Waving American Flag

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About: I'm a hobbyist woodworker that has a humble little woodshop in my basement where I glue pieces of wood together. Sometimes it actually turns out to be something kinda neat!

Intro: Waving American Flag

I've seen a lot of folks making different kinds of flags, and they're cool don't get me wrong, but I was looking for something a bit out of the ordinary. I wanted my flag to have the appearance that it was waving in the wind. For this project, I used the ArborTech turbo plane attachment that goes on an angle grinder, but it's not absolutely necessary if you don't happen to own one. In fact, there's quite a few different methods that you could employ to achieve a similar effect so just because you don't have the same tools that I might be using, don't write off this project as something you can't do. I strongly recommend watching the embedded video so you can get a good idea of what each step entails. There's only so much I can convey through still images and a video with voice over can paint a much better picture sometimes. Without further ado, let's get started!

Step 1: Materials & Tools

Materials:

For materials, it's pretty straight forward.

  1. You'll need a computer and printer so you can print off the templates
  2. Clear packing tape
  3. A piece of thin stock for the flag stripe template (3'4 1/4" long, 2" high, approx 1/4" thick)
  4. Craft Spray Adhesive
  5. Five straight 8' long 2x4s
  6. Wood glue
  7. Painter's tape
  8. High-temp HVAC foil tape
  9. Black spray paint
  10. Masking material (i.e. Newspaper, butcher paper, plastic drop cloth etc.)
  11. Some type of wood finish (i.e. SPAR Urethane, Polyurethane, Lacquer, etc.)
  12. D-rings for hanging finished product

IMPORTANT: By using the templates and 5 8'-long 2x4s, your offcuts can be used to make a SECOND flag!

Tools:

  1. Scissors, tape, and razor blades (or exacto knife) to cut out and piece together the templates
  2. Tape measure
  3. Bandsaw (Steps with bandsaw could be done with a jigsaw or even a hand-held coping saw)
  4. Spindle sander (Steps with spindle sander could be done by hand sanding)
  5. Planer (Steps with planer could be done with tablesaw)
  6. Jointer (Steps with jointer could be done with tablesaw)
  7. Tablesaw
  8. Miter saw (Steps with miter saw could be done with handsaw)
  9. Pipe/Bar clamps
  10. Angle grinder with wood carving attachment (i.e. ArborTech's Turboplane)
  11. Flap disk sanding attachment
  12. Sand paper
  13. Propane torch
  14. Rotary tool with wood carving bit (Steps with rotary tool could be done with hand carving tools)
  15. Brush for applying finish

Step 2: Design & Templates

To create the waving appearance, I had the idea to use a curved template with 13 offsets (one for each stripe in the flag). Then I could trace the curvy line onto each stripe board but start each one at a different offset mark on the template. Once all the boards are cut out and laid together, it creates a diagonal wave pattern.

Fisher's Shop Waving American Flag Curvy Stripe Template

1. Download the PDF template above and print it out on your computer

2. Cut it out, piece together the sections, and secure it with tape

For a later section, you'll need to trace the union stars onto the flag. There are a variety of options you have to do this but the quickest and easiest, in my opinion, is to just download the template below and cut out each of the stars with an exacto knife or utility knife.

Fisher's Shop Waving American Flag Union Template

3. Download the PDF template above and print it out on your computer

4. Cut it out, piece together the sections, and secure it with tape

5. Put a layer of packing tape across the front and back of the template to thicken it up

6. Cut out all the stars very precisely with an exacto knife or Utility knife

Step 3: Building the Curvy Stripe Template

7. Once the template is cut out, prepare a thin piece of stock to adhere it onto. This piece should be exactly 3'4 1/4" long and around 2" high. If you don't have a piece of stock this size, you could get away with just using cardboard.

8. Next, use some craft adhesive to affix the template down onto the stock. If your stock wasn't cut to length, you can do it at this time now that the template clearly identifies how long it needs to be.

9. With the template glued onto the board, you can now cut it out over at the bandsaw. If you don't have a bandsaw, you can use a jigsaw or even a hand-held coping saw for this step.

10. After cutting out the template, you can smooth out the curves by using a spindle sander or by hand sanding.

11. The last step is to transfer the offset marks from the template onto the wood. I did this by scoring each mark with a utility knife and then darkening each cut mark with a pencil once the paper template was removed.

