DIY Walnut Whiskey Top Display

Do we have any Whiskey drinkers watching?? 

In Texas, we have a whiskey brand that uses scrap leather and materials from boot makers and such to customize their whiskey tops. You get everything from snake skin, leather, ostrich, to fun little holiday ones… people have started keep their caps and starting a collection and some good friends of mine asked if I could make them a Texas shaped display.

I don’t normally take on commission but this sounded like a fun project so I agreed. So far they have around 90 caps and I wanted the display to not only hold what they currently have but also give them some room to grow and fill it in. 

I started by first modeling the whiskey top so I could figure out how big I needed to make the Texas to get them all to fit. I measured the cork that would be stuck in the Texas shape, then also the larger top. This allowed me to populate the state with a layout that looked nice and not cluttered…and it also gave me something to export and take to the printers and get an image printed off. If you ever need a large scale print like this, Office Depot, Staples, Fed Ex….all those places are great resources. 

Now just my personal system when I’m making a template from a print off, I always use packing tape to first cover the entire image. This not only gives it some rigidity but will also protect the stencil from getting damaged. It’s kind of hard on larger stencils like this one to keep it flat while applying the tape. So you don’t want to create and tape in creases and folds whiles you’re laying down this tape. So try and keep the paper tight and straight as you’re laying it down. You can stop after the front but if I plan to use a stencil again I also take the time to mask off the back. Then I take an exacto knife to the shape to cut it out. 

If you’re interested, I now have templates for all 50 states available. So if you have any sort of state related project in mind, click here to check them out. 

With my shape and now size determined, I picked out some wood to make this project from. I went back and forth between maple and walnut but ended up on walnut. I only had two boards so I spent a little bit of time planning out a cut list to make sure I wouldn’t run out.Tthen I jointed the boards to get a nice flat edge then also one face.

To get the second face flat I moved my thickness planer outside to my shop porch and ran each board through. Now that they were flat, I flipped out the wings on my miter saw and cut the boards to their needed length.

Next, I arranged them so that the shape of Texas would fit, of course using that stencil as a guide on how I needed to line up the boards to each other. I used a sharpie to make some marks on the alignment then moved things out of the way to get some clamps laid down.

With the project being an indoor one, I used TItebond original on all the joints, applying a good amount to the inside edges of all the boards. After getting all the glue applied, I made sure to pay attention to my sharpie marks and adjust the position of the boards as needed. If you aren’t working with a limited stock then you can always cut the boards to the same length and just have excess on each length then you can avoid the slight hassle of this step. 

I left that to dry in a few Bessey parallel clamps and quick clamps on the smaller portions then went to work on a “T” and an “X” that I wanted to add to the state of Texas. Which entailed me making a stencil of them then using them as a reference on how big of a glue up I needed to make. See the State would end up holding 105 tops but with them already having 90 tops, I didn’t want them to run out of room so quickly. Instead of making the state bigger, I wanted to make some add ons for them and the logo for the brand of whiskey was perfect since it is a T and X. 

I got the blanks for the TX portion in clamps drying while I moved back to the now dried state shape. This blank is too large to run through my planer so I clamped it down using a few quick clamps then started sanding.

I removed the bulk of material first with my 3” belt sander, then did some final rough sanding with my larger ROS Sander and 100 grit paper. Once things looked even and flat I brought my stencil back in, laid it on top of the blank and traced around it using a sharpie. 

: ) Cool. 

Now to cut! Easy enough, I took mine to my bandsaw but if you don’t have one then a jigsaw would also make quick work of it. In fact, because of the wide and crazy shape of Texas there were some nooks and crannies I couldn’t get with the bandsaw and had to get with my jigsaw instead. Nice…man I wouldn’t mind even hanging just a walnut Texas up on my wall now that I’m seeing this. Haha. 

Ok now back to sanding. I started refining the face with my smaller palm ROS using 120 grit then working down to 220. I made sure to remove all the left over sharpie marks and get all the edges nice and smooth. For the spots where my palm sander couldn’t reach I quick got with my spindle sander.

Alrighty, at this point things were all sanded with the state shape so I once again brought out my stencil. This time I was going to use it to mark where the hole pattern needed to be. To do this, I first taped the stencil to my shape using painters tape. Then I used a mallet and a transfer punch to find center on each circle then make a small indent in the wood underneath. I made sure to mark the center of my circles on my print off just for making this task easy. 

Now, when I placed a forester bit in my drill, I could get the center point of the bit right in that indent and take off drilling. Since I didn’t want to drill into my workbench, I placed a few boards under it just to lift it up enough so when I punched through I wouldn’t get into the plywood. However, I actually tried to stop right before I punched though completely so I could bore almost the entire way through, but then flip it over and finish the hole from the other side. This minimized the tear out to almost nothing. Although I’m using these Rockler Forstner bits and they cut really clean anyway. 

Before you say it yes, I have a CNC so I could have done all this cutting and hole punching on there….but that doesn’t make an interesting video. However, if you do want a template to make your own or a finished one to display your tops (I have them for beer bottle tops as well) then those would be cut with my CNC. 

I know I still have a little ways before it’s done but I couldn’t help but poke the tops in to get an idea on how it will look…..: ) Nice.

Alright, lets get a finish on it then move back to the TX letter add ons. For this project I’m going with General Finishes Arm R Seal in Satin. I’ve had great luck applying this finish with a regular clean rag so that’s what I stuck with for this.

