Custom Maps – Frequently Asked Questions

How do you build these maps?

Designing and building a map is a big process. Most of the effort actually goes into the design of a map. After deciding on a place to map, I first go to Google maps and explore the area to get a good sense of what are the important aspects to include. Then I go and search for data.

There are three critical components to each map: elevations, waterbodies, and roads/paths. I always get data from the original source to ensure the maps are as accurate as possible. The elevations come from a file called a ‘digital elevation model’, or DEM. Because I aim to have 5 different elevation layers on each map (plus an extra layer for water), I calculate the size of contours needed relative to the elevation across the map. A flat area like Regina has contours that are 5 metres high, while a hilly area like Halifax has contours that are 20 m high. After splitting up the DEM into different layers, I get waterbody data from places like Natural Resources Canada or other government websites, and road data from OpenStreetMaps. These data are processed in a cartography software and every detail is painstakingly checked before the map is ready to be sent to the laser.  

I often call the laser engraver a magic machine because that is what seems like when it is running. A thin piece of baltic birch is placed in the laser engraver and then the magic happens. The laser hovers over the wood and burns in the roads one-by-one like an invisible hand. After the roads are burned in, the laser power is increased to cut through the wood to make the contours. The piece is then removed the next piece is burned, repeating the process for each contour layer. Each layer is then placed and glued on the layer below it and the map slowly begins to take shape. It is always fascinating to build a map of a new area because the geography is so varied and I never really know what it will look like until it is built. The map is then placed in a custom built frame and is ready to be proudly displayed.

What kinds of maps do you make?

I typically build two different styles of maps. Please see my instagram or my etsy page for examples of each.

The first style is the topographic map. The process of the map is described above and the map is typically composed of 6 layers with each layer representing a different elevation. These maps are the most time consuming to design.

I call the second style the ‘Road Map’ style because it emphasizes the land and roads instead of the topography. It is composed of 3 layers: water, land, and roads. These maps are much easier to design and I can build custom maps for a much more reasonable price.

Can you build custom maps?

Yes, I can! Unfortunately the price for a custom map is higher to reflect the substantial design effort required. If the map is of a more populated area, I can often sell multiple copies and can offer a better price. As an easy way of gauging the cost, I’ve decided to categorize it by population. The cost to design and build a topograhic map of a custom area is:

    • A city with a population of 1 million or more: $399
    • A city with a population of more than 100,000: $599
    • An small town or sparsely populated area (eg. your cottage): $799

Because Road Maps are much easier to design, I can build a custom map for $125. Note that the size of this map (7.5″ x 11.5″) is much smaller than a topographic map (17″ x 22″). I can build bigger versions of these maps also, up to 11″ x 17″, please ask me about this.

If you are interested, please send me a message and we can talk. A good starting point is to take a screenshot of the area on google maps and send it to me via email.

Do you builds map of lakes?

There are some really cool maps that show the lake bathymetry (depths). I’ve never been able to find good and reliable bathymetry data for Canadian lakes. I would recommend contacting Ravi at www.woodcutcartography.etsy.com. Ravi is also Ottawa based and has built some beautiful maps for people with lake cottages.

How big are your maps?

The size of the map is limited by my laser engraver. The largest, and most common, size I build is 17” x 22”. I do offer some smaller maps of certain areas that I can build and sell for less.

Are these made locally?

Yep, all the maps are designed and built by me, in Ottawa, Ontario.

Do you sell maps locally?

I try to attend a few craft shows each year. Please see the announcements on my website for upcoming shows. If you are in the Ottawa area, and would like to order a map but save on shipping costs, please use the coupon code ‘localpickup’ at checkout. We can then arrange a time for you to pick the map up from my location. I am in Old Ottawa South.

What map are you building next?

My goal is to have a map for every provincial capital in Canada. Vancouver (not a capital, but still a nice great city), Victoria, and Winnipeg are some that I’m planning on in the near future.

Do you make maps of places outside of Canada?

I’m currently focusing on Canadian places. I like Canada and it is a neat place to explore. Perhaps after all of Canada’s capitals are mapped, I’ll move on to international cities. I can make custom maps of places outside of Canada but I’m only shipping within Canada at the moment (insurance reasons:( )

Do you ship maps outside of Canada?

Currently I am only shipping inside Canada, sorry!

How did you start making these?

My wife and I were visiting San Francisco a few years ago when we saw a bathymetry map of the bay in a gift shop. I was blown away by how beautiful it was and intrigued by the combination of cartography and woodworking. Upon returning home to Ottawa, I bought a used scroll saw and wood burning pen and set out to make a map of Lac Deschenes, a local Ottawa sailing spot. Looking back, this first map was really ugly but I was very proud of it. Someone then told me about laser engravers and that I could try one out at my local library makerspace. Woodworking, cartography and lasers sounded like a great combination to me! Many maps and mistakes later, the maps started to look a little more wall-worthy and I started selling a few to finance the hobby. Fast forward a few years and I am still happily making these maps in my spare time.