I know I'm not the only one a little over the moon for hand painted wooden signs because they are everywhere you look as of right now! I have purchased several from great Etsy sellers and some from craft shows and even some mass produced ones from the craft and home decor stores but I had never tried my hand at one myself...until now!
In summary I think that this project is easy enough but it is time consuming and can be a little bit maddening until you get it right. Since this sign I've made a couple more and even though it still is a little time consuming the process is a bit shorter and I'm able to paint just a smidgen faster. If nothing else try one and say you did it because you will be so proud of yourself and then after that you can save yourself the headache and just buy the rest because that is certainly easier.
You will need:
Scrap wood or plywood or mdf or craft wood etc.
*I used plywood I had in my garage that had been beat up pretty bad but I loved how it turned out because of that. The goal isn't necessarily to make the finished product perfect which is the beauty of this project.
Wood Stain or watered down paint
Template you print
Angled Artist's Brushes
* I started by using my hand sander and sanded the heck out of my plywood piece because I had used it as a base for painting things in the past so it had lots of paint on it and not only that I hate the feel of plywood until it's sanded way way down.
* For the large sign I used watered down Charcoal Gray Chalk Paint as a "stain" so that dark color would show through when I distressed it later. I have since made signs using black and gray wood stain and love how those turn out too so whatever your preference. If you are painting your sign black with white lettering then use a whiter color as your base coat so that you'll have the lighter shade coming through the black.
TIP: Make sure you wipe your board down with an old rag to keep it clean between each step. The sanding process makes a mess of dust and even just wiping it quick with your hand will leave dust behind so just give it a wipe with a rag and if you still can't get all the dust off dampen the rag just a touch.
* Once you let the stain layer dry give it a light sanding. If you've used wood stain sometimes it can be a little oily so your paint may not stick as well without roughing it up a bit.
* Paint your board the color you want. I chose white and used chalk paint for this whole project. I did 2 coats of paint to cover the dark base coat but I didn't want to have it completely covered so the 2 coats were perfect....darker than a white wash but not quite full coverage but again this will be up to you.
TIP for painting your board on a tabletop without getting paint on the table---use a couple sanding blocks to put under your board so it is raised up and then you can paint all the edges without dragging the brush on the table. If you don't have sanding blocks pick something that you can use that is about the same height and place it under the two ends to stabilize your board. I use the sanding blocks because I always have them out when I'm painting and because their roughness serves as a "gripper" for the board. Makes edges a breeze!
* Once the paint had dried I very lightly sanded the board down. I did go heavier over the edges during this step so I could get the weathered/chippy look to my board but in the space where I knew I'd be painting my words I just lightly sanded
* This step is where your printer comes in....Create a document the size of your board in one of your graphics or word processing programs. For mine I used Publisher because it's simple and sweet but you should be able to use quite a few different programs. I typed in my letters and adjusted the height and width of them so I liked their appearance. For your first rodeo you might want to stick with very basic wide block letters because it is much easier to trace and paint this style but if you are ready to live on the edge go for broke and do a script style. Once you have your wording the way you want it click on print. Unless you are doing a small sign you will get quite a few pages of text and may have to work with them like a puzzle and use Painter's Tape to put the template together. For this sign each word printed on a sheet of paper so it was uber easy but on my long signs it was for sure a puzzle to get them together.
* Once you have your template set up you will need to measure your board for the center both vertically and horizontally and then figure the same thing out on your template. For this sign I taped my words together and then folded them in half both vertically and horizontally and found my "center" that way and then placed the wording template right in the center of my board. I hope this makes sense because I didn't get a photo of this step. Once you place the template put a piece of Painter's Tape at the top to secure it into place then lift the bottom edge of the template up and slide your carbon paper under it to start doing the tracing.
* After you place your carbon paper just use a pencil to start tracing your letters. I thought I would have to push really hard and as it turns out you don't. After doing the first word pushing with all my might and my wrist and hand cramping I realized I only needed to use average pressure.
* Now that your letters are all traced out you are ready to hand paint them! This is not going to be fun without angled artist's brushes so do yourself a solid and get them before you start. I always keep lots of small brushes that are angled and flat headed for my touch up work so I just grabbed a few of the smaller ones and got to work. Slow and steady wins the race here peeps! It won't make you happy if you rush. I have a really steady hand and rarely use tape when painting because I can keep a steady line and even I had a
few ton of little slips outside the line of the letters. Since this project I have gotten better but I don't think I could have done it without the angled brush.
* Pat yourself on the back for getting those letters painted and don't panic if they look a little whoppycocked! It is ok...grab your black sharpie and go back around each letter to straighten out the lines and make them a little more uniform. If you just don't care and like them looking a bit wonky that is ok too. Just remember you don't need them to be perfect because you are going to sand the heck out of them.
* Now is my favorite part because I love distressing! I used both a rough sanding block and a smooth sanding block as well as my power sander to achieve the look I wanted. I started out with the finest sanding block and lightly went over the whole thing. I then started with the rougher block and went over the whole board again using more pressure in areas I wanted more distressing. After I got the look I wanted that way I used my hand sander and really gave it a whirl with a smooth sandpaper. Again just go a little rougher over the areas you want more distressed like the corners or edges. After all the sanding I then grabbed my hammer and my paint can opener and started adding a few gouges into the wood. You can do this lightly or really take your aggression out on it or just skip this step if you are taking baby steps into the distressing. After I was happy with all my scratches and dents I wiped the board clean and got ready for yet another step. Seems never ending I know but it all goes pretty quick.
* For me I wanted my sign to still look a bit older even after all the distressing I did so I used a black wood stain and very very lightly dabbed it on and smeared it around and immediately wiped it back off. I went in the direction of the grain but you can do it however you like. I covered the whole board but went a bit darker in certain areas. If you want to skip this step you can but it does make the sign look a bit more weathered which is how I wanted mine to look. A personal choice on this step. Get ready for the final step.
* Wax on...Wax off--this step makes for a beautifully finished sign both to the look and the touch! I use Minwax Wood Wax for this and I adore it. I've used other products and this one is my favorite! I use it to finish almost every paint project I do because I love the finish. For this step use an old rag or a wax brush and apply your wax all over the board including the edges. I just rub it on until it's fully covered and let it dry for a bit and then take a clean rag and just buff it a little by using some pressure and scrubbing over the surface until it's buttery smooth without any stickiness. If you feel a few tacky spots just give her a buff again and if that doesn't make it smooth it might be that your wax hasn't dried completely so try again in a few minutes.
That is it folks! You did it and now can proudly hang or prop your sign for all to admire.
Phew...I know this was a long post and for that I'm sorry but I hope that all the steps made your sign making a bit easier!