Sunday, December 27, 2015

Secret Santa Exposed!!

Yep, this post is a few days late but that was necessary to avoid spilling the cranberries. (Spilling the beans just didn't sound very Christmasy. . .)

And OK, maybe that title went just a little too far in pumping up expectations. Probably more suited for one of the supermarket checkout rags than a blog, but technically that's what happened so I'm sticking to it. (Oh man! That was just too close to 'That's my story and I'm sticking to it!', a favorite saying of my Dad's and one that drove me nuts!! Excuse me for a minute while I go shudder. . .)

(Though it has nothing to do with the rest of this post, other than a vague connection to the holiday theme, this is what a bit of Americana Christmas looked like before being folded, spindled and  crammed into a USPS flat-rate box in October so we could ship it to Japan in time for Christmas.)

You see our family is one of those that does Secret Santa for Christmas, ever since a few of the more sensible of the clan switched us over years ago when the free-for-all melee was just getting out of hand. Which is great as far as I'm concerned because I don't have to freak out over some huge and growing list of people to buy for and can focus on just the one person.

Nowadays the proliferation of gift cards, and for the ultimate in simplicity, the egift card, simplifies things even more, (Hey, when your daughter lives in Japan - well, you get the idea.) which goes a long ways towards saving on those post-holiday therapist fees as well as reducing awkward regifting snafus. And I'll admit to leaning heavily on the little plastic suckers sometimes, but this year I got a wild hair and did something  different.

Statistically speaking, pulling names out of a hat (Literally; because, without naming names, some of us in this family are old school and don't see the fun in programming a random name generator and automatic e-mailer for the computer. Go figure!) should mean a random mix of yuletide match-ups over the years. Well this year statistics were on vacation that day and when the dust settled, the hat-band grease washed off fingertips and the paper cuts bandaged, I had pulled my nephew. Yep the same name as last year.

I did the DYI store card thing with him last year, and could have done the same this year. He's been remodeling his 1800's farmhouse and still has a few finishing touches to go so I'm sure he would have put it to good use, but somehow it just seemed like I should do something different this time around.

So I went trolling through his hobbies and likes and stuff (Hey! If it's on-line it's not stalking!!) and came up with a couple reference photos to get me started.

For quite a few years now my nephew has been a champion sled racer (Vintage snowmobiles on oval track.) and I came up with a few photos of his winning sled, or at least one of them. And behind that 1800's farmhouse of his is an original 1800's barn that he is equally proud of. In fact he got married in that barn.

I did a little Photoshopping of the reference photos to clean them up and reverse the images so the final product would come out - well - not reversed. Then I played around with the relative sizes and positioning until the combined composition looked good, at least to my eye, before transferring the doctored images by hand onto tracing paper.

With tracing-paper composition in hand I selectively cut a panel out of quarter inch birch ply, going for a blemish-free, evenly colored piece with grain that would compliment the image.

In this case I used a closed-crown of the cathedral grain to hint at a bit of a snow-drift under the sled while the tightening grain above it enhances the perspective back towards the barn where, if you use your imagination, it even suggests a rolling horizon line over on the right side. The second, less defined crown that would fall just above and behind the barn, hinting at windblown clouds in the sky, was a bonus find.(OK, honestly! Where else would clouds be but in the sky???)

The size of the panel plus frame was dictated by the interior dimensions of a large USPS flat-rate box, though I ended up piggy-backing it along with another project in a larger box anyway.

(Does my butt hand look fat to you?? Nope! Never mind. I don't want to know.)

Taping the tracing paper to the blank face-down, which flips everything around the right way, I transferred the image.

I've used various burnishing tools in the past for this step but have found that the rounded back of my thumbnail works best.

Almost ready, but I should probably work on the far-side ski a little more so I can see it better.

The trick here is to get the basics, the outline and major details, like the all important sled numbers, and then work on the finer details in the next step.

Now it was time to fire up my cheap-ass woodburner with my favorite hooked tip.

Yep, that's right, my woodburner is nothing more than a glorified 30 watt soldering iron with a handful of interchangeable tips. The handle has suffered some abuse and is held together with tape and if I'm not careful that metal cone just below the handle will leave beautifully arched burns on my hand. (Which happens a lot and is no fun at all, but - well - shit happens. . .)

I recently had an opportunity to test-drive a Colwood Super Pro II woodburner and oh holy crap was that sweet!! But at close to $300 fully outfitted it's just a little outside the budget. . . for now. . .

At this point I got focused on what I was doing and didn't remember to take any photos for several hours so this 'in progress' photo was almost a 'completed' photo.

Here you can begin to see how the grain of the panel works with and enhances the image, at least it does in my mind's eye.

After some final fiddling careful and skilled burning, followed by a day or two of contemplation to make sure I was in-fact finished, I gave the panel three coats of water-based poly on both sides and all edges to seal it. True, oil-based poly is tougher stuff but it also has an amber tint to it that I didn't want in this case. The water-based stuff stays crystal clear.

The final step was to slap together a simple frame out of bits of an old weathered fence board, mount the panel in the frame with some pin-nails for easy removal in case a different frame will be better suited for it in its final home, you know, behind the door in the downstairs bathroom, and screw a bit of picture wire across the back for hanging.

There you have it. Probably as far from a plastic gift card as you can get. (But not necessarily better. . .)

The downside to creating a personalized gift like this is that in doing so I also ended up dropping my Secret Santa pants faster than a rental tux off the father of bride as he walks her down the aisle.

Oh well, not the first time I've been exposed, and probably not the last. (But again, that time at the beach in Virginia was not my fault!)


  1. Well, not being a writer of fine verbiage. I will just mention that said nephew is so enthralled with the gift created here that he still is talking about it and has it hanging prominently in his office room (that is soon to turn into a nursery).

    1. Ah yes, must start the little one out right with subliminal messages of farming and fast sleds!

      And sorry, but anyone that uses the words verbiage, enthralled and prominently all within a single paragraph instead of 'ain't got none a those whachamacallits, those highfalutin words', 'happier'n a squirrel in the pantry', or 'right smack-dab in yer face' isn't allowed to disavow being a writer of fine verbiage.