A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent
Written by Marie Brennan
In July JordanCon is hosting Marie Brennan as the author Guest of Honor for 2021. For those who are not familiar with her work, she’s currently best known as the author of the Memoirs of Lady Trent, a six book series with multiple short stories set in the world. Brennan has written other novels and over sixty short stories. Her newest novel, Driftwood, is a collection of short stories set within a frame story that came out in 2020. Her series The Onyx Court was released as audible books just this year. They mash historical events in London with faerie enchantment. Find out more about our next guest of honor by visiting her website.
In anticipation of her visit to JordanCon, I finally moved her books to the top of my “to read/listen” pile. The good side of waiting so long is that I was able to rush through the whole Lady Trent series in less than two weeks. The downside is that I just meet Isabella, and it seems like her journey is finished for now. I don’t have more from this world to anticipate reading. As of now. No telling what might happen in the future with the Camhersts.
Before Brennan visits JordanCon in July, I hope to entice more of our family to become acquainted with her work. Over the next two months, I’ll be reviewing the first three Memoirs of Lady Trent books. Let us begin with A Natural History of Dragons, first published in 2013.
The Todd Lockwood cover showing an anatomical study of a walking dragon sets the tone the story delivers. The covers Lockwood created for the entire series are a feast for the eyes. I knew of the series for years due to the covers always catching my eye. A delightful surprise was the interior illustrations and maps. This is a story that cries for a map to anchor the reader. The maps help reader understand the world and the places of interest.
Before discussing the story, I must address the audiobook, which is how I first experienced Lady Trent’s voice. The wonderful Kate Reading does her best impression of the Dowager Countess of Grantham to convey the voice of Lady Trent. Reading’s performances are routinely delightful, but the upper crust edge she gives Isabella makes the character come alive in my mind. The audiobook takes a touch over 10 hours to complete. With Reading’s voice the story flows smoothly until the book ends, leaving me, at least, going “No, I want more!” Thankfully, more is available in the remaining books of the series.
Let’s consider some non-spoiler matters:
In the vein of most memoirs, the story is told from the point of view of Isabella, Lady Trent, addressing readers as she summarizes the highlights of her life and the major episodes that made her famous. The book doesn’t break the 4th wall, but she does instruct her readers to go find more information in publications available in their world that are not in ours. Book one covers her early life and her first major journey into becoming a dragon naturalist. The preface hints at many more adventures, which readers don’t understand fully until much later in the series. The tone and setting share many similarities with stories set in the English Regency era or a Jane Austen novel. The elder Lady Trent does not spare herself or her society in highlighting how foolish many aspects of her life were in retrospect. This book has action and drama but is not driven by action scenes. It is driven by Isabella’s love of discovery and research. Her passion for the subject is infectious and draws the readers in as all make discoveries together.
If you do not want any spoilers, stop reading this article now. Go pick up a copy of the story in your preferred format and location. Come back once you are done.
Now for a franker, spoiler-filled discussion of details from the book:
The worldbuilding – I commend Brennan’s choices in her worldbuilding. The world is mostly Earth, with the geography rearranged, new names, and of course a whole hierarchy of dragons in the animal kingdom. And dragon-like beings, but we only learn about sparklings and wolf-drakes for now. These changes allow western audiences, at least, to be more focused on the cool factor of the dragons, and less about the “well that’s different” when it comes to the world. Many things are familiar to readers, with some serial numbers filed off and some changes made. Lady Trent comes from Scirland, which is equivalent to England. The bulk of the story takes place in Vystranna, which is roughly similar to Imperial Russia. One of the major differences from many fantasy books is that both cultures follow a faith loosely based on Jewish traditions, though different branches of the faith, which creates some tension. There is classism and sexism in abundance—unconscious and conscious. The characters grow but are often not aware of their bias until their views are shoved into their faces.