12. To remove the paper template easily, use a heat gun or hair dryer to loosen the adhesive and just peel off the paper. To be honest, it's not even all that important that the paper be removed.

Step 4: Dimensioning the Stripes

13. Step 13 is to cut 13 stripes. :) Start off by cutting the stripes to 2' 7.5" each. This is 1/4" longer than their final length will be but will allow for some slop during the gluing stage. This also allows you to easily get 3 stripes for every 8' 2x4 that you cut. When cutting up 5 2x4s you'll end up with a total of 15 stripes so you'll have 2 extras in case one of the others has some imperfections you don't like.

14. The next step is to get each of the stripes to their final thickness of 1 1/4". I did this using my planer, but you could just as easily accomplish this on the table saw. If you can't raise the blade high enough to do it in one pass, just raise it slightly over half the height of the board and make two passes, flipping it end for end between cuts.

15. In the video, I use my jointer to take off the rounded edges of the 2x4s and then reference that square edge against my tablesaw fence and rip each stripe to it's final height of 2 1/2". If you don't have a jointer, you could just use your tablesaw and make 2 cuts per stripe (1 to trim off the rounded edges on one side, 1 to trim it to final height while referencing the square edge against your fence).

Step 5: Marking and Cutting the Stripes

16. With your stripe template, line up the first edge against the edge of one of your stripe boards. Make sure the bottoms are flush and then trace the line for the entire length of the board. For your next stripe, line up the template again but reference the first offset instead of the edge. Do this for each stripe board you have while each time referencing the next offset mark on the template. BE SURE to number each board as your mark them paying careful attention to also number the offcuts as they will be used to make a second flag.

17. Once each stripe board has been marked with its curvy line, proceed to cut each one out over at the bandsaw. If you don't have a bandsaw, you can do this with a jigsaw. If you don't have a jigsaw, then it's possible (however exhausting to even imagine) to do it by hand with a coping saw. Do your best to stay on the line when cutting, however it's not the end of the world if you veer off a bit since this project has a lot of forgiveness (most of the imperfections will be ground off during the later steps).

Step 6: The Glue Up

18. With all the stripes cut out, place them in your pipe/bar clamps in the proper order and prepare for the glue up. I used just standard Titebond wood glue but my flag is hanging on the wall in my office. If yours will be outside, be sure to use water resistant or waterproof wood glue (i.e. Titebond 2 and 3).

19. Glue up each stripe and clamp to dry paying very special attention to keeping things square. It's also very difficult to use caulling boards because of the wavy top of the flag so be sure to do your best to make things flush on the bottom.

20. Once it's dry, remove from the clamps and scrape off any glue squeeze out on the bottom of the flag. You can ignore the sides and top of the flag since that will all get ground off in the next step. If you have a card scraper, that might work well for removing the bits of dried glue. Otherwise, you can use a heavy grit sandpaper to smooth things out.

Step 7: Shaping and Sanding the Flag

21. To shape the flag, I used the TurboPlane from ArborTech. This is a small metal disc with some cutting notches that attaches onto your angle grinder. This made for very fast carving and shaping! However, if you don't have the TurboPlane, there are many other wood carving attachments that you can get for your angle grinder that would have identical to similar effects. Find one that works for you and then grind off the edges of each of the waves to smooth things out.

22. Once the power carving was completed, I changed angle grinder attachments to a flap disc sander wheel. These are cheap little discs that can be used to smooth out the rough surface that the power carving left behind.

23. The last bit of sanding is done by hand and that just involves some elbow grease and some progressive grit sandpaper. I started with 80 grit and cleaned up the imperfections left by the angle grinder. Then I moved up through the grits and finally stopped once I reached 220.

Step 8: Trimming to Final Dimensions

24. With everything sanded, we can now trim the flag to it's final dimensions. The height and thickness of the flag is obviously already at its final dimensions so we only need to concern ourselves with the width. First start by using your tablesaw to trim off an very fine edge on one of the sides to flush things up.

