Introduction: Military Family Tribute Shelf

About: I'm a software engineer. I spend my days building things, and my nights tearing things apart.

I suspect most Americans have one or more family members who served in the military. If we consider all the ancestors who we'll never know, I'd bet all Americans have family who served.

My goal for this project was to honor not only my immediate family but also all my ancestors who were brave enough to accept that responsibility.

Step 1: ​Cut the Wood

Dimensions aren't critical because the vertical slats are intentionally staggered.

All the lumber is 3/4" thick.

  • Cut 5 pieces approximately 5.5 inches wide by 24 inches long.
  • The shelf is about 3.5 inches wide.
    • You won't know how long to make it until after you assemble the back. You could try and do the math then make your cuts perfect. But, I promise you'll be a bit off. The best way to make it look perfect is to rip the width now, then cut the length after you've assembled the back.
  • The back is held together by two horizontal pieces that about 2 inches wide and about 2 inches shorter than the width of the 5 vertical slats.
    • A rough estimate would be (5.5 * 5) - 2 = 25.5 inches. Don't worry about being perfect. Those pieces will be hidden on the back so they just need to be a little shorter than the width of the whole shelf.
    • The shelf is hung with a french cleat. When you cut the horizontal pieces for the back, spit one of them at a 45-degree angle. One half will be attached to the shelf. One half will be attached to the wall.

I know those numbers aren't precise, but that's how I work. Cut it close, then make it fit.

Step 2: ​Carve the Silhouettes

The biggest challenge here is adjusting the images so a small bit -- a 1/16" diameter flat end -- can carve out the details. The stars on the flag are the hardest part, so program the CNC machine to go very slowly around the delicate parts.

For the most part, painting in the silhouettes is easy. If you make a mistake, you can sand it out. The stars are the exception. They're too delicate to sand, so you have to get it right the first time. Use a fine-tipped brush, go slow, and stay focused on the task.

Step 3: ​Finishing the Wood

Everyone has their own favorite way to finish wood. Even though the wood cuts were all estimates, I felt this project deserved a silky smooth finish, so I spend a little more time on the finish.

Mix a batch of about 50% oil based satin polyurethane and 50% mineral spirits. Put on 5 to 6 coats and wait about 12 hours between each -- A coat in the morning before work, and a coat at night before bed. The last coat is 100% polyurethane, and you should let it dry for a full 24 hours or more.

Step 4: ​Assemble the Back

Stagger the shelves however you like then draw a line so it will look like the soldier and the flag are standing on the shelf. Keeping the boards square is critical. Transfer that line to the back of each piece, then flip the whole thing over making sure you keep the wood in the right order.

Attach horizontal pieces with screws and glue.

Step 5: ​Attach the Shelf

Cut a dado in the front of the piece for the shelf. This really isn't necessary, but it will help keep everything square as time wears out the screws and glue.

The lumber for the shelf was 3/4" thick, so use a 3/4" flat-ended router bit.

The straight edge of a piece of MDF can be used as a template to keep the router straight. Set the router to cut about 1/4" deep.

Cutting into the face of a nearly finished project is always a bit scary. So double check everything . . . twice.

Attach the shelf with glue and clamps.

Step 6: ​Hang the Shelf

The key to french cleats is hanging the lower brace level.

Put one screw through the lower half of the french cleat and make sure it goes into a stud. Put the shelf on that, and adjust the shelf so it's level. Mark the edges of the cleat, remove the shelf, and add whatever kind of dry wall anchors you think are best.

Home Improvement Contest 2017

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