What’s it cost to make this hand-lettered plaque?

Sometimes a project just shouts for hand painting

By Ralph Toews

Posted on Friday, October 30th, 2020

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2 sq. ft. cedar for the 20-by-16-in. blank: $15 CDN
One-half liter of Sansin exterior stain: $15 CDN
Misc. sandpaper, One Shot enamel, etc.: $10 CDN
Total materials: $40 CDN (or about $30 in US dollars)

Discuss project, design and prep file: 1 hour
Laminate blank, sand and stain blank: 1 hour
Make pattern: 30 minutes
Hand letter: 1 hour
Add border: 15 minutes
Total time: 3 hours, 45 minutes
When we got the order for a required location sign on a boathouse, we thought it was a good opportunity to offer a traditional hand-lettered wood panel. The client agreed that handcrafted simplicity for this kind of sign would be a nice touch.

The project proved to be a bit of a challenge since the background of the sign was to use the same trim stain from the building. We didn’t realize the stain would react as it did on the pine panel we started with. After a second panel was laminated and cut from cedar, we were good to go.

We began by trimming cedar boards to consistent strips and laminating them. We find we get less warping if we laminate strips instead of using wider pieces. Look at the end grain of each strip and position them so that the end grain of each strip is the opposite direction of the next one, as you see in the drawing. This also makes for a more stable panel.

To minimize warping, position the planks so that the grain in each one runs in the opposite direction of the adjacent plank.

I used Elmer’s Pro Bond Max to laminate the panel, and I let the glue dry overnight. Once you release the clamps, you’re ready to sand it and cut the panel shape. If the panel needs cut to a certain design, we sometimes make a vinyl mask as a pattern to cut around. In this case, it was a simple symmetrical panel, so we just measured and cut.

As mentioned, the stain was a challenge but it worked better on the cedar than on the first panel, which we made from pine. Pine resins caused the stain to react and it wouldn’t cure. It dried just fine on the cedar panel, though. We also tested to make sure that One Shot enamel would work fine on the stain, which it did.

The lettering was marked on the panel with a trusty pounce pattern. On this job we used our plotter to make the pattern. Once pounced, we turned the pattern over and lightly sanded the rough holes so the pattern lays down nicely on the panel. Our Hansee Pounce Pad pushed chalk through the holes to leave a visible outline of the letters.

I chose a slightly smaller quill than usual for this job since I’m somewhat out of practice, and the small serifs would have been difficult with a larger tip. After lettering, I laid out the border by running a line with a white Stabilo pencil around the edge, using my finger as a guide.

A quick trip around the sign with the same quill finished off the simple yet elegant sign that will grace the front of the boathouse to be seen from the water.

Laminate the blank: 1 hour
That’s about how long it took to cut the cedar planks and glue them together with Elmer’s Pro Bond Max glue to make the blank.

Cut to shape and stain blank: 1 hour
It took another hour to sand the blank, cut it to shape and then stain the front, back and edges with two coats of exterior stain.

Make pattern: 30 minutes
I made a paper pattern, perforated and sanded it, then pounced it on the panel, using a Hansee Pounce Pad.

Letter the sign: 1 hour
Yes, the computer could have cut vinyl letters in less time, but some jobs just still seem to shout for hand lettering. I lettered it in about an hour with 1 Shot enamel.

Add the border: 15 minutes
Using a white Stabilo pencil and my fingers as a guide, I marked off a border then laid down a single inset line, and the sign was finished—the old-school way!

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