Introduction: Japanese Family Name Plate

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My school runs an foreign exchange program with our sister school in Fukui, Japan. This year I got the unique experience of hosting a student from Japan in the Fall and then visiting his family later in the Spring. As an gift (or "omiyage") for my host family in Japan, I decided to make them a family name plate using extra wood pieces from my Warped Box project. I thought a name plate would be very meaningful and showcase my hobby in making things.

The wooden pattern is made from mahogany and oak on the bandsaw. I used my school's laser cutter to engrave the kanji of my student's surname into the wood and then painted it black. The final product exceeded my expectations and my host family loved it.

This project took me about a week working about a hour a day. In this Instructable, I'll show you how to make your own family name plate, whether it be in English or Japanese!

Japanese Surname Fun Facts:

  • Surnames often consist of two kanji which often have a variety of possible pronunciations
  • My student's surname, 塚崎 (tsukasaki), translates to "in front of the place that we deify a good"

  • Since many streets in Japan are not named, most families have house name plates with their surname on it

Step 1: Materials and Tools


The size of the plaque is a matter of preference. I chose 6" x 6" for each kanji, so I needed about 7" x 7" of both oak and mahogany (Note: In the photos, I used about 26" of each wood because I was also building my Warped Box). It is also worth noting if you are making one continuous name plate, you'll need the length of it in both types of wood and, at the end of the process, you'll have one extra name plate.

  • 3/4" x 7" x 7" mahogany
  • 3/4" x 7" x 7" oak
  • Black paint
  • Polyurethane


Below is a list of tools that I used. Other tools may be used as a substitute (such as a portable router instead of a laser cutter). As always, use proper safety precautions when working with machinery.

  • Band saw
  • Miter saw
  • Surface planer
  • Laser cutter or CNC
  • Clamps
  • Small paint brush
  • Tooth brush
  • Double sided tape

Step 2: The Pattern

The wavy patterned background was inspired by Peter Brown's Drunken Cutting Board. I decided to make the pattern a little more uniform than his, so I used printed out sine and cosine waves from Desmos for the pattern. I then made a full scale drawing and made the distance between stripes about 1.5" on the edges. I could then use these drawings as a reference when tracing the lines on the wood.

Step 3: Cutting the Horizontal Waves

Okay! We're finally at the fun part: cutting the pattern. First, you're going to want to make sure your mahogany and oak boards are exact same length and width. Then use four strips of double sided tape placed parallel to the width of the board to sandwich the mahogany and oak boards together.

Now, using the template you cut out earlier, trace only the waves running down the length of the board. Then, cut along the curves on the band saw, cutting through both boards simultaneously. Keep the cuts as smooth as possible.

Now you should have identical strips of both mahogany and oak. Remove the double sided tape and reassemble the two boards. Then, alternate every other strip with its pair of the other board. Make sure the waves match up and there are no gaps between strips.

Finally, glue each patterned board together. Use several bar clamps to apply pressure. Wipe off excess glue and check that there are no gaps along the joints. Wait 24 hours for the glue to dry before moving onto the next step.

Step 4: Cutting the Vertical Waves

Remove the clamps and run both boards through the surface planer just enough to flatten both sides of the boards.

Now repeat the same process in the last step, but this time cutting vertically. Start by using double sided tape parallel to the length of the boards, to sandwich the boards together. Make sure the boards are stacked in exactly the same orientation (If you were to see through the top board, the pattern would match the bottom board). Next, trace the vertical running waves and cut them out on the band saw. Repeat the process of removing the double sided tape, alternating the pieces, and gluing them together.

Step 5: Cutting to Exact Size

Once dry, plane the boards and trim them to final size using the miter saw. Then, I used a portable router and a 1/4" round over bit to soften the edges. When doing this, be careful not to be too aggressive or there might be tear out.

Next, use a finishing sander with 150 and then 220 grit on all surfaces.

Step 6: Laser Cutting the Kanji

First, I started with a jpeg of the kanji in the font I liked. Since the laser cutter only cuts vector type files, I needed a different file format than jpeg. So with the help of an experienced student, we imported the kanji into Adobe Illustrator, traced the shape, and exported it to the laser cutting program.

Our school has a Boss Laser Cutter and it took us about 10 minutes to etch the kanji into the wood at 30% power (see time lapse video above).

Step 7: Painting

I originally thought the laser would burn a black engraving but most of the charred wood could be removed to expose the natural wood color. So to get more contrast, I decided to paint the kanji black.

I used a black water based acrylic paint and a small paint brush to get all the details. The nice thing was the kanji was engraved just enough so that the paint wouldn't spread past the lines.

Step 8: Finishing

I sanded any stray paint marks and rough patches with 220 grit sand paper. Then I coated the whole plaque in water based polyurethane. I covered the black acrylic paint with the polyurethane and I had no problems with that. I applied two coats and sanded with 500 grit in between coats.

Finally, I packed these with me on my visit to Japan and my host family!


Mata Ne!

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