Woodworking Adventures: Transforming a Hiking Memory into Art with Minwax

Recently my friends from Minwax reached out and challenged me to create a piece of art using their products in the “It’s Called Art” Challenge. I said bring it on. And then realized how out of practice I’ve been in the shop these last few months, especially making anything that’s not the size of a piece of furniture. But I realized quickly I had a great idea and a great inspiration piece, so I headed to the store and loaded up my cart with some Minwax stains and finishes and dug some of my long-lost tools out of storage.

 

From Walk To Workbench

I have been toying with the idea of making a landscape picture out of wood and using different species of wood and stains to give contrast.  Having hosted the Scroll Saw Challenge a few months ago, I saw some amazing pieces that inspired me to give this a go.  I’ve got a scroll saw and I have a few rotary tools, so I decided to give it the old college (20 years removed) try.  For my inspiration piece, I knew the exact picture I wanted to use. My wife and I love to hike and for her (number undisclosed) birthday, we spent a few days hiking around Asheville, North Carolina and fell in love with a couple trails including Looking Glass Rock.   At the end of this trail there’s a beautiful overlook with a steep rock ledge and sheer drop-offs.  I’m not the best photographer, but I nailed the beauty with one of the photos I took.  Now how the heck do you make this a template for scroll sawing?

Originally, my thought was to turn this piece into a wood mosaic, so I used a random web tool to turn my image into exactly that, a mosaic.  And then I realized when I started cutting my first pieces that I was an idiot and this is way too crazy.  Cutting that many little pieces is fine… keeping track of where each piece goes and in what direction AND stain them with a chaotic house of kids… zero chance for success.  So I called an audible at the line, faster than Peyton Manning can say “Omaha” and decided to color block bigger pieces instead.  Using the mosaic image for a guide, I could pick out half a dozen similar colors to block out, cut out and assemble.

Scroll Saw Magic

The very first thing I did was cut out the tree on the scroll saw.  You don’t need a scroll saw to do this, you could use a jig saw as well, but I am terrible with the jig saw.  I found a fun piece of contrasting wood with a grey tone to it and started cutting out the shape.  This was the only piece I really needed to be precise with.

With the tree complete, I grabbed a piece of 1/8” underlayment and sketched out my scene (and then used that as the backer board).  I decided to break down the pieces into background trees, the rock face, the mountains and the sky.  Once I was happy with my scene, I transferred the sketch over onto a glued-up pair of ½” x 6” pine/fir boards I picked up at the store.  I probably could have sketched straight on those to begin with, but I wasn’t sure how things were going to fit and how I could maximize material without crossing over seams.  You might ask, why not cut the sections from the underlayment?  Because it’s essentially thin plywood, the edges would be rough and splintered from the sawing, so using a solid piece of wood or even MDF is best for cutting pieces like this.  MDF wouldn’t take stain, so these ½” by 6” pieces were very manageable.

With the blocked-out sections roughed out, when you start cutting them out, the cuts don’t have to be all that accurate. Just in the ballpark and they need to be done in a single cut, so all the pieces go back together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.  I then took a sander and cleaned up the faces and then gave the edges a slight sanding to break the edge and provide a little contrast when the pieces go together.  I ended up using a Random Orbit sander for most edges and then a rotary tool for others.  I really debated adding details with the rotary tool for areas needing branches and leaves… but it looked… terrible. 

Surface Prep

With the pieces all cut out and ready to go back together into a giant landscape jig saw puzzle, I started with applying Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner.  This allows for a more even application of stain and solves those blotchy issues you often see.  You’re ready to roll in 15 minutes after application, just remember to use Water-Based Pre-Stain with Water-Based Stain and Oil-based Pre-Stain with Oil-based stains.  With my pieces laid out in order, I used a combination of Minwax products for this project to achieve different finishes, colors and wood tones.  

All The Stains

While you generally don’t apply both oil-based and water-based stains to the same project, it was fine in this case because the application was on different pieces.  I ran the gambit with Minwax Wood Finish Oil-Based Stain, Water-Based Solid Color Stain and PolyShades.  In some cases where I was looking for a little variety, I mixed my stains to darken pieces for a different look.  One of my favorites was the Minwax Oil-Based Stain in Vintage Blue.  It was their 2021 Color of the Year and it’s amazing.  A few more coats would have really made the blue-sky pop, but I liked the subtle look with the wood grain giving the semblance of clouds in the sky. For the background trees, I used Minwax Solid Color Stain in Royal Pine.  It goes on like a thick furniture paint with a matte finish and applied in a single coat.

With all the pieces stained and dry, I glued everything on to my 1/8” backer board with wood glue, set something heavy on top for the night and let it dry.  I then opened up a can of Minwax Polycrylic Top Coat in Satin to finish and protect the entire project.

Finishing Touches

The next day I squared my edges up that got a little wonky and called it finished!  I might go back and add a frame, but I am happy with my first attempt at a landscape. As I dip my toe into the power carving world soon, I expect to make some dynamic images soon in a similar style.

Want to try something similar?  Give it a try and make sure you post yours in the comment section.   A special thanks to my friends from Minwax for pushing me to try something different.

~Lazy Guy

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