One advantage of the memoir style of storytelling is the ability to time skip and for self-reflection. Brennan uses these strengths to her advantage by allowing Isabella to focus on the narrative of her story. She hints at other matters, but only shows the relevant situations. Another strength is the way Brennan addresses depression in the story, it feels real. The coping mechanisms Isabella uses are highly relatable to me.
The downside of the memoir style is that many of the other characters feel less than fully developed, which can happen in any storytelling format. Yet beyond Jacob Camherst, few of the other characters come alive as Isabella does in this first installment. Most characters are interesting and have things that set them apart, but I’m not engaged by them in the same way as Isabella.
The story unfolds in four parts, with the first two being the most focused on Isabella’s early life and her interest in dragons, but almost no dragons actually appear. Part one is her childhood adventures and the trouble they cause, along with a Regency-style romance on fast-forward, early married life, and the study of sparklings. Readers meet Jacob Camherst, Thomas Wilker, and Maxwell Oscott, the Earl of Hilford. Each man is important for the narrative of the story, but each in distinctive ways.
Part two begins their expedition to Vystrana to study dragons. Communication difficulties and the lack of a local guide at first hamper the expedition. Readers learn more about Thomas Wilker, Lord Hilford’s assistant. Mr. Wilker is a man born to working-class parents from Niddey who Isabella looks down upon. Conflicts between him and Isabella generate tension in the small party, but they are small background irritation. It’s hard to study dragons when you can’t find dragons to study. Culture clashes and conflicting priorities set the stage for the last third of the story. In part three, Isabella and the readers are finally able to study a Vystrani rock-wyrm in full detail (added by more interior art by Lockwood). Readers are also introduced to the ancient Draconean civilization, which once dominated the Anthiopen landmass. What seems like a side trip at first, sets off a chain of events that leads to the action-packed conclusion in part four.
While this may be a spoiler review, I don’t want to give away the ending. I’ll just say that tears were shed even while justice was served.
In every artform, it takes time and practice to develop skills that result in wowing others and yourself. Because let us face it, the maker can see all the flaws, while most of the appreciative audience does not. Makers, we should all try to be less hard on ourselves; let’s all spend some time having more fun and celebrating our wins this year.
To encourage this, let talk about cake decorating! In this artform I would call myself a skilled amateur, far from being a pro, but it is something I have fun doing for myself.
Making cakes pretty is a different skill than making cakes tasty. The bakers and decorators that mange to achieve both are highly skilled individuals. The internet as a whole can teach you about baking yummy cakes. (Sidenote: the extra time it takes to make Swiss meringue buttercream icing is totally worth the time.) As a skilled armature baker/decorator I have learned a few things about working with fondant if you want to add extra visual wow to your treats.
To learn to work with fondant cheaply, grab some play-doh. Or make your own salt-dough with cream of tater in the recipe. Like play-doh fresh out of the container, fondant needs to be kneaded a bit before shaping or rolling it. If you can build a shape using play-doh, you can make it in fondant, and probably easier, since fondant has a more refined texture. The main thing is to get your head and hands into thinking “I can do this!” Play like a kid again making snakes, trees, hearts, swords, crowns, or anything else you can think about.
Tools useful in working fondant.
Upper row: plastic rolling pin, toothpicks (2 styles), drageés, fondant combs, and shape cutters.
Middle row: Luster dust, icing tips, ruler, food-safe paint brush, and a small dish with vodka.
Lower row: Flower press mold with petal cutter, and cake spatula.
I’m a firm believer that amateur cake decorators don’t need to buy many fancy tools. However, I have found several more specialized items to be helpful, such as cake spatulas and a collection of small shaped cookie cutters. A smooth rolling pin will be needed, wooden rolling pins can transfer textures to the fondant and tend to stick more than plastic ones. Any paintbrush used for cake decorating should be dedicated to food use only; store it far away from regular craft paintbrushes.
When attaching two pieces of fondant together, they need a glue. Water can be used, but vodka will produce better results. No flavor or alcohol is transferred. It evaporates more quickly than water as well. This is very apparent when applying luster dust for added color. Sometimes clear gel icing is useful as glue. Note, it leaves the pieces with glossy edges if extra is on the edges, which should be seen as part of the design.
