I've been wanting to make a piece of distressed flag wall art like this for a couple years . My lovely wife had spotted one she liked in one of those super-expensive decor stores. They had all sorts of similar items, including American flags, some sports teams, and the one we especially liked, our adoptive state of Arizona's flag. We figured I could make one, maybe even improve on it. Challenge accepted!
Making AN ARIZONA FLAG WITH WOOD, PAINT, FIRE, AND METAL
This post is sponsored by Bernzomatic, all opinions are 100% my own.
Rather than make our flag from individual planks, I decided to build it from a piece of scrap 3/4" plywood I had pack-ratted away in the garage. I'll work you through how I made it. You can adapt my process to a bunch of different flag designs.
The Arizona Flag, like the US Flag, is made from a collection of easy, geometric shapes. The ratio of the flag size is 3 units wide by 2 units tall. It's cut horizontally in half, with a series of equal rays driving out from the center.
Part 1: Creating The Wooden Flag
It's super easy to do this flag's design with a compass, a protractor, and a straight edge.
- I found the baseline using the 3 unit wide by 2 unit high ratio and penciled it in with a straight edge.
- Once I had the exterior rectangle laid out, I measured to center. The rays all start from that point.
- I drew a half circle centered on the flag on the ray side. There's no particular size needed, but larger is good.
- The rays are all equal widths at their origin. There are 13 of them, but a total of 14 lines counting the base lines. A half circle of 180 degrees divided by 14 lines equals 12.86 degrees between each of them.
- I used a digital compass / angle finder and a long, straight-edge cutting guide to draw that straight angled line from center to the edge of the board.
- To make the next lines precise, I captured the distance between the base line and the first angled line with the compass.
- I ticked equal marks along the edge of the semi circle with the compass.
- With a thumbtack to brace the straight edge to the center of the circle, I connected the center to the tick marks and drew each ray past the edge of the board.
FUN WITH POWER TOOLS
I sliced the plywood to size with a clamped straight edge and a circular saw. The wood was a piece of leftover scrap from another project, so I simply sized the height to be 2/3 of the width of what I had to start with.
I wanted the piece to look like it was assembled from carefully trimmed and fit pieces. Rather than use a shallow depth saw cut, I decided to make the appearance of a chamfered edge with a v-shaped router bit.
I made the cuts against the straight edge, offset from my pencil line enough to let the base of the router slide along. I measured, clamped, cut, un-clamped, spun the board, and repeated until I'd cut along all the pencil lines.
In all the repetition, I got a little lazy and lost my focus for just a quick second. I let the router slip off the straight edge and swing a little wide. It carved a screwy line. Dang-it.
There was no way I was starting over, so I slathered on some wood putty, sanded it smooth, and re-cut the section.
Just a slight delay. Back on track.
The routed dividing lines clearly need some character and depth. The best way to do that, of course, is with a bit of flame-on-wood action. I used my Bernzomatic Mini torch to darken the edges. The Bernzomatic ST500 is a 3-in-1 torch that features a soldering tip, hot air blower, and my personal favorite, a pinpoint micro-torch.
I used the pencil-torch to cook the lines, just to the point where they turned black and the grain on the upper edge started to open slightly.
I love this little butane-powered torch. It's easy to handle, like sketching with big, permanent marker.
But how much to burn it friends?
I gave this project it more than the light toasting my burned wood lap desk project got, but a whole lot less than the super-blackened finish of my pallet wood pirate flag. Yeah, somewhere in between these...
Going for flame-broiled, I concentrated on that outer edge. With the varying layers of the plywood, it was difficult to burn the deepest part of the thin-routed trench without overdoing the top edge. I held back from the depths, at this point; I'd fill it later.
TORCHING THE EDGES
To hide the obvious layers of plywood, I took the piece outside and gave it a good roasting around the edges. Setting the butane micro-torch aside in favor of a full-size, propane-fueled Bernzomatic TS-8000 Max Heat Torch monster got the job done in a hurry. It was over in moments, waaaaaaay quicker than taking the time to paint it.
