Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs!

If you get that musical reference it means you're old like me -- or you're a classic rock fan. Don't worry, though. Naming that song isn't a prerequisite to tackling this project (although it WILL earn you extra credit). 

I love the rustic-looking signs I see at craft fairs and in local shops. Unfortunately, the prices aren't quite as "rustic," so I decided I would just need to figure out how to make my own. (Heads up: You'll find this is actually the inspiration for most of my projects.) This is what I wanted to make: 

I started by checking out other blogs for ideas on how to do the lettering on my sign. Here's what I came up with...

Option #1: If you have a fancy Cricut machine or the equivalent, you can print out vinyl letters in a variety of fonts and sizes. I don't, so that wasn't an option for me. Then again, I'm all about bartering lately, so I considered doing a trade with a scrapbooky friend, but I was too impatient and wanted my letters right now. 

Option #2: Stickers are a quick and easy option, and they're cheaper than a Cricut machine. The fonts and sizes are more limited, though, and larger ones can be pricey. For this project, I found some large block letters at my local Michael's that ran 50 cents per letter. Not horrible, but they actually came in a pack of two for a buck, so if you only need one "Q" or "J" it makes the price even higher. (Look for a future post in which I try to use up all my leftover mismatched letters. It will be like a weird, crafty version of Scrabble.) Using a coupon, I think I spent $15 for the stickers needed to spell out my desired message.

Option #3: After making the version you see above with the aforementioned Michael's stickers, I decided I needed to find an even cheaper option. Enter: my computer printer and some Contact paper. The computer gave me the variety of fonts and sizes I was looking for, while the roll of Contact paper was free because I had it left over. If you don't have extra, you can snag a roll at your local Target for a few bucks. Of course, I need to note that I did use up an entire black ink cartridge printing out my different options, but I still think it's the most cost-effective option. 

Next up, I needed some wood. My imaginary husband is quite the woodworker and has a full workshop with a miter saw and tons of scrap lumber that he freely gives me for my projects (oh, and he's also a bit of metal worker). Sadly, this man has yet to materialize in my waking life, so I still have to buy my lumber or scrounge it. Sigh.

Option #1: I headed to Home Depot and bought some thin slats of wood along with one fatter piece to cut in half and use as the backing to attach my pieces to. I spent around $12, which was well worth it because I was feeling impatient. If you have more time and less cash, go for the next option. 

Option #2: I quickly realized that larger signs would get a bit pricey, so I'd need to find a source for free or cheaper wood. That's how I started cruising back alleys looking for wood pallets. I scored a few quickly and hoisted them into the back of my Rav-4. There is some debate about whether pallet wood is bad for you because it could be treated with chemicals or contaminated. I say, "wash it and risk it."

Now we can FINALLY get to the project! 

First, lay out your two slats for the back and then arrange your boards on top, nailing them to the back slats. Here's how it will look from behind when you've done that: 

Next, turn it over and admire the front. If you want it be a bit more rustic, now is the time to do some distressing. Use hammers, nails, screws, files, chain or other tools to beat up your wood. 

Now it's time to paint the entire front with your lettering color. I opted for a cream-colored matte spray paint. Here it is, drying out in my front yard (sorry, neighbors!):

Finally, it's time to attach your letters! I used a quilting ruler to lay them out and get them spaced evenly, but you don't need to worry too much. Since you're going for a rustic look, it doesn't need to be perfect. In fact, you might even want to purposely make your words a little squiggly. (Yes, that's a real word. I'm a professional writer/editor so you can trust me.) Getting them to stick can be tricky, but just do your best. Remember: Perfection is not the goal.

Once my letters were all adhered, I covered them with another coat of my base color. That way, it helps seal the letters down and if any paint sneaks underneath, it will be the base color. (Genius, right?) Once that dried, I was finally able to paint my main color. I covered the whole mess with some leftover gray sample paint and then headed to the 6 pm service at church. Friends invited me out to dinner after, but I knew I HAD to rush home and peel those sticker letters off so I could finally see the results of all my hard work. 

The paper sticker letters were messy to remove and my fingernails got a workout, but it's doable. I was sad to see that some of the gray paint had managed to sneak under the letters (despite my genius trick), leaving blurry edges and a few smeary patches. I refused to give up, though. I grabbed my Dremel tool and attached a sanding tip. It allowed me to clean up the mess, although I ended up sanding down to the bare wood in some places. I decided I would just pretend I meant to do that, in an attempt to add character. I finished up by spraying something called "Walnut Ink" on the whole piece and then dabbing/wiping. (Note: This is another scrapbooking product I found at Michael's. I'm not a scrapbooker, but I love to misappropriate their tools and supplies.) You could also use a wood stain to add some age to your finished piece. 

For my first piece, I opted for a line from my favorite hymn, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," but you could use quotes, song lyrics, whatever. Anyway, here's the final product, hanging in my guest room: 

If you decide to try one yourself, let me know how it goes!


  1. Wendy, that is so cool! Thanks for the step by step. I've been wanting to make one for both of my boys with lyrics from songs we sing together.

  2. Thanks, Melissa! I'm trying some new ones this weekend, trying out the Contact paper, so I'll let you know how they turn out. This time around I'm using the Johnny Cash lyric "Because you're mine, I walk the line."