For extra tools, use what is available to you. Pizza cutters, dull knives, toothpicks, cookie cutters, forks, or even the fancy shaping tools and texture pads. Just play; let your imagination go wild making large flat panels into 3D phonebooths. You need to become comfortable kneading and rolling your materials. Realize it is more forgiving as a sculpting medium than many realize. Fondant can be reshaped many times while it is fresh. Do keep unused portions of fondant wrapped tight by plastic wrap and in an airtight container. This will help retain its flexibility longer. After opening a package of fondant, if stored correctly, it can keep its fresh flexibility for weeks. If not stored correctly, it can harden overnight.
Sometimes older fondant can be used to create smaller items after it has hardened. The best results happen if the fondant was stored in a rolled-up ball. The store-bought brands of fondant can often be returned to workable condition by microwaving it. Place a moist paper-towel next to the fondant on a dish. Heat up the fondant 10 seconds at a time, check in between rounds of heating. You want the fondant to be smashable again to knead and shape it. Older fondant can develop rough hard edges that should be cut off and thrown away. Those bits have dried out too much. If worked into the rest of the fondant, they create weak cracking points and bad textures. Older fondant needs to be worked within 10 minutes of softening it, before it hardens again. I’ve been able to re-soften older fondant twice before trashing it as too hard and brittle.
Image text: Steps to marbling fondant – snakes of color, twist together, mash and ball up, roll it out.
Marbling Fondant & Edible paper:
One of the easiest things to do with fondant is to cut out flat designs, either by using cookie cutters or by making a printed template.
For the smoothest surface texture, you will want a plastic rolling pin. Even if your rolling pin is a serialized piece of PVC pipe. For elements that will be supported, the fondant can be rolled thin (i.e. less than 2 mm). Elements that support themselves should be of thicker fondant (i.e. over 4 mm).
Extra color dimension can be added by marbling two colors of fondant together. take small amounts of each color and knead them together until the blend you want is achieved. For a quick even blend, make two snakes of color, twist them together, and start kneading or rolling. This works well with the metallic and solid color fondants to create shimmering fondant, as shown in the photo above.
Roll and blend until happy with the mix. Next, cut out the shape you want. Cookie cutters are great for this.
When you need something more irregular, find a reference image to print on paper. If you can, use software to resize the image to fit your needs. Lay the cut-out paper shape on top of the fondant, then trace with a sharp tool to cut around the shape.
After it is cut out, smooth the edges with your fingertips or a tool like tooth-picks, chop sticks, or the special cake tools. This is how the whale seen in the header image was created.
Roshar Cake with fondant gems and edible map.
Since most decorating amateurs don’t have a printer dedicated to edible ink, you will need to find a bakery or cake supply shop that can produce them. Blank edible paper is sold, as are markers with edible ink. If you feel up to the artwork, freehand a design using them to place on your cake. Me, I tend to create images using Photoshop then place an order with my local store. Note the pages are sold in standard paper sizes, so you can add multiple small images onto one sheet to save sheets and money.
When using printed edible paper design, place it on the fondant first, then add the fondant onto the cake. Cut out the design, remove the plastic backing of the paper, then lightly brush vodka on the fondant where the paper will go. This is a very light brushing of liquid. Too heavy of a hand will cause the edible paper to distort and possibly ruin your design. If you went too light with the vodka, the edge will lift up, so you can lightly brush the underside of the paper and tap it into place with a dry finger or blunt tool.
For the Roshar gem cake, I used a clear sparkle gel icing as the glue. This added an extra shine and glitter to the gems. The map shown is a large edible image placed on top of the buttercream. It adds great details to the cake with minimal effort. Often an icing border can be placed around edible images, but for these applications I did not see the need for one.
Steps to flower press molds – cut out, place, press, lift out, dry, add extra decorations if necessary.
