Wooden House Signs – Carve Your Own Oak Sign!

Posted by admin | Tips | Thursday 15 March 2007 2:20 am
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The aim of this article is to pass on some professional tips and suggestions on making wooden house signs so that, with the aid of visual references such as sign-makers websites (including our own) you will be able to undertake the very satisfying project of carving one in the traditional manner. Even if you don’t need one yourself wooden house signs make a fantastic present for a relation or friend and, though it may be a challenge, you will have something really special to show for the effort.

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Tools required

* Mallet, chisel and gouges. For the lettering you will need a large V tool and three or four gouges between a quarter and half an inch wide with slightly differing gentle (almost flat) curves. For any carved motif you will in addition need one or two with tighter curves.

* Cramps or holding device of some kind. (for example you can screw a piece of wood to the back of your work and put that in the vice)

* Plane / sander / sandpaper for smoothing the surface and making a chamfer on the edge.

* Bandsaw / jigsaw / coping saw for cutting out curves and regular saw for straight lines.

Choosing the piece of timber

I almost always use oak as it is so durable, attractive and good to carve though anything durable and close-grained is possible, but avoid knots and wavy grain. Depending on your method of cramping the wood, you may need a piece considerably larger than the sign.

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Shape of sign and style of lettering

My favourite shapes are oval, rectangular, or a rectangle with a curved top. A hump- backed-bridge shaped top provides a nice visually framed area for a motif or number while the house name goes across the bottom. Ovals often have a motif in the middle but rectangles are often best without. Take a look at some existing signs if you need inspiration. Carving even the simplest letters is not easy so I suggest that you choose a straightforward font such as Roman capitals, or capitals and lower-case for a less formal look.

Getting ready for carving

Use a pencil for the sign layout and take great care – this bit of the job is important. You will find a centre-line useful and measure everything twice! It is usually best to cut the shape of the sign after carving it, using the extra wood to cramp or screw the workpiece firmly and it can also be an area to practice carving before you start the real thing.

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Carving the letters

1 After drawing out all the lettering use the V tool to take out a proportion of the wood staying well within the outline of each letter.

2 “Set down” vertically along the bottom of this V cut using the chisel on straight lines and suitable gouges on the curves.

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3 Cut the sides of the letters with a sliding movement to finish off (this is the difficult bit!) The direction of cut is very important here or it is like stroking a cat’s fur the wrong way – the point of the tool must not go into the grain but slide on the back of it.

Carving the motif (if any)

Apart from any artistic considerations the technique is still the same; don’t dig into the grain but slide on the back of it. Some people work from a photo or existing sign and you are, of course, welcome to copy any of our motifs. For exterior signs bold is best and round shapes are easiest – don’t try carving holly for example as the points of the leaves are very difficult.

Cutting out and smoothing-up the sign

When you are content with your carving do any smoothing to the surface while it is held firmly and then cut the outside shape of the sign. I suggest you put a chamfer on the edge with a hand-plane chisel or sandpaper.

Painting your sign and fixing it

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Dark colours or white are usually most effective if you want to paint the carved letters, and metalwork or enamel paints are what I recommend. If colouring the motif I dilute the paint to let the grain show through. If left untreated and exposed to the weather oak will turn an attractive silver grey (any paint will be unaffected) but if you want to put a finish on your sign then garden furniture oil with UV filters is a good product. If you use screws or other metal fixings make sure they are brass as steel reacts with the tannic acid causing staining.

Good luck! All the effort will be worth it in the end because your house sign, whether professional looking or not, will certainly have great charm.

Rob Eyley has been a professional woodcarver and lettercutter for over twenty years and, together with his partner Andrew George, makes house signs and fire surrounds in Bath UK. On their website: Wooden Signs where there is more information many useful illustrations. You are welcome to copy or publish this article for free if you include this link. Sindicateable.

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