My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond #218: Making Lemonade from a Snowflake

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Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 01-07-2011 02:59 PM 6478 reads 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 217: Do I EVER Learn? Part 218 of My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond series Part 219: Taking Care of Business »

It is amazing to me just how much difference the way you look at something can make. Looking at something with a different attitude and perspective can magically change something from unpleasant or distasteful to something that is fun and exciting. Physically, nothing at all has really changed. Only the way we look at it. This is an incredible power that we all have within ourselves. It costs nothing, takes none of our time and all we need to do is consciously apply it and it can make all the difference in the world.

I have a fine example of using this power within us.

In yesterdays post, I spoke of a custom job that I had made a commitment to do. The job was for a decorative painter who makes wonderfully whimsical designs and has her work frequently published in many different magazines. I have been a fan of her work for several years, and recently we have become friends on Facebook.

A couple of weeks ago, she approached me with the idea of making her a painting surface to use for some of her designs. She had seen my Snowflake Candle Tray and wondered if I could modify the design to suit her needs. Without thinking it through, I agreed to do it for her, as I was quite flattered that she even looked at, let alone liked my designs. She gave me a summary of what she was looking for me to do for her, and it seemed very reasonable.

Below is the original design:

From Snowflake Tray

What she wanted from me was to simplify the design, and make it much larger so that the center circle that the candle sits on is approximately 8” in diameter. Inside that 8” circle, she wanted me to cut the pieces into geometric puzzle pieces so that she can paint on them and in essence make a puzzle.

Yesterday I wrote about some of the initial difficulties I had finding the wood that I needed to do this. But after obtaining some decent (albeit expensive) plywood, I set out yesterday to get the task done and get it off the books.

In thinking things through (something I should have done before agreeing to do the job) I figured that I would need two 1/4 inch layers – one for the design and one to make the tray underneath to hold the puzzle pieces. In order to do this, I would need to stack cut the snowflake, including all of the internal cuts, and then before cutting out the circle and puzzle pieces, I would separate the two layers and only cut the top layer into the puzzle. This would allow for two identical layers that would then be glued together and match perfectly.

I set up the wood and applied the pattern. Everything seemed to be going well. As I drilled the entry holes, however, I realized that even though I greatly simplified the design, there were still 56 internal cuts in the snowflake. (YIKES!)

I began cutting using a #9 scroll saw blade. I am used to using a blade which is little larger than a hair, but when cutting a piece so large, it is necessary to use a larger blade so that you can control it on the turns. Unlike a 6-8 inch diameter project, I now had nearly 17 inches in diameter to swing around to make all the circular patterns. The plywood is also heavy and the layers of glue are much worse on the blade than hardwood is. It is the only blade I had in stock that would be suitable for this type of cutting.

So I proceeded to cut out the perimeter began cutting the interior cuts of the snowflake. After 20 minutes or so my arm was beginning to tire. I was starting to think how I probably would need to ask $60 or more for each piece by the time I was done and feeling pretty crappy about what I was doing and getting into. It was at this point I stopped :

From Snowflake Painting Surface

As you can see, I had a long way to go. I also took a closer picture so you could see the relative size of the blade:

From Snowflake Painting Surface

For all of you who don’t work with the scroll saw, this is as I said, quite a large blade. While I was cutting, I was thinking of William and his awesome chandelier that he is working on and boy oh boy do I have a lot of respect for him! (If you get a chance, go check out his progress in his blog) I couldn’t imagine doing so much large cutting like that.

I stopped at that point and called a ‘business meeting’ with my partner. I realized that there was NO WAY that I would be able to make any money on this project. The more I cut, the crummier I felt about it. I made the commitment but I knew that I would be losing my shirt on it. We discussed our options and came up with some alternatives.

1 – Not do it at all (Initially, that got my vote! (Just Kidding))
2 – What I had there really looked kind of cool, but modifications needed to be made. I could recess the center by angle cutting as I did on my trays, and then I would be able to cut two complete snowflakes at once, therefore lowering the cutting time (and production cost) considerably. The only thing with this option is that my client’s main objective was to have a puzzle.
3 – Do as above, but instead of cutting the 54 internal cuts in the snowflake, let the painters paint them in, again lowering the cutting time tremendously.

