In this instructables I will show you how I made my pallet wood cactus string art. I’ve seen a few of these before and wanted to give it a try, and also I wanted to make something BIG. And this is huge. All in it probably took me around 5 hours including breaking down the pallet. Could have been quicker if I had planned it out more but I just made it up as I went along. It’s relatively cheap to make just some pallet wood, some wool and nails. I had everything other than the wool already.
There is a video above and on YouTube you can watch if you want, might make some of the steps a little clearer.
For the project you will need;
Step 1: Breaking Pallets
I started by breaking down a pallet. I did already have quite a large stock pile of mix match stock. But on the few others times I’ve done something big like this, I’ve found that getting all the wood from 1 pallet works best. This is partly because I don’t have a thickness planer. During the glue up you want the front face to stay as flush as possible, in the past when I have used lots of different thickness pieces this is really hard to do.
I usually have to use a crowbar and break 1 or 2 boards per pallet, this one was unusually easy which made a nice change! I just used my hammer and pulled them all straight off, I only cracked one piece which I could sandwich in the middle to hold it together.
There are loads of videos online on the best way to break down a pallet, just use which ever way you are comfortable with. Other times when I’m in a rush and size doesn’t matter you can just take a saw and trim off all the middle sections, but as I said I wanted to make this BIG. So I wanted to use the full pallet sizes. The boards were 120cm long, and all squeezed together they come in around 100cm wide.
Then I took the pallet wood over to my trestles to remove all the nails. Probably best to wear gloves for most of this process as some of these nails are very sharp, and very rusty. Most of them came out nice and clean, but if any of them stick I have a small punch to hand to help pull them out. Best to try and get rid them all as when sanding later they can really chew up your sander!
I did plan to use all these nails for the actual cactus art after getting rid of the rust, but in the end I did not even nearly have enough. I think that would have looked pretty cool but in the end happy with the new nails, as you can barely see them under the wool!
Step 2: Sand
Then I needed to sand. There was a hell of a lot of wood to sand, and some of it was really rough. As usual I started with my Orbital Sander, and started off with 60 grit. I spent most of the time on this as the wood needed cleaning up quick a bit. I definitely recommend wearing a respirator when sanding, something I never used to do, but since I have it makes a massive difference. But is especially important when sanding something like a pallet, where you don’t really know what could actually be on it. I always give my pallets a bit of a clean before bringing them into workshop but you never know.
So I started on 60 grit and did top, bottom and sides. The sides are all going to blue glued up so does not need to be silky smooth, but the glue does grip much better when it is smooth. After the 60 grit I went up to 120, and just did the front faces, then quickly up to 240. There are loads of grits in between, but at the end of the day this is just pallet wood, and not actually going to be touched. So I was happy to skip through them a little. Still the sanding took around an hour and a half.
Step 3: Glue Up
Once it was all sanded I laid down all the wood good side down. This gives me a reference point and makes sure that the front face will at least be level. As I mentioned earlier, This isn’t so much a problem if you have a thickness planer but I don’t So I make it work. I ran glue down the inside edges of all the wood, and spread it out with my finger. There is something satisfying about pulling dried wood glue off your hands.
Then I took my sash clamps, super wide clamps, and after ensuring all the edges with lined up, put on the clamps. Ideally you want at least 4 on here, 2 on the top and 2 on the bottom. This would stop the wood from buckling up if you apply too much pressure. But a pair of my clamps seem to have disappeared. So I was just super careful about how tight I made it. I put on of these on each end of the frame.
Then I glued up 2 more bits of pallet wood to act as bracing. They were the width of the frame so 100cm wide. I covered these in loads of glue and clamped them on around 8cm from the top and bottom. Again here, having a thickness planer would make life much easier, as the boards are not level, some are thicker. One way around this is to put this bracing on the front of the wood (where it is now all level). But I wanted to keep that clean and empty.
I then added a couple of nails per board to hold it down in place as well. I’m not sure how much these nails can add but I thought it was better safe then sorry, and I had nothing to do while the glue dried. After around 30mins I very carefully flipped the whole thing over. This is where it’s useful to have someone else to help out. I didn’t so just did it very slowly, I’ve had them all fall apart here before when I wasn’t patient enough. So be careful. Then I took a chisel and cleaned up any of the glue squeeze out.
Step 4: Beeswax
Okay, so if you have followed my before, or seen any of my other projects you know I always use my homemade beeswax wood finish. I love it. It’s simple to make, makes the wood look, feel and smell great.
