Make a Great Vintage -Style Wooden Sign

I am going to teach you how to make an awesome painted wooden sign.  Come on, it’s so easy!  Even my kids can do it!

I made this a few years ago to dress up our Halloween Porch.

I made this a few years ago to dress up our Halloween Porch.

If you want to replicate this project, here’s what you need…

  • Black Craft Paint for wood
  • White Craft Paint for wood
  • Medium grit sandpaper
  • Vinyl lettering or design
  • A piece of wood that is ready to paint
Notice the moving tag?

Notice the moving tag?

Alright! Here we go! The piece of wood I am using is a shelf from an old bookcase that the movers broke about three moves ago. Why did I keep the shelves if the bookcase is gone? Because I knew I might need the wood for some amazing project, of course! Either that, or I am disorganized and never got around to getting rid of the shelves and just moved them from house to house. I’ll let you choose the answer you like best.

My wood needed just a little bit of work to get it ready. It had some kind of light sealant or lacquer or something on it, so I ran the sandpaper over the surface just to rough it up to help the paint adhere.

STEP ONE
Paint the wood white. Depending on the final look you are hoping for, you can add a second coat if you think the wood is showing through too much. After the white paint is all dry, I lightly sand over it to give it a more rustic look. This step of the project is very forgiving, so don’t worry too much if it looks bad. Be sure to wipe the sanded paint dust off of the project, then head to step two.

I am going for a "wood showing through the paint" look, so I barely used any paint.

I am going for a “wood showing through the paint” look, so I barely used any paint.

STEP TWO
Apply your vinyl lettering or sticker design to the wood. I used a Silhouette Cameo to cut out my words, but you can use any machine you want, or buy something pre-cut, OR (I just found out about this) Fed EX Office will vinyl cut for you. This IS NOT a vinyl cutting tutorial—I have owned my machine for a couple of years and, sadly,  still don’t have it completely figured out yet. Every time I turn it on there is about a 50-50 chance I am going to ruin a sheet of vinyl. If you have questions about getting the vinyl cut, I’m afraid you will have to go to YouTube for help.  I will tell you, though, that I get my vinyl from My Vinyl Direct, and I do recommend them.  I really go through a lot of vinyl.

It doesn’t matter what color your vinyl is, though white would not be the best choice for this particular project. Affix the vinyl to the wood in an arrangement that looks good to you. Once you are satisfied, give the stickers a once over with a wooden tongue depressor just to make sure they are on there tight, and remove that backing!  Sometimes I like to add some lines to my design. If your sign needs a line, don’t waste your vinyl cutting one out.  Just use Painter’s Tape in the width that you like, and add that during this step.

I tried a bunch of different arrangements before I settled on this one.

I tried a bunch of different arrangements before I settled on this one.

STEP THREE
Apply another coat of white paint on top of the vinyl. Thats right. That vinyl doesn’t really stick that well, and paint seepage is inevitable, so we are going to outsmart this project and allow the white to seal off the letters and seep under if it wants to. Once this coat of white paint is dry, your vinyl should be sealed nicely.

Just a quick coat of white paint over the vinyl!

Just a quick coat of white paint over the vinyl!

STEP FOUR
Add a coat of black paint. Cover the whole thing. Use as thin a coat as possible. You can go back and do a second coat, but you definitely don’t want to get gloppy here.

Just a quick note--I did this project outside in the 95 degree + heat---I DO NOT RECOMMEND!!  By the time I got to this stage the paint consistency was ridiculous.  It's really not that messy of a project, so take my advice and throw down some plastic and do it inside!

Just a quick note–I did this project outside in the 95 degree + heat—I DO NOT RECOMMEND!! By the time I got to this stage the paint consistency was ridiculous. It’s really not that messy of a project, so take my advice and throw down some plastic and do it inside!

