Grandma's Scrabble Wall Art

Ah, it's Christmas again. Every. Single. Year.

No, I'm not all bah-humbug about it. It's just that each year I'm racking my brain on what to get for my two 90yo grandmothers. I love them to death, but they simply already have everything. And with one of them having 6 children/spouses and 19 grandchildren, it makes it even more difficult to get something that won't be duplicated by someone else.

So I try to make something for them instead of buying it. At least I can eliminate the duplicates that way. But still, there's the ever-elusive answer to the question, "But what??!!"

Both of my grandmas are sharp as tacks. Sadly, their bodies are failing them, but their minds seem fully intact (better than mine on many days!) One of the traditional things I do when I visit my one grandma is to play a game or two of Scrabble. I admit, she cleans my clock most times we play, but I don't mind. She's good! And that little activity we share is the inspiration for this year's gift.

I decided to make her a pseudo scrabble tile wall art with the names of all of her grandchildren! I think it's perfect for her! I know, I know, names aren't allowed in the game of Scrabble. Too bad, I'm making my own rules with this one!

Wanna make one too? Follow along and I'll show you how.

I made my tiles 2.5 inches square. You can make them any size, of course, but this made my finished product about 40" x 35" -- a good size for a wall hanging. To get the 2.5" squares, I used 1x3" boards.

When purchasing your boards, be sure to check the face of the board for knots. You want boards that are as knot-free as possible. It's not even that important if the boards are warped or not, since you'll be cutting them into tiny pieces, but you don't want to have knots showing on your finished tiles.

I picked up some really nice boards at Lowe's. They were really clean, and most importantly, they had edges that were already a bit rounded.

Cut your wood into squares and sand the edges. My dad got me a grinding wheel some time back and it works wonderfully for smoothing the edges.

You'll also need some appropriately-sized alphabet stamps. This was by far the toughest part of the project for me. I knew if I couldn't find the right letters, then I just wouldn't be satisfied with the final project.

I tried several office supply stores and craft stores for the pre-cut vinyl letters, but none of them were the right font or right size. Plus, I would have had to purchase several packages, which would have made this project too expensive to be practical.

I also looked into stencils, but with alphabet stencils, the letters are usually choppy as part of the design for holding the cutouts in place.

I also looked at stamps. I knew it was very unlikely that I would find 1.5" stamps in the font I needed, for under $10. And of course, I didn't. I did find a set of number stamps that were just right.

I still liked the idea of stamping, I just needed the letters. At Michael's, I found the perfect size and perfect font in this canister of adhesive foam shapes! I was set!!

I needed to mount the foam shapes onto something stable so I could use them as stamps. Well for Thanksgiving, I made these little turkeys with my family. If you look closely, you'll see that the head is made out of a 5-gallon paint stirrer.

I had to cut the paint stirrers down to the height for the turkey, and since I never throw anything away, I had the perfect item for the stamps! I just cut the paint stick left-overs into square pieces. I also cut a couple of slightly larger pieces for the W and M.

I assembled the adhesive foam stickers onto the tiny squares. Since I had a whole canister of letters, I put the letter on the front and the back. There's only a few letters that aren't symmetrical in some way and so I had to glue them backwards to the stamping side instead. I also had to work with the adhesive a bit so that it didn't mess with the stamping ink.

I had lots of names, and I needed help getting them all positioned. My son pointed me to Discovery Education where they offer tools for creating all sorts of puzzles.

I used the crossword maker to come up with my layout. If you put your names in and don't like the arrangement, just click the "create my puzzle" button again and it will do a different form. I had to try it a number of times before I got a shape I was happy with. Also, just a note, sometimes it won't use all the names for some reason, so check the note at the bottom of the puzzle indicating how many words were used to be sure you don't leave anyone out.

If you do this step before stamping, it will reduce the number of letter tiles you need, since some of them are used twice. Before I started stamping, I counted how many of each letter was needed.

Once the Scrabble tiles and stamps were made, the rest went super fast!

I used a fresh stamp pad and started stamping the letters. Because I placed the foam pieces onto a square that was just slightly larger than the letters, it was easy to position the letters into the center of the tiles.

After stamping the letters, I came back and stamped the point values.

Once the letters were all completed, it was time to arrange and glue.

I laid them out on a flat surface and began gluing them together. I used basic Elmer's wood glue to secure mine and it worked great, but it's important to really let the glue dry before messing with it. It seems like it's holding after about 15 minutes, but any significant force will pop it apart. If I had it to do over, I think I would first glue the horizontal names, let them dry, then arrange the vertical names into the horizontal names.

Once the wood glue was dry, I needed to add more support to the back. On the corners that were touching, I added a wire to the back, crossing from tile to tile at the corner, and securing it with a staple gun. I also glued some ribbon strips spanning the full distance. I'm sure there's better ways to do this, but it worked for me.

When everything was dry and secure, I flipped it over again and that was it! I think it turned out great. In fact, in the pictures below, I think they look like regular one-inch Scrabble tiles, and not at all like they're 2.5" tall replicas.

One other note. You'll notice that the names William and Mary in the middle of the arrangement are darker than the other tiles. These are the names of my grandparents. One of the boards that I already had in the garage was darker than the others I recently purchased, and I decided it would be perfect for highlighting their names. I had originally planned on staining the boards, but I wasn't sure how the stamping would react with the staining, so it was perfect that it was already darker.

I also had to work with the puzzle maker function a bit, until I found one with their names together, then I altered the design a bit, shuffling their names to the center. It was basically a lot like playing Scrabble.

I also tried including their last name, but thought it was inconsistent with the rest of the first-name-only list. If I do another, I think it would be cool to do just an immediate family, and then have the last name included/darker. I'll post if I ever get around to that.

The last thing I did was spray a clear coat sealer on it. The stamping ink is water-based and it isn't pretty if any water gets on the tiles. Trust me on that. A thin coating of spray varnish worked fine for me, but try it on a test tile first, to be sure the sealer doesn't do bad things to it. And for the next one I do, I'm going to spray the tiles individually before I even start to glue them together. It's amazing how easily the stamping ink smudges.

Let me know if you give it a try! I'd love to see yours and hear of any great ideas you can add.

And be sure to check out the endless list of inspirational ideas at my home page

I'll be linking to some of the fabulous link parties listed on the right sidebar ... but really, that's a LOT of parties! I probably won't get to them all, but you should stop in and visit a few yourself. While you're at it, stop by my home page and add a few of your own!