It’s no secret that The Walt Disney Company has some of the most well themed amusement parks in the world. Being among the best goes well beyond just having fun rides and good eats. People look to amusement parks as a way to be transported out of reality. A way to be a lead character and a physical part of the stories they fell in love with growing up. 

In order to really pull guests into these stories, they need to not only theme the ride/attraction itself, but also the surrounding scenery. This includes the outside of the building, the line queue, even the signage! After all, the signs are usually one of the first things you’ll notice that draw you into that attraction. Unless of course you’ve already been on that ride a hundred times and just make a B-line for the entrance. Either way, I usually consider the signs to be the trigger point that sparks your imagination into these stories. So even those have to be well themed.

If you tend to overlook the signage in the parks, try taking a step back to enjoy some of the creativity and craftsmanship that goes into making these signs. Some of them truly are a work of art all on their own.

Personally I like to try and focus on something different each time I visit a familiar attraction. Whether it be the vegetation, supporting characters or even the props. Its a good way to keep things fresh and who knows, you may notice something that not many people know about, like a couple of Hidden Mickeys tucked away.

Now, it may take some time to get on the same level of sign creation like some of these Imagineers at Disney, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create some awesome pieces of sign art for your own home. This is a great way to show your stories or interests for your own guests. Not to mention they can be great conversation starters!

If you tend to overlook the signage in the parks, try taking a step back to enjoy some of the creativity and craftsmanship that goes into making these signs. Some of them truly are a work of art all on their own.

Personally I like to try and focus on something different each time I visit a familiar attraction. Whether it be the vegetation, supporting characters or even the props. Its a good way to keep things fresh and who knows, you may notice something that not many people know about, like a couple of Hidden Mickeys tucked away.

Now, it may take some time to get on the same level of sign creation like some of these Imagineers at Disney, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create some awesome pieces of sign art for your own home. This is a great way to show your stories or interests for your own guests. Not to mention they can be great conversation starters!

There are many different methods you can use to creating your own wood signs. This can be anything from applying stickers to a wood canvas, drawing/painting out your design using stencils or free handing, wood burning, carving out your design and much more.  

I prefer be the carving my designs out since they give the signs a little more depth. Although there are many tools and techniques you can use to achieve this, I will be showing you how to set up and use a router.

Sure a CNC machine will give you the best results but this will cost a lot more up front to buy the machine and you would also have to learn how to set up and program the designs which can take some time to get right. You can also use hand carving tools which will save you the most money, but cost you the most time and require a lot more skills in the end.

If you can trace...You can route

One of my first custom signs that was carved out using a router on cabinet grade plywood.

The method I’m using will require a router and a couple different routing bits to accomplish but this route (pun intended) is a good middle ground for saving both time and money. If you only plan on adding one sign here or there it may be cheaper to send your idea to someone on Etsy. If you’re like me though and you take more pride in something you created from scratch and want more freedom of picking out your own wood frames, design and want to add some more skills to your DIY toolbox then it’s time to dust off that workbench and get started… Ok, so maybe don’t dust it off, since you’ll be making a little bit of a mess here but you get my point. 

 

Speaking of point, a few of the routing bits you may want to get this job done are a precision/profile bit which is great for tracing out the design. You may also want a straight bit for cutting away material and a v-groove bit for making a textured backing. The profile bit will allow you to get a little more intricate with your design.

First step in this project is to choose your wood canvas. You can use anything from plywood to hardwood boards found at just about any home improvement store or you could check out a local specialty store that sells live edge wood if you want a more natural look. Just keep in mind that you want your piece to be at least 1/2″ thick to give you some depth to work with. It’s also easier to work with smooth surfaces if you decide to use live edge or raw wood.

I had some leftover maple and black walnut scraps for my last project. To make a frame like this, I glued pieces of walnut with a 45 degree miter at the ends to create the border around the maple center. After the wood glue set, I sanded everything smooth and routed the edge with a cove bit to give it more of a framed look.

Finishing the canvas

Mixing the leftover sawdust and wood glue is a good way to conceal and small gaps or gouges in your wood canvas.

Now that I have my wood canvas prepped and ready, it’s time to choose my design. Juliet and I had a Beauty and the Beast themed wedding but we also got married on May 4th so we had to add some Star Wars to the mix. Just think of it as if Belle had met Beast a long long time ago in an enchanted castle in a galaxy far far away and you have our hodgepodge of a wedding theme (hey, it worked for us).

We had a fair amount of nieces and nephews we wanted to add to the wedding and they all needed tasks. Having them all carry the ring holder would have been a recipe for disaster. So I decided to make one sign each for the remaining 3 kids which worked out well and I was able to make the signs match the ring holder using the left over wood. From there it was only a matter of finding the images I wanted, scaling them to the size and laying it out.

You want to make a cover layer for your project so that you can easily peel off the remnants of your stencil later. The cover layer also helps keeps all the sawdust from blowing around when you are routing. I used painters tape and covered my entire project, making sure that I noted where my borders are so I don’t get the image too close to it.

Then I laid out exactly where I wanted my images and marked the corners as a reference. Using a spray adhesive, I glued the images down and left it to dry for at least 30 minutes. Final prep was to cover the image with clear masking tape which helps hold the image down and provides a slick surface for the router to slide on.

Slow and steady

Remember to take your time when tracing out your design. And alway wear your proper hearing and eye protection when using the router.

For the routing itself, I use a profile bit which is great for tracing out your image first. I set this at a depth of 3/16-in. You can always go a little deeper after tracing everything out but this was a good starting point to reveal your design.

The profile bit is small enough to where you can get pretty intricate with some of your designs but know it has limitations. I tend to practice a couple times on a scrap piece first to get the hang of it. Its also important to set up your work area on something sturdy like a picnic table or workbench. You can also clamp down your canvas so it doesn’t walk on you.Tracing out the image still requires a little patience and a steady hand. 

For the routing itself, I use a profile bit which is great for tracing out your image first. I set this at a depth of 3/16-in. You can always go a little deeper after tracing everything out but this was a good starting point to reveal your design.

The profile bit is small enough to where you can get pretty intricate with some of your designs but know it has limitations. I tend to practice a couple times on a scrap piece first to get the hang of it. Its also important to set up your work area on something sturdy like a picnic table or workbench. You can also clamp down your canvas so it doesn’t walk on you.Tracing out the image still requires a little patience and a steady hand. 

Slow and steady

Remember to take your time when tracing out your design. And alway wear your proper hearing and eye protection when using the router.

After everything was traced out I removed all of the tape to reveal my transferred image. From here, you can use a variety of different bits if you need to take out more material or add some texture. If you like more of a raw look, you can simply apply some polyurethane or linseed oil. I decided to give my signs some depth by spray painting over everything and sanding the paint off the top layer when it dried. 

Finally I brushed on a couple coats of polyurethane and they were ready to go! If this is your first time using a router, be sure to watch a tutorial on proper set up and use and test out your skills on a scrap piece first. Be safe, have fun, and be sure to show us your creations!