Woodshop Project: Low Cost Signs, Letters and Numbers


Do you want to make a lettered sign stand out?  Cut out the letters and numbers from wood and apply them to a surface.  With the thousands of fonts available on the internet and in books, it is quite easy to make custom letters. If size is an issue, there are several ways to get around that problem.

First, of course is to have your letter pattern enlarged while photocopying.  If you happen to have a pantograph, it’s just a matter of setting the size and tracing to achieve the size you need.  You can enlarge or reduce with the same tool.

If these two methods do not work for you, freehand may be the answer, especially if length and width are not in proportion. 

For instance, you may need letters that are much taller and narrower than usual or the other way around, short and squat.  If you make your template out of one inch graph paper or make your own graph, it is reasonably easy to do just whatever size and  imagination you come up with.

Once you have the pattern established, picking the material comes next.  It could be pressure treated one by, or two by lumber, pressure treated plywood, or plastics as well as other man made materials.  Once traced onto your material, it’s time to cut out the pattern.

When it comes to cutting methods, you have four choices depending on what you have in your workshop.  Chose the jigsaw, scrollsaw, bandsaw or router, whichever is the easiest to work with given the material you are using and of course, the thickness.  I find the bandsaw and the scrollsaw do the best job of initial cutout and sanding to smooth all the edges.  You can leave the edges sharp or round them over with a router, depending on the effect you want and the style of letter you choose.

A couple of points to consider when working with pressure treated wood and these are major safety concerns.  The solution used to do the treatment is very hard on skin, lungs and most of the rest of your breathing parts.  You must wear a good fitting mask and goggles at all times and when done, wash up very thoroughly.  Plastics and other such materials can have the same effect, so it would be a good idea to check the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of the product you are using, before beginning.

Now on to finishing.  Of course if your sign will be outdoors, you must finish and seal it with primer, paint or stain designed for outdoor use.  If indoors, sealing is not as crucial, as long as you sand and do a smooth job on the painting.

Neon, LED or LCD signs are very expensive, take a long time to produce and may be just a little to elaborate for what your needs are.  In that case, make you own and save a bundle.

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