Silicone Press Molds:
Flower and leaves press molds are specialized tools, so I’ve only bought a few when I had a design in mind that required them. Most kits come with a cutter and a two-piece mold. To make flowers using a press mold, start by rolling the fondant thin, 2 mm or less. Use the shape cutter, then press the fondant with the related mold. I find it best to mark two sides of the mold to line up the design best. Extract from mold using a toothpick or similar tool to lift it out. If the flowers keep ripping, roll the fondant a touch thicker. Transfer the flower to a support surface to let dry, empty egg carts or bunched up foil work well for this purpose. After they are dried, luster dust or dragées may be applied to add extra color.
Luster dust is applied two different ways.
Dry: Using a dry food-safe paintbrush, dip brush into the dust container. Brush it over the surface you want it to cover. Best done before the fondant has fully dried. Good for a widespread light application of color.
Wet: In a small container, mix a bit of vodka with small pinches of luster dust. Dip paintbrush into mixture. Paint the areas you want to color. If you’re not seeing the color intensity you want, add more luster dust to your wet mixture and repaint. The vodka will evaporate, leaving just the color behind.
The purple and yellow-orange flowers shown above were made using this technique.
Examples of fondant sculptures.
Besides whole fondant covered cakes, when most people think of fondant, they think of the elaborate sculpted decorations made from the edible clay. This is when many people start thinking “I can’t do that.” First, give yourself a chance to try. Play with playdoh to see if you can get close to your desired shape. Break the piece down into its simpler geometric components before worrying about the extra details, as seen in the leaf pin above. Also, try watching some YouTube videos of professionals making similar shapes. No, you won’t recreate their work first try, but their way can help guide your work. If you provide the framework, often the brain will read the intended design without elaborate additions.
To help inspire others to build 3D shapes with fondant, below breaks down the making of a few fondant decorations.
Examples: Pokemon Ball – Roll two balls of red and white, then cut them in half. Stick them to the opposite color with a dab of water or vodka on each side. Cut a thin strip of black to put around the middle. Add a small white circle to one side. The circle was cut out using the small hole from a #3 icing tip.
Details of a fondant Doomslug.
Doomslug – Make two short snakes of yellow, one should be smaller in plumpness than the other. Flatten, until both look more oval than cylinders, curve to mimic Doomslugs upright shape.
Roll blue fondant about 2 mm thin, cut an oval shape, as seen in the photo. Pinch the sides to stretch out the oval more, until it matches the shape of the yellow pieces. In the photo you can see, I needed to use a second piece of blue fondant, but it just added to the ruffles. If you have a fondant ball tool, use it to give ruffles before attaching it to the worms. Or use your fingers to pinch the sides to thin out the outer most edges and make ruffles. Attach it to the lower plumper oval portion. Cap with the upper oval worm. Let it dry a few minutes.
Spines – Roll blue fondant extra thin (1 mm). Cut into narrow strips 3-4 times longer than the slug body. Accordion fold on your working board. Bush vodka in a strip along the body’s back where you plan to place the stripe, one at a time. Place folded strip and adjust until you like the look. Repeat for the strips you want. Let dry.
Eyes were cut using a #4 icing tip. Edible marker made the smile.
Swords – For items like swords or lightsabers, wrap the fondant around a tooth pick for long-term stability and extra playability with the items. Unsupported rods of fondant are prone to breaking. Wrap the blade fondant first, then wrap the handle. If there is a cross guard do that third. Last is adding the extra details needed to suggest the exact item you are making.
Details in building a Tardis.
The Tardis – I made mine by rolling out dark blue fondant to about a6 mm thick slab. Then cut out three rectangles. Glue together with vodka. Set aside to dry. Place a square on top to cover the seams; make it slightly smaller than the overall demotions. Form a small cylinder of white, then top with a small ball on top for the light. Place in the center of the square. I recommend placing the light last, but in the photos you see I placed it early in the process.
