Make a personal travel map that shows where you’ve traveled in the USA or world. Includes a DIY video at the end
This project is a wooden wall display that details your personal travels across the United States and parts of neighboring countries. It requires minimal materials and woodworking experience but you will need a couple of choice tools which are detailed in the tutorial below.
Another really neat thing about the project is that if you want, you could easily use it as a table top (more instructions below) and when your travels are at an end you could then mount it on the wall. Every coffee mug stain, graffiti by people you meet on the road, and notes you make as you travel will become the most priceless souvenirs you’ve ever collected.
Step 1: Use planks to create the base
You could easily use pallet wood but this time I went with new pine planks from the lumber yard. Cut them with a hand-saw or jigsaw and sand all the edges and surfaces. My finished piece uses seven planks laid side by side that are fixed in place using two additional planks on the back. The back planks are screwed into each of the facing planks with screws that don’t go all of the way through – so you can’t see them on the front.
The overall dimension is 25×31 inches(63.5×80 cm) and I’ve also drilled two holes into the back planks so that it can be mounted on the wall. If you’re planning on making this piece into a table, check out the tip on step 8 before drilling the back planks on.
Step 2: Stain the wood
I bought a small pot of ‘Antique Pine’* wood stain and applied a single coat to both sides of the wooden piece. Be sure to get the edges too. It dried quickly and I have not coated it with any other protective layer of paint yet.
*If you’re looking for something similar, try this New Pine Gel Stainon Amazon
Step 3: Print the map
The map itself will be pretty big so you’ll need to ’tile’ it over several pages when printing it out and then tape it together. For the design I used please DOWNLOAD THIS FREE MAP and open it in Adobe Reader. Press print and in the print dialog box under ‘Page Sizing and Handling’ choose the button/option that says ‘Poster’. This will ensure that the map prints out over twelve pages. Tape them together using ordinary tape.
Step 4: Transfer the map design to the wood
You transfer the outlines of the map to the wood using graphite. Graphite is what’s inside a pencil so you can use one of them for this step (as I’ve done) or you can purchase graphite paper to save time. To use a pencil, just flip your map over and scribble darkly over all the lines that you want to transfer. For graphite paper you just layer twelve pieces over the wood before you place the map on it. Either way, make sure to tape the map down so that it doesn’t move around as you work your way around it.
You’ll have come across this idea before when filling out documents and contracts that have duplicates and triplicates. Running a blunt object, like the end of a paintbrush, over the printed design it will leave a pencil drawing on the wood.
Step 5: Burn the map design into the wood
This was the exciting part for me because the last time I’d used a Wood-Burning Pen Set was in Junior High! I bought this one off Amazon and am really pleased with its performance and all of the attachments.
What you’ll need to do is use a relatively large attachment and press it into the wood along all of the pencil marks you made in the previous step. This will leave a deep groove in the wood that has been charred black. I suppose you could simply use a sharpie for this step but the wood burning tool gives this project such a unique look and defined borders that I’d really recommend using it.
This step can be time consuming but I actually really enjoyed the flow state of pure focus while etching the map outline onto my piece. Make yourself a cuppa, put on some tunes, and enjoy this very mindful activity!
Step 6: Paint in the states that you’ve visited
Or the countries, counties, districts, towns, or areas based on your own map design. I used a couple of coats of an inexpensive white acrylic paint and having the burned outlines gives a fantastic border to your paint job. I think that if you used a sharpie for the outlines that you might have a lot more paint overlap than with the etched ones so if you choose that route (haha) just be extra careful of where you place that paintbrush.
Step 7: Customize your map
Here’s the really really fun part! Use permanent markers to label areas and to write memories of the places you’ve visited. I’ve also pinned string to the board to show a potential road-trip idea (Route 66) and the grooves in the burned outlines are perfect for placing pins into. You could also pin photos, postcards, receipts, and other mementos to the map. The possibilities are endless!
Now at this point you could just drill some screws and roll-plugs into the wall and mount your piece for all to admire (especially yourself!) but the size of this piece makes it the perfect size for a camping table top. If you’d like to create a map to take with you on your travels in a practical way then follow the steps below. The idea is to use an existing table so that when the time comes it will be simple to detach the map and display it where you’d like.
Step 8: Drill the map onto a folding table
I think this tv dinner tray table is from IKEA but if you don’t have one like this already you can purchase this nearly identical one from Amazon. What you’re going to do is first secure the tv tray table top onto the back of the map piece and then pre-drill four holes through it and into the map. Make sure you go slightly less than the depth of the screws you’re going to use to piece the two elements together.
Before you begin this project you’ll also want to measure the width of the tv tray table and make sure that the planks on the back side of your map are situated wide enough apart that the table will fit in between with space to spare.
Another tip: When you place the map face down on your work surface for this step, make sure that there’s a soft layer on that surface so that your map does not get scratched. I used an old white table cloth on top of a wooden pallet.
As a table it’s the perfect size for an indoor VW Camper meal for two or for taking out and setting up for games or socializing. The tv dinner tray table folding legs make the piece very compact and the table can be stored against the wall of a camper while you’re on the move.
Maps are fascinating things and every time you look at one you’ll spot landmarks you’ve never noticed before. The most important though are the places you’ve been and the memories you’ve created there. Sharing your memories as a family or with friends with a personal map makes the trips more vivid and as an wall art can become a beautiful and exciting conversation piece.
I’m soooo curious to see if anyone else will make this project and if you do, I’d love for you to send it to me either on Facebook or in an email. Have a fantastic time making this project and many happy future journeys to you too!