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Woodcut Maps: Handcrafted wood-inlay maps, designed by you (woodcutmaps.com)
307 points by aaronharnly on March 27, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 81 comments

Cancun is a "designed" city and the core districts are laid out inspired in Mayan hieroglyphs. This makes terrible urbanism but some pretty sweet woodcut maps. http://woodcutmaps.com/11254

That is amazing.

Look at DC, which is the exact same thing - but with masonic symbolism rather than mayan symbolism.

Notice you do not link to a map. Because this is total bullshit. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Washington,_D.C._street_design_...

Sorry, but the way they refute is is to say "the street does not extend to a point" yet you can draw the symbol on the streets and see that the design is perfectly implied.


I also assume you're not a Mason, thus you think that everything is simply coincidence.

Sorry - but there are very deliberate decisions, particularly with respect to design, that are, in fact, Masonic, all over DC.

For the curious: Default is $105 for an 8"x8" map. 20"x16" is $350. It appears that wood species choice has no impact on pricing, but I didn't want to abuse their render queue with any more experiments. :)

Also, to the creators - it would be great to have a "pricing" page to explain this!

Good idea, will do. Right now for simplicity's sake we just have the wood species not affect pricing even though they greatly vary in cost to us. We're coming out with some really gorgeous burled woods soon that are a bit pricier -- we'll probably add variable pricing based on wood species once those choices are available.

As a former woodworker, I thought that might be the case. :)

There's also a lot to be said for pricing simplicity, though. You might consider just having a "premium woods" option that gives you access to the high end veneers, rather than passing costs directly along. If you make it more complicated, you'll also cause people to do a bunch of re-renders, which may wind up costing you more (and causing people to get bored and give up).

I don't envy you the task of working with fraction-of-an-inch wide irregular-edged burl veneer strips!

Offtopic: Why do you use two accounts on HN, _gabesmed & gabesmed?

No-procast: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3763855

Edit: Longer version: It is because of his noprocast setting.

I was impossibly confused until I realized you meant to write "noprocrast". As in "no procrastination".

Thanks for pointing that out! I don't think I have ever written the word procrastination myself, so wasn't even aware of the spelling mistake I made.

I'd love to hear the dev talk about the architecture of this service – there's nice work for the site itself with queued renderers, and apparently back-end work to generate the laser-cutting instructions.

More on the process: http://woodcutmaps.com/process

Heya, I'm the developer behind Woodcut Maps!

The site is built on python/django and hosted on AWS.

Most of the interesting work happens in python with PIL, numpy and scipy. We download maps tiles (Google for now, working on an OSM render path), and split them into channels for landscape, water, roads and parks. Then we apply several steps of scipy's image morphology filters to get the masks ready for laser cutting and to ease assembly by simplifying the design. Removing small pieces, filling small gaps (which gives the maps the distinctive look of dense roads being filled in, creating chunky blocks), and simplifying boundaries.

All the rendering happens on picloud.com, which has been a really robust part of our infrastructure. It helps us scale up and down based on demand without having to manage an autoscaling AWS backend processor setup ourselves, or overpay for AWS instances.

I'm probably going to talk more in detail about it at WhereCamp this weekend if anyone wants to talk in person.

Here's a cool idea if you haven't thought of it already: Find a way to inlay routes on the map. It would be cool to plot a marathon course and give it as a gift to a friend who finishes.

We can do anything custom, just shoot us an email at team@woodcutmaps.com

Thanks! I'll definitely keep this in mind when I need it. Your startup is a awesome blend of design, technology, and craftsmanship. Best of luck.

Love the idea. Thanks for the back-end info. Would love to read more details if you get time to write something.

Hadn't heard of picloud.com before, sounds like you're pretty happy with them.

Strictly for the sake of curiosity, how large of a custom piece could you produce with and without seams (e.g. another commenter asked about creating a custom floor)?

We'd love to make a custom floor! We can do any size piece as long as it's tiled by panels. It'd be cheaper to use the standard sizes (so the largest panel to tile would be 16x20) as it helps us conserve material. But we can conceivably make single maps or panels as large as 18x32, which is the size of our laser-cutter.

This is a bit out of scope but I would love to have a similarly crafted version of john snow's classic cholera map.

