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How to Make a DIY Rustic Wooden Sign
All of our rustic wood pallet signs are made in our shop but we wanted to share how we build our signs in case you wanted to build them yourself. Anyone with the right tools, materials, and patience can do what we do in our shop every day to make your very own DIY rustic wood pallet sign. This post is a step by step guide on how to build your own rustic wood sign.
Step 1: Source your material
Luckily wood is one of the easiest materials to find. Here is a few options for sourcing the wood to use for your sign:
Old Pallets – used pallets are a great source for wood. The only disadvantage is that they are large and awkward and whoever is giving them away will most likely not be offering to transport them to you. However, the advantages far outweigh the bad:
– rustic pallets are typically either free or very inexpensive
– they are made to hold heavy weight so they are made of a hard wood – typically pine at a minimum but some of the heavy duty ones are even made of oak or maple
– the old holes made from the pallet nails help to add to the rustic look of your DIY wooden sign
– Please note that some pallets are pressure treated for exterior use. You should try and use interior (non-treated) pallets if possible. Please see below for additional information.
Old fences, decks, or barns – old fences, decks, or barns are also a great choice for a rustic wood sign. When they become available they are usually inexpensive or free. Similar to old pallets you will probably have to make arrangements to pick up or even disassemble the wood structure. Please take caution – most wood that are used for decks or fences have been pressure treated to make them weather resistant. We do not recommend sanding or modifying pressure treated lumber unless you have the proper face and eye protection as well as the proper ventilation when working with the material. If in doubt then please plan on working on the material outside to ensure your safety. In addition, we recommend using weather treated lumber for exterior signs only to ensure safety within your home.
Lumberyard or Hardware Store – Lastly you can always purchase lumber at a lumber yard or a hardware store like Home Depot for your DIY rustic wooden sign. Although the wood will not provide as much “character” as an alternately source wood it will be consistent and stud grade wood or choice wood is actually pretty inexpensive. Considering how much time you would spend sourcing and preparing other types of wood this may be the best option for most people without considering the “re-use” value of the wood. Luckily wood like pine is renewable for the most part as long as the lumber is FSC certified. An great source at Home Depot is the “scrap” wood section where you can purchase all different types of wood for a discount. If you go this route please keep an eye out for warped wood as a lot of this wood is placed in the discount section because it did not meet the quality standards for full price lumber.
Step 2: Choose your Size and Shape
Size of your DIY rustic pallet sign is completely up to you and probably easier if you already know what words or what symbols or logos will be put on the sign. Here are just a few tips to keep in mind when choosing a size for your sign:
– square shapes are the most common – one tip to keep in mind is to make sure that you keep the width of the wood in mind when choosing a size – for example, a 1″x4″ stud grade piece of wood is actually 3.5″ wide, so to make a square sized rustic wood sign you would have to choose a multiple of 3.5″ (3.5″, 7″, 10.5″, 14″, etc… ).
– keep in mind how and where you are planning on hanging the sign – depending on what wood you choose the sign will become pretty heavy and will need some heavy hanging signs if the rustic wood sign is too big.
– consider how you are “connecting” all of the pieces together. The most straight forward method for connecting wood sign planks is to run members behind the sign perpendicular to the “planks” to tie everything together. Horizontal planks will look a lot different than vertical planks so make sure you understand what you like before you start cutting. In addition, the “width” of the planks will determine the look of the overall wood sign as well so that will have to be considered as well.
There are a couple of standard wood pallet sign shapes:
1. standard “picket fence” style with horizontal or vertical slats in the front and two perpendicular slats in the back to hold everything together. This method is the most straight forward way to connect everything and allows you to be able to hang the sign easily by attaching a hang between the two wood slats at the back of the rustic wood sign.
2. standard “box frame” sign with a rear border around the perimeter of the sign. This gives the sign more depth without using full depth members throughout the sign (and decreasing the overall weight of the sign). This has been a very popular sign lately and offers a great alternate to our standard signs.
3. The sky is the limit – the construction of a wood sign is really only limited by your imagination so feel free to get creative! We have seen a lot of custom perimeter shapes – typically made with a jig saw or band saw, or even other “standard” shapes such as ovals or circles are a great way to get someone’s attention!
Step 3 – Cut and Sand
Cut Correctly and Straight – Remember the old adage “measure twice cut once” for your rustic wood sign! We find that it’s easier to use a miter saw (or a miter box with a hand saw) for any end cuts and a table saw will work wonders over a standard circular saw for any full length rip cuts and is infinitely safer so please keep that in mind or at least Google how to make a straight cut as there are a number of gadgets/tricks out there to ensure a clean, straight cut!
Sand – although you are making a DIY wood sign please remember to sand it down. Whether you are re-using/re-purposing old wood for your sign or you are using new wood for the sign you are going to want the finish to look as consistent as possible and the best way to do that is to sand the entire sign evenly. We recommend starting with a coarse grit (i.e. 50), especially if the existing wood still has any stain or paint on it. Then you can work your way up to 100 and finish with a 200 grit sand paper. This evens out your separate planks and will help you in the next step to finish your homemade wood sign.
Step 4 – Finish
When creating your own wood sign you have a few options for finishing:
1. Paint – this is the most common option. Some questions that you need to ask yourself when painting the sign as it will effect the paint that you will need to choose:
– interior or exterior? Interior paints are made to be low VOC (volatile organic compounds) typically, so they are a good choice when painting a sign that will be going inside. However, not a great choice if the sign will be going outside as the interior paints are not made to hold up well against the UV rays of the sun.
– solid or “weathered”? a popular finish choice for homemade DIY rustic signs is a “weathered” look – this can be achieved, typically, by watering down the paint of your choice. It is important that you choose a water based paint that has the ability to be watered down. Please check the label on the paint to confirm if it can be or not or ask the salesperson from where you are purchasing the paint.
– what color do you want your font to be? make sure the background goes well with font
– what sheen do you want? Some manufacturers call out different names but typically you can get a flat, eggshell, semi-gloss, or full glossy, depending on your preference.
2. Stain – we offer stains as the standard option for all of our signs. We prefer it because it allows the wood grain to show through, staining (when done with a cost of polyurethane on top) will last for years, and the stains that are available nowadays have a lot of colors to offer.
3. Nothing/clear coat – some people prefer wood to stay in it’s natural form or clear coat the wood and we can’t blame anyone for that. There is a reason for using wood in the first place and it’s always wonderful to let the beauty of the wood through in your rustic sign.
Step 5 – Lettering/Artwork
1. Painted – similar to the background color, painted signs offer an unlimited number of options. The biggest items you will have to consider for painting is whether the letters go well with the background (i.e. light against dark, complementary, etc..), if you want the “weathered” look or now, the sheen of the lettering, and what method you will use to paint the letters – whether it is with a spray, roller, paintbrush, sponge, etc…
2. Vinyl lettering – vinyl lettering is a great option if you are doing standard letter and can find the number or letters available at a store or if you have your own vinyl cutter or plotter such as a cricut, Vinyl Express, or similar.
3. Routed – If you have the correct tools and expertise you can go the “routed” option.
4. Wood burned letters – again, if you have the proper tools and the expertise you can go the “wood burned” option. This will truly give your wood sign a rustic look to it!
Step 6 – Protection
If your sign is an exterior sign or will be subject to abuse or constant handling we recommend using a protective coat on it. Typically we use a clear coat of polyurethane on all of our signs, after the letters are installed, to help ensure that it will last for years. Again, you have the ability to choose a sheen with polyurethane from a “satin” all the way up to a glossy.
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