Make your own picture albums

The design for these picture albums started out as an easy gift project. They're simple enough to make, and using some unusual wood (such as zebra, koa, lacewood or bocote) makes it unlike anything you can buy. You'll need a bandsaw and thickness planer to mill the thin stock required for the covers, or you can buy it off-the-shelf from wood suppliers who sell parts and materials for instrument makers. This approach is slightly more expensive, but the quantities of wood required are small enough that the added expense doesn't add up to much. Whatever approach you take, choose woods with interesting figure and colour. This project is a good chance to work with some expensive exotics without breaking the bank. You should also pay extra attention to grain patterns and orientation as you cut and arrange parts. Look at wood patterns closely and position them in a balanced way, aligned with the sides and centre of the cover outline. You should also be aware of growth ring orientation in the wood you use. The more perpendicular the growth rings are to the face of each piece of wood, the more reliably your album covers will resist warping with seasonal changes in humidity.

The skinny on thin wood
Start the project by resawing rough stock to 3/8" thick. This involves slicing wood vertically on edge, and a bandsaw is the ideal tool for the operation. If your bandsaw can't handle the full dimensions of the album covers, resaw smaller pieces and laminate them together to get the wider dimension you need. You can also rough-saw narrower pieces of wood in a similar way on the tablesaw. Take a rip cut on one edge, then flip the wood over and cut again from the other edge, raising the blade incrementally with each pass. With your wood roughcut, start trial-fitting the pieces together, looking for best appearance. I often sandwich a darker strip of wood between the laminated pieces for contrast. Wood with an angled grain pattern is best arranged in a book-matched pattern, with the joint line exactly in the middle of the front cover. Complete the milling procedure by planing the stock down to its final 1/4" thickness using a surface planer after glue-up. Next, rip the front and back covers to width and crosscut to final length.

One of the best features of these albums is the hole in the front cover. It allows the photo on the first page to show through, inviting you to look further, and it turns the album into a picture frame when displayed on a small easel. Measure and mark the location of the hole, then use a circle cutter mounted in the drillpress to cut it. You could use other kinds of bits, but this one does the best job. Perform some test cuts in the wood you're using before attempting the hole in your cover. You need to be sure that your circle cutter is sharp enough to cut cleanly so that it doesn't burn the wood. Next, clamp the front and back covers together and drill the 3/16"-dia. holes for the binding cord that holds the covers and pages together. Clean holes are key here, so be sure to use a backer board underneath your covers to eliminate tearout around the hole. A brad-point bit produces the cleanest entry of any wood bit, and it's definitely worth using in this case. Sand the covers up to 220-grit and apply four coats of polymerized tung oil. After a week or two of curing time, follow up with a couple of coats of paste wax. A fine 3M rubbing pad under a random- orbit sander does a terrific job of power-buffing the cover surface.

Assemble the albums
Cut the pages for the albums from good-quality paper stock. Visit your local art-supply store and look for acid-free paper in a weight heavy enough to support photographs. My albums use 80-lb. cover stock in either ivory or black, depending on the wood used for the covers. Cut the pages to size with a fresh blade in a utility knife, then punch holes that correspond to the cover holes. Finally, sandwich everything together and thread elasticized cord through the holes. Secure the cord with the cord lock, write the name of the wood on the first page with pencil, then you're done. If you're giving the album as a gift, include a package of self-adhesive photo corners, which are available at any photography store.

Marks of distinction
All treasured family photos have one thing in common: they're personal. And the more you enhance the tie between your wooden album covers and the people you give them to, the more appreciated your work becomes. Personal initials, significant dates and unique markings can all conjure up enormous emotional impact, and shop-made burning brands are an easy way to add these significant details to your work.

You can make excellent brands using piano wire-a rigid, springy material available from model boat and aircraft supply outlets. It comes in various diameters, including the 1/16" stock that I favour for making small initials in my work.

Begin by donning a pair of safety glasses and sparking up your propane torch. It doesn't take long for the wire to glow red in the flame, ready for shaping with two pairs of needlenose pliers. As you work, leave a six-inch length of straight, unheated wire on one end for a main handle, and a short one-inch tail on the other, to grab with some pliers during use.

As you bring the completed, hot brand to your wood surface, push the brand evenly using both handles. Pull the metal away from the wood after two or three seconds of contact and you'll be amazed by the results.

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