A friend asked me to try to save a cedar sign he made back in 2001, for Fugate Woods north of Fairbury. The tenons on the 2 lower signs had rotted out, and those signs were about ready to fall down. The main sign had faded so much, you could no longer read the sign.
There is no electricity available where the old sign was. Using my small sledge hammer, I separated the LH post from the sign, and it promptly broke off at the ground. I used the small sledge to separate the 1 big sign and 2 small signs from the RH post. The RH post was loose in the ground, but I could not pull it or snap it off...........so hooked up my Ford F150 and a small chain........and snapped it off at the ground. I took everything to my basement work shop.
From my own experience, plus googling sign design, gives these general rules:
1. You need a letter height of 1.5 inches minimum to be visible from 10 feet away.
2. A dark background should have light colored letters, and vice-versa light background should have dark letters for best readability.
3. Use the minimum number of words on the sign because people are not going to read many lines of text, most of the time.
Almost all the cedar wood was ok, but it had faded too dark. I decided to run a experiment where I painted the many letters in white, then used a belt sander to return the lighter cedar color, and leave the lettering white. I did a small test patch, and it seemed to work ok. I put about 3 coats of white paint on the lettering, then I will belt sand it tomorrow.
One 1 of them, the cedar had rotted past the tenon and into the sign, so it was not salvageable.
In 2013, I bought a Sears router lettering kit to make a wine box for my daughter's wedding. I found it and blew off the dust. It has 1.5 or 2.5 inch tall letters. The letters on the old sign were 1.5 inches tall, so the small set should work.
There is a black plastic spindle to help you center the clear router base before you screw it onto the router. On the wine box project, I learned that on the first pass, you only want the bit to cut into the end of the radius on the bit, or you get excessive splintering.
I did a test run on the back of one of the old small signs. It went ok, but I forgot about what to do about the letter O, whether or not to route out the center. I did it both ways, and it looks like if I am careful, I can leave the center portion uncut and it looks better.
I had 2 of the 2x4 by 8 foot cedar boards left over from my sister's Wishing Well project, so I glued up 2 of them..........after the glue dries, I will plane them down from 1.5 to 1.25 inches thick like the old sign. I used Titebond 3 glue since this is an exterior project.
I was almost done lettering, when I felt the router slip. I forgot to tighten the Phillips screw that keeps pressure on the plastic letters..........DARN. I decided to fix it by cutting out a rectangle with the mortising tool, then glue in a new piece and sand it flush. Remember this the next time I am routing letters!!!!!!!!!
Each 4x4 by 8 foot cedar post was $40 each, or $80 for both !!!!! I did not realize that the price of lumber had doubled since January 2020 to Sep 2020 !!!!!!!!!!!!
I decided to drill out the mortises using a 1 inch Forstner bit on the drill press.........then clean out the corners using my mortising machine with a 1/4" chisel. It worked better to do the corners first, then do the drilling.
I tried to chisel the corners left from the round drill bit, but cedar is so splintery, that it did not work well at all, so I went to the mortising tool, which worked pretty good.
On the big sign, I used my woodburning pen to make the script wider and deeper so it would hold some paint.
The 5 or so lines of small lettering was almost too light to hold any paint. I was not going to wood burn all those letters, so I quit with some white. Hopefully as the cedar turns brown/black, that will be enough white to make them show up.
So, I think sign lettering should be deep enough so it holds the paint, not super light script like was done with a CNC router on this sign.
I tried some Old City Hall yellowish paint on 2 smaller signs, but decided to stay with white lettering on all signs.
On the big letters, man, did it take many coats for the paint to look right, without cracks in the bottom of the voids. I guess the cedar really sucks up the paint is why I got the cracks at the bottom. I did at least 4 coats of white on the big letters to get them to look good.
I thought it would be too difficult to assemble the sign in my garage workshop, then take it up 16 steps and through the house to the garage..........so I took all the components to the garage for final assembly.
When I tried to clamp the 2 main vertical posts to move in on the signs, the 4x4's wanted to twist. I then put 1 clamp on top and 1 on bottom of 4x4, and this worked fine. I used 3 inch deck screws to secure the 3 signs to the 2 posts...........this way I can remove the signs at a future date if they need re-sanded or repainted.
It was a nice day, so I hand dug the 2 post holes.............so on Tuesday I could bring out the sign and form it, then pour in concrete.
I put the 2 old posts on top of the holes temporarily, so nobody would fall into the holes.
When I was routing the "O" in No Hunting, the router template letters shifted on me because I forgot to tighten the Philips screw that secured them. I used the mortising machine to clean out a rectangle, cut a new block of cedar of the same shade, pasted it in, then sanded it flush. This repair method seems to have worked great. As long as it holds up in the weather for the next 20 years, it should be fine.
This project took more work than I thought..........primarily because I had to burn the letters deeper to accept white paint..........and it took at least 4 coats of white paint on the letters because the cedar sucked up so much paint.
For outdoors signs, some general design guidelines, and my thoughts.....
1. To be readable at 10 feet, minimum letter height should be 1.5 inches.
2. For a material, either cedar or pressure-treated wood.
-If cedar, it will turn dark brown and then almost black over the years with no surface treatment.
-Cedar letters will change color with the main sign, so the letters will not be readable because they are the same color as
-pressure-treated can be stained or painted.
3. The letters and background should be contrasting for best readability (light colored letters on dark background, or vice-versa)
4. Routing the letters, painting them, then belt sanding the cedar works fine as long as the letters are deep enough to hold paint.
-Lightly etched letters are not deep enough to hold paint