Whale Tail String Art

posted in: Decor, DIY | 35



I’m so excited about this project! My good friend, Kate, introduced me to the idea of string art and I was immediately hooked. It wasn’t all that difficult either. Setting the nails was the most time consuming–we both just wanted to get to the fun part: the stringing!

The wood I got was a 24″x24″ piece of sanded plywood (either Birch, Oak, or Pine) from Lowe’s, and cost me about $9. I wanted it darker so I stained it (about $5 for wood stain), but do what works best for the look you’re trying to achieve. I encourage you to try to find some more “natural” wood. If you see something at a yard sale or even on the side of the road, don’t be afraid to try it out with this project. Kate found a piece that looked like a mini wood palette and it turned out great!

I also challenge you to get creative with this project and use different types of wood, different thread colors, and experiment with different patterns. I’d even say try out different types of nails.


Total Cost: $15-$40, depending on your wood and stain

Total Time: 2-3 hours

Piece of wood – any size, any type, stained, sanded or left raw
Wood Stain (optional)
Printed Pattern
Wire Nails (size 1×18), 2 boxes
Crochet Thread




Step 1: Print the pattern


The possibilities are nearly endless when it comes to what you put on your board. I chose an animal but feel free to venture into other things – plants, monograms, objects, inspirational words, etc. Or, go ahead and create your own image! I chose the latter option and mocked up the image in Adobe Illustrator. If you’re not so good with design programs, you can draw directly on the paper with Sharpie.

Make sure the dimensions of your image are such that it will fit onto your piece of wood. Then print! Depending on how large your image is, you may need to print on a large format printer. Usually Staples can make “Engineering Prints” (18″x24″) for around $2 per print. The paper need not be anything fancy – you will be discarding it in the end.


Step 2: Prep your wood


If you have a raw piece of wood, you may want to stain it to get the look you’re going for. I used Minwax Wood Finish in Early American 230. Dip an old rag into the can of wood stain and carefully start applying the stain to the wood, in long strokes, going with the grain. Do this until front of your board is saturated with stain, but don’t leave any pools. If you’re only going to stain your wood and not put any finish on it, I suggest only doing one side of the board, plus the sides. Leave one side (the back) free of stain so it won’t soak into your wall paint if you hang it. Let the first coat dry for 4-6 hours, in a well ventilated area.

Repeat this process until you achieve the desired color, leaving a few hours of drying time in between. Once dry, lay your pattern down onto the wood and tape at the corners, so it won’t move when you’re setting the nails or now would be the time to draw on your paper if you chose not to print (I would not suggest drawing directly onto the wood – you may still be able to see your drawing once you’ve completed the project).


Step 3: Set the nails


Start hammering away. Following the pattern, hammer the wire nails into the wood, outlining the outer edge of each piece of the pattern. How far apart you set the nails depends on how intricate you want your final product to be. For the tail I set each nail about a 1/2 inch apart. However, for the waves, I allowed almost an inch in between each nail. Setting the nails too close together will make it more difficult to string, but too far apart may not get the detail you want. A safe, general distance is 3/4 inch.

Hammer the nails down far enough that they don’t come loose when you pull on them but not so far down that you cannot wrap thread around it. A good height for the nail is about 1/2 inch up from the board.

When all the nails are set you can tear away the paper pattern. If you wait until the end to do this, it will be very difficult to do.

Step 4: String the heck out of your pattern


This is the fun part! First string the outline of your nails. Tie a double knot to one nail and go along the outer edges, wrapping each nail completely, at least once as you go. Once outlined, then just let your hand be your guide and don’t think about it too much. Start weaving back and forth. The more you wrap each nail, the more secure your line will be (in case you accidentally let go).

Did you do your own string art? I’d like to see it! Post a picture of your final product to inspire others to get their string on!

35 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    Hey! This turned out awesome. I’m wondering how you ended up hanging it? Thanks!

  2. Debra

    Okay! This is amazing and I am determined to do it! As a beginner, I have a couple of questions. Do I need to follow some sort of pattern when stringing, or have fun and string until I’m finished? Should I start with a smaller project, or just go for it??

    • Nnena

      Hi Debra! I like to start by stringing the outline first and then string inside until I’m done – no pattern. The good thing about this project is, if you make a “mistake” (which is hard to do), you can always unstring and start over. Or you can tie off at any point and start up again, and tuck the knots under to hide them. Let me know how it turned out for you! Share a picture on Instagram with the hashtag #keptblog!

      • Debra

        Thank you so much!!! I’m so excited to get started! I ordered the white nails from Amazon today, so I’ll get started on it Wednesday when they get here! This is going to be therapy for me!! LOL! I can’t wait to share the finished product with you!!!

      • Debra

        One more question and I promise to leave you alone! I think your nails are an inch apart. Am I right?

        • Nnena

          No problem, Debra! For the tail I set each nail about a 1/2 inch apart and for the waves I allowed almost 1 inch in between each nail. Setting the nails too close together will make it more difficult to string, but too far apart may not get the detail you want. A safe, general distance is 3/4 inch. Good luck!

  3. Serra

    Hi Debra,
    Can you give the link for white nails that you ordered from Amazon, Debra? Thanks in advance.

    • Debra

      I am soooooo very sorry that I have not answered you sooner. I’ve been extremely ill and just now getting back to “real life”. I sent the nails back to Amazon. I have no idea why they called them “white”, but there was nothing white about them. Sorry.

  4. Rachel

    Hi! What a fantastic and fun idea. I wanted to make a mermaid one for my niece, so I was wondering if you’re willing to share the pattern you used as a pdf to be printed. Let me know, thank you! 🙂

  5. Kendra

    I love this! I was just wondering about how much string does it take to do one of these?

  6. Lesley

    For the wood, what thickness did you choose? 1/4 inch? 1/2 inch? I imagine you wouldn’t want it to be too thick as it could get heavy depending on the size.

    • Nnena

      Hi Lesley,

      For the wood, I chose 1/2″ thickness because I wanted to make sure the nails would be able to go in far enough to stay secure, but without going through. However, 1/4″ thickness would work for this as well. If you have a larger piece of wood and plan on hanging it, 1/4″ thickness might work better.

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