Friday, December 23, 2011

Craft projects for homeowners

Do you own a house? Then you probably have a stash of wood scraps like this in your garage or your basement. I have a mountain of end pieces left over from when I put in the fences. Before they were just a fire hazard but now they are destined to be poorly executed crafts!

Have you seen this tutorial on Ready Made? You use gel medium to transfer a photo to a piece of wood. They are a little sparse on the details and you have to find the link to this video on YouTube that is buried in the comments.

Photo source: Ready Made

I found it a little tricky, so here's what worked for me. I did a couple of test runs using different photos, since I have a zillion pieces of wood in my garage. I went down to Kinko's because all the tutorials say that copies from an inkjet printer won't work; it has to be a laserjet image. I printed out copies of photos in both color and black and white onto standard printer paper.

You'll want your surface to be smooth. I used my hand sander to smooth the wood down, starting with 120 grit and moving up to 320 grit, except that first I started with 220 because I wasn't caffeinated. I couldn't get the deeper ridges out, despite an eternity of sanding. So yeah, go get a cup of coffee and start with the low-grit, dumbass. You could also do this with a sanding block. I didn't smooth the sides of all of the pieces because I'm an idiot. People don't like rough edges, so if you're giving these as a gift don't be so lazy.

Then you just paint on a thin coat of gel transfer using your brush (I used my trusty Purdy).


Then slap on the photos, and make sure there aren't any bubbles. I had some trouble with parts of images rubbing away and I initially thought that I hadn't painted on a thick enough layer of gel medium. Subsequent attempts were made with a thicker layer of gel medium, which looked terrible and didn't solve the problem. I think the key was curing time.

The Ready Made tutorial tells you to let it cure overnight but other places on the Internet say to wait 48-72 hours, and this really helps, though you will lose parts of your image. So just square your thinking away right now that this will look rustic.

Once it has cured you wet the paper on the wood block and start rubbing it away. Try to ignore how bad the grout on your kitchen counters looks.

You'll think you've gotten it all, only to let the block dry and find out that there's still so much paper left. If you don't remove it all your finished product will look like this, as if your friends' baby has sprouted white hair from her face. Not so good.

I thought I'd like black and white photos better but I definitely prefer using a color image. I used Instagram photos for that old-timey feel.

You could swear that you got all the paper last time but nope, you need to do more peeling.

Nope, you're not done. Keep peeling.

You can see that I'm losing small parts of the image. RUSTIC.


Can you see what happens when you put down too much gel transfer?

So you're going to peeling a good long while. Toward the end I stopped soaking the entire image and instead put a drop of water on my finger and went after very small areas. This worked a lot better. I found that the longer I let the gel transfer cure, the easier the paper came up. Also? The harder the wood, the easier this part is. I had a scrap of 1 x 4 from Custom Cedar Products and the paper came up so much more easily than the pieces from Home Depot or Parr (whose boards are always flimsy in comparison).

Then let it dry completely and slap on a coat of Mod Podge.

Attach your hanger and call it good!

Now if I could do it all over again I would have stained a border around the images. I think that would have elevated the look of the project. There's probably a thousand different things you could do, especially if you were an art major and actually know how this stuff works. I'm going to keep playing with this idea, since I have eleventy million more pieces of cedar in the garage.

So, in summary:
  1. Use the hardest board scraps you can find.
  2. Start sanding with a low-grit sandpaper.
  3. Use a thin layer of gel transfer and let it cure for 48-72 hours.
  4. Be okay with the fact that it will take more than a few rounds to get the paper off, and you may lose bits of your image.
Also: keep in mind that your photo will be reversed when you transfer it, so if it features any kind of writing, you may want to reverse the image first in Photoshop so your project doesn't end up looking like this:

This was graffiti we found in Italy that looked so much like us our friends thought we painted it.

Yeah, pretty dumb.


  1. "Before they were just a fire hazard but now they are destined to be poorly executed crafts!"
    Thank you for that! Still lol'ing...

  2. finally let me comment! I totally lol'd as well...the backwards type is totally something I would do "facepalm".

  3. I thought I was fixing something with Disqus and instead I broke it and disabled comments for a while there. Thank you for being persistent! And for commiserating . . . I do stupid stuff like this all. the. time.

  4. This is ridiculously awesome! I am pleased you included the warning about the backwards type; I wouldn't have thought of that.

    I am definitely going to have to try this. So cool.

  5. You could print your ultrasound onto scrap wood! ;)

  6. So I started reading this and though, OMG, we have a pile of wood JUST LIKE THAT sitting in the basement! I could do whatever this project turns out to be! Thankfully I read the rest of the post before getting too invested, and thankfully I was sitting comfortably since this was HILARIOUS! You are so awesome.

  7. I bet you could make something really cool though! You're actually artistic--yours wouldn't turn out so silly looking. :)

  8. NEAT! What a very cool thing....