Wooden Sign Carving

Wooden sign carving with a router is a lot of fun and when your only limitation is your imagination, that’s when you realize how fun this really is.
The tools:

Materials you will need:

  • Wood – The wood the sign will be made of. Choose something with few to no imperfections (knots, splitting, checking etc).
  • Carbon paper
  • Sandpaper – You will need some 80 grit, 220 grit. I also used 400 grit in between coats of varnish.
  • Paint – I used the paint that I use for the trim on the dog house that I am making this sign for. But you may want to use spray paint if you are not doing the same thing I am.
  • Finish – I used Varathane Spar Varnish Semi-Gloss Clear since it will be outside, but you can use any finish you like, just make sure the finish has enough contrast with the spray paint you use.

Dog house sign in illustratorTo start, I design my sign in Adobe Illustrator. Since you may not have illustrator I won’t go into detail on how to use it, and if you do have it, chances are that you know how to use it. I don’t want you to get caught up on the idea that you need illustrator to make this sign, because you don’t. You can use corel draw, photoshop, heck you can use word if you want. Even if you want to be more hands on, you could even draw this out on a piece of paper. My point is that you don’t even need a computer to accomplish this part of the process.

Once you have your final design you will need to print it in a specific way. You need to print it in a way that all of the imagable area is printed and that means that when it prints out, you will be able to cut the margins away and not lose any of the design. In illustrator the print dialog has an options section containing a drop down labeled Scaling. We want to make sure that is set to Tile Imageable areas.

Tile Imageable Areas

If you are using another program, you will want to see if there is a similar setting in the print dialog that will print the same results, if not, one way you might accomplish the same thing is to print part of the design on one sheet and print the remainder on another sheet with some overlapping so that you can trim away the excess to get it just right.Printing Option

Now with the design printed out we need to turn our sheets into a sheet. First we need to trim away the margins, this applies if you don’t have a borderless printer. With the margins removed, we now need to bind the pieces together using scotch tape. You can use any clear tape here as long as you can see through it and it’s not so ridged that the carbon paper won’t pick up your pencil when you pass over it.

Trim away any excess blank white paper above the design, ensure there is about a have inch above the highest points on your design and that the trim line is cut straight.

Now with your board sitting underneath your design, locate where in the board you want your sign. Try to avoid using a board with knots or at least position the knots away from any of the design cuts or design features. Run a length of scotch tape along the top of the design onto your board.


Place some carbon paper between the design and the board, dark side against the board. Now start tracing, don’t worry about filling in the letters, we only care about the edges. Work your way through the whole design moving the design as little as possible.

Using a straight edge when possible never hurts.

With our 16th inch flute cutting bit in our router and set to a depth of about an 8th inch we can get to work. When plunging into the work aim away from the edge to get a feel for how the router reacts to the wood. Now follow the design, don’t worry about taking out any of the center material, we’ll get to that after we get the outline done.

With the 8th inch bit in the router we can go back and hog out the remaining material left over from the first pass.

Finally, we go over the entire sign with a chisel, carefully sharpening up the corners and cleaning up the lines.

Using my jigsaw I cut the sign shape out, being careful to stay just outside the line.

To finish the shaping process I used my oscillating spindle sander to clean up the edges. This tool is one of my favorite to own, but if you don’t have one, you can use a random orbit sander or sanding block. I am using 80 grit to get the design down to the line, then I throw on the 220 grit sleeve to smooth it all out.

Here I changed to a smaller sleeve to conform to the inside corners of the design.

With the 220 grit sleeve on, I also knocked down the edges since I didn’t want a decorative edge.

Quickly go over the sign with some 80 grit sandpaper. Now clean any dust off the sign and apply your paint. Like I said at the beginning of the video, I am using the paint that I used for the trim on the doghouse that this sign is going on. But I suggest if you are not doing the same as I am to use spray paint here.

After the paint dries, pull out the sandpaper and get to work.

I put on 3 coats of the varnish sanding with 400 grit sandpaper in between each coat. I applied the urethane with some cheesecloth balled up inside a cotton rag a brush would apply the urethane thicker, so it’s up to you to choose your favorite method.

The last step is to attach our hardware and call it a day.

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