DIY Rustic Hand Painted Signs from Reclaimed Wood

by Johnnie Collier

How to make a handpainted rustic sign from #reclaimedwood @savedbyloves

I was recently blessed to meet Pam, a local talent with a passion for hand painting rustic, inspirational signs.  I have noticed her signs fly off of the shelf (or porch, more accurately).  At the venue where we met, every sign I thought needed to come home with me was on hold, waiting for it’s lucky recipient.  Pam is a busy mom, wife and small business woman who found the time to invite my husband and I into her lovely farmhouse for a day.  As a result I get to bring you this detailed tutorial showing you how to make your own hand painted, distressed wood signs.  Pam has an abundant supply of reclaimed wood and a rocking wood shop at her disposal, but you can make these without all of that.  The best news is I have had several of you ask about die cut machines and how to make stencils for your signs without one.  Pam does this with a cheap text editor on her computer, and a regular printer with black and white ink.  Let’s get started!

How to make distressed wood signs by Little Red Porch @savedbyloves


1/4 inch plywood for hand painted signs

Start with 1/4 inch plywood the size you want your sign.  Pam gets these at Lowes in 8×4 ft sheets for around $13 and also at Habitat Restore.  She likes the Restore ones better because of the dings and bumps, which add to the distressed look.

How to make a hand painted sign from #reclaimedwood

*Disclaimer – It gets a little fuzzy at this point.  My husband is an amazing chemical engineer, which is his job, so that is a good thing.  Using my DSLR in manual mode is not his job.  I will leave it at that.  (Thanks for your help, dear husband)!

Pam cuts her plywood to whatever size she plans to make her sign.  You can do this with a table saw, circular saw, or have it cut for free at many hardware stores when you purchase it there.

How to make a wood sign

The above sign is framed with an old window, so she cut the plywood to fit that frame.  The customization options are endless.

How to Paint Background for sign

*Kids, use a tripod when in low light with slow shutter speed.*

Pam uses a roller to paint her background color onto the plywood.  Ummm… why have I been doing this with a paintbrush?  It was so fast (can’t you tell) and even with the roller.

TIP:  I learned that she wraps the rollers in plastic bags like you get at the grocery to keep them wet until next time she uses that color.  NO CLEAN UP?!  Whaaaat?  Yes please.

Valspar Paint #reclaimedwood sign tutorial

This is the paint Pam prefers to use for her signs.  I believe she gets it at Lowe’s, at least I know I have gotten it there and that they carry it.  She digs the color palate available.

How to Create Subway Art

UPDATE:  I made a PHOTSHOP VIDEO TUTORIAL showing you how to print your sign in sections small enough for your printer.  Find it at the link!

Pam creates her text with Print Shop 23 Deluxe, which you can buy for $1.23 at my Amazon affiliate link. SOLD OUT AT THAT PRICE, but still pretty cheap, especially compared to Photoshop.  I have never used this program, but she swears she is not tech savvy and that this software is very user friendly.  She makes the text to fit the sign, then prints sections of it and tapes it together to transfer to the wood with transfer paper.
The text over the white rectangle (which represents 2 pieces of 8.5×11 inch copy paper) is what will print.  She prints that part, then moves the entire text box over so that the area adjacent to what she just printed is now over the rectangle, prints that and so on until she has all of the text printed out in “puzzle pieces”.

How to image transfer to wood with transfer Paper

The next step is lining up the text, or putting the puzzle together, using the text as a guide and adhering adjacent pieces of paper together with scotch tape.

Saral Transfer Paper tutorial

This is Saral Transfer Paper, which is Pam’s preferred transfer paper.  It comes in several colors and you should try to match it to the color you will be painting your letters as best you can.

I showed you a different transfer paper in my  DIY Vibrant Artwork With Dylusions Spray Ink tutorial.  There is a video showing how I do the transfer in that post.  Martha Stewart’s brand and another brand of transfer paper are available at Michael’s.

How to image transfer to wood with transfer Paper

By the time the text is printed and taped together, the background is dry and Pam places the paper onto the painted plywood.  See how great it fits?!  She leaves a half inch on each side of the board when she is sizing the text area.

How to use image transfer paper

Next she places the transfer paper under the text.  Notice that you can use the same sheet of transfer multiple times.