As always, honesty is the best policy. Before I proceeded, I emailed the client and explained the situation and also the options. I told her that in order to do the piece as originally planned, it would cost the customers over $60 plus shipping from Canada. I didn’t think that she would want to present a design which used such an expensive piece and I was right.

At first she chose to eliminate the second layer altogether, without the tray underneath at all. After all, many puzzles are made to be set right on a table. This would still mean that I could cut two at once and the cost would probably be about $35 for the large piece, which was far more reasonable.

I went back to cutting and it was amazing the difference in attitude that I had towards it. It was no longer a burden to me, but it was actually quite fun. I was thinking about how if I was going to sell this surface to painters on my site, that I should develop my own pattern for painting to use on it also. I could offer patterns with both the inside cuts on the snowflakes and without, and give the customers a choice. I have no interest whatsoever in offering a puzzle, so for my own use, I will just angle cut the center as I did on my trays and paint on the solid circle. I had so many ideas going through my mind while I was cutting it was incredible!

I also had another idea for my client. I wasn’t very comfortable with the idea of the loose pieces. After all, there are 30 of them. Below is a drawing of the puzzle:

From Snowflake Painting Surface

As you can imagine, it would be difficult to keep all those pieces together without the tray. I thought that I could use thin veneer or even some 1/8” plywood as a bottom tray. I would be able to cut a 8.5” circle very quickly and easily and glue it to the back and it would make a fine tray.

I emailed the client and she was thinking the same thing. The edges of the snowflake would be slightly lifted off the table, but it would only look to make the design more dimensional. I think it looks better. Below is a finished picture of the project:

From Snowflake Painting Surface

By the time I finished this project I was quite excited about it. Not only did I have a new outlet for doing some side work, but also another prospective area for my own designing. If I get lots of orders for these snowflakes, I not only have my partner who will be willing to cut some, but I have my dear friend Leldon who said he would be willing to do any cutting I would need. It will be win/win for everyone.

I was amazed at the end of the day how something that started out to be such a poopie project turned into something that was so exciting. I realize that seeing the result of this work will be many months down the line, but that will also give me time to develop some things of my own with the painting side of my site. I have said all along that I want to do more painting and offer patterns and surfaces and with my ability to design my own unique surfaces to paint on, it opens an entire new aspect of my woodworking business. After all, the reason I first started scroll sawing was because I wanted to make my own things to paint on. The possibilities are endless.

The moral of this story is that there are many ways to look at things. Many times we can take an unpleasant situation and with a few small changes make it into something that is not only acceptable, but also offers great opportunities for us. The trick is that we have to try to look at things from several different ways and see if we can come up with something that is more suitable to our own needs. I realize that we can’t do this with every situation, but many times all we have to do is take a little time and try to see things differently. We may be surprised.

I hope you all give it a try the next time you are stuck. :)

Have an awesome day!

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

14 comments so far

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18709 posts in 4216 days

#1 posted 01-07-2011 03:17 PM

Why have the center be a puzzle if it is a candle tray?

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 3460 days

#2 posted 01-07-2011 03:23 PM

This is a modification of my candle tray design. It is much larger. The candle tray inner diameter is 4” to hold the jar candle and the inner diameter of the puzzle is 8” for the designer to paint on. I am sorry if I confused you. Perhaps I didn’t explain it properly. :)


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18709 posts in 4216 days

#3 posted 01-07-2011 03:27 PM

No worry, that is easily accomplished ;-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3526 days

#4 posted 01-07-2011 03:55 PM

That’s wonderful, Sheila!

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View rivergirl's profile


3201 posts in 3379 days

#5 posted 01-07-2011 05:30 PM

I am glad you solved the “puzzle” that was plaguing you!

-- Homer : "Oh, and how is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 3460 days

#6 posted 01-07-2011 05:33 PM

Thanks, Kelly! It is pretty cool looking! I can picture some cute polar animals or skating penguins on it . . . . . Hummmmm . . . . .


