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Spring Shelf Sitters

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Spring Shelf Sitter. Rustic white wood mini sign with a black and white Hare with the words The brown ones are not jelly beans.

The techniques I’m going to share with you in this tutorial are rule-breakers! I’ll show you how to do a reverse graphic transfer in ten minutes instead of the recommended two to twenty-four hours. I’ll also show you how to get crackled paint results by basically doing the opposite of what’s recommended. The best part is that when you’re done, no two will look exactly alike, which shows how much love goes into creating these spring shelf sitters.

Hi, and welcome! I’m Lisa from The Old Tree Cottage. For me, part of being creative is tweaking techniques in order to get the results I’m looking for. The best part is when the idea works because that’s not always the case!


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How much wood you need will depend on how many little shelf-sitter signs you want to make. Note: The actual width of a 1×4 board is 3 1/2″. Each sign is 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″.

1. Cut and sand the wood

The size of these spring shelf sitters is 3 1/2 x 3 1/2″. So for this project, if you don’t have scrap wood, you’ll need a 1×4 board. Fun fact; a 1×4 is actually 3/4″ x 3 1/2″. Which is why these blocks turn out to be 3 1/2 x 3 1/2″.

  • Cut your boards to 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″
  • Sand the sharp edges
  • Wipe off the sawdust

2. Make the raw wood look aged

Some people like to use paint for their base coat. I, however, prefer the black water wash because once the wood has been distressed, the wood showing through looks like it’s aged from years of exposure. But this is your project, so you do you.

  • Mix 2 tsp of any type of black paint with 1 cup of water, stirring once in a while as you work. If it sits for a while, stir it before you begin.
  • I use an old hand towel and cookie sheet to catch drips since the mixture is very watery.
  • Lastly, brush on the black water wash with a sponge brush or a regular brush making sure to cover the wood front, back and sides.
  • Let it dry completely before moving on to the next step.

3. Prepare the wood with wax and glue

I guess I actually had three rules to break because the candle wax and Elmer’s glue is done in one step.

  • Rub candle wax along the outside edges.
  • Next, apply Elmer’s glue along the outside edges following the direction of the wood grain, making sure to paint the glue a little farther in than the candle wax.
  • Then you want to take a paper towel and lightly dab the glue.
  • Finally, take a heat gun and lightly pass over the block for no more than a few seconds.

4. Paint and distress the spring shelf sitter

If you’ve done the crackle paint technique with Elmer’s glue before, all the tutorials say we don’t overwork the paint on top of the glue. Well, guess what? For this tutorial, I say work it a bit. Add more paint if needed. Why? Because I really feel the large cracks you get with the original method look out of place on small pieces like these spring shelf sitters. So by “overworking” the paint, it means the glue doesn’t work as well, which in this instance, translates to working perfectly!

  • Apply a generous coat of paint onto the spring shelf sitter block. I like to paint in the direction of the wood grain. This means that the cracks will also be following the wood grain. If you need more paint, add some!
  • Let the paint and glue dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step.
  • The last step in preparing the shelf sitter for the transfer is to sand all around the edges in order to distress the wood. I typically use 100 to 150-grit sandpaper but use whatever works for you.

5. Download and print the spring shelf sitters graphic

It’s important to note that I’ve only tried the technique I’m about to show you with a laser printer. I don’t actually own one and probably never will because I can’t justify the cost knowing I wouldn’t use it a whole lot. Instead, I go to a self-service copy center and print what I need when I’m doing my errands. The photos shown make it seem like there are four different sizes, but they’re not. They are all the same size. Note to self: work on photography skills!

  • Download the free spring shelf sitter graphic and print using a laser printer. Not an inkjet printer.
  • Trim the graphics to size. Note: I’ve included a black border around each graphic for ease of trimming. The black border isn’t part of the graphic.

6. Doing the transfer (in ten minutes or less)

Disclaimer: I’ve only done this technique with homemade chalk paint. I’m not sure how it will work with other types of paint.

The other day I was doing reverse graphic transfers using polyacrylic, which is a clear water-based top coat finish. The good news was I only had to wait about two hours instead of overnight before removing the paper. To be fair, waiting two hours wasn’t as bad as waiting overnight, but it still seemed too long for someone like me. I decided to play around with the technique in order to see what kind of results I would get. And boy, oh boy, did I get results! At first, I thought it was a fluke so I made a bunch more just to be sure. And now I’m going to share how with you because it’s too good to keep to myself!

Attaching the image to the painted wood

  • Apply a generous but even amount of polyacrylic to the spring shelf sitter board Fig. 1
  • Place the laser-printed reverse transfer face down and smooth it out, starting from the middle and working your way out. Fig. 2
  • Remove any excess polyacrylic around the edges with a paper towel, pulling towards the outside.
  • Next, place a clean piece of paper towel over the image and rub it all over to help it grab onto the wood. Fig. 3

Here comes the reverse graphics transfer plot twist!

I feel like there should be a drum roll for the next steps because this is where the hurry-up-and-wait part typically happens. But not this time, my friend!

  • Take a spray bottle with water and spray the image. (Fig. 4) There should be no dry spots on the paper.
  • The next step is to take a clean paper towel and dab the image, removing the excess water as well as pressing the image down again. Check for any bubbles and tap until you get them out. Fig. 5
  • Now that the paper is wet, it’s time to dry it with a heat gun (Fig. 6), but don’t hold it close to the paper, or the paper might bubble and pull away from the wood. If this happens, spray with water, dab the excess, pressing firmly to get a good bond with the wood again.
  • Let the paper cool for a couple of minutes before moving on to the next steps.
  • Spray the paper again, making sure that all of it is wet.
  • Once again, dab the excess water off with a paper towel.

Rubbing the paper off of the spring shelf sitter

There is no wait time between the last steps and these next ones! Below are the steps to follow including tips.

Removing the paper from the wood block on the spring shelf sitter
Fig. 7
  1. Never have excess water on the paper, because the ink could rub off. Spray with water, then dab the excess off.
  2. Begin by removing the wet paper starting in the middle and then work your way out.
  3. Slide your fingers along instead of pushing them into the paper, so the paper rolls along as it comes off (Fig. 7). This reduces the chance of rubbing off the image.
  4. When the paper feels dry and it’s not peeling off easily, stop and spray with water again, then dab the excess water off before rubbing at the paper again; you may need to repeat this several times during the process.
  5. I found the only time this method didn’t work for me was when I didn’t let the painted wood dry properly, or I rubbed too aggressively.
  6. You haven’t rubbed enough of the paper off if the image looks really cloudy when dry. Repeat the above steps. Note; slight cloudiness on the image can usually be concealed by applying a top coat of the same polyacrylic used to do the image transfer.
  7. The last step is to finish with a coat of polyacrylic using the same stuff that was used to do the image transfer.
Rustic black and white shelf sitter with a Hare. The brown ones are not jelly beans.
This is the finished reverse graphics transfer. There is no clear coat on it yet. That’s the final step.

So there you have some sweet spring shelf sitters.

The last thing left to decide is whether you’re keeping them, gifting, or selling. If you make enough, you can do all three!

Thanks for stopping by. See you in the next project.

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