Thoughts on Wooden Signs

A sign-maker recently emailed us with this question:

Hi Danthonia,

How are you? I was wondering if I could ask you some advice about timber. I have a client that wants a plywood sign that is cleared/varnished with their logo painted on it. The idea is to have the colour and grain of the wood as the background. I know that Plywood isn’t very resistant to the elements and I was wondering what timber and varnish you would use in this case? The size of the sign is 600 by 900mm. Any advice would be a great help.

– Sign-maker

Dear Sign-Maker,

If your client is convinced the sign should be plywood, get a ‘marine plywood’ and ask the supplier for his advice on the best outdoor clear coat for the wood that he is selling. The coating should be both waterproof and UV resistant. Apply many coats. The trick is to keep the water away from the wood for as long as possible. Any scratches or punctures during installation will give the water a place to get into the wood and the deterioration process will begin.

With our own clients, we encourage them towards a HDU sign with a faux-woodgrain finish, rather than a plywood sign. Admittedly, the materials are more expensive, but they are also so much longer lasting. Wood signs are beautiful, but will require maintenance every year if not more often.

Rotten Wood Sign

Here’s a photo I recently took of a local redwood sign we made about twelve years ago. It certainly showing it’s age.

About ten years ago, we made a whole system of signs out of Jarrah-wood for a resort in the Blue Mountains. They still look beautiful today. I asked the groundskeeper about how the signs are holding up, and he told me that he sands and re-varnishes the top edge of all the signs every year.

Another local customer walked into our shop one day with a piece of Huon pine he had bought while holidaying in Tasmania. He wanted his property name carved and gilded into it. A faux-wood panel simply wouldn’t have had the same emotional connection.

So, some clients really do want the authenticity of wood, and are willing to put in the necessary effort. In such cases, we’ve found this treatment to be the best:

Step 1: a coat of Intergrain Reviva Timber Cleaner
Step 2: one or two coats of Intergrain Dimension 4 Primer
Step 3: two to three coats of Intergrain DWD (this comes in a variety of shades)

We’ve written more of our thoughts about sign materials in these two articles:

Hopefully that helps!


Ramshackle Farm Sign

A Faux-Wood Sign in rural Victoria

Scots Hut Wooden Sign

A wooden property sign, with ‘chipped’ and patinaed edges

Brennans Wood Sign

A faux-wood bar sign in St. Louis, Missouri. Click here to read a blog post about the project.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Wooden Signs

  1. I’m not sure if Woodoc has made it to the states yet. Its a high build polywax marine sealer which comes in a high gloss finish and supposedly has 15 years in any climate.. Comes from South Africa ‘food for wood’.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Gary. Just looked at their website & it looks like the product is available in South Africa, Ireland, UK, New Zealand & Australia. Fifteen years is an ambitious claim. Have you had much experience with the product?

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