How to transfer text to wood for #reclaimedwood signs

She secures the text paper in place with masking tape and outlines the text with a pen, applying pressure to the transfer paper, which leaves lines on the wood.

Image Transfer How to

See?  Told you.  Continue this way, moving your transfer paper down to the next section of text, until you have transfer the entire design.

How to Hand paint lettersPam23

Using a small detail paint brush and her chosen Valspar paint color, she paints in her letters.  She went quickly and you could see lots of brush strokes in the letters.  It didn’t matter because of sanding you will see in a later step.  She recommends using brighter paint for your letters than you want in the final sign since you will be staining to distress later.

How to make distressed wood signs

I was floored by how quickly Pam works!  She can bust out 7 of these signs over 2 days, while  doing all the things that come with being a mom and active member of her community.  Wow.


How to frame a rustic Sign

Like I mentioned before, you can use an old window frame or other empty frame for your sign if you have that on hand.  We are going to see how Pam used salvaged wood to frame her pieces.  I want to live in her wood shop!

How to Frame a Sign with #reclaimed wood

Once the lettering on the sign is dry, Pam heads to the shop.  She will letter several signs and bring a pile down to frame all at once.  She rips reclaimed lumber into strips a couple of inches wide.  If you don’t have a table saw to rip your wood, grab the 1×2 furring strips I told you about in my Barnwood Frame Tutorial.  You can get 8ft for $0.75!

Now Pam is my kind of gal.  No measuring.  She just put the wood strip up alongt the sign’s top, made her cut mark and cut 2 pieces that length (one for the top and bottom of the sign).  She did the same thing for the sides, subtracting the width of the top and bottom strips so the side pieces fit inside of them as you can see in the photo.

Attaching frame to sign

Next she used her nailer and half inch nails to attach the wood strips to the back of the sign.  No glue!  She is braver (and much faster) than I, and she has never had a sign come apart.  The purpose of the wood on the back of the sign is to give the strips in the next step something to attach too since the plywood is only 1/4 inch thick.  If you were going to frame a pallet sign using this technique, you could bypass this step and move on to the next.

How to make a rustic wood sign

She measured her strips the same way as for the back ones, just putting them up against the sign and marking.  She likes to make the top and bottom frame strips the exact width of the top and bottom of the sign, then have the side strips long enough to extend to cover the edges of them.




#reclaimed wood sign; How to Distress sand

In a well ventilated area, she now sands the frame and evens out the edges where necessary, using medium grit paper.  It’s not a lot of finish sanding since she is going for a rustic look.

How to Sand Distress Wood

Next is sanding the letters and background.  There was no rhyme or reason.  Just back and forth, zig zag, all over to the degree you want it distressed.

How to Distress a Sign With Stain

Next, Pam pours a liberal amount of Minwax Stain Walnut color onto the sign.

Applying stain for distressingHow to distress with stain

Again with the roller!  She rapidly rolls the stain all over, pouring on more if she needs it.

Wipe back the stain with a paper towel

She uses a paper towel to wipe away excess stain and blend where there are marks.

Spray sealer for stained wood

How to seal stained wood sign

Pam uses Crystal Clear Spray Enamel by Rustoleum to seal her signs.  She gets right up a few inches away and sprays generously.  She likes the effect when the sealer pools.  It is hard to tell in the photo, but the sealer does darken things a bit and pulls the elements together, lending to an older look.

How to make a distressed chalk paint sign

Here she used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint for the background.

How to make a handpainted rustic sign from #reclaimedwood @savedbyloves

Here is the sign that greets you on the little red porch!

I had a blast and learned so much from documenting Pam’s process.  Big special thanks to her for letting us do so!
To see more of Pam’s beautiful work, visit her on her blog:  Little Red Porch,

and on her facebook fan page:  Little Red Porch on Facebook

Let her know if you try out her tips, or if you would much rather just have her make a sign for you.  She does all kinds of super cool custom work as well.


I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did!

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ashley July 28, 2013 at 12:29 pm

would love to buy the software…its not showing $1.23 for me on amazon…


2 Kristine July 29, 2013 at 5:33 pm

This is great inspiration for the artwork I want to create for my partner’s new office space.


3 Laura July 31, 2013 at 11:46 am

Thank goodness I found this! I have been admiring some Rebecca Puig reclaimed wood art, but I knew I could make something myself. Thank you very much for the know how!


