Friday, August 26, 2016

Carving Wood Signs for Money Part 3: Carving, Painting and Finishing

Carving, Painting, and Finishing

In Part 2 of this tutorial, you prepared your sign, then made a design to transfer onto your board.   Now we are going to get 3 dimensional and carve it out.


I realize that this part is more about seeing and doing than telling, so while I did go in further detail with pictures and text below, I decided to enclude a brief youtube video showing me carving part of the little camper.

Lay out your rubber mat, and then place the board on top in front of you.   The mat keeps the board from moving while carving.

Put your 60 degree bit in your router.   Tighten up good but don't go overboard.   Your router should have a way to adjust the depth, on the dewalt you unlock the latch, then rotate the ring around the router to make the bit go up or down.   When routing with the v groove bits, the deeper the router bit goes, the wider the line you will create gets.   Ideally you want the router bit to cut a groove in the wood slightly smaller than the line you want to carve, be it a part of a letter or part of a drawing.

Larger than the lines above. Too deep.
.You'll have to test an area of black, preferably not near the edge of a line, that you can use to dial in the depth.   Its ok to cut the black, it is typically what you want to remove unless you want outset lettering (like I do on this sign).   Ease the router bit into the spot and watch how wide a mark it makes.   If it looks wider than the lines you'll need to cut, you have to dial back the depth of the router.   

For example, I did just that onto the middle of that big black area on my little camper.  Seems much deeper than the lines Ill have to carve on the artwork, so I have to adjust it.   When I get to the text part, another adjustment will probably have to be made.

Better, just a little more and itll be good.
Remember not to go too shallow.  Though it may get easier to carve, when you sand, those details might disappear!   If it looks like you cant carve a line with the 60 degree, you may need to tilt the router so only the very tip cuts the line (requires steadier hand), or use a thinner bit like the liner bit  (SC-50).

When carving, you will find that it is easier to carve in certain directions than others, or you lose control sometimes.   This is usually caused by 2 things, the direction of the rotation of the bit, and the grain of the wood.   Typically, I find carving downward towards me (pulling) is easier than carving up (pushing).    So try to do that if you can.   For instance, if I have to carve a letter "O", I might carve the left half from top to bottom, then the right half top to bottom instead of carving down one side, then carving up the other.  

I did this with the little wheel below, you can see where i started at the top, it doesnt look to great but i smooth it out on the second pass when the bit can be moved in a circle easier.  You might also notice I changed the design on the fly, instead of carving the wheel out entirely I decided to make it have a little hubcap look. 

Carving horizontally I find it easier to go left to right, than right to left, but its not as noticeable and I do both sometimes.   Diagonal and curves are challenging.  Here the grain will fight you, trying to draw a straight diagonal line across grain is the hardest, your line may look like little steps each time it hits a grain.  Going deeper sometimes helps here, or go thinner and give yourself lots of room to spare before hitting the edge of the line, then go back and smooth the line out with a second or third pass.

Keep the router moving until you are finished a line segment.  Smooth motions cause less wavy lines, you can make multiple passes to 'clean' up a line if it looks wobbly.   Don't go to overboard tho on corrections, i find sometimes I cut away more and more till it has altered the size of a letter and it stands out.  Like the letter U in this sign.   Not a huge deal but it bothers me.  I might fix it one day but its not easy.

Sometimes when carving, you will experience something called chip out. This happens when going against the grain or the router rotation, carving knots, or carving small details.  Its when the router breaks off a larger part of the wood than you intended to cut.    It sucks, but there are tricks to 'fix' it later, usually by carving that spot again after painting slightly deeper or taping that area off before painting.    

If you choose to put a rounded or decorative edge on your sign, go ahead and do that now.  You might hit the edges with some hand sanding with rough grit to get any fibers off on the end grain. 

Once everything is carved out, take your brush and try to brush all the wood chips out of there.  Sometimes wood fibers from the cut will be in there like little wood hairs, i try to scratch them out with my nail or a chisel of something.  I might even bend a sanding disk in half and go at them with the edge (mostly pine, cherry wood doesn't even have em...i love cherry...).  Move the sign up to your eye, and then look at it from an angle.   Does it look like any of the area you carved had spots you missed, that are on the same plane as the surface of the board?   Dig these high spots out with a chisel or knife, it will save you time later.

Blow or wipe the dust off the sign thoroughly, and get ready to paint.


Next, take your ink or primer and spray your sign.   You want to get coverage in any place you carved without dripping, but dont worry about over spray too much, it will be sanded off.    Go from top to bottom, spraying back and forth, then walk around the sign (or spin it around) and do it from the opposite side. Since its 3d, spraying from only one direction will leave the opposite direction bare of paint inside the carving.

If you put an edge on your sign, paint the edge as well.  

Do 2 coats on the sign, 3 coats on the edge.  Thats it!  Let is completely dry.   I usually grab lunch at this time.


Sand off all the paint from the back of your sign.  Its ok to sand against the grain on the back if it saves you time.  Flip your sign over, and sand the front, with the grain, until the paint is gone from any place you didn't carve.   Be patient, and be mindful of the pressure, you can press a little more in the areas away from your carving to get the job done, but on letters and fine detail use a gentle hand and more time.   A belt sander here is faster by far but you have to be very light on it.  Once you get the bulk of it off, switch to a clean sanding disk to get the rest off.

Once its done, blow the sawdust off and bask in the fruits of your labor.    That is one of my favorite parts.   

Once all the sawdust is off, look at the black areas of the carving, is there any wood spots showing?   Those were high spots you missed.   No problem, cover them up with your black sharpie or paint marker.

Grab your clear coat and spray the back of your sign, top to bottom.  Do it again the opposite direction like before.   Wait a while and recoat 3 times as per the can's instructions.   For the indoor clear, you only have to wait 30 seconds.   Once the back is done, flip it over and do the top.   Let it completely dry to the touch.  Then take your 400 grit and lightly sand it smooth.   Wipe off the dust.    Recoat one more time.  Let it dry.

That it!   Now you can sell the sign online, at flea markets, whatever you like.   Some people sell through consignment shops, but I havent done so personally.   If you missed the Intro to this tutorial, head back there to see how and where I sold my signs so far.

Thanks for reading, I know it was a long one.  If you have any questions, or want to see more posts about sign making (like how to layout those huge signs), let me know in the comments. 

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