Introduction: Wooden American Flag
Hey guys! We're going to be making a wooden American flag out of cherry, maple, and walnut.
Someone I met at my day job as a carpenter asked me to make a wooden USA flag for an ex-Marine buddy of his, and of course I was game. Then when I delivered it to him he liked it so much he decided to keep it and commissioned a second to gift his buddy! I documented the second build and wrote this Instructable so it would be a little easier for someone else to build one of these.
Ain't nothing that goes better with the American spirit than some good old-fashioned woodworking- so let's get going!
- about 20 feet of 1 1/2" cherry (5/4 thickness)
- about 18 feet of 1 1/2" maple (5/4 thickness)
- an 11" x 16" piece of maple (or a 32" piece of 5/4 x 6)
- 50 1 1/4" wooden stars (buy them here)
- wood glue
- finish of your choice (I use aerosol cans of Minwax semi-gloss polyurethane)
- table saw
- miter saw
- thickness planer or sander
- pipe or bar clamps
- pyrography tool (optional)
Step 1: Layout
I did the math for you- you're welcome! :P Anway, this instructable is for a 38" x 20" flag, but if you want a different size, you can make any size, you'll just have to use the proper proportions to figure your measurements. You can find a diagram with the proportions here. You could also customize the woods used if you so desire.
You'll need a little over 17 lineal feet of cherry (plus waste) and a little over 15 lineal feet of maple, both at 1 1/2" wide. Buy a few extra feet of each, since you'll have some waste. You'll also need a slab of walnut that's about 11" x 16"- I glued two 16" pieces of 5/4 x 6 to get this width.
You can do what I did and buy 1 1/2" stock, finished on all four sides, so that all you need to do with it prior to glue-up is cut it for length, or you can buy dimensional lumber and rip it down to size on a table saw. I recommend buying 5/4 stock so that after surfacing you'll have at least 3/4" of thickness left.
Step 2: Rip and Cut Stripes for Length
Step one: (If you bought precut 1 1/2" material, skip this step). Rip your material down to 1 1/2 inches. Set the fence of your table saw for a 1 1/2" rip and run all your pieces through it. Rip all your material at the same time if possible, without moving the fence, so that all your strips will be exactly the same width.
Step two: Cut your stripes for approximate length. Using a miter saw, cut your pieces down to the lengths you'll need, leaving each one about an inch long- cut 4 pieces of cherry and 3 pieces of maple 24", and cut 3 pieces of cherry and 3 pieces of maple 39". This will allow you to trim your glue-ups to size later instead of struggling to match the ends of your stripes perfectly when you glue them.
Step 3: Glue-up
We're going to glue the flag up in a few sections. You're going to want clamps to hold the joints together in two directions. Use pipe or bar clamps (I used pipe clamps) to pull the edges of the two pieces together (to apply pressure to the glue joint). To hold the faces of the pieces true, clamp straight strips of wood (scrap pieces of 2-by or pieces of plywood work just fine) on both sides of the piece. This will match the edges of the strip so that you don't have to take off too much material to flatten the piece. Use plenty of glue- when you tighten the clamps a little bit of glue should squeeze out.
TIP: Use two pieces of wood (I used two lengths of 2x4 on edge) to support the pieces and hold them off the table so you can easily put the clamps on. Otherwise you have to lift the lamination to fit the lower part of your clamps under. Trust me, it's worth it.
Decide which side of each piece you want to be up (you want to see the better, cleaner side of each piece) and lay them out, alternating woods, so you know what they'll look like when glued up. Apply a heavy bead of glue to one edge of each short stripe and clamp them together as explained above. Then do the same for the longer stripes.
The last thing to glue up is the Union (the walnut) if you bought it in two pieces. Match the grain of the wood as best you can so that the glue line is as invisible as possible. Glue one (or both) edges and clamp them together to dry.
Step 4: Smooth Your Laminations
After the glue dries, the next step is to flatten your laminations (glue-ups). Run each slab through a surface planer or thickness sander to bring all the pieces flush with each other. Once this is done all we need to do to be ready for the final glue-up is trim a few edges.
Step 5: Trim for Final Glue-up
We'll want to cut our walnut slab down to size now- we'll measure the total width of the short stripes and rip the walnut to match. The closer they are to being the exact same size, the less you'll have to sand the joint after glue-up.
Before assembling the flag, we'll need to trim the short stripes and the walnut so we have square edges to glue. The best way to do this is to use a crosscut sled on a table saw, but since I don't have a crosscut sled (yet) I used my miter saw- just make sure it is cutting perfectly square to the fence before cutting, or your edges won't match well when you glue them. A track saw would work too. All we need to do is trim one end of the short stripes and one end of the walnut, taking as little material off as possible. The rest of the edges will be trimmed later.
Step 6: Final Glue-up and Trim
Next we want to glue our three laminations together. We'll follow the same steps as explained before for glueing them together, but we'll want to use another pipe clamp to pull the shorter stripes and the walnut together to get a strong bond. After this step, things should start looking good- something like the third picture above.
Once the glue dries we need to trim the ends of our flag. Measure from the right side of your walnut piece both ways and trim your flag to size (measure 22.8 inches from the right side and trim the right side here, then measure 15.2 inches from the same joint and trim the left side). As before, the best tool for the job is a tablesaw with a crosscut sled, but a well-tuned miter saw or a track saw will get the job done.
Step 7: Flatten and Smooth Your Slab
If you have a thickness sander or planer big enough to flatten the whole flag with it, or know someone who would be willing to do it for you, you're in luck. Just run both sides of your flag through it until you have a perfectly flat, smooth surface.