Oh we could totally do that. One color for roads, one for bars, one for background. We could probably do Minard's Napoleon's March map too (minus the labels) just for fun. http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters

Definitely. Could be offered as a one-off design, I imagine.

I'm really interested in hearing more about your process. See you at WhereCamp.

Wow, that is really cool. If I could come with a small feature request, I'd love to see support for open street maps as well. At least for the area around my house OSM has much more detailed maps. Google maps for example doesn't have the road that leads up to my apartment building, since you can't drive on it, while OSM does.

We're actively working on an OSM render path. Coming soon!!

Would it be possible to provide a data format by which one could upload custom inlay layers to produce a design of his choosing? I'm thinking specifically about a silhouette photograph I shot of my son. Is there a way to validate the manufacturability of an arbitrary layer set?

I'd like to have a little more control, so I could fit, say, Yosemite Valley in the 5x16 by rotating the map a little.

We can't do rotations..but a hidden pro feature is you can drag the gray frame in the google maps interface to zoom in and out precisely.

The mouse-over pointer change is a well chosen hint and the affordance is fairly obvious. Nicely done.

Bizarro gabesmed here -- my noprocrast settings got the better of me! Yup, contact us at team@woodcutmaps.com and we can pretty much do any image. Our processing settings are tuned specifically for maps, but could be applied to any image. Would be curious to see how a photo would come out.

How about a circuit board layout diagram? It's been a long-standing tradition at my work to etch designs onto PCBs as gifts for employees who are leaving. These are beautiful, and would really raise the bar.

Can I PLEASE see some pics of this, this sounds awesome.

In 1998, while at Intel, I did the Decepticon logo in circuitry for the album art for my friends CD.

I'd love to see what you did.

Started out thinking that this was more parquetry than what I imagine is called 'woodcut'. Turns out it's probably marquetry instead. All from Wikipedia:

"Parquetry is a geometric mosaic of wood pieces used for decorative effect."

"The use of curved and natural shapes constitutes marquetry rather than parquetry."

"Marquetry (also spelled as marqueterie) is the art and craft of applying pieces of veneer to a structure to form decorative patterns, designs or pictures."


And, so I learned something new.

Yup. The working title for the project was 'mapquetry'. Though technically inaccurate, Woodcut Maps is way catchier.

This is probably the most interesting company I have read about on this site. The love using software to make something physical. I will definitely consider a purchase in the future.

This is so great. Is your backend set up to do other vector paths besides just map tiles?

Yup. The settings are tuned for maps right now, but we can take any raster image with up to four b&w layers and send it through the same process.

Would it not be possible to render on the client side with html5 canvas to decrease the load on the server?

Yeah, this would be great to have, especially for live previewing of different material combinations. Would require a major rev of the interface/rendering though, so didn't make the cut for launch.

Maybe in a future version then? It seemed like it could be quite easy to sort out with open street maps which I think is already possible to do through canvas.

Perhaps another idea though would be to make your own stylised maps with Mapbox http://mapbox.com/ with OSM so you could print out more stylised maps ;)

Whats the max size?

What if I want a rooms floor done like this?

Then I would personally salute you. Still trying to convince the fiancee to do our living room as a woodcut floor :)

I'd like to try some Escher patterns.

I have been drawing some based on some of his drawings in AutoCad - to then color in illustrator.

I drew this the other day - and it would be great to do a pattern like this in wood for an entryway:


What an awesome idea to tile your floor with the city map in wood veneers. I wonder how durable it would be.

shut up and take my money!

i want something with WAY more detail on how it works. like, i understand laser cutters and whatnot, but this seems harder. can you write more up?

I'll be preparing a preso for WhereCamp this weekend; I'll definitely put it online as well.

That would be awesome.

Having done my fair share of laser marquetry, let me first tell you that I truly appreciate the amount of work that goes into the whole process, and really respect what you are doing. The intricacy of these types of patterns makes for a very high level of difficulty.

That being said, it appears to my somewhat trained eye that you are using Photoshop (or other CG) mockups on some of the product pages (http://woodcutmaps.com/146 for example), without saying explicitly that that's what they are. I know how difficult straight on photography is with these textures, but if those are indeed Photoshop generated, you run the risk of increasing expectations beyond what is technically possible with the process.

