Design & DIY

7 steps for upgrading your cottage sign

Be our guest painted sign Photo by Nelli Syrotynska/Shutterstock

No disrespect to the classic cottage sign—the kind with the family name routered into a piece of pine and varnished to within an inch of its life—but maybe it’s time for an upgrade? With just a few simple materials and some basic hand-lettering techniques, cottagers of any age or skill level can paint a new sign for the cottage that the family will be proud to hang.

What you’ll need

• Scrap wood (approx. 12″ x 6″ x 1/2″)
• 120-grit sandpaper
• Latex paint or craft paint
• Exterior sealant
• Disposable cups or containers
• Paint brushes (a basic set that includes a 1/4″ flat brush and a fine brush)
• Masking or painter’s tape (1/2″)
• Ruler
• Pencil
• 45° triangle (optional)

Plan your design

Using pencil and paper, lay out your design, with these questions in mind: What is the text? Does the sign need an arrow (behind or alongside your text)? What colours (two or three is plenty) will you use? What will be the sign’s final location, and how will you mount it?

Prep your wood and apply undercoat

Sand rough corners and surfaces, then apply your background colour (one that contrasts with the letters) to all sides, including the back and the edges. Use two coats. Allow the paint to dry according to instructions.

Tape, measure, and sketch your design

Use tape to create even margins along all sides (1⁄4″ to 1⁄2″ wide). With a pencil, space your letters and arrow using a ruler (see magic formula, left). Add a drop shadow by drawing 45° lines downwards and off to the side from your letters.

Prepare your paint

Add water to create a mustard-like consistency: thick, but runny. If you’re mixing colours, make extra so that you don’t run out mid-project.

Paint your design

First, paint the background elements (arrow and drop shadows). Then paint your text, keeping all edges clean and sharp. Work slowly (especially in the corners of letters), outlining first, then filling in your shapes. Add a second coat for each layer if you see streaking or if your base coat shows through. Allow for drying time between coats.

Seal the deal

Remove your tape, and do any touch-ups. Once fully dry, apply two coats of sealant over the entire sign. Exterior sealant needs a long drying time—apply one coat before bed and one in the morning.

Mount your sign

After the sealant has cured, your sign is ready to hang. Use 1⁄4″ Z-clips ($4 from Lee Valley) to attach it flush to a wall, or suspend it from an overhang with eye hooks.

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