Custom Depth Chart

A couple months ago I made a 3-D depth chart as a gift. It was a fun project and I think that it turned out really well. Here is an overview of how I made it…

Layer by Layer: custom depth chart

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The Map

I started by finding an accurate 2-D topographical map of the lake (Hint: State DNR and lake association websites are great resources for finding lake maps). Then I printed 15 copies of the map on 11″ x 17″ paper. You need one copy for each layer of the map (I needed 11 and printed a few extra). I bought a 5′ x 5′ sheet of 1/8″ Baltic Birch plywood and cut it down into twelve 12″ x 30″ sheets.

Aligning printed maps onto subsequent plywood layers

I glued one of the printed paper maps to a sheet of the plywood using spray adhesive (Hint: since then I have been using glue sticks and I find it is much easier to remove the paper template when you’re done).

Cutting the Layers

I cut out the perimeter of the lake using a scroll saw. Since I wanted the lake oriented on the board with North facing up I had to rotate the paper slightly when I glued it. To make sure that each sequential layer lined up correctly I used the first layer to locate the paper on each of the other sheets by laying it on top of the paper and shifting the paper into position on the plywood sheet below. This was a time consuming process and I would highly recommend printing the map so that you can just use the edge of the paper for alignment. Once all the sheets were laid out with paper maps affixed I cut the remaining topographical layers using my scroll saw.

Putting the Layers Together

After all the layers were cut I used a roller to apply wood glue between each layer and glued them all together. Once the glue dried I cleaned up the edges on my table saw and sanded the edges and top. I used a blue dye stain mixed with polyurethane to color the layers of the lake. To emphasize the 3-D depth I applied additional coats to the deeper layers to make them darker.

Final Details

I decided that the land layer looked boring and that I wanted to add something. Using a wood burner I marked the roads around the lake as well as arrows indicating the water inlets and outlets around the lake. Using an office printer (with toner) I printed the name of the lake, some of the facts about the physical characteristics about the lake, and the names of roads around the lake. All the text was printed in mirror image. I aligned the text where I wanted it, with the printed side down, and rubbed the back side of the paper with a citrus-based solvent to transfer the ink to the wood. Once that was done I applied several coats of polyurethane and finished it off with some low-profile rubber feet on the bottom.

I think the end product looked great. I’m looking forward to making more once my Laser Cutter arrives! Instead of the scroll saw I will simply laser cut each topographical layer. This will dramatically simplify alignment and will be a little more accurate than hand cutting with the scroll saw. I will also use the laser to engrave text and other details instead of ink transfer and wood burning. If you would like to make one of these for yourself and have any question please let me know. If you really would like you’re own custom map and don’t have the capability or interest in making it yourself please let me know that too and I can make one for you.


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