood has the advantage that it is less likely to break off when you have pointed or flimsy pieces, depending on what font you used.

Step 5: Cutting Words (out)

To cut out the letters you first need to drill holes into each and every spot you want to cut out. Use a drill bit that is slightly larger than the saw blade you are using, and - preferably - a drill press to drill those holes. One thing to keep in mind is that if you use scroll saw blades with a pin (like I do), you need a larger bit to accommodate for that.

Once all the holes are drilled, start cutting out the letters. Make sure not to go too fast, and try to straddle the line from the inside. You can always sand the inside face to make it look smoother, but if you go over there is no way to fix it easily. It is better to cut a radius inside a corner, then nibble your way into it, as opposed to trying to cut directly to the point.

If you have disconnected parts of letters (like the inside of a D, an A, an R and so on), I recommend cutting them out first and putting them aside for later.

Step 6: Additional Cutting

If you haven't done so before, now is the time to cut the plywood pieces to the size of the box used on the template. It is not as easy as it would have been before placing the templates, and I used a jointing jig on the table saw to make the first cut. It comes down to a sled with a way to clamp pieces down to.

Also, I need to remove the template, and as it turns out, sanding it off is a rather lengthy process. After the first one, I switched to watering it and using a putty knife to scratch most of the paper off, then sand the rest. This step might be easier if you used spray adhesive, but like I said, I have had some template failures with it in the past.

Step 7: Boxing Them In

After finishing cutting out the letters you can go straight ahead with this step unless you did it like me and did not cut the plywood pieces to size before cutting the letters. Which you really should, because doing so afterward is an unnecessary hassle. I did it that way anyway.

Now, in order to achieve the desired effect of depth and possibly backlight, the letter plate needs to be raised above the back piece. To that end, I cut a number of strips from solid wood, roughly 1" or 2,5 cm wide and 5mm or 1/5" thick. You can use plywood as well, but it does not bring you any benefits in my opinion. There will not be much mechanical stress on these pieces, after all.

From that stock, I first cut the long pieces to fit the length of the plates. Those pieces then got glued to the back of the words and held them in place with clamps. Then I roughly measured the dimensions of the required short sides and cut those, working my way down to make for a good fit despite possible deviations in dimensions. I also clamped and glued those in place as well.

Once the glue has set I use an orbital sander to smooth out the whole box and also round over every edge and corner. I want the whole thing to look as smooth as possible not to distract from the additional design pieces.

And while I was at it, I did the same for the larger backer piece.

Step 8: Black and White

At this point, I paint the words white from the inside and outside, which includes the part of the backer board which they will be sitting on. The rest of the back piece I then paint black.

Painting the letters was not easy with all the tight spots and sides exposed. If you can spray them you should, but since spray cans are not cheap and the white needs to cover, I spent some time using small brushes on this. An airbrush system might have been a good solution, too, but sadly, I do not have one.

Step 9: Hole Positions

In order to screw the words to the back of the sign, I glue small blocks of plywood into the corners of the word boxes. Make sure that they do not interfere with the led-strip if you are planning on adding any.I also chamfered them on one side to make them less visible from the outside.

Now, to connect the boxes to the backer you need four holes through the back that align perfectly with four pilot holes in the four plywood blocks. In order to get all that done, I made a template that made this job a whole lot easier, and all it took was a thin piece of MDF.

I placed one of the word boxes onto it and traced around it. Then I cut it out. I used the bandsaw because it is faster, but the scroll saw would do the trick just as well. Then, I placed the fitting piece against the back of a word box and marked the hole positions I wanted. To do that, I slid it along one side until I could see the plywood block and traced the center. Then I did the same for the other direction, and the point where those two lines cross is where I want to drill a small hole.

Step 10: Using the Template

With the holes drilled into the template, I can now mark one side as "up" and "top" on the template to keep the alignment going. Then I place it against each word box and use a pencil (a punch would work, too) to mark where I need to drill pilot holes.

In the same way, I place the template on the backer where I want the word boxes to sit and mark the positions for the through holes there.

After all hole positions are marked, I use the appropriate drill bits in the drill press on those marks. A smaller one for a pilot hole into the plywood blocks, and a larger one for the through hole in the back.

