Just Dowel It

This craft emerged from a classic “me” moment, in which I purchased some bags of  square wood sticks at the dollar store just because they seemed like good raw materials, but had no specific project in mind other than “… maybe I can paint them and do … something?” I ended up up painting and staining them to create this piece of wall art that I’m kind of in love with. It looks a bit like a shelf of records or books, and you can customize the colors to fit any decor.  Plus, using paints and stains I had on hand mean the whole thing ended up costing me a whopping six bucks.  Cheap, cool, homemade art that only takes a couple of hours to make– it’s everything I personally look for in a crafting project!

What you need:
square hardwood dowels
acrylic paint, wood stain, or both in a variety of colors (I used bright aqua green, emerald, cadmium red, yellow oxide, and dark orange paints and ebony, walnut, and cherry stains)
paint brushes
wood glue
scrap wood for backing

Before you get started: I found these packs of 12″ long square dowels at the 99 cent store here in Los Angeles. If you can’t find them at your dollar store, check a craft store or look online!  I used an 18″ x 5″ scrap of birch plywood that I had lying around for the back; I used nearly 60 dowels (of various widths) for that size backing.

1. For the color wash, squeeze about teaspoon or so of paint into a disposable cup (more if you have a lot of dowels to paint in that color) and add 2-3 times as much water, stirring well with a popsicle stick or wooden skewer.  Play around with the color — if you want it to be lighter, add more water; denser color, add more paint.  If you’re using stain, follow the instructions on the back of whatever stain you have, and let some wood pieces sit longer than others before wiping off the excess to get a range of lightness/darkness.

2. Let dry completely.  I used an oil stain on some pieces and let that dry overnight; the painted ones should be dry in 30 minutes or so.  Once dry, arrange the dowels in the pattern you’d like them to be so you have a mockup of the finished product, varying sizes and colors for the best effect.

3. Break out the wood glue!  Smear a thin, even layer across the first few inches of the back you’re using, making sure not to over-do it or you’ll have glue coming out of every crevice.  Press your first dowel down and keep it even with the edge of the back.  Working fairly quickly so the glue doesn’t get too dry, continue adding dowels.  If you see glue oozing up between sticks, just wipe away with a damp cloth.  Keep checking your end pieces to make sure they aren’t sliding around or getting crooked!

4. Keep working this way, smearing a few inches of glue at a time and carefully lining up the dowels.  You will find that some of the wood pieces are a bit crooked or warped, but don’t worry — it just adds to the character of the finished piece.

5. Once everything is glued down, check it over to make sure there aren’t any unsightly blobs of glue laying in wait, and then set aside to dry.  I placed a couple of heavy books on top to help out with the bonding and left it overnight.  You can choose how you want to hang it up, either using a picture-hanging kit or some of those incredible velcro hanging strips like I did.  Enjoy your new art!


6 Responses to “Just Dowel It”

  1. Julie

    I made this and put a clock works on it. Fabulous clock. Lovin it more every day.

    Thanks so much for the idea

  2. Susie

    This is such an amazing idea. Any advice on how to facilitate this art into a class art project of 25 second graders for a school auction?? Really – it’s beautiful and very original.

    • Mandy

      Hi Susie-
      Maybe you could have all the kids paint or draw on the wooden sticks and then you could arrange and glue onto backing to make an art project you could auction?

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