What kinds of maps do you make?

I typically build two different styles of maps: Topographical and Wayfinder.

The first style is the Topographical map. You can see examples of these here. The map is typically composed of 6 layers with each layer representing a different elevation.

I call the second style the ‘Wayfinder’ series because it emphasizes the land and roads instead of the topography. You can see some examples here. It is composed of 3 layers: water, land, and roads.

Can you build custom maps?
January 2021 Update - I will begin taking new custom commissions on April 10, 2021.

Yes, I can! I’ve been doing commissions for a number of years and found the process described below to work well.  Topographical maps typically take less than 6 weeks to design and build, while Wayfinder maps take less than 2 weeks.

  1. If you are interested in a custom map, please send me a message with the area and style (Topographical or Wayfinder) you are interested in.
  2. I will create a mock-up pdf of the map and send it to you for your review. See below for an example of what a mock-up and the finished product looks like. 
  3. If you are happy with where things are headed, please place the order online and send me any feedback you have about the mock-up. Some examples of this include: zoom the map in or out, change the title of the map (or remove it completely), add some custom location markers, etc. This is the time to tell me what you want before the cutting starts.
  4. I will revise the mock-up and send you a new pdf for your review. If you are happy with this draft then I will start building your map. If you notice some more changes you’d like to implement, I will happily make these edits and repeat the revision process until you are happy with the design. 
  5. With your approval of the design, I start the building process. The exact timelines depend on the complexity of the map, the time of year (November and December are particularly busy), and if my small children happen to be peacefully sleeping.
  6. Your map is shipped out. All orders have a tracking number so you can see where and when it should arrive. I strive to ensure everyone who purchases a map is entirely satisfied. If anything is amiss in the final product, please let me know and I will do whatever it takes to make it right.

Custom maps are priced higher to reflect the extra time involved. For Topographical maps, 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 Topograhical map (17” x 23”) 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
Example of Topographical Map - St. John's Design & Build

Wayfinder maps are much easier to design. Prices for custom Wayfinder maps are:

  • Small Map (7.5” x 11.5”) - $125
  • Large Map (10.5” x 16”) - $155

 Example of Wayfinder Map - St. Catharines Design & Build

How do you build these maps?

Designing and building a map is a long process. Most of the effort 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.

Do you build maps of lakes?

I build maps with lakes in them (see examples above), but typically don't build bathymetry maps (depths). There are some really cool maps that show the lake bathymetry but 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 bathymetry maps for people with lake cottages.

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) 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.