4 SavedByLoveCreations August 1, 2013 at 9:06 am

Oh good, Laura! I am excited to try it too. I would love to see the outcome when you make your own.


5 Ashley August 6, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Its not showing 1.23 for me either. Can someone help me find it?


6 SavedByLoveCreations August 6, 2013 at 3:28 pm

It must have sold!


7 Julie August 13, 2013 at 6:48 am

i love them! what an inspiration- I am desperate to find the name of the font used in the “always kiss me goodnight” sign, in paticular the words always and goodnight. Can someone help?


8 SavedByLoveCreations August 13, 2013 at 11:30 pm

I will try to find this out for you, Julie!


9 nicole August 16, 2013 at 6:55 pm

So I have that software but cant figure out how to print like that. Everytime I try to print it squishes my project down to fit one 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. Can anyone help me?? Please!


10 debbie November 5, 2013 at 7:54 pm

nicole – did you ever figure out how to do it?


11 Lori August 19, 2013 at 9:43 am

I wish you offered classes… Think about it! ;)


12 Phil August 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I do the copying over transfer paper for all my scroll saw work. Many designs are possible. Many ideas for wood working embellishments are possible. I like your tutorial. It is very informative. I can use some of it also.


13 Laurie August 29, 2013 at 5:55 pm

I love your signs. Used Printshop for years but now have an IPad and can’t find any comparable program. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you.


14 Kalah August 30, 2013 at 8:01 pm

So I bought the software mentioned above, but I can’t seem to figure out how to print it like Pam did. If you could ask her how she does it (type of project to create, any special settings?) I would greatly appreciate it!


15 Monet September 2, 2013 at 11:51 pm

Look at the picture about where she is talking about PS. See the text box and how it’s not centered on the template? That’s how she prints them off (from what I can tell) — in pieces. So, she’ll have one full design come out on maybe 4 8.5×11′s for example. She then overlaps the pages so that the writing/design fits together, kinda like an abstract puzzle. Am I making any sense?? Lol. Where can I buy transfer paper, btw? Also, I know that transfering writing/patterns can also be donr with a transparency sheet and overhead projector. You can still fit the whole design on an 8.5×11, but trace with a pencil then paint. We used to do this often when making backdrops.


16 Michele October 14, 2013 at 8:14 am

I got my transfer paper at AC Moore


17 Michele September 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Hello, I recently bought the program to try this out, but I’m having trouble figuring out what part of the program she uses to make the outlines. I also looked at the picture above but couldn’t see where she was in the program. I would appreciate any help you can provide.


18 MANDY September 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I am unable to find the software at that price as well :/ Am I looking in the wrong place? I just clicked the link…

thank you :)

by the way… great post!


19 Michelle Nason October 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Awesome tutorial. Love the signs. Could you tell me where to find the Print Shop 23 Deluxe, which you can buy for $1.23 at my Amazon affiliate link. I am new to your blog and don’t know where to look for it. Thanks


20 Elizabeth Williams October 12, 2013 at 12:52 am

Love your ideas & instructions. I am not tech-savvy.was trying to find the version Print Shop 23 Deluxe for the minimal price $1.23 you used.However, I can not seem to locate. Any help would be appreciated! Thank you much


21 Vickie October 12, 2013 at 12:25 pm

I can’t find the software for less than $13 on Amazon. am I looking in the wrong place?


22 debbie November 5, 2013 at 7:57 pm

did anyone ever figure out how to make the oversized project on Print Shop?


23 Kile November 6, 2013 at 11:50 am

Does anyone know what fonts are being used!? They’re all gorgeous!


24 Shara @ Palmettos and Pigtails November 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Hi there! Awesome tutorial! I’ve always wondered how to make these signs! I’m featuring this post on my blog this week…come on over and check it out!



25 Haylee November 23, 2013 at 1:18 am

How does she nail in the back pieces, but then you can’t even see the nails from the front of the sign?


26 Katrina December 6, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I purchased Print Shop 3.5 and I’m trying to tile print which you described in your tutorial; how Pam highlights the boxed images and then prints it out…continuing to do it again; however, moving the highlighted area over. My problem is Print Shop is not allowing me to highlight the image and when I print the image (words) even with it created to fit the board I’m using…it’s only printing 1 single paper. Do you have an suggestions?


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