By special request; how I make my signs tutorial

A very nice gal emailed me last week, stating that she wanted to make signs as gifts for Christmas this year, and wanted to know HOW I make mine.  I’m happy to share that information.  Although, this will have to be a picture less tutorial, because I wasn’t really planning on doing it at this time, and I don’t have time to search through the bazillion old pictures I have on my hard drive to find ones of the sign making steps.  It will be easier for you to scroll back through the different ‘sign’ blog postings using the link on the side bar if you need to see pictures.

WOOD,  just about any kind of wood will do.  We use reclaimed birch plywood.

PAINT,  I use water based acrylics in paint, stain and varnish.  Matte varnish has the LEAST amount of sheen, and works best for signs.

FOAM ALPHABET STAMPS,  these come in all kinds of sizes and font styles.  Depending on what kinds of signs you are going to make, different styles will work best.  For a beginning sign maker, I’d recommend starting by making one and two-word signs; and therefore, buying bigger stamps, like 2″.  I buy my stamps locally at Joann’s.  Sign up for their email list to get discount coupons, valid in-store AND for online shopping.

BASE COAT YOUR SIGN BOARDS.  Be sure your wood is sanded smoothly first.  If you don’t have an electric sander, use ‘coarse sanding sponges’ . Wipe off all sawdust and base coat your boards.  I usually use black.  Paint the top side and edges.  Let dry.

PAINT YOUR TOP COAT: After your basecoat is dry, paint on your top coat, any color.  Paint ONLY the top surface this time; leaving the edges black.  Let dry, then sand; a little or a lot, depending on how distressed you want your signs to be.

LETTERING: Black paint is best, unless your sign bases are a very dark color.  Cut up a regular household sponge into 1″x 2″ pieces.  This is what you will use to apply the paint to your stamp.  BARELY moisten the very end of one end of your sponge; just enough to make it ‘pliable’, but not wet.  Squeeze out as much water as you can using a towel.  Squeeze a blob of your black paint onto ‘anything you want to use for a palette’ (a piece of cardboard works fine!) 

Dip the softened end of your sponge into your paint.  Then ‘tamp it down’ on a clean part of your cardboard, so it’s worked down into the sponge.  Then tamp the painted end of the sponge along the printing surface of your letter stamp.  I highly recommend making a ‘template’ of your sign first.  Use a piece of newspaper and stamp out your letters.  Then use that template to properly space your letters on your board.

(scroll down to the second half of THIS POST to see my sponge painting tutorial)

DISTRESSING: Don’t worry too much about perfection.  You’re going to further distress your sign after your lettering dries, and distressing covers a multitude of painting boo-boos!  Sand the edges a bit this time also.  Sand as much or as little as you want.  Just be sure your sigh is still ‘readable’.  Apply a coat of stain at this point IF YOU WANT.  I have my own secret recipe for stain that I do not share, ever.  (It’s the ONE THING that I don’t share!)  You can get a similar look by using Ralph Lauren Tobacco stain.  Don’t be afraid to try other stains if you have any on hand!  You just might like something else better!

VARNISH: Lastly apply a light coat of MATTE varnish.  If the sign is for outdoor use, be sure you get waterproof varnish.  For indoor use, you can skip the varnish if you want to.  It just ‘sharpens’ the colors a bit and adds a nice finishing touch.

I use ‘nail-less sawtooth hangers’ on the backs of my signs.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I myself paint woodcrafts and signs. This is so helpful to try something in a different way. Thanks for the tutorial.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I also make primitive country signs and this tutorial provides a new method for me to try. I currently use stencils which I find to be tedious and a huge pain!!! I didn’t know using stamps could look so great. Thanks again, I adore your blog!

  3. […] (picture borrowed from Trash To Treasure) […]

  4. Thank you! I just asked you a question on a different post about whether you use stencils on your signs. But this blog post answers ALL of my questions!


    • Stencils can be SO EXPENSIVE! (Don’t really understand why??) But unless you are mass producing signs to sell, stencils are just NOT cost effective to use. But if you ever DO splurge and buy some sign stencils, PLEASE do me a favor and ‘close up your stencil gaps’! I have such a pet peeve about that! The gaps are necessary in making the stencils, to hold them together; I understand that. But it’s also VERY EASY to take a paint brush and make a couple of quick swoops over them to cover them up.

  5. Thank you for sharing!

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