Thumbnails for my wall
January 25, 2012 6:57 AM   Subscribe

What do I need to make photo tiles like these? How hard/expensive would it be?

Sadly, I live in the middle of nowhere so chances are I won't be able to use any links to similar products.
posted by Memo to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It wouldn't necessarily be too difficult. You could make the basic frame using acrylic plastic sheets from Home Depot (or other hardware stores). They are easy to use. You basically score the sheet using a metal ruler or square and a utility knife. Then you can snap the sheet along the scored line to create the pieces you want. It snaps very easily and cleanly. You could use a small dab of super glue to attach each magnet to the plastic sheet. You could use the magnet and some sort of pin or drywall anchor-like device to create the wall mounts (this might take some experimentation). I made a very larger version of this type of frame years ago using this process, but I never had to hang it on a wall. Finding the right magnets might be difficult unless you order off the Internet, but if you call around to hobby shops or hardware stores in your area, someone will likely be able to point you in the right direction.
posted by Nightman at 7:27 AM on January 25, 2012

I'd play with using a small Forstner bit to drill a recess into the plastic sheets for the magnets. I haven't played with plastic in a while, but I think it'd cost a few pieces of acrylic scrap in a workshop to figure that part out. Looking at your profile I see that you're probably not used to the same level of "drive to the big box store" that us USAnians are, so I'll try to be aware of that.

As Nightman suggests, score and snap the acrylic sheets for the covers. Use a drill press to recess the magnets into that sheet, and those magnets are probably going to be a little pricier (say $.60 each) because you want them to look good. For the magnets that go on the wall you can just get some larger cheap (at the link Nightman provided it looks like $.10 each) ceramic disk magnets and apply double-stick tape to them.

The one think that looked somewhat tricky is that the example product appears to have a back sheet to help align the pictures, attaching that in a way that doesn't look ugly around the sides could be difficult.

If the score and snap doesn't give you an edge like you want it starts to become a slightly more difficult (either a setup to polish or sand the edges, or using a router or saw to do so), but starting from scratch without a shop you could get a benchtop drill press with a brad point or Forstner bit that fits your magnet, a cheap utility knife, and a good straightedge.

That's your capital costs, your consumables are double-stick tape, magnets, a glue (in case the magnets in the acrylic don't friction hold in there), and the acrylic.

Cut your squares, drill partially through the acrylic from the front, put your small rare-earth (or similar good looking) magnets in (making sure you use an orientation that works for the magnets you're hanging from the wall), double-stick tape your cheap ceramic disk magnets to the wall, and there you go.

There is some skill and technique to some of those steps. Drilling the acrylic should be done on a slow speed, and maybe with a vacuum to pull the chips clear of the bit because you want to keep from melting the plastic and gumming up the bit. Scoring and snapping well takes a little practice. But it isn't impossible, and drill presses are very useful tools so even if you live in the middle of nowhere it's likely that someone near you has one.
posted by straw at 8:06 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

eBay is another place where you can buy the sort of rare-earth disc magnets used there. It looks as if theirs are inserted into the acrylic sheet - they probably just chose some nice thin magnets that fit snugly into holes drilled in the acrylic.

For the wall fixings, you'd just need some plastic discs - maybe you could cut them from wooden dowel. Again, drill holes and glue in magnets, making sure they're the right way up. For the adhesive on the back, 3M command strips would be perfect (and removable later).

Cutting acrylic well is something of an art. They probably had theirs laser-cut. My experience of cutting acrylic by hand is that it's pretty easy to mess up, either by swerving the blade when scoring, or by snapping the acrylic unevenly. And then you'll need to tidy up the cut edge a bit.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:07 AM on January 25, 2012

Wow, thanks for the detailed answers! It makes the process much easier to visualize.

Acrylic seems to be stupid expensive in this town which puts a dent in my plans but I'll continue looking.
posted by Memo at 9:28 AM on January 25, 2012

I've only done a little bit of drilling glass, and all of the glass bits I've used have been pointed and create micro-cracks around the hole, which means you can't drill part way in to recess the magnets. However, it may be possible to use epoxy or cyanoacrylate ("Krazy Glue") to attach magnets to glass. You wouldn't get the easy inlay, but if you get strong enough magnets you could maybe put them on the outside of the glass? Slightly different look, but sometimes you have to adapt your aesthetics to economics.

On le morte de bea arthur's observation that cutting acrylic by hand is an art: Yes, it takes some skill to not let your straight-edge slip and to keep the knife along the straight-edge and to get a good cut, however... one way to clean up the edge would be to use spray adhesive to put sandpaper on one side of a square edge of wood, so that you can hold the acrylic down to a surface, and slide the block along the surface sanding the edge of the acrylic (or glass or whatever edge you're trying to clean up). Search for "shooting board" to see how people do this with wood planes, and you'll see how it's possible to rework that process for sanding blocks.
posted by straw at 9:48 AM on January 25, 2012

Silicone caulking works quite well to attach glass and magnets.
posted by yohko at 4:01 PM on January 25, 2012

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