25. Next, mark the final width at 2' 7 1/4" and trim the other side. By originally cutting each stripe board at 2' 7 1/2" inches, this gave you 1/4" inch of "slop" so you should be able to flush up both sides. In the event that things were more than 1/4" out of square during glue up, don't sweat it. Just trim the edges flush because nobody will notice if you're off 1/8th inch or so. But be warned... if I come over to visit, I'm bringing my tape measure. :)

Step 9: Taping the Stripes

26. This is one of the most time consuming parts of the project so be warned! In the video I explain why I chose to go the route of using painter's tape followed by HVAC foil tape. If you can think of a simpler easier method, then by all means go for it! Start by using painter's tape to tape off each of the "white" stripes (there are 6 of them) as well as the union (approx 12 3/8" wide by 7 stripes tall).

27. Then use the less-flamable HVAC foil tape to cover the painter's tape as best you can. The tape I had was too wide so I had to cut each piece in half and then tape along the top edge and then again along the bottom edge of each of the white stripes.

IMPORTANT: Don't forget to tape off the sides of the flag as well!

Step 10: Burning the Stripes, Untaping, & Spot Sanding

28. For this I used a small hand-held propane torch. If you have one of the large weed-flaming torches, then I'd advise against using it for this. You'll want the precision of a smaller flame for sure.

29. When burning the stripes it's important to keep the torch moving! You should only be going for a discolored look, don't blacken it! Also, if you dwell too long in an area, the foil tape will disfigure and you'll have issues with burn-through. Just hold the torch about 6" away, use a steady side-to-side motion, and let the grain of those stripes just pop out at you. Don't be too worried about getting a consistent darkness across the stripes because a little variation is good. This is one of those things where it's best to stop early because by attempting to achieve perfection you will actually make it worse.

30. Make sure you burn the side end-grain as well as the top and bottom edges of the flag. When you're done, you should have 7 burned stripes which represent the red stripes.

31. Once you're happy with how things look, go ahead and remove the tape from the flag. Inevitably, there will be some spots here and there of burn-through or where the adhesive was scorched onto the wood. Go through each of the white stripes and clean off these areas with some 220 grit sandpaper.

Step 11: Masking & Painting the Union

32. Next step is to mask off where the union will go. This should be pretty apparent based on where you had it taped off during the burn process, so run some painter's tape vertically down the outside of that line. Then again horizontally across the bottom of the union (on the 8th stripe). At this point you should be able to easily fasten some butcher paper or newspaper to mask off the rest of the flag so it doesn't accidentally get painted.

IMPORTANT: Make sure your masking goes over the edges as well since you'll want to paint the top edge and the side of the flag too!

33. For paint I just chose some regular old black spray paint from a rattle can. You can use whatever you are comfortable with but I do suggest something that has a tendency to NOT bleed. Also, you'll want to do just a single coat. I've made 3 of these flags so far and I found that when I do more than 1 coat of paint on the union, it makes for a more difficult time when carving out the stars. Don't worry about achieving a perfect glossy paint surface either, because it all gets covered with finish in the next step. You just want a dark enough color to contrast against the burned stripes. Leave things to dry overnight, it's best not to work with tacky paint.

Step 12: Drawing and Carving the Stars

34. Remember that union template you spent all that time making in the earlier steps? Well now is the time to put it to use! One thing that you'll notice is that the union isn't perfectly square. This is because things are slightly out of whack since the surface isn't flat. All this means is that you'll have to fudge things just a bit to make it work. Start by lining up the template with the corner of the union and tracing on the stars with a sharp pencil. Each time you finish a vertical row, make very small adjustments to the template to steer it towards the direction it needs to be in once you reach the other side.

IMPORTANT: Make sure your template is right-side up! Stars should have 2 points on the bottom and 1 point on the top. You don't want to accidentally make your flag with upside-down stars!!

35. The next step is actually kinda fun! Hopefully you were a master at the board game Operation when you were a kid because this takes a steady hand. I used a cheap rotary tool with a cylindrical wood cutting bit to do this carving. If you don't have a rotary tool (they're pretty cheap) you can use other wood carving tools, such as a 90-degree V-cut knife. I found it helpful if you could rotate the flag so that you could get a good angles during carving. It's also important that you're able to brace the palm of your hand against something so you have the support to make accurate cuts. This is where you really start to see things take shape and it gets exciting!

