How it’s made

How I make pieces by hand.

I start with a rough piece of hardwood timber.

This can be anything from pieces cut by a chainsaw, from a clients property, to vaguely square pieces from a lumber supplier.

The first step is to inspect the piece for rot, severe dents, splits, and bows/cups/twists.

I will remove any rot and fill dents where appropriate. In some cases, a wood hardener will be applied before any work can proceed.

*Piece of timber client brought me*

As I ran a small shop out of my shed, my next step is to set up my jointing jig, make adjustments and run through my planer.

Once flat, I will rotate the board and plane with another jig. This creates my first side with a 90 degree angle.

The other side is then planed without the jig. Both sides are now parralel, equally thick throughout, and have one 90 degree side.

The other side is then ripped on the tablesaw, referencing my opposite corner.

Next to the dropsaw where I will cut the length of the board to size, and then the other end, to create the final flat face.

I now have a milled, flat and squared piece of wood.

I will sand in succession 80,120,180,240 and 300 grit, ensuring the board stays flat by drawing lines on my wood, which evenly sands away, showing me which areas are finished.

After cleaning with compressed air and methylated spirits, once dry, I get the last few particles with a microfiber cloth.

The piece is then sealed with a minimum of 5 coats shellac.

This is to ensure that paint “bleeding” does not occur later. The dry wood absorbs the coats of shellac, and once the solvent quickly dries, you are left with the top layers of wood being significantly harder, and much more resistant to chipping or burrs when engraved.

Once the piece is ready, I will clamp the piece down to the aluminium machine bed. The wood must be clamped with excessive force to ensure perfect engraving.

Before I cut, I carefully loosen my cutters “chuck” and change to the appropriate cutter. I use exclusively “Carbitool” solid carbide end mills (cutters). And sharpen them on a “total meters cut” roster. Sharpening is performed by Carbitool, a local, specialist router bit supplier. These tools range from 5-20 times the price of similar cutters, but produce the most consistent, flawless results.

The digital design is loaded to the machine and cuts the wood from start to finish.

RPM and feedrate are terms used to describe the paramaters that dictate speed of movement, and speed of the cutter head. I run my machine with the power(RPM) twice the recommded, and the travel speed at half the recommended rate. This causes tools to require sharpening far more frequently. Whilst it wears the machine and tools a lot faster, it ensures that the wood is finely cut, with little to no chipping.

A second, third or fourth toolpath(program) may be run on the machine, to achieve the desired result.

Once the machine has finished cutting the piece, it is blown with compressed air, and cleaned again.

The next step typically involves two more coat of shellac. This ensure that the areas that where cut, are sealed and protected from paint bleeding into the grain of the surrounding wood.

I then paint, with a tiny brush, in any colour the client desires. A further two coats are applied inbetween 4 hour dry times.

Once fully cured, I sand the entire piece again with 80-120-180-240-300. Cleaning frequently.

A lot of time can be saved by skipping shellac and sanding. Instead some sign makers will run the piece through a planer to remove paint. This can, at times, produce great results, however, depending on your luck, you may only get minor chipping, but can at times, almost ruin a piece. I find the extra time spent sealing, adding protective layers and sanding, are necessary to ensure consistently flawless results.

Once the piece is back to raw wood, I clean any dust nibs from the painted areas with a 1200 grit sanding pad.

Finally, depending on the customer’s intended placement of the sign, I will choose a finish.

Typically, for outdoor signs, I will soak in an oil to seal. This is then sanded with 1200grit sanding paper every 24 hours for 4 days, between each coat. Finally I will use a hard urethane based spar varnish (sailboat varnish) to seal the piece up. This give both UV and weather protection. I use an oil based sealer, as it by far the most convenient finish to re-apply after a few years. Every 12 months after the first 24, simply wipe with methylated spirits, wet sand with 1200 grit paper, and then generously wipe a heavy coat of oil on. I will be selling a kit soon that will give you exactly what you need to keep your sign fresh, for 8 years. (8 applications).

Once the second coat of urethane is fully cured, I thoroughly clean, sand again very lightly, and buff the sign.

No cost is spared, and only the most highly recommended (and best reviewed) products are used. The methods I use, are formed from endless research, being tried and tested constantly.

I love working with wood, and making signs. I strictly hold myself to the highest standards I am capable of, and simply, do not compramise.

I love talking wood, feel free to drop by shop for a chat about anything wood!


Steve.