Need advise on finish for outdoor sign

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Forum topic by SteveMI posted 08-05-2009 03:27 AM 2904 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1105 posts in 3323 days

08-05-2009 03:27 AM

Topic tags/keywords: outdoor sign

I have a length of 2” thick by 11” width red oak about 6’ long. Nothing remarkable.

I want to make signs for outdoors in the garden. My thought is to cut the oak into 12” lengths, engrave something into the side facing our path and drilling two holes in the bottom for 1/2” copper tubing that would then stick into the ground.

Two pieces of advice requested;

First is what kind of final finish should I use. I intend to paint whatever I route or engrave. I’m thinking of painting the whole surface and then planing down 1/8” so the oak is clear again. Color will stay in the engraving. I’d like to keep the wood grain visible.

Second, I am concerned on the end grain with it being outside. Is there any problem with making a thin 1/8” veneer from the board side and gluing it on the end grain? Again, this is going to be outside in southern Michigan probably year round.


5 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


117127 posts in 3606 days

#1 posted 08-05-2009 04:31 AM

Hey Steve
I wonder about what type of Oak your useing because red oak is not the best choice for out door projects.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

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1105 posts in 3323 days

#2 posted 08-05-2009 05:03 AM

It is a board that was for another project that didn’t work out. Bought it at the lumber mill from the short length mark down.

The wife and daughter want some small “signs” in the yard and I was considering using the board.

If the oak isn’t practical, then what type of wood is? Needs to be “harder” to allow the engraving to be crisp. Don’t want to work in pressure treated. Did want the grain to show.

View Luke's profile


545 posts in 3322 days

#3 posted 08-05-2009 05:47 AM

I make signs for a living! My suggestion is to use either cedar or red wood. Teak is also nice but harder to find and more expensive. All of these choices are far more insect and rot resistant than oak or even treated wood. You could make the signs out of any of these and not finish it at all and you’ll get many years out of them. They will weather to a grayish color after a year or two. If you really want to I would suggest a ten year deck stain/sealer from one of the box stores. These do a great job and get great reviews from consumer reports and I have had great results personally on signs that I sell. You won’t have to worry about the end grain on these woods as much as the oak. If your not thinking this will need to last a really long time then just make them out of oak. If you paint the entire surface it should hold up pretty good actually. Regular old stains like poly and varnish don’t do well outside. The sun, water and general weather gets to them really fast. They start to look spotty and almost get a moldy kind of look on the surface. Western red Cedar is pretty hard. I usually put a rubber mask on the surface with my graphics cut “negative” into it then sandblast the sign and that knocks out all the uncovered areas. Then peel, sand and paint. I almost always paint the signs that I do for customers because It gives a much longer life. You can get redwood or cedar sign blanks on the internet and have them shipped to you. Usually they are 1.5” thick by whatever you need width wise and length wise. You could then cut it into smaller pieces or whatever. This is pretty in depth because I do it for a living and I really love these types of signs and want others to appreciate this type of “art” also. Good Luck with them I’d love to see them on LJ’s when your done!

One quick addition. You may want to use gorilla glue if your going to glue that piece on the side. It will stay on forever… or at least until the wood underneath that fails.

-- LAS,

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1105 posts in 3323 days

#4 posted 08-05-2009 05:00 PM


Great information. After your and Jim’s advise, I am putting the red oak board back in the corner. This is a good example of LJ expertise to the rescue.

My local lumber mill has “aromatic cedar” in their product list which they recommend for closet liners. It is in 4/4. Is this good? Quite reasonable at $2 a bf.

They also have “Spanish Cedar” in 4/4 at $6 a bf. Bit pricy for this project, but not out of the question if it is a perfect choice.

They don’t list redwood, but I need to check other local places.

Teak is $30 a bf and not a starter for this project.

Locally, the mill also has ASH, BASSWOOD, BIRCH, BEECH, BUTTERNUT, BUTTERNUT 1C, BUCKEYE, ELM, CATALPA, COFFEENUT and SASSAFRAS. These are all in a bf price range I could handle. Are any of them good for outdoor and route well.

This is besides the normal oak, maple, ponderosa pine, yellow pine and poplar.


View Luke's profile


545 posts in 3322 days

#5 posted 08-06-2009 06:31 AM

I think as long as it’s cedar either one of those will be good. As far as I can remember the aromatic is usually a softer version of cedar. I use a spanish cedar, smooth, clear version for my signs that is about $12 per BF and comes in 2×12x whatever length. The last board I got was hard as crud and I had to use lots of sand to get a good depth with it. But, that will vary because the heart wood compared to the outside will be different and also from tree to tree. Best thing to do would be to put your hands on it in their warehouse, if they’ll let you do that before buying. Redwood you usually have to get from out north west by looking at suppliers online. The texture of a good piece of redwood is really awesome. With cedar you get nice tight stringy wood grain. With the red wood, after blasting, it almost looks like rolling hills. I don’t know much about all those other woods but I think you’ll be happy with either of the cedars. You would just need to feel them out at the supplier and make a judgement call. You can push the tip of your fingernail into the board and see if it leaves more of an impression on either one ( thats what I do). Just try the router on a piece of it before doing the actual sign and see how deep you can go and not tear it out. All this said, this is supposed to be fun and I enjoy doing all the leg work trying to come up with a good board. Good luck

Quick side note…

They sell 1×6 cedar fence planks at the box stores ( they are really cheap). I have sold signs made out this before too. I don’t know how elaborate your thinking with these but I take the plank and cut off enough to fit my lettering or w/e I’m doing. Say 18”. Then cut dog ears or clip the corners or something on the edges. I take my router with a v-groove bit, looks like a countersink bit?, and follow a pattern that I drew on there with chalk. Then you have sort of a beveled look to your lettering. You can lower and raise the bit in the router to add different depths to different parts of the sign. The ones I get usually come rough cut on one side and smooth on the other so you could choose which side to use. I like the rough side. Then Paint the lettering with black or w/e colors you want, carefully with a brush that barely fits in the groove. Then clear coat the whole thing with a good deck sealer or clear coat. Or just leave it and let it weather.

Just thoughts. Thanks

-- LAS,

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