Family Identity – Making It Real


Once we’d identified the values that we hope will define us as a family and crafted them into a statement, we still needed to make it into a physical thing to serve as a permanent reminder.

Step 1: Pick a size/shape for it. I used to dabble in woodworking and had some cool pieces of lumber that I’d bought 10 years ago, but I had never figured out what I wanted to do with them.  We decided to use an enormous plank of mahogany.  You may not have an enormous plank of mahogany.  Don’t panic.  There’s a good chance you can get one if you’re willing to find a lumber yard in your area (I just googled “lumber yard boston” to check and I found one in nearby Watertown, MA that sells a decent variety of nice wood).  You could also go to a craft store and get prepared wood blanks with routed edges.  These can be as big as a piece of framed art – they’re generally sold for woodburning (the art – not the heating source).

The mahogany plank I had was rough cut, so I used a hand sander to smooth it down.  The kids got to help a bit with that (until it got boring).

Sanding down the plank
Sanding down the plank

I was able to do this myself since I have a hand sander.  Of course, we did this project just before we moved, so I had a porch to work on and didn’t have to worry so much about disturbing neighbors with tool sounds and sawdust.  The good news is that if you just use a woodburning blank from an art store or the pre-planed planks of cherry or oak sold at places Home Depot or Lowe’s you won’t have to worry about sanding or planing anything.

Step 2: Format your statement to your board.  Once you’ve written your statement and measured the board you want to use, you’ll need to think about how you want the statement formatted on the board.  The final look is really a matter of individual taste.  I created a one cell table in a Word doc that I made to mirror the proportions of the board and filled it with the text of our statement.

Formatted in Word in a single-cell table.
Formatted in Word in a single-cell table.

We just used the fonts available in Microsoft Word, but there are plenty of free fonts you can download out there on the interwebs, too.  We used a variety of fonts to keep it visually interesting and tried to pick fonts that we felt reflected the “character” of the words.

Step 3: Transfer your statement to your board – Layout.  After we’d decided on fonts and created the model in the word processor, I opened a new document and turned it to landscape view.  So, you can see in the picture above that “Invent, Explore” is the widest line.  I measured the width of our board and subtracted out what felt like an appropriate amount for the margins.  Then I typed them in the appropriate fonts into landscape view and played with the font size until the printed text was about that wide.  That set the font size for the primary words.  For the minor words (e.g., “We will” etc.) we had used a smaller font in the original design.  I just reduced the size of those words until they looked proportionally similar to what we’d done on our mock up.  Then I printed them out and cut off some of the excess paper.

Next, I found the center line of the board and the center line of each line we’d be placing.  To find the board’s center line, just use a ruler or tape measure to measure the width at the top and bottom and then use a pencil to make a light dot at the halfway point (warning: Division!).  Then use a straightedge and the pencil to make a light line connecting the two points, thus, bisecting your board.  The next part involves laying out the words you just printed out on the board, using the bisecting line as a reference for centering them.  You can get really into centering them to the exact 1/32nd of an inch or you can probably eyeball it.  The eyeballing approach may actually be better since little commas and periods don’t hold as much visual weight but will affect your centering as though they did if you’re measuring carefully rather than doing what “looks right”.  It’s also helpful to use what’s called a square – an L shaped measuring stick with a perfect 90 degree angle.  They’re usually made of metal and vary a bit in size.  The one I have is about 2.5 feet for the long side and 1.5 feet for the short side.  It doesn’t take up too much room and can be useful for hanging pictures, too, so it’s not a bad tool to have around.  I used the square to make sure my lines were laid out perfectly perpendicular to the edge of the board.

Step 4: Carbon copy the words onto the board. Once the paper cut outs of each line are positioned, use scotch tape to hold them in place.  Just put the tape on the top of each word.  You’ll want to be able to fold them up because the next bit is to use carbon paper to trace over each word and transfer a carbon copy onto the wood itself.  Here’s a picture of how it looked on ours:

Tracing the words to make a carbon copy on the wood.
Tracing the words to make a carbon copy on the wood.

Eventually, your entire family identity statement will be carbon copied right onto the board and you’ll be ready for the next step.

Step 5: Woodburning. Once everything was traced out, I took out my trusty woodburner and went over every bit of carbon copy.  Woodburning is nice because it burns down into the board so that each letter has a kind of depth to it, almost like engraving.  The kids didn’t help with this part, of course.  Woodburners get a bit too hot for anyone as easily distracted as my kids.  The woodburning process shouldn’t be rushed and you may want to try it out on some scrap wood for practice before diving in.  It’s really not a difficult thing, but a bit of practice makes a difference if you’re not used to doing it.

Step 6: Finishing.  The last step is the finishing process.  You’ll have a variety of options to choose from – polyurethane clear coat, lacquer, finishing oils.  We chose a finishing oil.

Tried & True Danish Oil Finish
Tried & True Danish Oil Finish

This was a part the kids got to help with.  I drizzled the oil over the board and they used clean cloths to rub it in.  There will be directions on whatever finishing product you use, but if you use an oil you’ll generally use a sponge or a brush to wipe the oil on in a thin coat and then use another cloth to rub it in.  Then, after the oil’s had a day or so to dry, go back and buff it like you mean it.

Steve rubbing the oil into the board
My son rubbing the oil into the board

Odds & Ends: When we were done, we realized that the word “beauty” wasn’t as visible as we wanted it, so we got a gold-leaf paint marker and filled it in.

Gold leaf marker helps beauty stand out
Gold leaf marker helps beauty stand out

We also decided to use the board as our growth chart.  Now we can bring it with us wherever we happen to live.  I put a C on one side for our daughter and an S on the other side for our son.  Then I just stood it up by the door frame we had been using and transferred the marks in pencil to go over with the woodburner later.  We wrote the dates the measurements were taken on the back of the board.

 

The S is for Steve - his growth chart is on this side of the board and Cate's, with a C at the top, is on the other side
The S is for our son – his growth chart is on this side of the board and our daughter’s, with a C at the top, is on the other side

 

Grand Finale: Here is a photo of the finished product:

The finished product
The finished product

Are you thinking about taking this project on with your family?  It’s always fun to see what families have in common and where they differ.  Tell us what you’re doing in the comments below or, better yet, send pictures and I’ll feature your family’s hard work (with your permission, of course).


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