Roll out white, blue, and black fondant extra thin, 2 mm. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife and ruler to cut thin strips and rectangles for the windows, coffers, and signs of the police box. Cut two signs of white as 1-4 black “Police” signs.
Place the windows first. As you rotate the four sides, make sure the working space remains dry. If there is too much moister, the blue color can transfer to the white fondant.
Place the strips to build the coffers. The long vertical lines go on first, then cut the short horizontal lines to go in between the vertical ones. Place on one side at a time, giving each side 3-5 minutes to set before rotating to the next side.
The window and sign rectangles can be written on with edible ink markers or Sharpies, if you don’t plan to eat the fondant* (see disclaimer below).
The last step is to roll out the platform to a size about 2-4mm larger all around then the base of the Tardis. Glue the box to the base and leave to dry.
Details in making a golden serpent.
Serpent – Start making a thick rope of fondant. Leave one end thicker as you roll it back and forth under your hands. Work to extend the back end into a smaller point. When it’s the length needed, start shaping the head. Look at photos of the type of snake you want. I started with the mouth placement, then moved to eyes and kept refining until satisfied. Toothpicks can be very useful for sculpting if you don’t have formal tools.
Once happy with the shape of the snake, add texture by lightly pressing into the fondant with a tool. For the texture shown, I used small cookie cutters.
To get a golden look, use food color spray to deepen the color. Place on your cake with the help of a wide spatula.
That’s all there is! Go forth and play with the edible clay fondant. If you make something or have questions, please email them to: Workshop[at]jordancon.org
*Disclaimer: Homemade marshmallow fondant tastes better than every kind of premade fondant you can find. It also takes significantly longer to harden. If you are trying to create 3D shaped figures, it is better to use store bought types. Overall, I think of fondant as a type of technically edible Saran Wrap on cakes. Thus, I do not make fondant-covered cakes. I will make buttercream-covered cakes that use fondant decorations as accent pieces.
Are you greedy for content from some of your favorite JordanCon track directors and guests?
Well then do we have the panel for you! From the good offices and fertile imagination of Tiff, the JordanCon fantasy track director, and John Hartness, the publisher at Falstaff Books, who joined me in a recorded discussion of Wandavision, which debuted earlier this year. Wandavision picks up the story of the MCU’s Wanda Maximoff as she tries to move on with her life in the wake of the events of Avenger’s: Endgame and the death of Vision, with whom she had a relationship.
The following is a tiny bit of spoiler:
Tiff, John, and myself discuss Wandavision, focusing on the aspects of grief, trauma, and how it affects those around you. We all share our thoughts on the series and the characters, discussing our impressions and the moments that spoke to us as individuals. It is not a spoiler to say we all enjoyed the series, and we hope that you will enjoy our discussion of it. The talk does touch on trauma and loss, so a heads up if you are dealing with similar issues in your personal life.
We hope you enjoy this taste of what is to come. See you in July!
Love Spensa, David, Joel, Alcatraz, and their associates? Tune in as the Sanderson track launches into discussing Branon Sanderson’s young adult and middle-grade works. The focus of the panel is on Skyward and Starsight, but elements of The Reckoners, Alcatraz vs The Evil Librarians, and The Rithmatist are discussed. Note: Full Spoilers are discussed for those series.
Some of the topics include:
Do the characters share similarities?
Will Sanderson give Brade a redemption arch?
Dion use of “they” as default pronoun.
Moments of squee in the worlds.
On the weekend of April 24, 2021, join a live Q&A session for the panel. The panelists and moderator will be taking questions in the #SandersonTrack chatroom on JordanCon’s Discord group. The official session will start one hour after the panel goes live.
The Cosmere will return to take over discussions at JordanCon 2021 in July. Join us then for speculations about The Lost Metal, our thoughts about Rhythm of War, and more!
Ashley Chappell (callsign: Cat Lady)
Daci Cole (callsign: Blue)
Paige Vest (callsign: Blade)
Deana Whitney (callsign: Braid) – moderator
If you want your own Doomslug toy, visit the JordanCon Worskhop blog: Space Slugs.
