faux bois

This faux bois bookend was created with a soymilk carton destined for the trash, some plaster of paris, a melon baller and a wooden skewer.  A few coats of high-gloss paint gave it a porcelain-like finish.

version made by 8-year-old me

version made by 8-year-old me

The project was inspired by a sculpture I recently re-encountered in my dad’s home office. I made it at a craft camp when I was eight years old. From the forensic evidence, it seems that I attacked the block with an ice cream scoop and then finished it off with a battery of screwdriver puncture wounds.

I really can’t believe he’s kept it around all these years. Though, other than serving as a monument to his blind parental devotion, it was doing a fairly good job of keeping my dad’s files from flopping over on the desk.

Here is the original sample, and here is how to create your own faux bois:

Materials

tub of plaster of paris

ruler

permanent marker

disposable mixing bowl (such as a #6 un-recyclable– in most places–  food container)

large disposable cup

mixing spoon (also something you can throw away or re-use for future plaster projects)

empty milk carton

melon baller

butter knife

bamboo skewers

high-gloss white spray paint

gloss varnish

Here is what to do:measure

1. Cut the peaked top off of the milk carton. Clean the interior thoroughly and allow it to dry.

2. Use the ruler and permanent marker to mark the interior of the milk carton at the desired height of your bookend. I chose a height of six inches.

3. Mix the plamixster with water according to the package instructions. Mix in a disposable container until the lumps are incorporated. The plaster I used called for a 2 parts plaster to 1 part water mix. Rather than dirtying a measuring cup to measure the correct ratio of plaster to water, I used a disposable cup. For a six-inch tall bookend formed in a standard milk carton, I used four disposable cup-fulls of plaster and two disposable cup-fulls of water.

poured4. After mixing thoroughly, pour the mixture into the milk carton to the marked line. Lightly shake the carton to smooth the top. Allow to dry for 20-30 minutes, until set.

tear5. After the mixture has solidified, cut a slit in the top of the carton and then tear and peel the carton from the plaster.

scoop

6. Immediately, use a melon baller to make the “knots” of the faux bois. One to two knots per side is plenty for the dimensions of this project.

carve7. Use a butter knife and bamboo skewer to make the grain marks. Work in a bucket or tub of water to keep your sculpture wet as you work and NOT directly over a sink– as you will be creating plaster shavings. In general, mark a few concentric circles around the “knots” and then lines that run vertically along the block, undulating around the knot marks. It’s a bit intimidating at first, but there really isn’t a wrong way to do it. After 25 minutes, I was pretty disheartened, but eventually it came together. My advice: keep going! The more grooves you carve and the deeper you make them, the better it looks.

unfinished8. After a bit of carving on all sides, your block of plaster will look something like this one. Put it in the sun or some other dry place for a couple of days. Then spray all sides with high-gloss white spray paint. The plaster and the texture of the piece really suck up the paint, so you will need a few coats. After the final coat of white paint is dry, apply a top-coat of gloss. Allow that to dry and display on your favorite bookshelf.