Wooden Pixel Mario

A couple years ago, David Picciuto made a Super Mario picture using 1″ square “pixels” cut out of three types of wood. That has stuck in my head as a fun idea and it ended up being the first project that I completed since April. (My shop has been used for storage during the siding and window project on our house.)

I chose maple, walnut and paduk for the white, brown and red pieces. The key to this project is getting all ~150 squares to be totally identical in size so that when you build them into Mario, the lines stay straight. The next trick was getting a chamfer cut on all four sides of the squares. This helps to define the edges and made each square look more like a pixel. I cut two of the sides with a router when the wood was still in 1″ strips. After cross cutting those strips into squares, I set the table on my small disc sander to a 45 degree angle and sanded the rest. Then I had to hand sand each square to clean them up.

David put his on to a square piece of plywood and made a frame for it, but I wanted to make mine frameless. I cut out a piece of plywood on the bandsaw that would be just smaller than the assembled Mario. I picked a row near the center and carefully glued it as straight as I could. From there I glued two or three rows at a time working out toward the top and bottom. I took my time and let the various rows dry before getting too far so that I could make sure I was staying straight.

I love this project! Thank you David for the inspiration!

Wooden Cross

In August of 2016, Logan and I took down the two dying trees that were along our driveway. I saved a few pieces of the wood and attempted to cut them into tiny slabs. There’s an old saying that goes something like “logs rot and lumber dries.” Yes, you can leave a log to sit there and dry completely, but it’s better if you can cut it into very rough sizes and stack it up with room for air to move between all the pieces. It will drive more evenly with less cracking.

I finally pulled it out of the shed a couple weeks ago and stared at it … it wasn’t particularly beautiful cherry, but it seemed fun to use it for a small project. I remember Grandpa Martens making crosses out of the tree they took down in his front yard so I set off to make a cross as well.

The design emerged from some trial and error, but I ended up building a cross with 45 degree miters to fit all the pieces together. Then I sawed it in half in both directions to end up with 4 L shapes. I cut a rabbet into all of the interior sides and inlaid a piece of paduk, leaving the cherry a bit longer than the paduk. It was a tricky glue up but it held together. I finished it off with a couple coats of shellac. I think it will look a bit better as the cherry oxidizes and darkens over time.

Curly Maple Box

I’ve been working with maple for a couple years, but I’ve never used “curly maple” before. The Wood Database describes it as a maple board where “the ripples in the grain pattern create a three dimensional effect that appears as if the grain has ‘curled’ along the length of the board.”

It’s generally expensive to buy since it’s somewhat rare, but Crosscut Hardwoods in Seattle had a stack of ~30inch long boards that had some curl in them. I picked up two of them to play with and I ended up attempt a small box.

You’d think that a small box would be simple, but it seems like the smaller your project is, the tougher it is to get it right. Tiny gaps and imperfections are a lot more noticeable on small projects.

The first thing was deciding what size box to make. Based on the wood I had available, I went with 3″x5″x8″. Fun fact, if you want a box to look “normal”, use the Fibonacci sequence to determine your dimensions. It’s a close approximation for the golden ratio of 1:1.61803399. Fun fact #2, if you follow that rule, your box will have the same ratio between the dimensions as the Parthenon.

Jointing and planing the curly maple was a challenge. Even though I had recently replaced the blades on both machines, that curly grain is extremely subject to tear out. I took very light passes and did a lot of sanding. A drum sander would have come in very handy to make all the pieces a uniform thickness without tear out.

For the box construction, I mitered the four sides at 45 degrees on each end and then created a dado for both the top and the bottom panel. I glued it all together and ended up with a box that had 6 sides and no way to open. Then I moved over to the table saw and sawed it in half, being careful to insert spacers into the kerf that I had just cut so the box wouldn’t pinch the blade and eat me.

There are multiple methods for creating a snug-fitting lid. I chose to line the inside with walnut and leave the sides of the walnut a little taller than the interior of the box. With a little sanding and finessing, the top fits perfectly over that interior lining. I finished the whole thing off with a couple coats of shellac.

I learned a lot making it which is code for “I made a lot of mistakes, some of which I couldn’t recover from”, but I think this one will be good enough to sit on my dresser without annoying me. The grain is beautiful when you hold it up to the light and see how it changes. The pictures don’t do it justice.

Robot Art

Frank Howarth got involved in an auction at his kids school again this year and made an incredible neighborhood art project. He started by cutting up a bunch of scraps and having he kids put them together to form pictures of their houses. Then he combined all the houses into a single neighborhood on a piece of wood.

As I was out in the garage with Elijah a couple weekends ago, I thought he might like giving something like that a try. I cut up various pieces from some nice scraps and asked him to make a house. That proved to be a little challenging so we switched to robots. He was immediately on top of that and made two of them almost completely by himself. At that point we ran out of the scraps that I had cut and he ran out of patience so we called it quits.

Later, I took a picture of what he had made and then transferred it onto a square piece of cherry plywood. I made a simple frame out of some walnut scraps and voila! I’m excited to get this finished and hung on his wall. I’m waiting for the weather to warm up a bit so that I can put some finish on it.


I’ve played around with classic gaming system emulators in the past. There was the time I bought an old Asteroids machine and stuffed a computer inside, and I also modified an original Xbox to run old Nintendo games. Classic games are still fun for me and I thought the simpler games might be a way to introduce Elijah to video games as a super rainy weekend special activity kind of thing. Or at least that was my excuse.

It’s a lot easier to get a system up and running now. Here’s a shopping list:

Things you might have already:

Now you’re ready to follow the instructions (Lifehacker has a good guide too) and get gaming!

That only took me a couple hours to put together. I wasn’t thrilled with all the cables and pieces laying around so I decided to build a nice box for it. I have done some bandsaw boxes but I don’t recall doing any nice small wooden boxes with a lid. This seemed like a good excuse. I started with some walnut scraps from the side table build.
For the top, I found part of the wood with nice grain and tried a bookmatch. That just means that you use the bandsaw to cut down the middle of the board (the thin way) and lay it open like a book. The grain ends up as (almost) a mirror image. I was really happy with how it looked though in the final product I did goof it up a bit. I think I flipped one of the boards end for end.Because I was using scraps, I couldn’t quite get a continuous grain all the way around the box, but I did pay a little attention to it and some of the corners look pretty cool. I put in some small maple splines to reinforce the corners. The box walls were thin so the splines are pretty tiny. I finished it off with a couple coats of shellac.

I’m happy with it for a first attempt. Everything fits inside so that’s a win and the grain is pretty to look at. I want to try another box soon to use what i learned. Crosscut Hardwoods is selling small pieces of curly maple and I picked up some of that to try on the next box.