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 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.
*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.
The above sign is framed with an old window, so she cut the plywood to fit that frame. The customization options are endless.
*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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
Next she places the transfer paper under the text. Notice that you can use the same sheet of transfer multiple times.
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.
See? Told you. Continue this way, moving your transfer paper down to the next section of text, until you have transfer the entire design.
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.
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.
TIME TO FRAME THE 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!
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.
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.
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.
DISTRESSING AND SEALING YOUR SIGN
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.
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.
Next, Pam pours a liberal amount of Minwax Stain Walnut color onto the sign.
Again with the roller! She rapidly rolls the stain all over, pouring on more if she needs it.
She uses a paper towel to wipe away excess stain and blend where there are marks.
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.
Here she used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint for the background.
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!