I did pay close enough attention and tried not to get finish down inside the holes. I didn’t want the finish build up to make the tops difficult to slide in. So instead of two or three kind of heavy coats, I did four light coatings. And man, I just love walnut under finish. After getting the face of the state I also applied the Arm R Seal to the edges as well as the back. I’ve heard with solid wood, it’s good to finish all sides the same to prevent different movement rates from face to face. 

I needed to wait about four hours between coatings on the Arm R Seal so I left that set up while I went back to work on the TX parts. Since the whiskey logo is dark then light then dark, I thought it would be cool to do the dark in walnut and the light in maple. I’ll tell you now that I ran out of time to do three layers so I instead just did two. 

I cut out the center of the logo then traced that on my walnut blanks and cut them out. I couldn’t joint these edges so I instead took a lot of time to sand them down and I used the help of my Armor Tool workbench for this task. You can see all the dog holes in the top which means I can place fences and clamps in just about any orientation to help me hold down small parts as I’m working on them. In this case I attached a fence, or a stop attachment, then two self adjusting clamps to hang onto the workpiece. Then just like the State, I sanded these down to 220 grit. 

Next I started measuring, cutting, and gluing on the maple boarder pieces and my goodness did I underestimate how long this process would take! Ha, this was an all time endeavor and looking back on it, yes it looks good but I don’t know if I would do it again.

What I ended up doing is measuring then cutting each part as I went then glueing it in place. However, I could only glue a few in place at a time because the clamps got in each others way. I did switch back and forth in between the two to try and minimize the down time but there was still a lot of waiting on glue to dry. If I did this again, I suppose I could also give in and use a pin nailer so I wouldn’t have to wait on glue to dry but at the time I was aiming for no nail holes since it will be up on the wall and be seen. 

A tip for you though: on a lot of the joints I would leave the pieces long then once they were dry I would cut them flush. Then another tip is to use a sacrificial fence on the miter saw in order to make these small cuts. This will provide support to your small piece and keep it from shattering on you. 

Like I said before, I planned on adding walnut to the outside of these so it would match the logo but since the process took up so much time, I had to scratch the idea. I do like the way the maple board makes it look though!

Ok a little more clean up work before these are ready for holes….this maple burns so easily! I guess I left burn marks when cutting the strips at the table saw. To get them out I stuck them in my superjaws, placing cardboard in first because I’ve been using these jaws in my metal shop and didn’t want to transfer the mill scale to my parts. Then I used my palm sander with 120 paper to remove the burns. 

Lookin good…now to drill the holes in these I had to get a little creative. I used a spare print (because I always get a spare) and a woodpeckers straight edge to cut out a row of holes. I could take this strip of holes and lay it on my T and my X to figure out their placement. I liked this method because it will keep the spacing the same as the states. I taped it in place where it looked good, used a transfer punch to mark the Stencil, then laid the stencil on the actual part and transferred punched again to get my final indent markings on where I needed to drill. : ) 

That worked wonderfully. I drilled out all the holes, then also applied the same four light coats of General Finishes Arm R Seal to it and now after my friends fill up their Texas, they can add the Whiskey logo to their wall (or always have it hanging up) and continue filling holes in as this gave them an additional 26 to fill. 

For mounting it, I attached a French cleat to the back side of the parts. This is an angled cleat so that all they will have to do is hang an opposing cleat on their wall then mate up the two. By adding this cleat it does push the state off the wall by 3/4 of an inch so to keep the state from rocking when adding in tops, I added a small 3/4” black to the bottom of the state as well.

So what do you think? I’m personally so pleased with the way this turned out! I love the walnut and I love these tops. What a great marketing idea on their part. If you would like to make your own or have another idea where you need a template for a state shape then be sure to check out my website, there is a link for you in the description. 

Thanks for following along! I’ll see you on whatever I’m building next. 

Things I Used in This Project:
ISOtunes Bluetooth Hearing Protection: http://amzn.to/2pEjNtv
Triton Thickness Planer: http://amzn.to/2r5YmT3
Planer Mobile Stand: http://bit.ly/2gkfHV7
Miter Saw Stand: http://bit.ly/2pwceVy
MIter Saw: http://amzn.to/2tF5Azc
Miter Saw Blade: http://bit.ly/2xW1YvK
Titebond Original Woodglue: http://amzn.to/2hMkdZw
Gluebrush: http://bit.ly/2pJGNrU
Bessey Kbody Clamps: https://amzn.to/2IUS5Ad
Bessey Quick Clamp: https://amzn.to/2YZ0Dxk
Woodpeckers 36 Straight Edge: https://amzn.to/2IhMOUV
Woodpeckers 12 Straight Edge: https://amzn.to/2D2mAT4
3″ Belt Sander: http://amzn.to/2AMO3VP
Rockler Dust Separator: http://bit.ly/2rKaE39
Sanding Cart: http://bit.ly/2BLolnt
Triton Large ROS: http://amzn.to/2qnD8R1
Triton Palm ROS: https://amzn.to/2Jgeven
Triton Spindle Sander: http://amzn.to/2jBX0NW
Plywood Mallet: http://bit.ly/2RlMPZR
Rockler Forstner Bits: https://amzn.to/2U589De
General Finishes Arm R Seal: https://amzn.to/2UjBvmu
Armor Tool Workbench: https://amzn.to/2uNtib4
Armor Tool In Line Clamps: https://amzn.to/2I5Sty0
Armor Tool Dog Fence: https://amzn.to/2G649yL
Bessey Small F Style Clamps: https://amzn.to/2GGHFFV

(Most of the links listed above are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)