United States Map - Recycled Wood Decorative Piece




Introduction: United States Map - Recycled Wood Decorative Piece

About: Engineer by day, soldier by night. Christian Reed

The famed New York Master Builder Robert Moses once said "Those who can, build. Those who can't, criticize." Let us fall under the first category and make something to impress even the Master Builder. Today's project is another fun, simple, and patriotic endeavor that is sure to shine red, white, and blue across your dreams. The recycled wood american map is a collection of scrap wood pieces, sorted into a frame, and then engraved with a pre-1959 map of the United States. The wood used for this project can come completely from your scrap wood bin. Once complete, you now have a fine piece of Americana to hang in your dining room to start conversations with strangers and unknown relatives. No need to try and remember their names!

As with our previous patriotic endeavor of the Flag Table, this will also be organized into coherent and easy to follow steps. Skill level 2/5 skills required to complete this project (basic wood working skills).

This is another Middle East project that I worked on during one of my days off. It can be made from minimal resources using a minimal amount of tools.

I have organized each step of this Instructable into 5 sections to try and make it as clear and easy to follow as possible:

  1. Step Aim: where I discuss what we will accomplish/create in this step.
  2. Tools: which tools will be required to perform this step.
  3. Materials: what materials from the part list will you need in this step.
  4. Directions: step by step directions for this particular component's construction.
  5. Tips: where I make note of any problems I ran into and ways to avoid them during your building process.

As some background, my name is Christian Reed and I am a 2014 Mechanical Engineering Graduate from MIT. I am currently serving as an officer in the US Army in the Engineer Corp. Please visit my website which showcases almost everything I have ever made, invented, or worked on.

Step 1: Getting Ready for the Fun Day in the Heat

Well maybe not too hot depending on where you live. It was about 114 degrees F when this bad boy was made and it was done in a day so you at home should have no problem doing this by yourself or with your daughter or son as a first wood project! Lets get started!


  • Assortment of scrap wood (literally anything will work)
  • 1" x 2" x 8' for the frame (although this is flexible)
  • Wood Glue
  • (4) 3 1/2" Framing Screws
  • Black Spray Paint


  • - Compound Miter Saw
  • - Drill
  • - Dremel with Wood Engraving Bit
  • -Clamp Assortments

Again, my advice is to read through the whole Instructable first before gathering any materials or starting the project. I have found this to be a good technique for working on instruction based projects and helps de-conflict problems before they become an issue.

Step 2: Beginning the Puzzle

1) Step Aim:

Here, we begin to solve the puzzle. We will make the basic frame and then start to cut pieces to fill in the frame as best we can before making any custom pieces.

2) Tools

  • Miter Saw
  • Tape Measure
  • Clamps
  • Drill
  • Speed Square
  • Pencil
  • Palm Sander

3) Materials:

  • Scrap Wood
  • Screws
  • Wood glue (only for frame, do not put on inner pieces)

4) Directions:

Alright, here we go. Start by cutting a frame depending on how big you want it. Again, this is your project. Make it as big or as small as you want, it does not matter either way. For mine, it was about 18" x 30". The frame is as simple as they come. If you feel comfortable enough (note: it's actually super easy), miter all the corners (45 degrees). This will make it look much neater at the end. Once cut, glue them all together and screw the framing screws in for extra support and guarantee the frame will be robust enough to support the whole project. Once the frame is complete, start butchering up your scrap wood. The best method for this is to make a stop (a wood clamped to 'stop' the wood in the right position, and guarantee all the pieces cut are the same size. If they are slightly different heights, no worries, we will be sanding it all later anyway.

5) Tips:

Make sure the grain are all the same for the pieces you cut, it will look much better. What I mean by this is if you are cutting a 2" x 4" up to use, make sur eyou utilize the cut face side and not the side that is not cut. The grain pattern will look much better. If this is not clear, reference the photos above or send me a message

Step 3: Cutting the Filler Pieces

1) Step Aim:

Now, let us fill in all those pesky gaps that none of our scrap wood seems to fit. Be sure to be veryyyyyyy careful when cutting theses pieces. Use clamps and do not put your hands within 10" of the Miter blade on either side.

2) Tools:

  • Miter Saw
  • Clamps
  • Table saw (may be useful here if you have long pieces you can cut to size)

3) Materials:

  • More scrap pieces of wood

4) Directions:

Here we have to do the kind of painful step of making pieces to fill in all of those gaps none of scrap pieces seem to fit. Measure them out and make jigs, like seen in the picture above. If they are not exact, no worries, it will give the piece character and will not be a big deal later on. This is probably the most 'difficult' step so take your time and do the best you can to eliminate as many gaps as possible by rearranging the wood.

5) Tips

Be safe when you do this and do not lose any fingers. Keep them clear of the blade. Use clamps.

Step 4: Gluing the Pieces Togeather

1) Step Aim:

Here, we are going to glue all the pieces together and then sand them down to create a smooth and level surface to engrave.

2) Tools:

  • Sander

3) Materials:

  • Wood Glue

4) Directions:

Begin by carefully removing the frame and placing it next to the pieces of wood. Take a picture of the arrangement because its like putting a puzzle back together. You now need to glue each piece and place it back in its original location within the frame. Make sure an ample amount of glue is applied to ensure proper bonding. A hot shot may be able to pressure hold everything in place but that was not me. Once you leave the glue for a few hours (or a day), sand one side to create a level surface. This may take a while. A belt sander would make quick work of this.

5) Tips

Reference your picture often to make sure everything is going back to the right spot. You do not want to have everything messed up because of one out of place piece.

Step 5: Lets Go Engrave Something!

1) Step Aim:

Lets print out and put together a map now that we can trace with the Dremel after

2) Tools:

  • Printer
  • Dremel (Flex shaft makes process easier)

3) Materials:

  • Paper

4) Directions:

Now for some fun. First, use your favorite program to enlarge a map of the United States to fit your work piece. I used Microsoft Publisher and found a generic United States map. From here, I printed out a map scaled to fit my wood piece. I taped it down and used the Dremel to engrave the map (it will go right through the paper with the engraving tip). Once engraved, go back over the lines again to make them as deep as possible. This will ensure they do not disappear when we sand them. Make sure and double check all the features and engraved and we will be good to go!

5) Tips:

Make sure the engravings are clearly defined and deep enough.

Step 6: Don't Forget Your Sander

1) Step Aim:

Now we get to perform some tasteless vandalism and paint ruin our creation with black spray paint. Just kidding, but we are going to paint the whole thing.

2) Tools:

  • None

3) Materials:

  • Black Spray Paint

4) Directions:

Begin by shaking the spray paint can and doing some test sprays on a piece of cardboard. Once we verify that the stream works, paint, lightly but thoroughly, over the entire surface. Let it dry completely. Once dry, run over the whole thing with a sander (be advised, this may ruin a few pads that gum up with paint). Clean off dust often so it does not ruin already sanded sections. For mine, I did not completely remove the paint from the center of the map to distinguish it form the outside border, which was sanded more. Finish up by sanding the outside edges of the American map border to clean things up.

5) Tips

Spray lightly and use the sander to your advantage. The effect is that of some nice stain without having to track any down.

Step 7: A Piece of Art Worthy Of

Congragulations! You now have a fine piece of Americana to hang in your bedroom, batcave, living room, or even your overpriced studio apartment. The piece is sure to draw the attention and envy of all who see it. Good work and keep up the inventive spirit. You can see how useful this technique can be. Try to make other items or turn it into a coffee table. I love to see new ideas and modifications of this project. Be sure to check out my blog for other fun and inventive projects.

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