Introduction: Upcycled Objects Into Artwork - Preserving a Piece of History

About: Always tinkered with electronics and always loved HiFi. Always enjoy fixing my own stuff and love clever solutions to problems.

What to do with a vintage saxophone that has been in the family for generations? Rather than throw away a piece of beautiful craftsmanship or leave it hidden in storage I wanted to display it. So the idea came to make a piece of "art" from it.

Project goals:

1) Make something that could be hung on a living room wall to display a bit of family history.

2) Leave the sax' as undamaged as possible.

3) Do it all on a very limited budget.


1) Backboard: Piece of shelving plywood or other timber sheet large enough to frame up your "object of desire". You'll need something at least 10mm thick for larger objects.

2) Picture frame or suitable framing materials: Op Shops are great sources for old frames. Look for a suitable style and be prepared to recolour it. I couldn't find a frame so I made one out of some spare hardwood pieces I had.

3) Straps, glue, string etc for attaching your object: I used some pieces of webbing strap but even old shoelaces (flat type) for lighter objects would work. You make need to consider posts or wire supports. For posts you can use dowel.

4) Brackets, screws and glue: Screws need to be as large as possible to provide secure support but not come through the backboard when tightened from behind. Use Pan heads, cabinet makers screws or others with suitable heads to hold your fixings. To clamp the strap I used scraps of steel sheet cut into suitable squares.

5) Paint and stain: For my frame I got a sample can of "Japanese Black" stain which I used with spare Danish Oil. For the backboard I used some leftover spray paint; satin black and oiled bronze.

6) Lights: Christmas lights or similar that do not require wiring are the safest choice. I had a piece of LED strip spare so I did a bit of experimenting and decided it would work. I think warm white suited the antique style of my project. You may want to use cool white for a modern "bright" effect or even coloured lights.

5) Picture hanging kit suited to the weight of your finished piece. If in doubt make everything and then weight it to be certain. Felt or other padding to protect your wall from an screw head etc.


1) A mitre saw and mitre box for any framing work.

2) Power saw if you need to resize your back board.

3) Drill and bits to suit your fixing screws, wire and dowel (pre-drilling holes for screws will give better results on chipboard, MDF etc.)

4) Router or drill and round file if you need to cut slots in your back board.

Step 1: Sizing Up the Artwork.

The first step is to work out how everything will go together. (read "if it could go together!") I laid the sax on a flat table and had a good look at where it rested. Did it naturally sit against the table at the right angle or would I need to tip it? Did I have contact points that I could use to support the sax safely? How could I attach it without damaging it? How would the lighting work? How could I wire it through the sax and backing board?

Depending on your feature you could attach the lights to the rear of it and reflect them off your backboard or on your backboard to reflect of the back of your object. My only suggestion is to experiment before you glue everything and see what works best. I used some blu tack to hold the lights in various ways before I settled on my final configuration.

I decided to put the LED strip inside the sax but realised I would need to have all the keys of the sax open for the light to show correctly. Some are naturally open when the sax is not in use but others would have to be held open. I thought the best way was to carefully take the key apart and reverse the needle spring so it pushed the key open. This prevented any damage to the sax and any visible wire or string.

TIP: If you have to disassemble something complex, take pictures as you go and ensure the parts are laid out in order so you can get things back together again.

Once I had decided I could mount the sax I needed to sort out a backing board and frame. I had a spare MDF (plywood) shelf that seemed the right size. In the picture you can see the sax resting on it after I had painted it with primer.(refer to the "painting" step)

I also decided on my frame at this point. I could not find a suitable one at nearby Op Shops so I measured up and bought enough hardwood to wrap around the edges of my back board.

Step 2: Straps and Screws - Test Fit

With the sax in position I marked where the mounting points would be. I planned to use the neck and the cages that protected the keys to hang the sax. If I had needed posts to lift the sax away from the back board I would have marked the spots for these.

If you need posts drill the hole for your dowel through the back board ensuring the dowel fits snugly. Place you back board flat and insert the post to about the right height. With your art piece on your board adjust the post until you have the right height. Clamp your post in place temporarily and see how other fixing points are affected. Adjust everything until you are happy. Mark your dowels at the board and cut to length. Don't glue them yet!

