When I was a kid, my grandpa had a handmade sign at the gate of his property that said “The RAT’s nest.” It might seem like a strange thing to put on your house, but my grandfather was Robert Avon Tjomsland–R A T. I always liked it, it was something personal to his house that let you know who lived there.
For Christmas this year, I wanted to do something inspired by that for my sister and her husband, so I made them a family sign for Christmas. It’s a great project that doesn’t take a lot of time to do, and depending on how artistic you are, it allows for customization for the person you’re giving it to.
For this project, you’ll need a few things.
Saw – I used a Ryobi 10 in. Sliding Compound Miter Saw, but anything that can crosscut a piece of lumber will do nicely.
Signmaking kit – There’s a few different types out there. I purchased a Rockler State Park Font Kit, 2-1/4”. It’s nice because it has letters, numbers, and symbols included the same package. It uses a two-stage routing system to make complete letters in situations where a single template wouldn’t make sense, like an A or B, and Rockler has a great signmaking wizard that helps set up for each of the passes.
Appropriately sized lumber – In my case, I bought a 5.5″ x 36″ oak project board for the sign.
Stain – I used Rust-Oleum Ultimate Wood Stain in Golden Mahogany (Also sold under Varthane) on my project, but this can be changed to whatever suits your specific piece.
Paint – My wife did some hand-painted details with acrylic paint.
Clear coat – To protect the finished product, I coated it with Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish. Again, this can be adjusted to your specific preferences for your project.
To start out, I cut my lumber to length. I used a 5 1/2″ x 36″ piece of project oak I bought at Home Depot. To get the length, I laid out the template for their last name (Alexanders) onto the board with spaces on either end. This resulted in a length of 24 1/2″, so I marked off the length and cut it with my miter saw.
Once my lumber was cut, I set up the template on the board. Something worth noting – the box from Rockler shows blue painter’s tape over the top and bottom of the template as a method of holding it into place. While this works, I found my router base catching the edge of the tape while routing, which was frustrating. I found double stick carpet tape on the backside actually works better. It doesn’t need to go on all of the template pieces, I found that just tacking it to the first and last guide and some mid-word single-pass letters provided a decent hold.
I routed the lettering, being sure to let the bit stop spinning before taking it out of the letter I was working on. The templates are plastic and won’t hold up too well to metal bits at a high speed. I then swapped out the template pieces for the two stage letters and route your second pass to finish the letters. I then finished off the routing with a decorative edge around the sides (I used a Roman Ogee bit, but again–this can be adjusted based on preference)
Once everything was routed, I proceeded to sand. I started at a lower grit, gradually working up to a 400 grit by hand. (If you want to know how much I love my sister’s family, the fact that I did sanding by hand should tell you everything you need to know–I don’t even like sanding by machine!).
Once the sanding was completed, I then stained the project with the Golden Mahogany Varthane. It gave the piece a warm look and made the grain stand out. My wife then took over, adding some hand-painted touches and filling in the letters to give it more of a pop. We finished with a satin clear coat to protect the finished product.
Voila! A finished product. We were super-excited to be able to give it to my sister and her husband for Christmas, and it felt good to be able to give something that we made ourselves.
Check out the plans on BuildSomething.com!
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