How to Rout Wooden Signs

Written by cheryl torrie
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How to Rout Wooden Signs
Wooden signs add character anywhere. (footpath / bridleway sign image by Mike Shannon from Fotolia.com)

Routers aren't just for creating an occasional fancy edge. Routing wooden signs is a fun woodworking craft that expands on your ability to utilise your router to its fullest potential. You can design and create a wooden sign for just about anywhere in your home, cabin or barn. It may seem challenging at first, but there are different methods to rout wooden signs no matter your skill level.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Extra-fine 60-degree-point lettering bit
  • Router
  • Wood
  • Wood clamps
  • Workbench
  • Mechanical pencil
  • Carbide-tipped standard bit, straight bit or ball nose bit
  • Lettering template set
  • Level
  • Painter's tape
  • Jigsaw
  • Lettering jig set

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Instructions

    Routing a Sign Freehand

  1. 1

    Place an extra-fine 60-degree-point lettering bit in your router collet (the opening in the router where the bit is inserted). Choose the lettering bit that has the largest shank dimension that your router will hold without using a collet adaptor and the shortest cutting edge to minimise vibration chatter.

  2. 2

    Select a piece of wood that has ample room for your sign design and clamp it securely to your workbench with wood clamps. Position the clamps so that they will not be in the router base plate path.

  3. 3

    Adjust your router depth control knob to the appropriate setting for the piece of wood you selected for your wooden sign.

  4. 4

    Draw your wooden sign design onto the wood with a mechanical pencil. Free-hand the letters in block script where possible.

  5. 5

    Use the side-view window in your router to place the lettering bit within the first letter or shape outline.

  6. 6

    Turn the router on and press the router base plate onto the wood. Move the router around within the first shape exerting consistent pressure against the router handles to keep the bit firmly within the outline. Lift the router from the first outline and continue routing the wooden sign until all letters, symbols and shapes have been carved. If you have selected a hard wood and you experience any burning or router chatter, you can make two or three shallow passes on each letter rather than one deep cut.

    Routing a Sign with a Lettering Template Set

  1. 1

    Place a carbide-tipped standard bit, straight bit or ball nose bit, depending on the designed letter shape, with the appropriate cutting edge and shank diameter in your router collet.

  2. 2

    Select a piece of wood that has ample room for your sign design and clamp it securely to your workbench with wood clamps. Position the clamps so that they will not be in the router base plate path.

  3. 3

    Adjust your router settings to the appropriate setting for the wood you selected for your sign.

  4. 4

    Line up the appropriate letters, spaces, symbols and numbers from your lettering template on your wood. Verify that your letters are straight horizontally by placing a level along the bottom edge of the templates and viewing the horizontal tube. If the bubble is between the two vertical lines on the level, the templates are positioned correctly. Tape the templates to the wood with painter's tape along their top and bottom edges.

  5. 5

    Use the side-view window on your router to align the router bit within the opening of the first template. Turn the router on and press the router base plate flat onto the wood sign. Direct the bit along the first template opening with consistent pressure against the router handles to carve the first letter, shape or number for your wooden sign. Lift the router bit's cutting edge from the first template and continue carving within each additional template to complete your wooden sign.

    Routing a Wooden Sign with a Lettering Jig

  1. 1

    Assemble your lettering jig base plate by following the manufacturer's assembly instructions and diagrams, if needed.

  2. 2

    Cut your wooden sign board with a jigsaw, making certain it is within the jig manufacturer's maximum specifications. You will have to limit the dimension of your sign to utilise the jig's frame clamps and router support bridges properly.

  3. 3

    Clamp one end of the jig template base plate to one end of the wood with one of the included side clamp brackets. Slide your template letters, spacers, numbers and symbols onto the jig template rail from the open end.

  4. 4

    Slide the two router support bridges onto the jig from the open end. Secure the open end to the wood with the second side clamp bracket. The router support bridges extend to the piece of wood to steady the router as it is moved along the jig.

  5. 5

    Select the bushing and router bit that fits your router from the two that come with the jig. Place them in your router and adjust your router settings to the appropriate settings. Align your router bit within the first letter opening, turn on the router and press the router base plate onto the support rails. Move the router along that opening and lift it clear of the template jig before continuing onto the next opening to complete your wooden sign.

Tips and warnings

  • Setting up the lettering jig takes a bit longer but each letter, symbol or number is perfectly aligned and spaced on your wooden sign.
  • If you are new to sign crafting, you will want to start with a soft wood.
  • Staining or painting the interior of the routed letters with a darker wood stain or paint than used on the sign face adds the illusion of additional depth.
  • Wear safety glasses while operating a jigsaw or router.

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