Excellent work either way, as I can tell from the genuine product shots. Like I said, not easy stuff.

1) These are fantastic. 2) Surely this is breaking the Google Maps licence for use of their map tiles? Switch to OpenStreetMap!

I'm getting an OVER_QUERY_LIMIT error:

  GeocoderError at /create

  Query: http://maps.google.com/maps/api/geocode/json?region=&sensor=false&bounds=&language=&address=
Also, you should want to change your Django DEBUG setting to False

Haha, you caught a little live debugging. Should be fixed now.

Sorry about that.

Otherwise great work, these look amazing!

To the creators: Great job guys! I just ordered a map as a gift. I would have loved to carve a date or write a few words on the map though.

I found the entire process of ordering a breeze. However, I feel that the payment process should be improved - 1. PayPal forced me to sign into my obsolete paypal account due to same email id. 2. It showed me an annoying advertisement to sign-up for their debit card program. 3. It assumed my address was the shipping address. 4. I did not see an option to send this item as a gift.

I hope you guys keep getting bigger and better.

Cool idea! Here's a product my ad network manages the promotion for that is quite similar: http://go.chaseclicks.net/SHHK

There isn't as large of a variety of woods, but there is good flexibility in pricing, size, and it's more for photographs and keepsakes than a map of an area.

Also, not trying to detract from your post by sharing this other product, just thought it was very similar and thought I'd share. Looks like a well thought out system and business model! Best of luck!!

Very cool idea; all I can get however is "Sorry, something went wrong. We've been notified and are on the case!" (I'm trying to get maps from France).

I seems that it does not like non-ASCII characters (got the same error when I searched for Swedish cities). Try searching for the English name of your city or, if such a name is not available, a neighboring city that has and then scroll the map to the place you'd like to see.

I love the idea and service. Congratulations.

Brasília is also a "designed" city, and the woodcut maps are awesome: http://bit.ly/Hi9m09, http://bit.ly/HcBdSB and http://bit.ly/GXK5Lv.

beautiful. @gabesmed is the wood sustainable & ethically sourced?

Allow me to hijack the discussion ever-so-slightly and point out that imported wood is now a Big Deal, and potentially very dangerous to work with, due to recent expansions of the Lacey act. You may have heard of the case of Gibson Guitar:


"They...come in with weapons, they seized a half-million dollars worth of property, they shut our factory down, and they have not charged us with anything," says Gibson Guitars CEO Henry Juszkiewicz...

The feds raided Gibson for using an inappropriate tariff code on wood from India, which is a violation of the anti-trafficking statute known as The Lacey Act. At issue is not whether the wood in question was endangered, but whether the wood was the correct level of thickness and finish before being exported from India. "India is wanting to ensure that raw wood is not exported without some labor content from India," says Juskiewicz."

http://reason.com/blog/2012/02/23/the-great-gibson-guitar-ra... (disclaimer: Libertarian news site is a partial source, interpret that partiality as you will. other sources and commentary exist. many of them are probably better, this was just convenient because I remembered it and could google it quickly. you should look up these other sources if you're interested!)


The cynics suggest that this is all at the behest of the Pacific Northwest domestic timber lobby, using environmental sentiment to dampen competition from overseas. Gibson's case, by that theory, is a deliberate scare tactic designed to create a chilling effect.

And to bring the discussion back to the matter at hand: whatever you're doing, I hope you're aware of all this, and documenting everything you have meticulously, or you could end up screwed. Like, possibly-in-jail screwed. For working with wood veneer. Believe it.

"... point out that imported wood is now a Big Deal, and potentially very dangerous to work with ..."

Shipping timber has consequences. Tall timber, hardwood in particular is the flora equivalent of the Rhino, Elephant and big Cats. Hunted to extinction, chopped up, chipped & poorly used.

"... The woodlands & forests that had once ringed the entire Mediterranean & provided a home for a rich population of animals had now largely gone. They survived only places for which no soldier bothered to fight, where no forester found it possible to haul out timber, & no farmer thought it worthwhile to make a field. ..." David Attenborough, "The First Eden: The destruction of the forests", Pt3, p173.