I wet the whole piece down fairly well with a soaked paper towel. It served a couple purposes. First, it cleaned up any loose ash left over from the torching fun that could have affected the paint. Second, it made the grain of the wood swell up. I wanted that grain to show when I distressed it later.
It was pretty straightforward to add the color. It was a matter of masking off the piece three separate times between color switches. I painted the red first, followed by the yellow and blue. The paint got a good overnight drying session between coats.
In the end, it looked pretty good. Bright and crisp colors gleamed under my garage lights like a brand new flag.
Of course, we're not going for "brand-new" are we?
Oh no. We can't have that.
DISTRESSING THE FINISH - STEP 1
(Just a little damage)
I started out with the random orbital sander for a bit, but I found that the colors got corrupted by their neighbor. Plus, I only had 220 grit paper on hand. It pretty much gummed up and spread the colors around.
I switched to the detail sanding head on for my oscillating multi tool with some rough, 60-grit paper. That did the trick nicely. I was able to chew up the red and the yellow using one sheet for each color. The orbital came back out to do a good job of buffing the huge, blue field down. I came back in and roughed-upa few blue areas a little more with the detail sander.
DISTRESSING THE FINISH- STEP 2
(Just a lot of damage)
This next step requires the high degree of precision and concentration that only a master craftsman can hope to obtain. Of course, I am not a master craftsman, so I just beat the hell out of my piece with the variety of implements I could lay my hands on.
I dented, gouged, scraped, chopped, cut, embossed, poked, punched and spit at the thing until it was a tattered, absolutely perfect mess.
APPLY YEARS AND YEARS OF WEATHERING
The final step on the wooden portion is to stain it. I applied a liberal dose of Minwax Antique Walnut.
I applied the stain and wiped it off several times. In some areas, I left it on for 30 minutes or so to darken before rubbing it off.
We're not done yet. This is a multi-media presentation after all...
PART 2: THE METAL STAR
I picked up a piece of copper sheet at the homecenter. Of course, I got home before I realized I'd actually purchased a piece of copper-colored aluminum and not real copper. I supposed that's why I got out the door with it for only $16. The real deal probably would have cost much more than that.
Once again, I pulled out the compass. This time, I added an extension beam to make a big circle. With a protractor (or digital angle finder) it's easy to draw a perfect, five-point star from a circle. Rather than me explaining it line-by-line in this mega-post, you can check out how to do it over on Instructables.com.
I scored the pencil lines along the edge of the star with a sharp scribe tool. I wanted to be able to see them well enough to make the cut, as things started getting messy with aluminum shavings.
MAKING THE CUT
I considered using tin snips, but thought a fine-tooth metal cutting blade would do it much easier. The jigsaw certainly made short work of it. I used duct tape to hold it steady while I made the cuts. Heavy leather gloves kept me from slashing myself in the metal edge and making a return to the emergency room this month.
It turned out perfectly. It was beautiful. Too beautiful, like something that should be displayed outside a Chinese theater in Hollywood.
That woudn't do at all.
DISTRESSING THE STAR
I torched it randomly, heating a couple areas front and back so the star wouldn't bend. Unlike real copper which would start discoloring to blues and browns, this copper-colored aluminum turned silvery under the heat. I alternated between heating it and denting it up with a hammer.
A good perimeter of thick, double-sided tape got applied to the back of the star.
I had to look at internet pictures of the flag to make sure I landed the in the proper spot. A good press in place and the star was stuck good. Done!
I added some hanging hardware to the back and headed out to the family room. We'd lost a cheap art print when the washing machine leaked a while back. I'd stored beside the machine when we'd put a Christmas wreath up. This flag was better than that old print anyway.
I think it turned out pretty well. I really like the beat-up, distressed finish.
What do you think? Any ideas for other flags or similar that would look good with the same treatment?
2019 UPDATE, A READER VERSION:
I absolutely love it when readers send me an email with photos of their own project. Reader Zac sent me this:
I ran across your directions for the AZ flag and followed them dang near to the T and love how it came out. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing and give credit to ya.
His flag turned out beautifully, didn’t it?
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