If you are wondering “Why are they wearing tiaras and hats?” JordanCon loves its shenanigans, even from a distance.
Send questions or comments to the Sanderson Track: sandersontrack[at]jordancon.org
No man may wear the Amyrlin’s stole. Fine. This isn’t a stole. It’s a scarf. I came up with this pattern as a quarantine “thinking of you” gift for a friend. I liked it so much I made one for myself.
Here is what you will need to make one:
US size 8 needles on an 30” chord
About 65 yards of medium weight yarn in each color. I used Loops & Threads Impeccable and have yarn left over on all 7 skeins after making 4 scarves.
Brown (18920 Soft Taupe)
Grey (01757 Classic Gray)
White (1005 White)
Red (1532 Claret)
Yellow (01616 Gold)
Green (1242 Deep Forest)
Blue (35011 Lapis)
Suggested but optional – stitch markers
Start by casting on 250 stitches in brown. They will bunch up and probably twist a bit on the chord, but that is OK. I put as many stitches on the needles as I could fit. You can place markers to help keep count while casting on, but you don’t need a specific count and will want to remove them once you start kitting. This is the length of the scarf so don’t be stingy. But since there is no repeating pattern to the stitches, you can make your scarf with as many or as few stitches as you want. If you want more length and can find longer needles, I say go for it.
Start by casting on as many as you wish.
The pattern is 6 rows repeated once per color.
You’ll end up with two strips curling in opposite directions – one facing the right side, the other the wrong side. The purl bumps will be on the wrong (back) side at the color change.
Color change line.
Color change line reverse view.
Work from the bottom up in color order
Color two change.
2 color change, reverse view.
Three colors, the scarf is starting to flatten.
At first there will be gaps between the color strips. As they come off the needles and the overall shape of the scarf flattens, the curls will constrict together.
Halfway done with loose end.
Almost done with 6 colors.
After completing the pattern in blue, bind off knitwise.
I averaged about one color a night while watching TV and knocked this out in about a week. Yes, that probably means I have been watching too much TV while social isolating, but I take productive where I can find it these days. That leaves weaving in the ends. As you can see, I had a break in the white yarn and had bonus ends to weave in. But no blocking is required. The end result…
Want a nice way to properly display your Heron Mark Blade on the wall… and all the other swords in your collection? This step-by-step guide will show you how to make a magnetic sword mount using some basic products from your local hardware store… and a little bit of time, which most of us all have plenty of right now!
You’ll have to excuse some of the photos. Many of them were taken after the project was complete, not during the construction of my original project. And during these crazy times, I didn’t want to go to Home Depot to buy more.
Cut the 1”x8” board down to 24”. I recommend cutting both edges, as the raw edge from the store can be very rough and almost impossible to sand. You will want both ends to have a nice, smooth surface for staining. I recommend cutting off a thin sliver of wood from one end, and then cut the other end at 24”. Use some sandpaper to clean up any splinters from the bottom edge of the wood (seen in the photo below).
Rough board, pre-sanding
Smooth board, after sanding
Line up the molding.
Cut 1 piece of moulding at approximately 25 inches in length. Laying this along each edge of the poplar trim board, mark a line for the inside edge of the moulding. Using these 4 lines, position the magnetic holder on the board, and mark the areas that will need to be recessed in Step 3 so that the length of the magnetic bar will lay flush against the poplar.
After cutting, the Poplar should now be approximately 7.25” by 24”.
Step 2: Cut the Moulding Using your miter saw or miter box, make the first 45-degree angle cut in the moulding.
First 45-degree angle cut in the molding
After carefully measuring and marking based on the length and width of your 1”x 8” board, proceed to cut 45-degree angles in alternate directions, until you have 4 trapezoid-shaped pieces of moulding. Make sure the narrower edge for each piece of trim is along the same edge of the trim. (After making all these cuts, you should be left with a bunch of small triangular scraps since the 45-degree angle cuts have to be alternated.)