Learn the lessons of the past.

We care very much about this...we haven't done as much homework as we'd like on this issue but if anyone has more information and would like to help us find responsible suppliers, I'd love to speak to them.

"...Fortunately Australia has a wide range of under-utilised tonewoods, and as the supply of traditional material diminishes these timbers will come into their own as a world standard. Many of the Australian timbers are plantation grown and will yield musical instruments after 80 years, as opposed to the hundreds of years required for traditional woods.

Maton has been developing the use of these timbers for the last 50 years and it would be safe to say that nobody knows Australian tonewoods better than Maton. We are fortunate enough to have the support of many of Australia's most knowledgeable and skilled timber gatherers and continue to try new species on guitars and to learn more about the way these timbers are capable of producing beautiful music. ..."

That's how Maton tackle the problem, http://www.maton.com.au/main/timbers.html I don't know if this is possible in the US mainland.

My sense is that there is no such thing for some of those tropical hardwoods. On the plus side, veneer is very thin...

"... there is no such thing for some of those tropical hardwoods. On the plus side, veneer is very thin... ..."

You may be right. Hard woods are difficult to source but not impossible. I'm thinking of Maton, a guitar manufacturer not far from where I live in Melbourne who source their tonewood with costs of gathering rare timbers in mind ~ http://www.maton.com.au/main/timbers.html

MacBeath, where he gets his hardwood, is making an effort on this (I was over there a few weeks ago to buy wood and brought it up).

I might show my ignorance for the complexity of the process here, but here goes: Why is laser cutting from prefabricated digital prints considered "handcrafted"?

Our oboist team member, who hand-carves her own reeds, assembles and finishes each map by hand.

Finally, an oboist who found their burden to be useful in life outside music!

Would be great to see some footage of one of your maps actually being made some time.

Hand carving your own reeds appears to be a rite of passage as an oboist (my wife plays).

Call me a tree-hugger, but I was hoping that recycled wood was used, and that my greedy desire for one of these would not result in rainforests being destroyed. It would be nice to know if this service was green, too.

"Zebrawood is considered a threatened species in its native habitat. Its fast-growing popularity in the West has resulted in some reforestation efforts, but these are not keeping up with the pace of harvesting." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zebrawood

Ugh. Treehugger.

Being from a lumber producing area, the whole concept of "recycled wood" really annoys me.

Old wood breaks down, causing no waste.

"New" wood is produced on farms. Exactly like corn and soybeans, but with much longer crop cycles. Just like other cash crops, if you remove the demand for new wood, Weyerhaeuser will cut down all the trees and plant something else that makes money or sell off the land for urban development.

All of the major concerns with commercial lumber production have been mitigated with smarter land management practices and technology. All of the "old growth" forest that environmentalists like to jump on is actually pretty impractical for large scale commercial operations to deal with, and protected by existing laws anyway.

Some species (like Zebrawood as you mention) are threatened by initial commercial exploitation, and sadly the biggest offenders are indigenous farmers. Once a wood becomes commercially viable the big players move in with established reforestation and resource management policies that actually help to stabilize the situation (because they can't make money long term off an extinct species).

This is an amazing tool, but unfortunately incredibly uninteresting because I live in the suburbs!

You should add a +1 button on your site, I had to copy/paste the link manually :).

Beautiful work! What kind of finish is used to seal and protect the final piece?

It's called Emmet's "The Good Stuff" - a gel urethane that gives a nice warm glow to the wood, is easy to apply, quick-drying, and not unpleasant or dangerous to breathe. (we work out of our cottage, so no professional ventilation systems for us!) http://www.mapleblock.com/detail/butcher-block-finishes-39/

Are there copyright issues with using Google's maps?

And on that note, allow me to encourage you to consider the copyright issues and the possibility of using OpenStreetMap instead.

Edit: looks like another comment has since been posted which talked about 'working on an OSM render path', there you go

Another option is to have a custom map created in vector by us, and use this as the template for the woodcut: www.erichsen-group.com/custom-maps.html

I wanted to make a purchase, but your web site is turning into a perfect infinite loop to PayPal. It just keeps trying to forward me to PayPal, abort, retry..abort..retry

Fix your code and you get the money?

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