Topside Maps Wants to Bring Your Favorite Mountain Ranges to Your Living Room
By Mekenna Malan | August 24, 2021
Woodworker Zac Crosby can transport you to Mount Timpanogos, Mount Everest, and even the surface of Mars.
For his Ogden-based business, Topside Maps, Crosby uses CNC routing technology to carve detailed, to-scale renditions of topographic maps out of blocks of wood. We chatted with Crosby about his process, inspiration, and favorite mountain ranges in the interview below.
“I've always loved maps. My dad instilled and nurtured that love for them,” Crosby says. “He's always had a paper map or chart for any trip we went on.” Crosby remembers the first time he saw a 3D map: a topographic rendition of the White Mountains in a New Hampshire visitor’s center he visited as a kid. “I've always had maps in my house, in my cars,” Crosby says. “All my phones have had map apps that I've spent way too much time looking at.”
Originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Crosby fell in love with Utah the first time he visited Moab in 2011. That September, he says, he packed his car and drove out to live there. “I moved to Utah as a chance to get away from my hometown and explore, but also to experience the incredible scenery Utah has to offer,” Crosby says. “You can start in the mountains of the Wasatch and be in the red rock of Moab within four hours or less. Growing up on Cape Cod, the highest point was 200 feet above sea level and was surrounded by ocean. It was quite different to look out the window and see mountains.”
Inspired by his affinity for topography, Crosby started making maps with a homemade CNC router in April of 2020. A friend ordered the first commission from Topside, and business boomed from there.
So, how does Crosby do it? Once a specific location is decided on, he starts the map-making process by sourcing data from the US Geological Survey—which hosts elevation maps of the United States—as well as local map sources across the country. “The data comes in as a black and white image, black being the lowest point of the map, and white being the highest,” Crosby says. “I combine parts of the maps together to create a seamless elevation map for the piece.” After that, he converts the image into a heightmap, then exports it as a 3D model. Crosby inputs that 3D model into his CNC CAM software, which creates toolpaths for his router to follow while it cuts the pieces.
“I'm most often working with Cherry and Walnut, but I've also done maps in Pine and Padauk,” Crosby says. “In my shop, I rough-cut the wood to shape, secure it to my machine and run the program to cut the map.” He usually completes the map in two steps: the first run clears away the majority of the wood, and the second cuts in the final details. After the machine is finished with both toolpaths, Crosby cuts the map down to the exact size, cleans it up, and oils the piece.
“What I love about the maps I make—from flat Oklahoma to Mount Everest—is the drastic design of each bit of land and how it was carved,” Crosby says. “Seeing the huge glacial cuts over hundreds of miles to the fault-created mountains, I'm constantly reminded how different the earth has looked over its lifetime. Mountains remind me that even ‘constant’ things can change, even if it looks like they won't ever. Through this work, I’m also reminded that some things that look so grand from the ground are rather small on a large scale.”
From his Ogden home nestled in the Wasatch mountains, Crosby finds inspiration for his new business all around him. “I wish I had known about Ogden before I had spent so much time living in Salt Lake trying to find a place to settle down,” Crosby says. “Ogden is a beautiful city with such an amazing history, full of incredible talent in so many venues of art and experiences.” His favorite mountain range, though, will forever be the first one he lived next to when he first moved to Utah. “I love the Manti La Sal Range,” Crosby says. “It's always been somewhat of a north star to me.”