Routed Sign Making #2: Design, Layout and Cut letters for Routed Sign

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Blog entry by 3DBMe posted 01-07-2012 05:23 AM 24210 reads 4 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Routed 'Sign Making Class' Part 2 of Routed Sign Making series Part 3: Wood removal with various routing bits »

Sign Carving: Week One

PROCESS: Prepare Wood Design Print Overlay Trace Mask – Optional Knife Cut – Stop Cut (Make visible for ease of routing)

Welcome to the Class!

Pick your material of choice to carve. My dog Chewy and I have chosen authentic aged Barn Wood
I steam the board in a clear plastic bag to disinfect and kill any bugs and remove dirt by blowing the board with compressed air being careful not to ruin the surface. Also remove any extraneous nails or obstacles that may be dangerous when routing. These can be replaced after completion to add the sense of age and originality to the piece.

In the initial design phase I take into consideration the texture, characteristics and defects of the board. Make sure to note where knots and uneven surface may impede your progress or finished quality of work. Also consider where you might put any final enhancements to add more personality of the finished piece. For instance I added a wrought iron star to my final piece.

Take a photo of the entire board, as flat to the surface as possible, then import into a photo manipulation application such as Photoshop.

The image must be the same size as the actual board to be carved. This layout is now your “Canvas” to add text to. Choice of font selection, size and position will be done on this background taking into consideration style, character and size on your usable surface space. I avoid knots and nail holes that may be distracting or obstacles while carving. Knots are very hard and may cause skipping of the router bit which is a potential hazard. I try to maintain the original character to give the appearance of aged authenticity.

If the stock fonts in your photo application are not appropriate to your work there are lots of places on the web to down load free fonts. Usually a true type font or .ttf will work with most software when downloaded to your font directory. I chose a font with a Wild West look called “Helldorado”. When positioned and sized to my board the ‘L’ and ‘J’ are 470pt and the remaining letters, ‘UMBER’ and ‘OCKS’, are 350pt. Again, I varied sizes considering the “topology” of the board.

NOTE: It is very important that whether you are using a Dremel router or full sized router your smallest bit will have to fit in the smallest corners of your letters so consider this when laying out your text. Design for your toolset! Image shows 1/8” dot as reference for 1/8” bit.

Once the text is finalized I print out the words full-sized to position on the board as laid out in photoshop. When printing the words I know they won’t fit onto one sheet so I create multiple sheets so the letter spacing is preserved when joined back together. Since the layout is Horizontal or Landscape I setup my printing preferences in the “Print Layout” options or “Page Set-up” tab under file options. I preview the printing and set the Top or Vertical Position of the page to be the center of the image and change the Left position to start at the left edge of the image. I then save the setting and print the first few letters. I then go to the Left setting and shift it to the right to get the next few letters making sure there is some reference to align the letters to each other to maintain spacing and straightness of the bottom edge and continue till I have all the letters completed. I then tape all the sheets together so the words appear as in the layout.

When overlaid on the board I note where knots are so I can align properly then cut out those landmarks to make sure I have the same layout as I did in photoshop.

This next step is a trick I use when trying to avoid scratching or wearing the ‘weathered’ surface unevenly while working the router.

I stick clear plastic self-adhesive shelving material to cover the entire board and secure it down with tape.
Then I position the printed letters to the correct position and tape to the plastic surface.

I then begin to cut out the letters using a straight blade and a thin tip such as an X-acto knife or Flexcut carving knife.

This Stop Cut assists with clean edges while routing. I use a straightedge ruler or triangle for clean straight line cuts and freehand the knife around compound curves for the most control.

I use a firm grasp on the knife handle and use both hands in a push and pull motion to guide the blade around the letters outside edges and inside spaces.

Go as firm and deep as possible in one pass to avoid multiple passes which result in sloppy edges.

Once the letters are completely outlined you should be left with waste printer paper that can be removed leaving only shiny plastic and the letters cut through.

The letters cut in the plastic shelving material below can also be removed. You’ll be left with plastic protection for the wood and exposed wood that you will remove with the router.

Make sure that the spaces in the center of the letters remain in place and that all the outlined cuts are apparent to you.

I also dust the completed letters with baby powder so they really stand out and I don’t get confused while routing.

Congratulations! You have completed the design, layout and transfer of the letters to the wood surface.

You’ve scored the letter outlines and are left with a visible surface that we will route in the next phase of this sign making project.

If you have any questions please ask. Don’t forget to share your progress with us and see you next week!

6 comments so far

View Billp's profile


804 posts in 5206 days

#1 posted 01-07-2012 09:39 AM

None of the pics show up?

-- Billp

View 3DBMe's profile


134 posts in 4690 days

#2 posted 01-07-2012 09:15 PM

Sorry everyone. Photobucket did not serve my images when posted. I have re-added them to the class and should be accurate. If you have any issue please let me know. Thanks for watching. 3DbME.

View Mahintes's profile


5 posts in 3331 days

#3 posted 01-16-2012 03:18 PM

Can’t wait to see how you accomplish the next step. I recently upgraded to a more heavy duty Dremel and would love to take on more projects like this. Thanks for sharing.

View peterrum's profile


153 posts in 3685 days

#4 posted 01-20-2012 06:49 AM

Great lesson so far, good explanations of the steps you are taking and why.

-- Carpe Diem

View AKNewbie's profile


6 posts in 4061 days

#5 posted 02-24-2012 06:38 PM

Thanks for taking the time to share these techniques!

View IndianJoe's profile


425 posts in 3255 days

#6 posted 03-30-2012 03:25 PM

I get ask all the time for this and have drown it out by hand this looks a lot nicer this way thank you for taking the time to share these techniques!

-- Nimkee** Joe

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