Posted on Monday, December 27th, 2021
Lane Walker [Solo Signs, Reno, Nevada] does plenty of semi-truck doors. His years in the business have earned him a reputation among area truckers for doing cool hand lettering and pinstriping on their rigs. Recently, though, he had a customer who wanted a step up from that—or maybe two or three steps up.
The owner had the dealer add a white two-tone to the new purple Peterbilt. All the aluminum tanks were removed and painted purple to match—as were portions of the engine.
When the truck arrived at Lane’s shop, the owner said they wanted custom but tasteful lettering and graphics to complete the look. Lane thought aluminum leaf would work great with all the chrome, white and purple on the rig. He used a directional burnish to make the leaf even more lively.
“There may be more aluminum leaf on this truck then I’ve laid in my whole life combined,” says Lane, laughing. “I was really pleased with how the directional burnish turned out, too. That’s something Jeff Devey [Jeff’s Graphics, Twin Falls, Idaho] came up with.
“I’ve only seen Jeff do it within letters, but I had all these three-quarter-inch-wide silver leaf stripes so I decided to do it on the stripes as well. It has a more modern vibe than traditional engine turning, and that seemed more appropriate on this new truck.”
Lane laid the patent aluminum leaf using Dux Quick-Dry Gold Leaf Size. The temperature in his shop was in the 60s, and the size was ready to gild in about an hour and fifteen minutes. To create the directional burnish effect, he burnished the gild through three paper templates that he had made. The first had a 1/8-in. slot cut in it, the second had a ½-in. slot and the third was simply cut at the same angle on one side so that he could start the burnish on one side then fade into unburnished leaf.
“You know me,” says Lane, “the slant of the directional burnish had to be the exact same angle as the word ‘Greene.’ I did the burnishing with a sort of ‘manufactured randomness.’ It’s hard to make things look intentionally random, but that was my intent.”
Lane positioned the template over the leaf then gently rubbed over the slot with a small piece of 3000-grit sandpaper, essentially putting very fine scratches in the aluminum leaf. By varying the number of passes, he got different levels of burnish from fairly subtle to bright. He intentionally burnished over the seams which were visible in the freshly laid leaf.
“The areas that appear dark in the photo were left relatively unburnished,” Lane says. “The more passes you make, the brighter the leaf appears. It makes an interesting effect. I’ve done different versions of this effect—they’re fun to do and look really unique.”
Lane clear coats all his lettering, so this was no exception. He uses a high-end automotive clear from Axalta Coatings called Spies Hecker, with their extra-slow hardener and a universal retarder to slow the working window as much as possible, but it still sets up very fast—which can make it a bit hard to apply. It remains open and workable for only about five seconds.
Quite a project
Lane spent about 26 hours on the lettering and striping. The truck was $165,000 from the factory, and the custom paint/lights/chrome added another $100,000.
“This isn’t a show truck,” says Lane. “The owner delivers goods all over the western states. He does plan to show it at the truck shows, though, in the working truck class.”
This is an extreme example, of course, but custom lettering and graphics on a truck can set a rig apart. Not everyone has the budget for this much leaf and striping, but even great-looking door lettering makes a statement.
“The other things that get added to a truck,” says Lane, “are all mass-produced items available from a website or catalog. Anyone can have them. But the lettering and striping is totally custom. No one else has the same graphics as your truck.
“I make a point of that when I’m discussing a semi lettering job with the owner. I usually make the point that the fake stack on the side of their truck cost more than this lettering job. Many owners bolt cool things on their truck, but they are expensive. They can spend thousands on add-ons like that.
“This was a great build and I was happy to be part of it. Bert and Lisa were very happy with it, too. It’s a very unique rig and I’m sure it gets a lot of attention on the road.”
“The engine was taken out of the truck, disassembled and painted in matching purple,” Lane says. “It took the dealer 50 hours just to get the motor out and ready for painting. When I was doing the graphics, it occurred to me that the Cummins logo on the motor would look better with matching silver leaf, since it was all painted purple. I did that as a little add-on just for fun.”