Monday, October 30, 2017

Big Wooden Letter "S"

In what is apparently becoming my new 'thing', I was asked to make a piece of wedding decor, in the shape of a big letter "S". My wife's friend Ashley is getting married next year and she wants this big S to be an autograph book of sorts - having people sign it.

Oh - the letter S is the initial of what will be her new last name.  She provided the image above, including the measurement of 31 inches tall.  So I made the letter S in Adobe Illustrator and printed the 9 sheets of paper that make the complete letter at 31 inches.

I then took those sheets and taped them together to make a template.

But before I cut out the S shape, I need to make the paper template more rigid.  So I began cutting up shipping boxes.

Then I used some spray adhesive to attach the cardboard to the back of the template.

Then I began cutting the S shape out.

Template done!

Now it's pretty rigid.  So much so that I hung it up in my workshop for a few days while working on another project.

For the wood portion, I had several options I could do.  I could trace the shape onto plywood or particle board, cut it out and then layer thin wood over it.  Or I could layer thinner boards together and then cut it out.  Both options would work, but I decided to make this out of simple 2x4s.  2 studs at 8-foot length should be more than enough.  I will also use dowels to help keep this thing together.

For the dowels, I quickly glued up 2 simple jigs...

...which will fit on the corner of the 2x4s... ensure I align the drill holes in each piece of wood.

The jig above is for the 3/8" dowels I plan on using.  But since a 3/8" bit is rather large, I decided to make a jig for drilling a pilot hole first.

With those jigs done I then went out and bought the wood I needed.  I bought an extra 2x4 just in case, and several dowels.

I began by cutting the wood on the miter saw to measured sections of the big S.

Then I would place those pieces on top of the template.

I repeated until the template was covered.

Then I moved the template to the top...

...and outlined it onto the wood.

I added letters to each connecting piece so I would know how it goes back together...

...after jointing each end of the 2x4s.

Before jointing I first coated the table and fence with furniture wax so that all the pieces of wood glide over smoothly.

I also connected my shop vac to the jointer since it spits out a lot of wood chips.

Then I began jointing all the pieces.

This took some time, but once done all the pieces had flat ends.

I then laid out the boards again.

Since a good amount of material was removed the template is longer than the wood pieces.

So I cut some of the spare 2x4 and jointed the new pieces.

Now the template fits inside again.

I X'ed out the original tracing I did...

...then I flipped over each board...

...and retraced the template.

To make double-sure I don't mess up, I marked each of the joining pieces with numbers this time.

To assemble this thing I am going to start gluing them up in pairs.  Since there's an odd number of pieces, the top-most piece will be glued with 3 pieces.

For each pair of pieces, I penciled in a line where the holes for the dowels will be drilled.

I then transferred those lines onto the side being glued using a post level.

Next it was time to start drilling holes.  I started with the pilot hole jig...

...and then used the 3/8" hole jig.

It took a while to get everything drilled.

Next I cut pieces of the dowels into 1.5" pieces at the miter saw.

Then I added glue to the drilled holes and hammered in the dowels.

Then I added glue to the wood sides and clamped them together tightly.

I did this for all the pairs of wood and then let them dry for a few hours.

All of the pairs of wood came together flush...

...except one which was a little off.

I planned on running these pieces through the surface planer, but first I need to make this one piece level.  

So when the glue had dried I spent a good amount of time with my hand plane, shaving away layers until it was level enough to pass...

...through the surface planer.

Once all the pieces were planed, they looked nice and smooth.

Unfortunately they also removed the shape I traced from the template.  But that was easy enough to draw on again.

Now it was time to repeat the steps for drilling the holes in the remaining pieces.

Now I glued new pairs of pieces together and clamped them until they dried.

After that I glued all the remaining pieces together and clamped it once again.

While I waited for the glue to dry, I started cleaning my workshop.  I love the surface planer, but it does make a huge mess.

Once all the glue had dried, I removed the clamps.  I also filled 2 spots I missed on the inside curves of the S shape with smaller pieces of wood.

Now I need to cut the S shape out.  Unfortunately this thing is too heavy to use on the band saw.  And I think I will have a difficult time with the jigsaw attachment to my router table.

  So I simply started trimming away pieces with my circular saw.

This actually did a pretty decent job - but it wouldn't help for the inside areas.

So I tried just my jigsaw, and that actually did a decent job too...

...however it did drain my batteries very quickly.

To be fair to Ryobi (the maker of the jigsaw and batteries) most of my batteries hadn't been charged for a while.  But also to be fair to me, the low end Ryobi batteries don't last super long.  So once all my batteries were depleted I called it a night.

The next day I was at it again after charging up all my batteries.  Using both saws I was able to cut out the shape.  This time I only used up half my Ryobi batteries.  I think its time I invest in the high capacity batteries.

But anyway, next it was time to begin smoothing out the S shape.  To help sand the inside curves of the S, I used a cut off piece and staples sandpaper to its side.

This will make it easier to sand the insides where my sanders can't fit.

But before I begin sanding I noticed some holes present from when I drilled too deep for the dowels.

