Question about carving signs with a router...

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Forum topic by SuperCubber posted 11-14-2014 01:22 AM 1065 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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834 posts in 1707 days

11-14-2014 01:22 AM

Hello guys/gals,

I’m considering trying to rout a sign as part of a Chistmas gift. I have never done any precision routing of the sort. Am I crazy to think I can get a passable result by free-hand routing with a trim router? Also, if I’m not dreaming, any recommendations/advice would be much appreciated!


-- Joe | Spartanburg, SC | "To give anything less than your best is to sacrafice the gift." - Steve Prefontaine

7 replies so far

View Flipper01's profile


39 posts in 727 days

#1 posted 11-14-2014 01:31 AM

Taint the easiest thing to do, especially right at first. I’ve tried it a few times and messed some perfectly good wood. Others may have had some success though/

View runswithscissors's profile


2127 posts in 1448 days

#2 posted 11-14-2014 01:32 AM

What little free hand routing I have done was a catastrophe. You have to constantly fight the side thrust of the bit, and the direction of the thrust changes as you change directions with the router and the grain changes. I think a template is necessary.

There are probably people who know how to do this, however, and I yield to their superior experience and knowledge.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View SuperCubber's profile


834 posts in 1707 days

#3 posted 11-14-2014 01:41 AM

Alright, I appreciate the input. That’s probably enough to scare me off. Thanks!


-- Joe | Spartanburg, SC | "To give anything less than your best is to sacrafice the gift." - Steve Prefontaine

View Arthur C. Peterson's profile

Arthur C. Peterson

22 posts in 3181 days

#4 posted 11-14-2014 01:46 AM

View patty 's profile


14 posts in 724 days

#5 posted 11-14-2014 01:48 AM

I have made several signs using a router. I use a stencils and draw it on the board then I use a v groove bit and route it. Then I use stencil paint and spray the letters or design. Don’t worry about perfection here because then you sand your sign and any over spray sands right off. Finally I finish sign with a sealer. I hope this helps

-- Patty Schenewerk ,

View timbertailor's profile


1591 posts in 847 days

#6 posted 11-14-2014 01:54 AM

The greatest challenge to sign making is remembering which direction the bit is traveling in and how to execute the cut while trying to retain the correct cutting direction.

It takes a little planning and I suggest an index card with your plan of attack laid out.

This will go a long way in avoiding direction changes that can lead to a loss of control of the router bit.

-- Brad, Texas,

View Dan Krager's profile

Dan Krager

3231 posts in 1657 days

#7 posted 11-14-2014 03:04 AM

At one time or another almost all the golf courses in IL had my wooden routed signs. Here are a couple pointers to make free hand work look professional.
1. Using a pencil, lay out your letters fully kerned. Most sign templates won’t allow for that. You want the visual space between letters to look equal. There really is no formula that works for all letter combinations, but if you start by marking three spaces for every letter and use two for the actual letter, you’ll have a foundation. Letters like “i” and “l” take only one space and maybe not all of that. “m”, “w” are the widest and each should consume most of the three spaces. Use a big eraser and adjust, adjust, adjust. “L” “E” “S” “F” “N” are narrow letters, not taking up the full two. A “V” next to an “A”, and the like, require more attention. If you can print the right size with a computer, you’ll quickly approach properly kerned letter spacing.
2. Use a try square as a guide for vertical letter strokes to be sure they are straight, cutting them all before moving on.
3. Use a straight edge guide for horizontal strokes to be sure they are uniform. Again do all the letters where required with the same setting. The middle strokes of “E”, “B”, “P” etc are slightly above center, say the width of your cutter stroke.
4. Finally, carefully freehand in the curves.
5. Use a 1/4” V bit about 1/4” deep to form the letters. 60 or 90° doesn’t matter. If you are doing letters whose strokes are broader than the groove so formed, then just outline the letters and come back to clear the waste in the broad strokes, cleaning up with a narrow chisel. This size bit doesn’t “draw hard” and is pretty easy to control at that depth.
6. Don’t try to paint letters carved in porous woods. They don’t look clean because of the ?bleeding” which sealer doesn’t help.
Eventually, I learned to hand carve the letters pretty quickly. You can do things that just can’t be done with a router in hand or CNC for that matter.
Either way, don’t back out because “it’s too hard”. It isn’t, even if you ruin a little bit of practice wood!
I had a friend who was totally blind, but that didn’t stop him from safely ripping thin stock on a full sized table saw….!!! You don’t get sympathy from me if you say you can’t do it!

-- Dan Krager, Olney IL There are three types of people...those who are good at math and those who aren't.

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