Step 13: Applying Finish and D-rings

36. Even though my flag is an in-door piece of wall art, I still chose to use SPAR urethane for a couple reasons. I like how fast it dries and how glossy the final appearance is. Sure, there's other finishes that have those properties but this is what I had on hand so I went with it. Use whatever your favorite finish is, however I advise you to use something that will protect it against the elements if you plan to put the flag outdoors. Also, it's a good idea to put a couple coats on the back side of the flag as well (especially if putting it outside) to protect against moisture. All in all, I put on about 4-5 coats of SPAR urethane. After each coat dried, I lightly sanded with 220 and removed the dust before applying the next coat. At the end of it, the flag had a glass-like finish.

37. The flag doesn't really weigh all that much, but I still chose to mount the D-rings 16" apart so that I wouldn't have to use wall anchors when hanging and instead I could benefit from the support of hanging it from studs. To do this, find the center of your flag (approx 15 5/8") and measure out 8" from either side of that. Standard 2x4 pine shouldn't split, but at this point you'll probably want to pre-drill just to make sure it doesn't. Pop in a couple D-rings and you're good to go!

Step 14: Enjoy Your Awesome Waving American Flag!

Congratulations! You've done it!

38. Now that you've finished it and show it off, most likely you'll be berated with requests with make more (I know from experience). After thoroughly explaining to them all the time and effort that goes into making each one and the healthy price tag that you're attaching, you can make a second flag using the offcuts from this project. Since you numbered them way back when you were cutting the stripes, you can glue them up into a second panel and start the carving process.

Thanks for reaching through this instructable! If you haven't already, I recommend watching the embedded video at the beginning (even if you're not going to make the project) because the video is actually pretty entertaining and funny. Be sure to follow me here, share this with your friends, as well as subscribe to me on YouTube for future projects. Until next time, take care!

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42 Discussions

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dennismbrando

24 days ago

Looks awesome, great video made me laugh at times

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BillDube

5 weeks ago

Great idea and fantastic instructions. It was very enjoyable to make, I did use stick on 1" stars instead of trying to cut out template and carve. Doesn't look quite as good as carved but from a distance it's ok.

Thanks again for a fun project.

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newspire

2 months ago

This was a fun project. I decided to make a Texas version and use paint instead of pyrotechnics. I noticed something interesting when I was laying it out. Initially I measured out the length of the flag before I cut the curves. This gives you a flag that's too long. You have to measure the length along the curves using a flexible tap measure to get the proportions correct.

wavingwoodtexasflag.jpg
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BakkerJo

2 months ago

This is awesome! I've been making flat flags and was hoping to find a way to make them look like they're blowing in the breeze

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zzjacksonFishers Shop

Reply 2 months ago

Just curious, since the video do you have pros and cons with the ArborTech's Turboplane and about how much life have you gotten out of one?

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Fishers Shopzzjackson

Reply 2 months ago

Pretty sure they'll last a lifetime. There's not much to the turbo planer attachment. I haven't even heard of people having to sharpen it but it seems like it would be relatively easy to do if you needed to. As of now, I have no "cons" with it at all. I did, however, find that it's difficult to use with the blade guard on and you get MUCH more control when you take the guard off. But when you do that the chips seem to fly everywhere and can sting a bit when they hit the back of your hands. Simple solution though, just wear gloves and be careful.

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Eh Lie Us!

2 months ago on Step 14

Good God, man. You outdid yourself. I have an uncle from another country that would love this (with his country's flag, of course). thank you for sharing. Great work.

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JimG163

2 months ago

Looks awesome, I wonder if I can do my country's flag? Probably need to paint rather than burn, do you think that would look as good?

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Fishers ShopJimG163

Reply 2 months ago

If you paint, you'll be missing out on the grain patterns in the wood. I'd suggest using colored stain so you get the best of both worlds.

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bonzai95

Question 2 months ago on Step 14

Amazing project and your finished product looks awesome. How many hours do you think the building part of it actually took you? I'm looking at this as a fun project with my kids, but need to schedule around activities.

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Fishers Shopbonzai95

Answer 2 months ago

Well I broke it up into quite a few sessions, but overall I'd say I could do it in about 8-10hrs.