This is an easy fix - I simply added glue to some more dowels and used my mallet to hammer them in each hole.

Then I let the glue dry, and set it up on my clamping bench.  The bench dogs will hold the S in place while working on it.

When the glue was dry I cut the dowels with a trim saw.

Next I began sanding the top and bottom... well as the sides with my sander/buffer.  This sander moves very fast.

For the curved insides I couldn't fit that sander, so I used the jig I made, as well as some files and I was even able to fit my mouse sander.

After quite a time of sanding and filing, the S shape looked pretty good.

Next I used a 1/4" routerover bit on my trim router... give the front edges a rounded profile.

Then I smoothed the top and sides with finer sandpaper.

The router had one or two blowouts...

...and there were also some imperfections with the wood...

...and also tiny gaps at some of the seams.

So I filled all of these with some wood filler and let dry.

Once dry I sanded again.

Once I finished sanding I took a damp rag and cleaned up the big S.  Since the wood filler is so close in color to the wood, cleaning it with a damp rag helps me identify spots that still need to be sanded or filled.

The photo above shows what I think to be a very good looking piece.  But there were still some spaces that needed to be filled.

While filling I noticed spaces opening and closing as I put pressure on parts of it.  The glue and dowels are doing a good job, but wood is still flexible.  Also at this point Ashley informed me that she would like the piece to be propped up during her wedding (so people can easily see it) and afterwards she would like to hang it in her house.  So now I have to figure out how to make it more rigid, add an easel and make it fixable to a wall.

So first, I sanded the S when the filler dried.

Now to make it more rigid.  I decided to get some 1/4" thick plywood.

I laid the S shape onto the plywood and drew an outline.

I then cut out the new S shape from the thin plywood using my jigsaw.

Then I proceeded to glue and clamp it to the S.

While that dried I decided to work on a stand.  I had played with some ideas the night before and ultimately decided to build a stand similar to the many folding guitar stands I've made.  After all, a guitar has a rounded bottom much like my big S.

I just needed to figure out a size.  When placing the S on the guitar stand I was surprised to see that my little stand was actually holding up the S quite nicely.

But I think I'll make a bigger one that better supports the back.

So, using 2 scrap pieces of 3/4" plywood I drew out the shape of the stand.

I then screwed the 2 pieces together, placing the screws in the parts that will be trimmed off.

Next I cut out the shapes on my band saw.

The band saw left a lot of rough cuts, so I spent a good amount of time removing the rough cuts with my mouse sander...

...for the curved areas I used the back end of my table top belt sander.

Then I sanded and smoothed all the edges with my orbital sander and sandpaper.

Next I added a hinge at the top...

...and 2 eye hooks and a chain to hold it upright and together.

Now I just have to see if it's good enough.  Unfortunately I was a bit too eager and I removed the clamps from the S before the glue had fully set up.

I used my trim router with a flush cutting bit to trim the thin plywood.

And all looked good...

...except that 2 parts of the plywood broke free from the routing.

I added more glue and clamped the 2 areas, this time not letting my eagerness get the better of me.  I let the glue dry for several hours.

When fully dry I removed the clamps.  Now it's looking good.

And the stand works well too!

With the stand a success, it's time to finish up the S.  I used a roundover bit on the trim router to go over the edges of the back.

Then sanded the back.

Rounding over the back did 2 things.  One, it make it nicer to touch.  Two, it took the plywood edge away, so as not to be seen.

All that's left to do now is figure out a way to hang this to the wall.

I had an idea of making a separate piece that would mount to the wall and that the S would hang from.  So I used a level and put a piece of scrap wood behind the bottom of the top portion of the S.  Then I traced that shape. 

This piece is too thin to use, but I'll cut it...

...and sand it to use as a template.

The actual piece will be made from leftover 2x4.

I traced the shape onto the 2x4...

...cut it out...

...sanded it...

...and now I have my shape.  Now I have to think of a nice looking something to put behind it.

Before I went any further I consulted Ashley.

She loved it when she saw what I had done, but wanted hooks on the back to hang it on the wall rather than what I was working on.  This is great, because hooks are a lot easier, and I have some D-rings that will work well.

But before I attach those I need to finish this thing up.  A little more filler was needed.

...followed by the last bit of sanding.  Once cleaned up, I began applying some satin polyurethane.

This will help protect the wood.

While that dried, I disassembled the stand and applied an ebony stain to it.

When the stain had dried, I applied some clear coat.

When both were dry I gave each a light sanding with very fine sandpaper and cleaned them up for more applications of clear coat/polyurethane.

Approximately every 2 hours I would sand/clean/reapply poly.  In the evening the big S was looking very nice and was quite smooth.  I then let it fully cure overnight.  The next morning I began the same process to the back of the S.

The stand was done, so I reassembled it.

After a few hours the back of the S was nice and smooth.

And finally I added 2 D-hooks to the back so Ashley can hang it on the wall after the wedding.

And I'm done!

This huge letter S turned out nicely.

And the stand did too!

When I delivered it to Ashley she was super excited!

A few months later was Ashley & Austin's wedding, and here is a picture of the Big S being signed by her friends and family.

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