Mill the boards: 60 minutes I buy beautiful clear western red cedar in the rough, 2-in. thick and 8-in. wide, net, then mill them to about 1¾-in. thick. A 12-ft. board costs about $150, but it is worth it. I tend to be fussy about my work, even prepping and milling the boards.
Lay up the panel: 20 minutes I coat each edge with Titebond III glue, then clamp the boards together. On a sign this size, I use two bar clamps on the bottom and one on top. This photo shows a different panel about the same size clamped up.
Sandblasting: 30 minutes I sandblast with 40-grit glass beads. It’s pretty aggressive. It cuts fairly deep and gives a nice effect on high density urethane board, too. It’s
Here’s the blasted panel after peeling the stencil off the letter and graphics portion. I like to use a halo blast or pillow blast, blasting deeper around the borders and graphics. It’s such a nice effect and it really adds to the dimension.
Fill and sand: 30 minutes Once I peel off the stencil, I patch any tear-outs and sand the graphics. I’m especially careful to get areas that will be gilded as smooth as possible.
Router-carve and paint the letters: 90 minutes The letters were CNC-carved from PVC board, so they’re fairly rigid. I used two coats of Jay Cooke’s Sign Primer followed by 1 Shot enamel to get a nice surface for gilding.
I did a quick dry fit of the letters just to see how they would look.
Paint the panel: 2 hours I use two coats of primer on the cedar panel, followed by two coats of Benjamin Moore exterior acrylic paint. When I need a very intense color I use Nova Paint.
Gild the letters: 60 minutes I use LeFranc slow size and 23K patent gold leaf. It’s easier than loose gold for me to handle and it looks great. I usually put the size on in the afternoon and let it dry for about 20 hours before I give it the knuckle test to see if it’s ready to gild.
Gild borders: 20 minutes It took about 20 minutes to do the borders and clean up. There’s usually a little bit of stray gold that sticks in the border paint, so I touch that up. The sign was mounted on custom iron brackets that were mounted on the gate.

What’s it cost to produce this 24-by-30-in. sandblasted sign?

The classic look of western red cedar, gold leaf and paint

By Noëlla Cotnam

Posted on Monday, December 16th, 2019

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Western red cedar: $250
(material, shipping, planing and joining)
Sandblast mask: $65
Gold leaf: $85
Paint and misc: $50
Total materials: $450 CDN (About $340 US)

Design and prep file: 3 hours
Lay up, cut panel: 80 minutes
Sandblast panel: 30 minutes
Painting: 2 ½ hours
Router-carve letters: 90 minutes
Gilding: 80 minutes
Total time: about 10 hours

It’s always nice when a customer comes to you because they have seen your work and want one of your signs. This is one of those signs.

Much of my work is custom signs for farms and residences so this is a very typical project for me—a 24-by-30-in. sandblasted western red cedar sign with prismatic carved letters finished with gold leaf.

I typically spend about two or three hours designing a sign like this. That’s why when a customer wants to add something once they see the design it is seldom easy to do. If I can do it, I will, but I try to talk them out of it. Usually adding something compromises the design in some way. I hate to do that.

I do one design and that’s it. When customers ask if I am going to show a few designs to pick from, I explain that I put all my time into one design that I believe will work best for them. I don’t even like to fool around with the colors much once the design is done because that can compromise the design, too.

Every once in a while you get the perfect customer who says, “I trust you. Do whatever you need to do…” This customer happened to be that way. He said he always wanted to get one of my signs and wanted to incorporate one into an old iron gate in front of his new home.

As for the cost, I’m very upfront with the customer. But I explain that if they have a budget, I will try to work within it. They may not be able to afford a sandblasted 3-D sign with carving, gold leaf and a pictorial, but I will still be able to do a nice sign to fit their budget.

Most of my work is sandblasted 3-D signs. They really last. I have refinished signs that have been up for over 25 years.

This sign is typical of my design style, though most of my signs include a handpainted pictorial. On this one, the carved ornament seemed to work well. The font is Prentice from, and was designed by Dave Correll.

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