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3844 days

#7 posted 01-07-2011 05:46 PM

you have a great way of figuring out the problems…and you usually have the ability to pull the cat out of the bag…great job as always….

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View brunob's profile


2277 posts in 4710 days

#8 posted 01-07-2011 06:05 PM

If you draw a circle and ask an adult what it is they would say “it’s a circle”. Ask a kid and they might say; it’s a hole in the earth to china, It’s a ring, it’s the top of a glass Etc. It’s a matter, as Sheila says, of a different perspective. My 7 year old grand kids like to use the scroll saw in the shop. It’s the one tool they can use with only minimum supervision. Mistakes don’t bother them at all. It just turns into something new.

So…good idea Sheila. New perspective!

-- Bruce from Central New, if you'll pardon me, I have some sawdust to make.

View patron's profile


13658 posts in 3882 days

#9 posted 01-07-2011 06:29 PM

way to go girl

quit often we find
it is our own expectations
and experiences that nag us

i listen to classical music
and think of the lives of some composers of old
the trials and tribulations they went through
to bring their music to us
and realize that i have so much more
it inspires me to do better

if leonardo or michaelangelo
could do that
i can certainly give it my best

the capacity of greatness is in all of us
we just need to get out
of our mindsets to find it

well done sheila

if you don’t like what you are doing
change your ways

make it your own

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View YoungestSon's profile


93 posts in 3597 days

#10 posted 01-07-2011 07:33 PM

I’ll go with the A Team line.

” I love it when a plan comes together”.

This story brightened my day. Thanks.

-- Don - Rochester, NY

View Steven Davis's profile

Steven Davis

118 posts in 3455 days

#11 posted 01-07-2011 08:57 PM

(Way outside my area of expertise)

Sheila -

Is it possible to stack and cut pie “wedges” to further accelerate your work? Your current design has 6 identical elements which would seem to be able to be cut at once? I suppose this could also allow different design symmetries (opposite identical, alternating wedge repeats, etc.)

To follow the same idea, instead of a circle template, you could trap the wedge designs each between a pair of “wheel spokes” ?

Always interesting and inspiring.


-- Steven Davis - see me at

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 3460 days

#12 posted 01-07-2011 09:06 PM

Hi, Steve:

I was going to maybe stack cut them but I would need to use too much double sided tape to do so. The pieces are so small. Also, there are few scrollers that can cut a perfect circle. They really need to all be from the same piece. That also keeps the grain pattern in tact which I feel is important. I had to number each piece to make sure that they went back in the same order that they belonged. This was harder than you think with such generic geometric shapes! I was thinking if I dropped them I would be in real trouble! After they are painted they will be easier to reassemble, I expect. To ship them I had to place a piece of fiber board over the top and tape it in place so they wouldn’t move in transport. I hope they make it OK! :D

Thanks everyone! I sent the designer the pictures of the finished piece and she was thrilled with it. It all ended up pretty darn good, I think! :)


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View TJ65's profile


1381 posts in 3590 days

#13 posted 01-07-2011 09:45 PM

Well that all turned out great.
My way of thinking if I make a mistake is that it was meant to happen! Sometimes though I will step away from it annoyed but when I come back with fresh eyes it has changed into – NOW, what can I do/make with this.
I go with the flow and the project takes a turn – and usually for the better. The end results may be different from what I had intended but much more creative and unique and most of all FUN.

-- Theresa,

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3383 days

#14 posted 01-08-2011 04:40 AM

And you know why my shoulder took three days for the soreness to ease up after cutting the large pieces for the chandelier. The biggest pieces I cut were 18” wide and close to 24” long. I stack cut six of them out of 1/4” plywood at a time. Actually, I absolutely HATE doing things this big. The only way I do things such as that is if it is for a special project like the chandelier to where the end product is well worth the headache, and back ache, and shoulder ache, and I think you get the point.
Oh, I cut those six piece stack cuts using Flying Dutchman #3 spirals. Needless to say, I used a LOT of them. I finished the chandelier tonight. I’ll post photos later. The complete project took over four dozen blades.


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