Step 11: Step One: Decorative Paint

I tried to give every plain white box a paint job that in some way matched its theme. This is, of course, where creativity kicks in and you can do whatever you want. Here is what I chose for mine and how I did it. Feel free to try out your own ideas, because you can always go back and paint over it.

The Dreamers receives a cloud pattern using a sponge to dab dark and light blue on it. The idea is that Dreamers are somewhat in the clouds, which also fits this term standing at the top.

The Shapers are pretty straightforward - I painted some shapes on them, circle, triangle, and circle. A smaller pattern would have worked as well but could be harder to apply considering you have to paint around the letters. A different way would be to cut a stencil from cardboard and use spray paint on it.

For the Singers I chose to go heavy on the staves, using skewers with paint slathered on to produce sets of five parallel lines. I could have painted (or stenciled) notes, but I wanted to keep this simple.

And for the Makers, I wanted to go with copper, mainly just because I like it. I used painters tape to tape off the center with the actual word and the bottom half of the walls, then spray painted what was left.

There are many other terms you could use (a whole dictionary full of them, as a matter of fact). I would love to hear or see what you come up with, and if you are lost for ideas drop me a comment and we'll see what we can do about that!

Step 12: Colorful Language (with LEDs)

The basic idea here is to start in one corner and place the strip on the wall, possibly close to the top so it will not as easily be seen directly through the letters. If you have the kind of strip that comes with an adhesive backer, you should be good to go.

Mine did not, so I had to improvise with double-sided tape, which probably will not hold them as well in the long run. But still it worked to get them in place, and they should stay that way with a couple of points attached to the frame long enough.

If you are using different strips for different letters make sure to mark them in a visible way. Using electrical tape in the same color would be one way to go, or adding marks with a waterproof marker on the strips themselves.

Step 13: Step Two: Decorative Clutter

This step is a bit more optional than the previous one. If you manage to create a paint job good enough, you might want to omit gluing bits and pieces to it. If not, here is again what I did, hoping that it sparks some inspiration.

For the Makers, I used some single cell cuties left over from an old whirligig. The idea was that they represent creatures from a dream as well as potential to grow. I attached them with hot glue and made use of spacers to make sure that the larger one did not obstruct the light. I also added some baby bottle handles to represent the tentacles of whatever is waiting for you in the clouds. I like to think of them as cute and positive tentacles, though.

On the Shapers, I used ca glue to add lots of small geometric pieces from plastic and MDF. Those are leftovers from laser cut projects I have collected over the years (not having a laser myself). In addition to that, I used steel shavings from the trash bin of a local CNC company, because they are the result of shaping, after all, right?

Keeping things consistent with the staves of the Singers, I sandwiched old guitar strings between strips of maple and glued them to the inside of the word box so they create a very loose representation of staves, without the least bit of tension. Into that, I added a few notes cut from maple, because there should be a bit more going on there than just staves.

To decorate the Makers was a little easier. I used hot glue to place vacuum tubes, LEDs, copper wire and parts from an old hard drive onto it. As an afterthought, I also added a couple of strips of cloth to represent that Makers are about more than electronics.

Again, let me know (and see) what you are coming up with. And if you are lost for ideas, shoot me a comment or message and I will try to help!

Step 14: Optional: Lighting

The LED strips I attached require some more work using an Arduino and the FastLED library. Looking back, I think the neopixels I used are overkill, though. Also, if you want to get into microcontrollers, there are plenty of good Instructables here for you to dive into.

What I ended up doing is setting each word to a single, dimmed down color. This could be easily done with plain strips of that color, and even going white with all of them and adding the desired color via paint on the inside would work well.

In my opinion, the sign works well without light, too, so you be the judge of whether you want to incorporate LEDs or not!

Step 15: Final Thoughts

First of all, thanks for checking out this Instructable! It is not actually meant for you to recreate what I made, but to give you ideas and inspiration to make signs of your own (and if you do, please use the "I made it!" feature below!).

I can see this concept work for a number of different quotes and phrases, even for whole sentences (if they are not too long). Placing single word boxes next to each other can work well, too.

Don't forget to check out the video above and let me know what you think in the comments!

And remember to Be Inspired!

Trash to Treasure

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Trash to Treasure