I only needed to cut slots for my straps. I cut them so the sax would hide them and the straps as much as possible. I used a router but you could also drill a row of closely spaced holes and use a round file to remove the wood between them.

After cutting I looped the straps through the sax and board and clamped them so I could test everything was the way I wanted before making anything permanent. Any mistakes could be rectified with some wood filler.

Step 3: Mounting the Sax

With the straps pulled tight I melted screw holes through the strap with a soldering iron. I wrapped the iron in foil so the melted strap would not mess up the tip. The hot iron burnt through the strap easily and the tip marked the back panel where the screw would go. To permanently hold the straps I used the plates to spread the load and prevent the screws tearing the strap. I predrilled holes for the screws with the right bit that I marked with tape to prevent it coming through the front and necessitating filling.

One final test of the fixings before the frame and finishing. At this point I weighed the work to ensure I purchased a wall mount, picture wire etc that was rated for the final weight.

I removed the sax to finish the framing.

Step 4: Framing It Up

Using a mitre box and fine toothed saw I cut the 45 degree end cuts for the corners of the frame. I was planning to glue the sections along the sides of my back board but you may be gluing them onto the front.

Gluing your frame to the front of your backboard is easier but you'll see the edges of your back board and you'll need to create the gap shown in my diagram for the wires and screws. Add a thin strip of timber on the back around the edges and paint the edges to match your frame. If you are fussy you can fill and sand the plywood edges to hide the texture before attaching the frame and backing strips.

If you are resizing a second hand frame, cut through 2 of the existing corners diagonally across from each other. You can shorten the sides as you need to cutting fresh corners and rejoining everything.

I did most of the painting before I put everything together. I used a fine sandpaper to smooth everything before I painted.

Sample cans are a great way to get a small amount of finish. I used Japan black stain to age the frame wood. I finished it with some spare Danish Oil.I primed the backboard before I painted it to ensure good coverage . I sprayed the black and oiled bronze on in several light coats to get an even finish without dripping.

With everything dry I glued each frame piece to the sides of my back board and clamped them to dry. If you don't have big clamps you can clamp everything to your work table or other scraps of timber to brace it while it drys. To reinforce the frame I used picture frame corners attached to the back. I was afraid that the frame might warp so I decided to reinforce the glue. At several points along each side I drilled sideways through the frame into the backboard and used pieces of bamboo skewer as thin dowels to add more strength.

TIP: I used a little black wood filler to finish the corner joins to add more aging effect and hide my amatuer joinery.You could even use a marker. Put some of your final finish on it to blend the joints with the rest of the frame.

Time to finish all the hardware. I attached the picture hangers as directed on the packet. I also added some felt pads to the bottom corners on the back of the frame to protect the wall. Now glue those dowel posts if you have them!

Step 5: Light It Up!

This step took far more effort then I thought it would. I removed several keys to get better access to the inside of the sax. I wanted to hide the lights so they were not visible from the room so I had to position them carefully inside the sax out of sight from the openings. This way the light would be reflected from the metal interior and the LEDs would be out of sight.

I attached a string to the far end removable backing of the LED strip and fed the strip into the sax with a straightened coat hanger. When it was in position I held it there whilst I pulled the string back to reveal the end of the adhesive which I pressed on place to hold the strip. I worked my way back from the far end of the strip removing the backing a little at a time and pressing the strip in place with the wire. This worked perfectly. Once I got the bigger openings I could use my fingers to press the LED in place.

The LED strip had a terminal block which I carefully tucked into the sax before replacing the keys.

This May have been a lot easier with christmas lights as they are more flexible. You could leave the lights loose inside if they stay put in the right place or add some pieces of double sided tape as needed.

TIP: Remember to think about how you will get the plug through the back board if you intend to hide the wire behind it. Can you safely cut and rejoin the chord? Could you use a hole saw?

Step 6: Finish Up

With the sax wired up it was time to test it all. I fed the power wiring through the backboard and reattached the sax. Good to go!

By being careful the mounting straps well hidden and the sax appears to float in front of the backing board. The wiring and lighting is hidden too except for the chord running down the wall.

It is hard to photograph the final results and do the effect justice but it has worked really well. The shots here are with the LED strip turned on - you can see it glowing through the keyholes.

The sax is back!

1000th Contest

Participated in the
1000th Contest