DIY Tutorial – License Plate Map of the United States

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diy license plate united states map tutorial

Hands down the longest project I’ve made to date (aside from the latch hook rug I did on bedrest for 5 weeks straight pregnant with my twins).  Massive Kudo’s to my patient husband who totally helped figure out how to get all these states cut without me slicing my hands and giving up!

I was inspired by some of the upcycled license plate art I’ve seen on Pinterest.   Back in February I was visiting my lovely friend Heidi in San Francisco and we wandered into an art gallery with a beautiful map of the US done on Steel made with license plates from each state and I just had to make a Lindsey version on wood!

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Can I just say….  nope, not making more of these. This was a one time deal. I see some of these maps for sale for about $800  and I can’t imagine how someone is getting paid for their time on it, these take forever! In this Tute I’ll show you how to make your own one of a kind United States License Plate Map for far less then art gallery prices, although the artists that do these regularly make really beautiful work, worth the money if you don’t want to do it yourself!

Supplies

  • Old wood, pallet wood, fence wood whatever you want to put the map on. I used our fabulous neighbor’s fence boards when they tore down part of their fence (thanks Pat & Denny)
  • License plate from each state, and an extra one from Texas and California (I ordered them as stand alone plates after I got the lot of the full U.S.) I found mine on ebay for a set for $180 then paid individually for the extra California & Texas.
  • Tin snips.. (I tried 3 other kinds, this ended up being the best ( I got the Tekton 8 inch straight pattern tin snip in case the link stops working) AVOID getting the aviator 3 pack snips! they did NOT work well for me, you could use them for some corners and bends, but frankly the straight tin snip worked fine and much more efficiently.
  • Riveting gun – you can use a hand riveter or a pneumatic. I’m showing you the hand pop riveter as it’s cheaper, but I used a pneumatic one.. they do the same thing, the hand one just takes a bit more elbow grease 🙂
  • Pop rivets – I ended up getting a 5/8″ as it fit through my wood at  1/2″ thick. If your wood is thicker, you need a longer pop rivet, you can also use liquid nails if you want to glue it, or a brad nailer set to the depth of your wood. Make sure it doesn’t go through the license plate, just enough to set it in. I even tried small nails, whatever suites your fancy, but I ended up with Pop rivets, I like the look the best.
  • United States maps you want this map in the size you want your final piece. Mine was 3×5 and that was my final piece size.
  • Polyurethane – spray polyurethane in the sheen you like (matte, satin or gloss) to treat the boards before adding the license plates and then one coat once it’s all said and done
  • Picture hanging wire and wall hangers – to hang your art!
  • Rotary sander and 120 grid sandpaper
  • fine tip dry erase marker

I found a tutorial on C.R.A.F.T. to get me started but had to modify and try a variety of tools etc. before I found what worked for me.  So I’m sharing in my tutorial below what I did, and hopefully between the C.R.A.F.T. tutorial and mine, you’ll find the right fit for you.

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Tutorial

After you have all of your supplies of course, then let’s get started 😉

Step 1: Measure the size of the map after you cut around the entire outline of the use. Decide how big you want your wood mount to be and measure/cut. make sure to account for Alaska and Hawaii if you want that on your map.

Step 2: Cut the wood to be the size you want to mount to.  I used fence boards so I had to cut about 10 pieces to be what I wanted and used 2 pieces as a cross section on the back to support the “strips” of wood.  whatever your backing is, get it cut and sanded how you like. and mark the map with a pen or something on the edges of Washington, Maine, Florida Texas, and California so you know where to start the license plates 😉 you don’t want it to be obvious but you want to know where those corners are.  In the next step you’ll be cutting this map up.

Step 3: Stain and polyurethane your wood piece. I did 7 coats of poly as I was filling in a lot of natural blemishes in the wood. so use the poly on the front and sides of the wood until you are satisfied with the look.  Wait a day in between each coat so it doesn’t get tacky. I didn’t use any stain.

While in the process of getting the wood ready, start cutting out each state on the map that you used to determine the size of the wood backing in step 2. Do not cut out each and every detail, it’s impossible to get super fine details in the license plates, “round” them out, think that you will be cutting this state out of metal that doesn’t want to be rounded so be generous with curves and indents.

Step 4: Use a fine tip dry erase marker to trace the outline of the state onto the respective state license plate.  Then pick up your tin snips (I have a love/hate relationship with mine now and a few blisters to boot!) Re-outline as you wipe away the marker and keep cutting. OMG do this for ALL 50 states… seriously happy if I got 1 a day done.   Even happy if I averaged even 2-3 a week.  Once I got the right tin snips (what I recommend above) I could do them fairly quickly. Don’t rush this, just work on in when you want. I took my husband and I nearly 5 months, this is also through trying a variety of methods;  scroll saw, airplane snips, and various other failed cutting methods, the regular tin snips worked great for us.

Step 5: Remember when I said to mark the corners of Washington, Maine, Florida, Texas and California???? You will be kicking yourself if you didn’t do this.  Lay out all the plates where they belong. I won’t judge you have to look up a U.S. map to do this,  I maybe had to do the same for a few… eek! (should I be admitting that?). I made some snips here and there to get the fit that I liked. once your happy with how it looks move to step 6.

Step 6: If you are just gluing with liquid nails just start gluing. If you are using rivest or nails you need to pre-drill.  I used rivets so I used a drill bit that matched the size of the rivet. I pre drilled the hole through the metal and wood and then used the pop riveter to attached… do this for all 50 states.

Step 7: Spray it all with one coat of polyurethane and add the picture hanging wire on the back.

Step 8: Hang your fabulous art piece and enjoy!

I’ll totally take your license plate scraps if you’re not going to use them for anything else. 🙂 Otherwise think of all the cool art you can make using license plates and get creative, lots of great ideas on pinterest.

diy license plate united states map tutorial

Let me know if you have any questions or want to share your version.

Happy Tin Snipping!

Lindsey

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6 thoughts on “DIY Tutorial – License Plate Map of the United States

  1. I would like to know how to judge the size of the state outline do you put the biggest state and go from there? Should I enlarge each state so that it fits on the size of a license plate? I’m a retired disabled marine and have a son in the army for 9 years now. I’m using state plates that have military issue hard to find but I’m gettin there need a few more. If you know anyone that has military plates please pass it on to them I’m looking. Thank you for your time.????????

  2. Loved your tutorial. Just one comment. Look up the correct usage of the words “your” and “you’re”. Your descriptions would be more meaningful if you’re using correct English.

Questions? Comments? I'd love to hear!