If you DON'T (like me), this step will take a bit longer. You'll have to sand the whole surface flush using whatever you have- I used a disc sander (random orbital sander) with 80 grit sandpaper. You could use a belt sander, but be careful- they can remove a lot of material quickly if you use a low grit belt.
The key here is to go slow, making long passes and covering the entire slab. Resist the urge to sand one area or one joint all at one time, or you will end up with an uneven surface (ask me how I know). It may take quite a bit of time to sand the entire surface smooth, depending on how well your glue-up went, but you want to get it nice and smooth- the better the sanding job, the better the finish, and the better your flag will look in the end.
Once the whole slab is flat, use a finer grit sandpaper (I suggest 180, then 220) to smooth the wood for finish application.
NOTE: It's up to you whether you smooth the backside or not- I do, so the whole piece looks finished, but it doesn't really NEED to be, since after it's hung you'll never see it anyway.
Step 8: Round the Edges
Next we want to round the edges of our flag over so they are not so sharp. You could do this by hand with a sheet of sandpaper, but if you have a router, it will speed the process quite a bit. Use a 3/16" or 1/4" roundover bit and rout all four edges over.
Step 9: Bonus Step: Leave Your Mark
Before we start applying finish, we want to sign this work of art so people know who made it. While this step is completely optional, it adds a touch of authenticity to your flag- now people know the maker behind it, or if they don't know you, at least they know that there is a specific person behind it, that it isn't some mass-produced Amazon wall piece. I signed mine on the lower right corner, but you can pick your own place. You can even just put it on the back if you'd like- that's what I often do. This step is completely up to you.
The best tool for this job is a woodburning (pyrography tool). I have a Razertip SS-D10 unit, but even a cheap $10 pen would suffice. This burns your signature into the wood, so it is permanent and very visible. You could also carve your signature with a carving knife or a fine chisel.
Step 10: Apply First Two Coats of Finish
Next we want to apply some finish- we'll apply the stars after the first two coats. Take your flag outside and set it up somewhere where you can access it from all sides, and make sure it isn't a problem if the surrounding objects get sprayed lightly with finish. If at all possible, only spray finish when the humidity isn't too high. Best finishing results are achieved when the humidity is low.
The first coat will be pretty heavy- the dry wood soaks up quite a bit of finish. Shake the can well and spray, holding the can about 10-12 inches from the wood. The trick here is to use long, even strokes, the full width of the flag. This makes sure that the spray is pretty even and keeps it from becoming too uneven. Give the face and the edges a good coat and wait a few minutes for the wood to soak it up. Then give it another coat, but pay attention to how it looks- you want a very wet surface, but you don't want pools of finish anywhere that will turn milky when dry. Then move your flag inside to dry.
Once the first coat is dry (I usually wait 24 hours), sand it lightly with 220 grit sandpaper and apply a second coat. Let that coat dry and sand lightly with 320. Before we spray the final coat we need to add the stars.
Step 11: Glue Stars On
This step is a little tricky, but as long as your layout is good, it'll be a piece of cake. Make your measurements as precise as possible so your stars line up as well as possible. Measure the length of your walnut piece and divide by 12. This is your horizontal distance between the centers of the stars, which we'll call H (the rows are staggered, so the distance between two stars of the same row will be double this number). Now measure the width of your walnut piece (top to bottom) and divide it by 10. This will be your vertical distance between rows, which we'll call V.
Find the center of one of the stars you will be using (easiest way to do this is to draw a line from the tip of one point to the inside corner opposite that tip, then do the same thing with a different tip. The intersection of these lines is the center.). Now measure the distance (labeled A in the diagram above) from this point to a line drawn between two tips (labeled B). By using these measurements, instead of setting each star by its center, we can set each star by its base, or the two star tips that are pointing down.
Let's lay out our first row of stars. Add distance A to your vertical spacing number (V). Measure down from the top edge this far on both sides of the walnut and put a ruler across these marks. Now measure in from the right side your horizontal spacing number (H) and center a star on that distance. You could eyeball it, but if you want to be exact, subtract half of B (this will be the horizontal distance between the center of the star and the outer tip) from H and place the lower right tip of the star on that mark. Now move to the left two times H and place the right tip of the next star on this mark. Repeat this, moving over two times H and placing another star, until you run out of stars. If the space you have left on the left side matches the right side, your spacing is correct.
Now let's move to the second row. Measure V down from your mark for your first row and place your ruler here. Since the rows are staggered you'll need to move in two times H (minus half of B) and place the right tip of the star here. Then move over two times H and place your next star and repeat this step until you are out of room.
Lay out all your rows in this manner and check if your spacing between stars is even and the space around the edges is all the same. If it is, then you can start gluing all the stars on, following this process again.
NOTE: If this explanation is too confusing, you can probably figure it out on your own. You just need to find a way to get the center of each star to be centered on your marks. This is my method, but if I didn't explain it well enough or if you have a better way, feel free to do it on your own!
Step 12: Apply Final Finish
After all your stars are glued on, spray one more coat of finish on. Sometimes I'll buff it a little with steel wool and apply a fourth coat, but unless your finish looks spotty or uneven, you shouldn't need to.
Step 13: Attach Hanging Hardware
There is a variety of ways you could hang your flag but I think the easiest is medium-weight D-rings (the ones with two screws) and cable. You'll want to screw the D-rings on about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way down from the top and in just a little from the ends. Angle them up a little. Then tie the cable onto the D-rings, leaving just a little slack in the line.
Step 14: Admire Your Work!
The only thing left to do is hang your flag- I recommend using two hooks or nails to provide plenty of support.
That's it! If you made it this far, definitely post pictures of yours so I can see!
Peace out folks!
Participated in the
3 years ago
Great idea of mixing types of wood for colors. The render is neat.
3 years ago
I love the very clean execution of your design :)