How To Make a Wood Sign for Your Home or Business

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We do a lot of wood signs for people's homes, for their businesses, and for different events.  Wood signs have a unique look and feel that no other process can compare with.  Often, they can be quite expensive.  They are labor intensive and take a little bit of skill to make.  Large signs can be outside the budget of a business owner or someone that wants to add a little decor to their home.  That's really not a problem though, you can make them yourself with a little time, patience, and the right tools.

To begin with, you need a pattern for your sign.  I use Corel Draw to make my patterns, but you can use almost any desktop publishing application to make them.  Simply create the sign look you want, with the font you want and the outline that sets it all off.  If it's too big for your printer, don't worry a bit, you can have a print shop print it off for you on a large architectural printer.  I use Staples for this, they are fast and affordable in my area, and can do prints 36" wide and almost unlimited length.

Once you have your pattern created and printed, you will need your wood.  If your sign is very large, you will have to either use plywood or glue together multiple boards to get your desired size.  In this instance, I glued up ash using bar clamps, biscuits, and Titebond 3 glue, my favorite wood glue.  After gluing up the boards, plane and sand them smooth.  Now you are ready to apply your pattern.

I use 3m spray adhesive for my patterns.  I spray a medium coat on the back of the paper and let it dry for a few minutes, until it's tacky but not wet.  This makes it easier to get off later.  Carefully lay your pattern on your wood and work out the wrinkles as you go.  You don't want any paper wrinkles to snag when you are working later.

Your next step is going to be routing out the letters.  I like to route them about an eighth of an inch deep, but you don't have to go that far in.  I do it to give me sanding room later.  I start with a large bit, one that is the size of the largest parts of the letters, or as close as I can get, then I graduate downward until I use a 1/16" bit to get the details at the end.  After routing, I use a jigsaw with a good, smooth cut blade to cut out the sign shape.

After that is complete, wipe mineral spirits over the paper to loosen the glue and peel the paper off.  Finish cleaning up the glue residue with mineral spirits and a lint free rag.  Let the mineral spirits dry completely, then spray the letters with your color of choice.  I use sign ink for my letters, but spray paint works fine.  Keep your distance from the sign while spraying and do several fine coats.  You don't want the paint to get too wet and soak into the grain around the letters.  After you are satisfied with coloring your letters, break out your sander and sand off the excess paint.  Make sure the paint is thoroughly dry before sanding.  I use 80 grit to remove the paint.  I also route the edges of the sign at this point, so I can get all the sanding completed at once.  I sand through the grits up to 220 grit.

If you want to add some color, you can use a rag dampened with stain to wipe down the sign.  After the stain sets on the wood for about fifteen minutes, wipe up the excess with a clean rag.  Give the stain 24 hours to dry and finish the sign with your favorite clear finish.  I generally use polyurethane.

And that is how you make a sign with some wood and a router.  It's not terribly expensive, but you will put some labor into the project.  If you're not comfortable with the tools, or don't have the time, we will be happy to make one for you.  If you need some advice or have some questions, feel free to send us an email.  We'll be happy to help you out.

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  • Jerry Moriearty
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