Wooden Star Map / Nightlight

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About: Making (and breaking) projects in my shop every 2 weeks (or so)

Intro: Wooden Star Map / Nightlight

We just had our first child and being a space nerd I wanted to commemorate it with a print of the night sky the day she was born. You can purchase prints like these online, but I wanted to take it a step further and make it light up! Here are the materials and tools I used to make it:

Materials

Tools

Step 1: Create the Star Map Image

I used the Inventables X-Carve to drill out all the stars. To do that I need to download the star map on the day and time my daughter was born. There are several sites online that will create prints like these for you, and I used Greater Skies. I did have to pay for the print, but unlike other companies that do the same thing, they allow you to download the PDF for around $30.

Once I had the map I then:

  • Imported the file into Adobe Illustrator and did an image trace (using the logo setting)
  • Expanded the image trace, ungrouped everything and turned the stars from white to black
  • Added my daughter's name, birthday, time and coordinates at the bottom.
  • Exported the file as a .svg

From here you could send your file to a CNC in a few different ways. Since I'm using the Inventables X-Carve, I wanted to get the file into their free software Easel . I found that my file was too large to import directly, so I first brought it into Vectric's V-Carve and then exported G-Code to then import into Easel

Step 2: Cut Out All the Stars Using a CNC

This step took a looooong time. All in all, there were a little over 2000 holes that it took the Inventables X-Carve 6 hours to drill!

I used a 1/32 bit to get the stars(holes) as small as possible. One thing I wasn't able to replicate was the varying star sizes in the original print, but the result still was great.

After the stars had been cut out, I spray painted the top white. I painted the sign before carving out all the words so that the wood color would show through the top coat of paint.

The words were then cut out in a separate CNC operation using a 60-degree V-Carve bit.

Step 3: Build the Frame

The frame was a simple 2 part construction.

Part 1

After trimming the final sign to size, I first made 1x3 strips of construction pine for the walls. These were butt jointed together with wood glue and brad nails. I took all my measurements directly from the finished sign.

Part 2

I finished the frame with additional 1/3 strips, this time I used a crosscut sled to create 45-degree miters. You can also make these cuts on the miter saw. The top frame was again put together with wood glue and brad nails. The brad nails served as a clamp so I could keep working as the glue dried. There is a half inch overhang on the inside of the frame, this is what the sign will attach to.

Step 4: Adding the LED Lights

I used cheap LED lights from Amazon. These DO NOT come with a power supply so make sure to purchase an adapter when you get the lights....or you will be waiting to plug it in like me ;)

The lights have an adhesive back that I wrapped them around the inside of the frame. I then used a 1/2 Forstner bit to drill a hole in the side of the frame to route the end of the LED cable through.

NOTE: If I were going to make this again I would have put the plug flush with the side of the frame to keep the wire from dangling from it when not plugged in.


Step 5: Attach and Seal the Sign to the Frame.

The sign was attached with wood glue to the inside of the frame. I was worried about light leaking through the edges so I sealed everything with caulk. This was probably overkill but seemed like a good idea, ha!

I finished the frame by sanding it down to 220 grit and then applying 1 coat of stain.

Step 6: Attached the Back

I sealed the entire frame with another sheet of 1/4 plywood. I cut this out using my crosscut sled on the table saw. The back was attached to the frame with brad nails. I didn't use glue so that I could remove it if I needed to get inside.

Hanging hardware was mounted to the back.

NOTE: If I made this again I would have made the frame so I could slide the back into it. This would allow it to be easily removable.

Step 7: Done!

And that's it. This was a fun project to make and I got to try a bunch of new things. We love having a cool way to highlight the birth of our daughter!

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    24 Discussions

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    makeorbreakshop88weighed

    Reply 5 months ago

    No!!!!!!!!!! Man of everyone who has seen this project you were the first one to notice I had a typo. I didn't even know I messed up until I read your comment and double checked the sign.

    I feel like you should get a prize...maybe a mispelled star sign ha!

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    FancySocksMan

    Question 5 months ago

    I currently have access to a laser cutter, would this work okay? Or would the burn marks from the hole making distort the image to much?

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    makeorbreakshopFancySocksMan

    Answer 5 months ago

    I don't have a lot of experience with laser's but I have seen something similiar done before. One option is use clear polyacrylic and etch the stars in with the led's shooting up from the bottom. Also if your concerned about burn marks I've heard that you can cover the top in painters tape so the burning sticks mostly to the top!

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    FancySocksManmakeorbreakshop

    Answer 5 months ago

    Awesome! Thanks for the tips. Going to probably give a try in the next couple of weeks :D.

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    tonydevito

    5 months ago

    This is a spectacular project! I love this star map. Many programs or websites that produce star maps allow you to set the minimum magnitude (brightness) of the stars that show up on the map. Did you consider this. It would have made the sky a bit less dense with stars but perhaps make it easier to pick out constellations and mimic a less than perfect sky in a very dark site.

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    makeorbreakshoptonydevito

    Reply 5 months ago

    That would have been great! What programs allow you to do this? I had a hard time finding one that would give me a good export to bring in illustrator to grab all the stars to put into a vector.

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    wurstcase86

    5 months ago

    Cool idea!

    Edge lit acryllic with led strips inside U channels would make it a lot slimmer (pretty much picture frame like) ,reduce amount of leds and is easier to get rid of light leaking out.
    There are special aluminum U channel profiles for led strips that fit perfectly onto acrylic.

    You can still use painted wood for the front or spansome fabric in front of it. As long as its not directly touching the acrylic, its fine

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    makeorbreakshopwurstcase86

    Reply 5 months ago

    That is definitely on my list to try! I wasn't sure what result I could get on the acrylic with the CNC but I've seen people get some amazing results! There might be a Star Wars related blueprint in my future get cut out ;)

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    mrpesas

    Question 5 months ago

    Could you have used few lights if you added a reflective material to the back panel?

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    makeorbreakshopmrpesas

    Answer 5 months ago

    I actually almost painted the back panel a glossy white to get the reflection. That probably would have let you use less lights. The main issue I hit is that when you view it from an angle only some of the lights will show through due to the thickness of the 1/4 plywood.

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    38ren

    5 months ago

    The finished product is so beautiful, clean, and personal! Nice job :)

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    brsram

    5 months ago

    An alternate: use black acrylic, cut holes using a laser (can take care of varying brightness using different sized holes) and illuminate as you did. Am going to try it out!

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    Bruceaulrich

    5 months ago

    This was such a cool project, Brandon! Enjoyed walking through it with you.

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    makeorbreakshopBruceaulrich

    Reply 5 months ago

    Thanks Bruce! This was my first time posting a full write up on Instructables, really enjoying it!

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    tazinator

    5 months ago

    Very well done and cool idea. Maybe a small Arduino added to the next one to simulate flux in the light backing in different random areas to give it a more interactive appearance.

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    makeorbreakshoptazinator

    Reply 5 months ago

    That would be great! I've wanted a good excuse to get into arduino and that might be the perfect one!

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    seamster

    5 months ago

    I dig it, nicely done!!