banner pile

I knew. From the moment I joined the Wicked Circus Tin swap, I knew I wanted a sideshow banner in the style of one of the great banner artists, Fred G. Johnson.

In my stash of digital art, I found a vintage fairy postcard that was perfect – she didn’t have two heads, but that’s the beauty of Photoshop. No, creating the image wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was determining the right medium that could withstand distressing, but still be bright enough to be seen. Plain computer paper failed miserably. I used transfer artist paper to get the image on fabric. No. Tried transferring to wood. Maybe. No. Yes. No.

In the end, what I used was the result of a mistake. When using transfer artist paper, the image has to be printed in reverse. I had done several correctly, but then I printed up a sheet of banners that weren’t reversed. They were useless — when transferred all the text was backwards. I decided to use them for testing materials.

Totally frustrated and ready to set the whole thing on fire (again), I sighed and picked up one of the mistake transfers. I had given up on transferring to paper or wood and decided to just experiment with distressing my “mistake”. Since I wasn’t transferring it to anything, the text was readable. The transfer paper is a mixture of paper and plastic. I started distressing it… and it looked good.

Wicked Circus Exterior

And I never would have thought of printing straight to transfer paper and using that (without transferring the image to anything) — but I love the final product. It was tough enough to withstand distressing without losing all of it’s color — and strong enough to withstand the corner grommets.
Grommet Closeup

Another mistake I made was with the stage portion. Initially, the stage was going to be solid. And then I was using a piece of scrap wood to measure the size of the stage. I was wangling it around and it got stuck… as I was trying to wriggle it out, I realized that I liked the look of the open stage. But what to put under the stage?

Chains. Lots of chains. Attached to the leg chains. Perfect.

The original mockup didn’t have this chain underneath the floor… and didn’t have the bit of “above floor” chain attached to the “underground” chain. And now the whole piece was thrown out of balance.


Which is when the “ball” of “ball and chain” came into play. I needed a space-filler and the ball was it…

In all honesty, this little mistake is one of my favorite aspects of the piece.

I love making mistakes.

And that, my friends, is the final chapter in the Wicked Tin saga.

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In the continuing saga of the Wicked Circus Tin, we come to my decision to cover the outside of the tin with wood.

Various WoodsWood by Many Names

For covering my tin, I used bass wood. My choice was based on the following facts: 1) I’m comfortable working with bass wood; 2) it’s light weight (but not as soft as balsa); and 3) I have a small ton of it stashed away (all from the Northeastern Scale Lumber Co.).

But there are numerous types of wood that will work (and at least one that won’t). In the example below, I used a variety of wood choices — everything from bass wood to matchsticks to a very thin mahogany.

Here’s a tip about very thin mahogany: it doesn’t like sticking to metal.

woodsiesOne source of cheap wood that works well is “Woodsies.” Sold by the bag, these are bits of hardwood (birch?) designed for craft purposes and usually found in the “kid’s crafts” section of craft stores such as Michael’s. Popsicle sticks also work.

various gluesOne Glue To Bind Them
Most standard white glues (such as Elmer’s and Aleen’s) will form a bond between metal and wood, but an incredibly fragile one. Cyanoacrylate glues (CA), such as “Super Glue” and “Zap”, form a slightly stronger bond, but with a low shear strength (which is a problem for this project — more on that in the tutorial below).

Enter the Big Gun: Gorilla Glue. Because of fume inhalant concerns and just plain messiness issues, Gorilla Glue is overkill for most craft tasks. But when you need a bond that’s going to hold up to some pretty serious manhandling, it’s a great choice.

Even knowing how well Gorilla Glue works, I wasn’t convinced the bond would withstand the abuse I planned to heap upon my final project. Which is why the tin I’m using in the tutorial below may seem to start in an abused condition — it’s the tin I used to test a variety of procedures (drilling holes, hammering the embossed logo, gluing wood).

- Altoids Tin
- Wood (Woodsies, popsicle sticks, matchsticks, etc. )
- Gorilla Glue
- Latex Gloves
- craft sticks, toothpicks, etc. for applying glue
- Saw
- Mitre/Chop Box (Optional)
- Rubber bands (for clamping)
- Wood Stain or Paint
- Sandpaper

prep the tinStep 1: Prepping the Tin
Use sandpaper to remove paint and rough up the tin where the wood is to be applied.

prepping the woodStep 2: Prepping the Wood
There are two ways to approach this step. You can either cut the wood to the finished size (this requires a good deal of precision) or you can cut the wood into approximately 1.5″ strips and trim the strips after they’ve been applied to the tin.

For my style of work, the second option is the way to go (I deal with enough “precise” work that I avoid it whenever possible).

applying glueStep 3: Applying the Glue

Select enough of your pre-cut wood to cover approximately 1/4 of the tin. Set the rest of the wood aside.

Follow the label directions for applying the glue. Use water to moisten both the tin and the wood and then apply the glue to both surfaces. Apply it as thinly as possible (which I was not good about in this demo, ergo the “yellow foam” you’ll see in later pictures). Allow both tin and wood to sit for approximately five minutes prior to attaching them.

Also note that I’m wearing latex gloves. Gorilla Glue is not kidding when it says it will stain your skin. It will. And if you happen to have some acrylic paint on your fingers and then you get Gorilla Glue on top of that paint, you might just find yourself scrubbing your skin with sandpaper so you can be presentable at some meeting you have to attend.

Not that that ever happened to me.

applying woodStep 4: Applying the Wood
After five minutes, apply the wood to the tin. Remember, you’re covering just 1/4 of the side of the tin.

rubberband clampStep 5: Clamp and Dry
Use a rubber band as a “clamp”. Surprisingly, this doesn’t have to be a super-tight or heavily weighted “clamp” — make sure the rubberband is soundly snug and you’re good.

