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  • Fred

DIY wooden American Flag.

Ever want one of those wooden American flags? Why not make one yourself? That's what I'm doing and I'd like to share the process with your in EXCRUCIATING detail. So, I apologize in advance for the severe detail. It's rather severe.

Step 1: Do the union first (the part with the stars).

See, that was a pretty easy step. Now, let's break it down.

Step 1a: Start with a big block of wood.

This is a piece of maple from CPJohnson Lumber in Culpeper, Va. It started off as a 12-inch wide, 1-inch thick board about 24-inches long. This is the same piece that was used for both the rear and door for the first aid kit in previous posts.

Step 1b: Trim the board width below 12-inches so that it will fit on the jointer. In this case, the final dimensions of the union will be 11-9/16 inches by 16-11/32 inches. I am therefore, trimming this board to 11-9/16 inches wide. To do this, I first joint one edge to get it pretty straight (it can't be really really straight due to the fact that the faces are still rough cut). I then trim the other edge on the table saw slightly wider than 11-9/16. I now have one really square edge and a pretty square edge. I flip the board over and trim the pretty square edge to 11-9/16 inches and the board is the proper width and it's narrower than the 12 inches that my jointer can handle. Simple, no?

Step 1c: Use the jointer to get a flat face on one side of the board.

This is actually a really simple step. You just run the board over the jointer until all of the rough spots are gone and the board sits flat on the jointer table.

Step 1d: Make the other face of the board straight and parallel to the one just jointed.

Another relatively simple step. I run the board through the planer using the jointed face as a guide. I do this until all of the rough surface is gone. My jointer leaves a slightly more "machined" surface than the planer, so I flip the board over to smooth out that side too. Just keep going until the board is the thickness you want. In this case, I got it down to 0.80 inches.

Step 1f: Layout the stencil.

I have a star stencil (really, who doesn't?). I use the calipers to get it just right. Measurements for the top-bottom positioning are taken from the center of the stars. I use the calipers ALL of the time. They're a truly helpful woodworking tool.

Step 1g: Spray the board with white paint.

Huh? What? Why spray it with white paint? This took me a bit to figure out, but here goes. The overall plan is for the stars to be raised and the surrounding blue area to be carved out. This way, after I carve out the background, I can run my sander over the surface and take any paint off. Maple is such a nice, light colored wood, it looks best when the background is painted blue and the stars are natural wood.

So, why the white paint, then? Well, I use the blue paint later to lay out the stars. It's much more accurate and much quicker than tracing the stars by hand (I've done this, believe me). when I do the final clean-up sanding of the star surface, if there are any little cracks in the wood that get filled with paint, I don't want that paint to be any color other than white. By spraying white first, any little cracks get filled in with white. The blue sits on top. See?

Step 1h: Spray the wood with blue paint

The blue paint provides an accurate layout for the stars. I know it looks like an inverse union, but that's mainly just a coincidence that I had some blue paint laying around. The white needs to be white (see above), but the other color just needs to be something contrasting.

Step 1i: Cut the board down to final size.

This is another straight-forward step. I measured and cut.

Step 1j: Begin to cut out stars. Basically, I outline the star using a bench chisel, then go back and begin removing material. This process continues until the stars are raised well above the background.

Here's what the stars look like up close. This is still pretty rough. Part of the process is to keep carving out the background and smoothing the area between the stars.

Step 1k: After the sample star, outline the rest of the stars.

When cutting the background of one star, it's imperative to not cut into another star's blue area. If the wood happens to splinter, a large chunk could split out of the surface. By outlining all of the stars first, this is MUCH less likely to happen. It's also important to cut the lines of each star in the proper order. Do the lines that run parallel to the wood grain last. All of the other lines are cutting the grain of the wood. Where the lines are parallel to the wood grain, the chisel is basically pushing between the grains (there's still some cutting, but a lot of pushing too). This causes the wood to split on either side of the chisel as well.

Here's a photo of why this is important. Look at the left side of the chisel. You can see where the wood is splitting -- of course, this is in the area that will be cut away, so it doesn't matter. On the right side of the chisel, the wood is already cut which prevents it from splitting.

Step 1l: Begin removing material.

I went around and began removing material around all of the stars. It's still quite rough, but will clean up nicely. You'll see.

So, there's almost an entire union now and all in just one step. Stay tuned for more updates and progress.

Oh, and if you're still reading, thank you.

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