Design & DIY

How to create a custom wooden sign

Routed wooden sign

A routed wooden sign will help your lost visitors navigate to your little corner of paradise. 

The wood

Wooden signs are a lakeside tradition, and a router is the easiest way to create them. Knot-free cedar, 3/4″ to 1 1/2″ thick, makes the best, longest-lasting cottage signs. White pine is a good choice too. At the lumberyard, look for a quartersawn piece (with growth rings perpendicular to the board face); it will be stable and warp resistant. Avoid exterior plywood, which doesn’t age gracefully.

The router

While you can use almost any plunge router, a medium-sized one, with handles, rated at 2 1/4 hp and drawing 10 to 12 amps, delivers the ideal combination of power and weight for sign making. Rout outdoors to sidestep a lot of cleaning up.

The bit

A 3/8″ or 1/2″ wide, semicircular core box bit is perfect for cottage signs that need to be legible from a distance. Use V-shaped bits to make finer, more detailed lettering. Insert bits almost all the way into the router collet, so they’re tightly gripped and fully supported when they’re cutting.

The words

It takes practice to draw and rout letters freehand, but it gets you a relaxed, cottage-style sign. You can clean up any serious wobbles with a knife or a chisel. For a more formal look, lettering templates (such as Rockler’s Interlock State Park Kit, right) guide the router’s path, removing all the risk and, some would argue, most of the artistry. Whether you’re freehanding or using a template, wear eye, ear, and respiratory protection. Rout the letters first, before you cut the sign to size; a larger piece of wood gives you space to manoeuvre the router without bumping into clamps.

Final touches

Using a small brush, daub paint in the routed letter recesses to highlight your message. You can be a bit sloppy—just let the paint dry, then erase your errors by sanding the board face with a random orbit sander. A transparent finish is optional, but it can delay cracking and weathering. Just be sure to use exterior-grade finish. If you try interior urethane, your sign—or any outdoor project—will peel faster than a tourist on a Caribbean beach.

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