I’ve been designing and carving an exterior sign for a cottage called “Minglewood.” Above is the sign with the carving portion complete, and below is my early small sketch of the design. The cap boards, which were inspired by the roofline of the cottage, will be attached to the top of the sign board itself. They’ll slope toward the back of the sign to shed water behind. The sign (30″ long) will be attached to two vertical posts anchored in the ground.
Compared to the thumbnail sketch above, the final design was streamlined, especially the branches and leaves. Designing took more time than the carving. I don’t know how much time for either, but I know it was more for the first.
I chose white oak mainly for its durability outdoors that I’ve experienced first-hand. I made our patio furniture over 20 years ago from white oak, a table and chairs. They’ve sat out in the rain and the sun and they’re still solid. The piece I’m using here is quarter sawn, so it won’t move much and will be unlikely to warp. Also, the ray fleck is a nice touch.
There’s the first cut up there on the M, a stop cut of sorts. For these big letters (the M is about 6″ high) I used a big V-tool to remove much of the wood before refining the walls with chisels and gouges. Much more effective than a knife in this very hard wood.
Here I’m roughing the upright of the L, which is also the trunk of the tree. The V-tool work on other letters can be seen as well. The remaining wood will be removed with the chisels and gouges.
For these flaring (waisted) elements, I use a combination of the three tools above, all flat carving chisels, but sharpened differently. I work them from the upper edge to the bottom of the V. The one on the left is ground straight across and is best for straight or slightly convex (when viewed from the outside of the trench) walls. the middle one has a slight camber and can negotiate slightly concave areas without the corners digging in. The third is ground to a skew to get into tight spots usually at the terminals and junctions.
Here’s the cambered chisel working the concave wall right up to the corner.
There’s the skew slicing right down into the junction of the end wall and side wall.
The curves are cleaned up with gouges. Here I’m removing some chips with some mallet blows. I’ll follow by rocking and slicing with a gouge to create the final surface.
I’ve shown this arrangement before, but I use this sort of I-beam bench extension held in my vise to hold the workpiece out on a narrow peninsula so that I can access it from both sides easily. Just a couple 2x4s capped by a 1×6, all held in the vise at one end.
The plan is to paint the letters, branches, and leaves before treating the whole thing with oil that can be easily maintained from year to year. The shot above is taken in the shop with light coming across the sign from the left. The shadows allow the sign to be read clearly. Below, I’ve simply rotated the sign into the direction of the light, and the difference is clear. The paint will assure a contrast no matter what that sun is up to throughout the day or if car lights are approaching the sign head-on.
I don’t think I’ve painted an exterior sign before, but Martin Wenham’s book has a whole section on painting-in letters and selecting materials.