Trapezoid-shaped pieces of moulding
Clean up any splinters and rough edges with some sandpaper, sanding in the direction of the grain (always!).
Even with a good miter saw, the 4 boards might not perfectly form a tight rectangle, but that’s okay, that’s why we have wood putty.
Step 3: Mount the Magnetic Holder
Before we mount the angled trim from Step 2 to the board, we need to prep and mount the holder to the board. Take a strip of black electrical tape, and cover the ugly yellow tape that is on the magnetic holder. This way your swords and the trim are the focal point of the sword mount, not a gaudy yellow band.
Magnetic strip covered.
Now we need to carve out the 2 recessed areas so the magnetic holder will mount flush to the board. I used a handheld Ryobi router, but not everyone has one of those available. A simple wood chisel set should suffice. Remember that it is okay if the recessed areas are larger or slightly deeper than necessary, that will be mostly covered up by the moulding anyway.
Start of routing out the magnetic holder.
After you are done routing (or chiseling), position the magnetic holder on the board. Use a piece of trim cut in Step 2 to ensure that the tabs are countersunk such that they don’t prevent the moulding from sitting flush to the poplar. Also make sure that the magnetic holder isn’t crossing any of our marks from Step 1.
Once this is verified, mount the magnetic holder using 2 flat head screws.
And finally, one last time, take a piece of trim and ensure that the screws don’t prevent the top piece of moulding from resting flush against the board.
Step 4: Mount the Trim
Now that we have mounted the holder to the board, it is now time to mount our 4 angled trim boards. Using a liberal amount of wood glue, adhere the 4 boards in position on the 1”x8” Poplar. At this point, we are only using glue so that we can adjust and reposition the moulding to get the tightest joints possible.
Position the moulding with just glue.
Once we have the 4 pieces aligned as best as possible, carefully use your brad nailer (or old-school hammer) to tack each board in place. I suggest shooting a single brad closer to the end of one of the shorter boards. Make sure the boards are all still in alignment, and then shoot a second nail at the other end. If using the Moulding I suggested, aim for the little dots or any recessed line in the pattern to help hide the divots created by the brads.
Design elements for screw placement.
Double check the alignment of the boards after securing the first piece of trim, and shoot the first brad into one of the adjacent longer trim boards. Check alignment, and shoot the second brad at the opposite end. Continue doing this for all 4 boards, making sure to check alignment at each step!! This helps ensure that you don’t get to the 4th corner to find all your boards are horribly out of whack!
Note: It is better to play with and align the 4 boards all at once like what is described up above, than to align each corner with a perfect snug fit individually. One way will get you 4 pretty good corner alignments. The other will get you 3 great alignments, and one pretty ugly one. Trust me, even with an awesome miter saw that can assist with those 45-degree angle cuts, they probably aren’t going to be perfect, and thus you won’t have a perfect alignment on all 4 corners.
As you can see in this photo, I assumed my cuts were going to be perfect, and when I got to the 4th corner the gap was pretty obvious and required a good amount of wood putty to fill.
Alignment of corners.
Step 5: Prep the surface
Now that the trim is mounted to the poplar, it is time to do any necessary clean-up to the raw wood before we can paint/stain.
First thing, clean up any wood glue along the seams that might have oozed out when the boards were nailed together. A damp paper towel works fine.
Second, if anything doesn’t look like a tight fit, you can use a variety of clamps to press the boards together snugly. If you do use clamps, you will probably need to wipe off any excess glue again. If if didn’t squeeze out before, once clamped, it will!
If you do need to clamp the boards together, set it aside for about 2-4 hours (read the instructions on your particular wood glue for working time).
The next step is to fill any voids using wood putty. Make sure your putty is stainable, not all wood putty is! I prefer to use wood based products found online instead of the DAP plastic wood options found at Home Depot. The smell and Prop 65 warnings are a little scary on plastic wood. Use the wood putty to fill in any gaps in the corner joints, or in any gaps between the trim and 1”x8” Poplar board.
