Intro: Handmade Memorial Ornament
My father passed away suddenly on August 31st of this year. In honor of him, I thought it would be nice if I were to make my uncle, my sister, and myself a commemorative Christmas ornament. This is the culmination of that project.
You don't need much to do this. The specific items I used are in parenthesis, but make this your own:
- thin, lightweight wood (1/4" oak plywood)
- paint (Plaid acrylic craft paints)
- stain (MinWax water-based stain, specially tinted blue - optional)
- clear coat sealant (Rust-oleum American Accents 2x Ultra Cover Gloss Clear spray paint)
- small eye hook
- Christmas tree ornament hook
- a photo to include on the ornament
Step 1: Always Start With a Template
I know in this day and age, everything is done on the computer. That's great for some things and I do actually use a computer for the final design, but nothing beats a physical mock-up that you can hold in your hands and get a feel for.
For the ornament itself, either find a design online, or draw one yourself. After much searching, I could not find a template with the shape I wanted, so I freehand drew one myself. Getting the symmetry right is tricky, so once you have the design drawn, fold the sheet in half down the center of the ornament and then cut it out following the line on one side. Then when you open it up, both sides will be identical. I then traced that onto cardstock to use as a template for cutting the wood.
Using that old-fashioned tool, the pencil, I drew in the basic layout and then followed that up with a permanent marker once everything was right. The marker step is important because my scanner wouldn't pick up the pencil lines well.
Once you have the design you want, scan the design into your computer to finish the layout. Using the graphics editor of your choice (I use gimp, myself) play with color and fonts. Once everything looks good, save it and print it out. You may want to print a couple of copies in black-and-white to use in later steps.
Step 2: Cutting and Preparing the Ornament
Take the cardstock template and trace the outline onto your wood. I chose 1/4" oak plywood. It's lightweight and it looks really good when stained. If you are going to be using stain, remember that the grain will be visible so if you want that run in a particular direction, now is the time to make sure that's right.
Depending on your design, and the tools you have available, you can cut the ornament out with either a bandsaw, a jigsaw, a scrollsaw, or even a coping saw if you are so inclined. I used a scrollsaw.
Sand the edges, making sure everything is smooth and straight. I used a sanding drum chucked into a drill press (I forgot to take pictures of that step) but any method is fine. Then sand the top and bottom smooth. A palm held orbital sander is my go to tool, but again, whatever works for you. 220 grit sandpaper works good all around.
Using a micro hand pin vise drill and a small drill bit, make a hole dead center of the top slightly smaller than the eye hook your using. Screw the eye hook in slow and straight to avoid cracking the wood. We do this now rather than later to give you something to hang the ornament from while it's drying.
You can either paint the ornament's base color or you can use stain. I used stain just because I like the way it looks better. Follow the instructions on the product you are using and color both sides. Don't forget the edges! Set it aside and let it dry completely.
Paint the cap next. Silver or gold are traditional colors, but it's your design... go crazy. Use whatever type paint you like. I used my favorite standby - Plaid acrylic craft paint. You can get them for 50¢ to $1 in any color
under the rainbow and they work well for many different projects
Step 3: Laying Down the Text
I had initially seen this in my mind with the text engraved in the wood with a small, v-shaped cutting bit and filled in with white paint. In my mind, that looked fantastic. Sadly, things do not look as good in the real world as they do in my mind. If you have access to a CNC machine, or if you are better with a Dremel than I am, you could try your hand at this method. After several failures, I decided to just paint the text on.
Take one of the templates you printed out and cut it around the outline. Line that up with the ornament and using a ballpoint pen (the pen has to be a ballpoint for this to work right), press REALLY HARD as you follow the letters, being careful not to let the template slip. This will imprint the text into the wood below so that you have a guide for painting - as you can see in the second photo. If you can paint the text freehand, you're a better artist than I and I salute you! If that's the case, you can skip this and go right to painting. Me, I need a guide!
Using acrylic craft paint and an ultra-fine tipped paintbrush, paint the letters in, following the lines pressed into the wood. You should clean your brush often, between each word maybe, to prevent too much paint from being applied. You may want to practice on a scrap piece of wood first unless you have lettered in paint before.
Once again, let everything dry before proceeding.
Step 4: Adding the Photo
To ensure that the photo is perfectly lined up, we need to mark on the ornament where the photo needs to go. Cut the photo out of the template, following the outline carefully. Line the template up with the ornament like you did with the text and, using a pencil, lightly trace the hole onto the wood.
Print the photo your using out on glossy photo paper. Since we are spraying the whole thing in clear coat, it doesn't matter if you use an inkjet or laser printer here. My printer is a color laser printer and, after having used color inkjets all my life, I can honestly say that the laser does a much better job! If you don't have a laser printer, you can always have the photo printed out at Staples or any copy center.
To hold the photo to the wood, I experimented with different glues - superglue, Elmer's glue, contact cement - but I found that a regular, permanent bond gluestick worked the best. Now, this is with the understanding that I stained my ornament. If you painted yours, the gluestick may or may not work for you. As always, test with a scrap photo and piece of wood before committing to a decision.
Run the gluestick around the inside of the circle you drew on the wood, all the way from the edge to the center. Don't apply too much because we don't want any of the glue to squeeze out. Lay the photo in the glue and align it with the circle. You'll have to work fast here, though, because the gluestick will dry and lose it's stickiness rather quickly. Lightly press down all around the photo, being careful not to get any of the glue on the photo itself if any of it does squeeze out. Once again, set it aside to dry.
Step 5: Finishing Up
To give the ornament more of a 3-dimensional feel, you might want to add a highlight and/or a shadow. Imagine a light bulb shining down on the ornament and picture where the light will hit it. That is where you would place your highlight. If you want a shadow, picture where that light would be blocked. Let your paintbrush soak in water for a minute. Then, select a (Plaid acrylic) color that is just slightly lighter in shade than your base color. Dip the brush in the paint and wipe almost all of it right back off on a paper towel. What is left on the brush is what you will brush on for the highlight. The water left in the brush will help blend the paint in with the stain. Don't overdo it. Remember... be subtle. Or, go all out... it is your design after all! I cannot stress enough the advice about testing on a scrap piece first, though.
After that has dried (there's a lot of drying involved here!) it's time for the final step - applying the clear coat. As with the base color, follow the directions of the medium you choose. You can use a polyurethane clear coat (I've done that on projects and it works well), you can go with a clear coat spray paint (as I did here), you can even use mod podge if you'd like (I actually thought about that when I was first designing this).
One last thing to do... add a Christmas ornament hook to the eye hook and you are done.
I hope that you enjoyed this and I hope you can get some use out of it.
As a parting thought, I want to wish all of you a very ✞ MERRY CHRISTMAS ✞ and a Happy New Year!