Allow ample drying time. DO IT. I know waiting is hard, but I strongly recommend about eight hours. You’re about to really test the bond you just created and if you don’t allow the glue to thoroughly dry, you’re just going to wreck your project and you’ll have to start over at Step 1.

trimming the woodStep 6: Trim to Fit
Remove the rubber band and then use a saw to trim the wood level with the tin (as shown in the picture).

This is the step really tests the strength of your bond (and why the low shear strength of CA glue makes it a poor choice for this project). Gorilla Glue passed the test with flying colors. Other than the thin mahogany strips (which failed numerous attempts), none of the wood pieces budged during the rigorous sawing.

This step is also the reason for only covering 1/4 of the tin at a time. The sawing should be done with the blade resting on the tin, sawing outward (which is not possible if you cover the entire tin at once).

Sawing from the outside-inward actually increases the stress on the bond (not to mention it’s much tougher to trim to the right height when you don’t have top of the tin to act as a guide) and greatly increases the odds of you ending up with an unadorned tin in your hand and little strips of wood littering the floor of your workroom.

trimmed woodRepeat Steps 3-6 three more times or until you’ve gone all around the edge of the in.

If desired, use the same process to cover the top of the lid. The top of the lid can be done all at once.

finished Step 7: Apply Finish
Finish the wood as desired. Be aware, while the dried Gorilla Glue can be stained, it does not take stain the same way as wood does. So, if you get glue on your the wood, there will be variations in the color. This worked for me (I actually used glue to paint a “wear pattern” onto the wood, so that it wouldn’t be evenly stained), but if you don’t want a distressed look, either be super careful with the glue or use a paint finish. :)

If you’re wondering about covering the bottom edge of the tin with wood, well, yes, you can. But, and this is the “but” that kept me from doing it, the finished tin will only open as far as a 90-degree angle. If you want your tin to open fully, do not apply wood to the bottom side where the hinges are.

If you do decide to cover the bottom sides of the tin with wood, go ahead and apply the wood with the tin closed (to correctly line up the strips), but open the tin while the glue is drying — nothing like ruining a project by gluing it shut!

The next and final installment of the Wicked Circus Twin saga: When Mistakes Influence Design

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Burned Tin
Please Read: I strongly advise against using this method for aging a tin. All jokes and sarcasm aside, I was very lucky not to have caused a fire that had the potential to burn down my house.

Some things don’t go as planned because that’s the way of the world.

Other things don’t go as planned because some dolt didn’t read the directions properly.

The second scenario would be the setting for today’s post. Oh yes, I am the dolt in question.

It all started because I wanted to paint my “Wicked Circus” tin black and then heat set the paint in a toaster oven reserved for crafts. Which should not have been a problem, I’ve done it a million times before.

The operative phrase being “should not.”

But it was a problem. I didn’t have enough of my usual paints (Polly Scale by Floquil) on hand, so I headed off to the hobby shop where I usually buy them (chain craft stores here don’t carry them). Upon arrival, I saw a handwritten note on the door, “Be back in 2 hours.”


Shopkeepers take notice: when you place such a note on you door, please please please put the time of your departure the note! I didn’t know if the shopkeeper was going to be back in five minutes or 119 minutes. I went next door to the small art supplies store.

I ended up buying an enamel paint with label instructions that stated the paint could be allowed to set for 24 hours or or it could be heat set it in an oven.

Or so I thought.

Anyway, back at home, I painted my tin and popped it in the toaster oven (which resides in an open-to-the-outdoors room of my detached garage). Afterall, we know I’m not going to wait around for 24 hours when I can speed up the process in my toaster oven.

About 15-20 minutes later, Mr. Jivvy happened to be passing by the area where the toaster oven resides. He then came to inform me of “smoke billowing from the toaster oven.” By the time I got to the toaster oven, most of the smoke had cleared but the air was absolutely acrid with fumes. I looked in the toaster oven and with the mere power of my words, I turned the acrid air blue.

The thermometer in the oven was reading 600°F/315°C. I think it was reading at that temperature because that is the highest number on the thermometer.

The actual temp was likely closer to a BILLION.

Technically, nothing was on fire. After everything was shut down, Mr. Jivvy and I moved to an area where the air seemed less toxic and we mulled over what could have caused the oven to get that hot.

Mr. Jivvy is awfully reliant on science, but I chalked it up to demon possession.

Later, when I couldn’t duplicate the extreme temperatures in my oven, I started wondering if I had read the label on that bottle of paint correctly. I couldn’t check the bottle label — the fumes had been so bad, I immediately tossed the remaining paint in the trash. But maybe, just maybe, I misread the instructions.

Had I actually coated my tin in flammable paint and then set it on fire? Was the tin on fire when Mr. Jivvy saw the billowing smoke? But by the time I arrived, all the flammable material had burned off?

That would go a long way toward explaining the temperature in the oven.

I mentioned this possibility on the Craftster forum and member “textilejnkie” looked it up for me… yep, that 24 hours was a non-optional wait period prior to heat setting.

So it wasn’t the oven’s fault at all. Or the paint’s. It was the dolt’s.

In the end, I didn’t burn down any buildings, the toaster oven still works, and, sweet serendipity, I ended up with a fabulous “antiqued-crudded-up” finish to my tin (perfect for this particular project).

Tomorrow’s topic: Wood, Metal, and the Glue that Binds Them

Burned Altoids Tin

What happens when you accidently set your tin on fire.

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