Click the link above to see how I made mine. I just worked it into the wood with a rag, then took another clean one and buffed it, this melts down the wax and lets it really set into the wood. I was left with a beautiful smooth wood.
Step 5: Cactus Printing
So as I’ve said a few times I wanted to make this BIG. And I can’t draw to save my life, so sketching out the cactus freehand was not an option. There are two main ways of doing this.
If you have a projector that is great. You can load up the image, and project it on to the wood. The great thing about this method is you can make small adjustments quickly. If you want the image a tiny bit bigger you can move the projector a tiny bit further back, and closer for smaller. Once the image is projected onto the wood all you have to do is sketch around it to make onto the wood. Or jump straight from here to adding the nails. So the disadvantages of this way is that, you either have to draw onto the wood, (yes you can just rub out a pencil line but its another step). Or you have to hammer in the nails with the wood upright which can be fiddly.
I decided to print my image. Firstly, I don’t have a projector any more. Secondly it is easy and quick. But the biggest printer I have is an A3. And I wanted this print to be nearly 1m high. So I went to a website called BlockPosters.com. It’s really simply easy. Just upload the image you want printed big. You can then choose how many pages you want it to spread across, what size paper etc.
I went for a 3×3 grid of portrait A4 sheets of paper. I also choose the borderless option which is a nice touch. My print can do borderless printing, if yours can’t this will still work fine, this just means it will print right to the very edge.
I have also attached the image of the cactus I used. But you can use any image really. Just be warned the bigger you get the more pixelly the image will get. Unless you use a vector. I wasn’t too bothered about the quality of the image as it was just for a guide. But if you want it to look sharp best to use a vector image.
Once it was all printed out, I laid out the pages so they were all lined up, and used some tape to hold them together. This effectively made it one large sheet. Then I popped 4 nails, one in each corner just to hold the whole massive sheet down in place.
Step 6: Nailed It…
So now I have the image the cactus on the wood. I then had add the nails. I used some steel 25mm nails. As I said earlier my plan was to originally use the actual nails I had taken off the pallet, but I looked at them and decided I just did not have enough. Luckily have had these nails from another project. They have a slight black finish to them and think they looked pretty good.
I put the first nail in and measured 6cm along the line and put the next one. At first I wanted quite an open loose look so that’s what I went for the 6cm spacing. Once I had gone all the way round I looked at it and didn’t think it would work. There was too many spaces were the shape the cactus would get lost. So I went back round and added another nail in between each of the others. So they were 3cm apart. In the end I would do this technique again. Measuring took a while, but I liked the uniform look and makes it look better, but then going back and adding the nails in between I just guessed what was the middle. So it was quicker this way, and still looks great. One thing I did try to do, and failed with find a spacer or something to get the nail height. I tried using a big metal nut (from nut and bolt) as a guide so I could hit the nail in until it that depth. In the end the nail head was just too small to effectively ‘catch’ on anything. Might be worth noting if you are buying nailed especially. I could have maybe 3D printed a part, which I might do when I get my printer. But for now just hammering until it started to squash my fingers worked fine. They are not all even height but that’s alright.
Step 7: Wool & Weave
Finally nearly there. I bought this nice bright green wool off amazon. I had no idea how much I was going to need, what thickness I wanted etc. But I just bought the first one that looked good and was on Amazon Prime. This one worked perfectly. I started by tying one end to the first nail. I just did a simple granny knot.
Then I began criss-crossing it all over the nails in a totally random way. I was pulling it quick tight so there was no loose bits of wool. Working in sections I started at the bottom and worked my way up. The whole thing is one continuous thread so there are no extra knot sections. Every now and then it did have a tendency to ping back and unravel, which was pretty annoying. So every now and then I would just do 5/6 wraps around one nail to hold it in place.
Towards the end I went all the way round the nails a couple of times weaving in and out of them, this helped push down all the other wool and hold it in place, but also made the outline of the cactus look much stronger. I’ve seen quite a few of these that don’t do this and it’s hard to tell what the image actually is. I think this looks really great.
Step 8: Final Images
And that’s it. I’m super happy with how this turned out. I wasn’t really convinced until I was about half way through the wool whether this looked good or not. As I wanted it to be, it is massive. The cactus shape looks great and I love the green, and you can tell what it is as soon as you look at it. What’s really great about this, you can make almost any shape, any size. You can also go extra fancy and do multiple colours if you wanted to. I wanted to just have 1 bold colour.
Remember to check out my Video on YouTube. If you make your own please share photos below 🙂