STEP FIVE
You do not have to wait until the paint is completely dry to do this one, in fact, sometimes it is easier to do when the paint is still ever-so-slightly damp. Use something sharp to pull up your vinyl. I use a stick pin or a safety pin, and it works great. Once you have all of the vinyl off, let your project dry overnight or for several hours.

There is probably an actual tool out there to remove the Vinyl, but you can use anything sharp.  A toothpick, a knife, anything that can just pick up an edge and get it started so you can pull it up with your fingers.

There is probably an actual tool out there to remove the vinyl, but you can use anything sharp. A toothpick, a knife, anything that can just pick up an edge and get it started so you can pull it up with your fingers.

STEP SIX
Sandpaper all over to get the desired level of “rustic”. I like to sand the sharp edges of the sign all the way down to the wood, and add some heavy sanding accents in the background, with lighter sanding on the actual text. But you do what you want.

The black paint didn't dry great because of the heat, but the vinyl still came up fine.  Look, this project is not rocket science.  It's supposed to look weathered and slightly messed up.

The black paint didn’t dry great because of the heat, but the vinyl still came up fine. Look, this project is not rocket science. It’s supposed to look weathered and slightly messed up.

STEP SEVEN
Almost done! Get a can of clear spray polyurethane (I always go with the satin finish). Spray it on thin, let it dry, and do a second coat.

So there it is! I may have sanded a little too aggressively here and there, but I think it turned out looking pretty great!

So there it is! I may have sanded a little too aggressively here and there, but I think it turned out looking pretty great!

TA DA!
Sign your artwork! Hang it up! Give it as a gift!

ADDITIONAL NOTES
Sometimes you make little mistakes.  Like sanding too much, or pulling up a chunk of paint with the vinyl.  I think that most mistakes just give the sign some character. BUT… if there is something you just can’t live with, just go back with your paint and a small brush and touch it up.

I have been asked in the past if I would make unit crest signs like this. I never have, because crests are usually multi-colored and can be intricate. But I have put a lot of thought into it, and I have some suggestions if you are thinking about giving it a try. I would vinyl-cut the crest and do everything that I outlined above, up until step six. So what I would have at that point would be a black background and a completely white crest. Which I would treat like a coloring book. Freehand paint onto the white crest the correct colors. No real need to worry about going outside of the lines, because the black background will hide those mistakes. After letting it all dry, I would hit step 6 and continue from there. If anybody tries this, I would LOOOVVE to see the finished product!

I have experimented with three color layers on a sign, just so that the sanded parts would have some extra colors in there, like an old sign that has been painted over several times. Honestly, I didn’t think the results were worth the extra work, but your results may differ.

I helped my son do a sign for his coach, and he wanted the lettering to be in different colors, so we plotted out which areas of the wood needed which colors, and laid down the bottom layer in more than one color. If you have a simple design like this one, its not hard to block it out and paint it accordingly.

Makes a great Coach Gift--plenty of room for the whole team to sign the back! We marked off the wood and painted part of it yellow and part of it white.

Makes a great Coach Gift–plenty of room for the whole team to sign the back! After deciding how we wanted the words positioned, we marked off the wood and painted part of the bottom layer yellow, and part of it white.

Another son of mine made this one before he went off to college. Guess where.

Easy Dorm room decorating!

Dorm Room Decorating 101!

I did this sign below for a store, and thought it needed just a little extra oomph. So I used a gold paint pen to trace around the edges of the letters before sanding. I think it turned out pretty well, though I wish I had taken a better picture…

I will eventually get a better shot and switch this out!

I will eventually get a better shot and switch this out!

Think of all of the things you can do with this technique!  Leave out the sanding, and you can paint a fun phrase on a blank art canvas.  Decorate a piece of furniture.  Or a basket lid, or a wooden cooler….there are so many possibilities for getting a quality, handmade, customized piece here!  If you have any other ideas, share them below or on Facebook, or send me a picture, or just post them on Instagram #ruckandregalia and I will share them.

Happy painting!

 

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