This idea stemmed from something I found in an industrial design catalog. It wasn't the furniture for sale that caught my eye, but rather the wall treatment in the background. They had used rough hewn lumber mounted over a concrete wall. Since I didn't want to redo the entire wall in my rental, I felt something more mobile would be appropriate.
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Step 1: Lumber
For the trusty, reliable (and free) reclaimed lumber I nabbed a pallet headed for the garbage. Make sure to remove all the nails. I tend to get immersed in my work, so I forgot to take additional photos, but I used a table saw to cut pieces to a consistent size and a planar to smooth things out. For this particular project, an orbital sander should work fine.
Step 2: Steel Frame
Since I had scrap left over from a previous project, I used 3/4" cold rolled steel for a frame. This was roughly 20" x 50". When marking the hole to drill I took into account the width of the board as well as the gap between to make sure I had the center all down the length. MIG weld the corners and grind smooth so that everything lays flat (doesn't need to be pretty since it will be hidden). Proper work holding is important! Even with multiple precautions, the boards still started to drift towards the end and I needed to go back and touch up some.
Step 3: Design
If I stopped here, I would basically have a smaller version of what I saw in the magazine. However, I had something a little more artistic in mind. The great part about this step is the diversity available! Pick an inspirational quote and find a picture of the author (or vice versa), it's up to you.
This will require some Photoshop wizardry, but basically convert the image into greyscale and adjust the levels until you reach (or come close to) a black and white image. The main thing is to create a stencil. From here, either use Illustrator ("live trace" command) or CorelDraw ("outline trace" command) to convert the image into a vector outline. Because of the level of detail, I used a CNC vinyl cutter, but this would still be doable with a large print out and x-acto knife if you had a simpler design (or a lot of patience).
I used old vinyl that no one wanted (might have been the color...) since I just needed it for masking. Use transfer paper to get the portrait and lettering onto the wood slats.
Step 4: Paint and Peel
I used regular black latex paint that was sitting around the shop. Some of the lettering didn't come out as well since the reclaimed lumber was inconsistent, and planing just wasn't enough. A colleague recommended spraying polyurethane across the vinyl BEFORE painting to help seal the edges. (Nice!)
In the end, this project was done in a day by using up scrap -- basically this is my version of cleaning! All free, too.
Don't have the tools? Come down to TechShop and I'll show you how to use them! Don't live near a TechShop? Then get with your friends and community to build your own workshop or hacker space!