All of our rustic wood pallet signs are made in our shop, but we want to share how we build our signs in case you want to make your own. Anyone with the right tools, materials, and patience can do what we do in our shop every day to make their own DIY rustic wood pallet sign. This post is a step by step guide on how to build your own rustic wooden sign.
Step 1 – Get your material
Luckily wood is one of the easiest materials to find. Here are some options for getting the wood to use for your sign:
Old Pallets – Used pallets are a great source of wood. The only drawback is that they are big and uncomfortable and whoever is giving them away probably won’t offer to take them away. However, the pros far outweigh the bad:
– rustic palettes are usually free or very cheap
– they are made to withstand heavy weight, so they are made of hardwood – usually pine at a minimum, but some of the stronger ones are even made of oak or maple
– the old holes made by the pallet nails help add a rustic look to your handmade wooden sign
– Please note that some decks are pressure treated for exterior use. If possible, you should try to use interior (untreated) decking. See below for additional information.
Old Fences, Decks, or Barns: Old fences, decks, or barns are also a great option for a rustic wood sign. When they are available, they are usually cheap or free. As with old pallets, you’ll probably have to make arrangements to pick up or even disassemble the wooden frame. Be careful: most woods used for decks or fences have been pressure-treated to make them weather resistant. We do not recommend sanding or modifying pressure-treated wood unless you have proper eye and face protection as well as adequate ventilation when working with the material. If in doubt, plan to work on the material outdoors to ensure your safety. Additionally, we recommend using weather-treated lumber for exterior signs only to ensure safety inside your home.
Warehouse or hardware store: Lastly, you can always buy lumber from a lumberyard or hardware store like Home Depot for your DIY rustic wood sign. Although the wood won’t provide as much “character” as an alternative sourced wood, it will be consistent and the pole grade wood or wood of choice is actually quite inexpensive. Considering how much time you would spend searching for and preparing other types of wood, this may be the best option for most people regardless of the “reuse” value of the wood. Fortunately, wood like pine is mostly renewable, as long as the wood is FSC certified. A great source at Home Depot is the “waste” lumber section where you can buy all the different types of lumber for a discount. If you go this route, be on the lookout for warped lumber, as much of this lumber is placed in the discount section because it doesn’t meet quality standards for full-priced lumber.
Step 2 – Choose your size and shape
The size of your DIY rustic pallet sign is entirely up to you and is probably easier if you already know what words or symbols or logos will be put on the sign. Here are some tips to keep in mind when choosing a size for your sign:
– square shapes are the most common – a tip to keep in mind is to make sure you take into account the width of the lumber when choosing a size – for example a 1″x4″ piece of post grade lumber is actually 3.5″ wide, so to make a square sized rustic wood sign you would need to choose a multiple of 3.5″ (3.5″, 7″, 10.5″, 14″, etc…).
– consider how and where you plan to hang the sign – depending on the wood you choose, the sign will become quite heavy and you will need some heavy hanging signs if the rustic wood sign is too large.
– consider how you are “connecting” all the pieces. The most direct method of connecting wood sign planks is to place members behind the sign perpendicular to the “planks” to join everything together. Horizontal planks will look a lot different than vertical planks, so make sure you understand what you like before you start cutting. Also, the “width” of the planks will also determine the overall look of the wood sign, so that will need to be taken into account as well.
There are a couple of standard shapes of wooden pallet signs:
1. Standard “picket fence” style with horizontal or vertical slats in front and two perpendicular slats in back to hold everything together. This method is the easiest way to connect everything and allows you to easily hang the sign by placing a hanger between the two wooden slats on the back of the rustic wood sign.
2. Standard “box frame” sign with a trailing edge around the perimeter of the sign. This gives the sign more depth without using full depth members throughout the sign (and decreasing the overall weight of the sign). This has been a very popular sign lately and offers a great alternative to our standard signs.
3. The sky is the limit: Building a wooden sign is only limited by your imagination, so feel free to get creative! We’ve seen lots of custom perimeter shapes, usually made with a jigsaw or band saw, or even other “standard” shapes like ovals or circles, they’re a great way to get someone’s attention!
Step 3 – Cut and Sand
Cut Right and Straight – Remember the old adage “measure twice, cut once” for your rustic wood sign! We find it’s easier to use a miter saw (or a miter box with a handsaw) for any end cuts and a table saw will do wonders over a standard circular saw for any full length rip cuts and it’s infinitely safer so keep that one in mind or at least Google how to make a straight cut as there are a number of gadgets/tricks to ensure a clean straight cut!
Sand – Even though you are making a DIY wood sign, remember to sand it down. Whether you’re reusing/reusing old wood for your sign or using new wood for the sign, you’ll want the finish to look as consistent as possible and the best way to do this is to sand the entire sign. you too. We recommend starting with a coarse grit (ie 50), especially if the existing wood still has stains or paint on it. You can then work your way up to 100 and finish with some 200 grit sandpaper. This levels out your separate planks and will help you in the next step of finishing your homemade wood sign.
Step 4 – Finish
When creating your own wood sign, you have a few options for finishing:
1. Paint: This is the most common option. Some questions to ask yourself when painting your sign as it will affect the paint you should choose:
– inside or outside? Interior paints are made to be low VOC (volatile organic compounds), so they are a good choice when painting a sign that will be placed indoors. However, it is not a good option if the sign will be placed outside, as interior paints are not made to resist the sun’s ultraviolet rays well.
– solid or “worn”? A popular finish option for homemade DIY rustic signs is a “worn” look; this can usually be achieved by thinning the paint of your choice. It is important that you choose a water-based paint that has the ability to be diluted. Check the label on the paint to confirm if it can be or not, or ask the seller where you are buying the paint.
– What color do you want your font to be? make sure the background matches the font
– What shine do you want? Some manufacturers mention different names, but you can usually get a matte, eggshell, semi-gloss, or full gloss, depending on your preference.
2. Stains – We offer stains as a standard option for all of our banners. We prefer it because it allows the wood grain to show through, staining (when done with a polyurethane coating on top) will last for years, and the stains that are available today have many colors to offer.
3. Nothing/Clear Coat: Some people prefer the wood to remain in its natural form or coat the wood with a clear coat and we can’t blame anyone for that. There’s a reason to use wood in the first place and it’s always wonderful to let the beauty of wood come through in your rustic sign.
Step 5 – Letters/Illustrations
1. Painted – Similar to the background color, painted signs offer an unlimited number of options. The most important elements you will need to consider for painting are whether the letters blend well with the background (i.e. light vs. dark, complementary, etc.), whether you want the “worn” or now look, the brightness of the letters, and what method will you use to paint the letters, either with spray, roller, brush, sponge, etc…
2. Vinyl Letters – Vinyl letters are a great option if you are making a standard letter and can find the number or letters available at a store or if you have your own vinyl cutter or plotter like Cricut, Vinyl Express or similar.
3. Routed – If you have the right tools and experience, you can go with the “routed” option.
4. Wood Burned Letters: Again, if you have the right tools and experience, you can go for the “wood burned” option. This will really give your wood sign a rustic look!
Step 6 – Protection
If your sign is an outdoor sign or will be subject to constant abuse or handling, we recommend that you use a protective layer over it. We typically use a polyurethane clear coat on all of our signs, after the letters are installed, to help ensure they last for years. Again, you have the choice of a polyurethane gloss from “satin” to gloss.