Set the project aside depending on the working time for the particular putty product used. When it’s time, come back with some high grit sandpaper and clean up and smooth any areas that required putty. Also go ahead and sand the entire surface and sides that will be stained just to clean up any rough patches.
Step 6: Staining and Painting
Follow the directions on the stain, and apply the stain to the front and sides of the project. Try to avoid getting any stain on the magnetic holder, as it will leave a sticky residue on the metal.
Typically after applying stain, you will leave it on the surface for a few minutes and then wipe it down with a paper towel or rag. When wiping, try to wipe perpendicular to any grooves in the moulding (grooves highlighted in green). This technique will wipe more stain from the raised areas of the wood, while leaving more in the grooves, resulting in darker recesses.
More stain will remain in the recessed areas.
After the stain is dry, use some inexpensive black, acrylic craft paint to paint any of the recessed areas near the magnet that are not stained. Unlike stain, if you accidentally get some acrylic paint on the magnet, acrylic paint will dry and can be easily scrapped off, instead of being a sticky mess!
Black paint to hide missed stained areas.
After staining the sword mount, I like to leave the project in an out of a way place for a few days to allow the stain to off-gas and fully dry. A covered back porch or a basement both work well.
Step 7: Cutting a Keyhole Slot
We want our sword mount to be flush against the wall. First this looks very clean and professional, but a flush mount is also more secure as the mount is more solidly resting against the wall behind it.
There are a few options for making these keyhole slots:
They make a keyhole router bit for routers and Dremels. This option is pretty self explanatory; follow the directions that come with the bit.
You can use a drill, a Dremel, and a few more common Dremel bits to achieve the same effect. You will need a larger drill bit, a smaller drill bit, a Dremel cutter bit, and a Dremel straight router bit.
Needed Dremel bits:
Drill a large hole with the larger drill bit.
Drill a second hole with the smaller drill bit approximately .5 inches above the larger hole.
Use the straight router bit to connect the 2 holes along their centers.
Finally, lower the cutter bit into the larger hole, and follow the same line as above. This will create a groove for the screw head to slide along.
Lastly, if you don’t have access to a router or Dremel, you can use something like this piece of hardware to achieve the same effect using only a chisel (I think).
Step 8: Mounting to the Wall
Most likely you will not have wall studs directly behind where you cut the keyhole slots. Even if you space the 2 keyhole slots 16” apart, to center your sword mount, they probably will not align with hidden studs. But that is fine. That is why they make some truly incredible drywall anchors. These are my personal favorite. Rather than drilling a hole and tapping them into place, they are self drilling, and stop once they are flush with the surface of the wall.
Once you shoot the screws into the anchors, they split open and lock the anchor into place. You can also play with the depth of the screws in the anchor to ensure a nice snug fit between the wall and the sword mount. Some other types of drywall anchors don’t give you the flexibility to adjust the depth of the screws, another reason that I prefer these.
Step 9: Mount the Swords
Now it’s time to hang your collection on the wall.
A few things to keep in mind to avoid injury or a scary crash in the middle of the night.
If you used the recommended magnetic holder, it should have no problem holding the weight of most swords, allowing you some play in positioning them higher or lower on the mount.**
If you use a weaker magnet, the cross guards might have to rest on the upper lip of the wood. This can severely limit the space on the mount, which is why I suggest the holder that I listed up above.
**No matter what, this is IMPORTANT… you want to make sure that the weight of the portion of the sword above the magnet is about equal to the weight below it. If you attach the swords too high so that the swords are top heavy, a good door slam, or any vibration really, can cause the imbalanced sword to pivot like a pendulum with the magnet working like an axle. As it swings, it will most likely knock the others swords around, or off the wall, stabbing anything and everything around. I speak from personal experience. I had to patch a 2 inch gash in the drywall (and put on a clean pair underwear!) after hearing a frightening crash about 10 minutes after proudly hanging the swords on the wall.