Introduction: DIY Marquee Letters
We built a set of DIY wood and metal marquee letters for our wedding (and they were actually the first DIY project we ever started!). We still get comments and questions about these letters, so we thought doing a video and updated tutorial would help show how we made them. Here's what you'll need:
- 2’x4’, ¾” thick plywood (one sheet was enough for our two letters
- 6” wide metal flashing (10 feet is enough for our two letters)
- Globe string lights (a pack of 25 was perfect for our two letters)
- Minwax dark walnut stain
- Finishing nails
- Super glue
- Our letter template
- Scrap wood
- Or brad nailer kit (optional)
- Jig saw
- Spade bit or forstner bit or hole saw that's a little larger than the diameter of the sockets of your lights, but smaller than your bulbs. We used a 13/16 spade bit
- Metal snips
- Sturdy putty knife
- Sanding block or sponge
- Miter saw (optional)
- Hole punch (optional)
- Clamps (optional, but these things are SO versatile)
Step 1: Making Guides and Templates
This step is a tiny bit of up front work that is going to make things way easier later in the project. We're going to make a few wooden blocks to use as guides.
First, we cut four 2-5/8" long blocks out of some scrap 2x4s. These will hold up the letters to the correct height for nailing in the metal flashing later. We used our miter saw, but a jig saw works too, just cut slowly (and maybe use a clamped-on straight edge as a guide).
Next we’re going to make a height guide to help us nail in the right location. We cut another piece of scrap wood to be 3-3/8" long and drew a line at 2-5/8". This will show us where the plywood is from the outside of the flashing.
Both of these measurements are based on using 3/4" plywood. These guides will make more sense once we get further along in the project, but trust us, you'll want to have them!
We made printable templates for every letter (you can download them here). These are PDFs that will print out on several pages and be the right size to cut out a 2-foot tall letter. We taped together the template, which is easier said than done, at least when you have a cat. Then we cut out the outline of the letters, taped them onto our plywood, and traced around them using a yardstick as a straight edge.
Step 2: Drilling Holes in the Letters
drillBefore removing the paper, you'll want to use the hole center guide we included in the template download to mark where to drill each hole. NOTE: The lights we link to above are a pack of 25. Our E and K had 25 total holes. If the letters you chose have more than 25 holes, you might need reduce the amount of holes and eyeball how to space them out OR look for a bigger set of lights.
Line up the center template with each circle on the letters, then either use a center punch or tap a nail a few times into the center mark. When you remove the paper templates, you'll be left with tiny starter holes to show you where you need to drill. We drilled through these using a 13/16" spade bit, but you could also use a forstner bit or hole saw. We'd recommend double checking the diameter of the socket part of your lights before doing this. You want it to be a snug fit.
Sometimes drilling all the way through in one go can cause a little tear-out. It's not a huge deal because the back of the letters will never be seen anyway, just make sure you're drilling into the front of the letters. Or you can play it safe like we did by drilling halfway through the letters from the front, then flipping them over and drilling the rest of the way through.
Step 3: Cutting Out the Letters
Next we cut around the outlines of the letters with a jig saw. This is easiest to do if you have a couple clamps to hold the wood still, but we made the first set without any. Carefully guide the jig saw around the outline of your letters. There might be a couple places where you need to turn a corner and can't, like the inside cuts of our E. Just drill a hole along the line you need to cut, then place the jigsaw blade in that hole and start cutting along that line.
Woohoo, at this point things are starting to take shape!
Step 4: Sanding and Staining
Before staining them, we're going to give the edges a quick sand. For the outside edges of the letters, we used a 220 grit sanding sponge because it's easy, flexible, and can contour to the edges a bit. We used little scraps of 220 grit sandpaper to sand inside the holes we drilled.
Then we applied one coat of Minwax stain in dark walnut. To keep the coat of stain even, Evan applied it and I wiped off excess as he went. This prevents it from pooling or soaking in too much in some areas and coming out splotchy. It's not 100% necessary to do it this way, but we think it helps. Don't worry about staining the edges or inside the holes, they won't be visible when you're done.
Step 5: Bending the Metal Flashing
This next part, adding the flashing, was definitely the hardest step the first time we did this project. But because we made those scrap wood guides earlier, it's gonna be a lot easier this time. Go ahead and place your first letter on the 2-5/8" scrap wood blocks to raise it up off your work surface.
First we sketched out our letters and measured all the sides, writing the measurements down on our sketch. We planned for the flashing to start at the middle of the bottom of each letter, so the first measurement is just a partial length and we allowed for some overlap at the end. We used those measurements to pre-bend the metal flashing.
We've found the easiest way to do this is to grab a hammer and a sturdy (thick) putty knife, and find yourself something cushy to work on, like carpet. Because we were working outside, we used our doormat. Having your flashing on a cushioned surface lets the putty knife sink into it when you're hammering.
Put on some gloves (the flashing is sharp). Measure from the end of the flashing to where you need to make the first corner on the letter and mark a line at that point. Then align the edge of the putty knife with that line, and hammer the handle so that it indents the metal. Once you've given it a few whacks of the hammer, you should be able to bend it easily by keeping the putty knife edge in the crease and folding the metal against it by hand.
Every time we made a bend, we made sure to a) measure the side of the letter again just in case before bending, b) make sure we were bending in the right direction (bending inward or outward, see the two diagrams in the photos above), and c) test fit the bend to make sure it fit the letter before moving onto the next bend. We caught a couple measurement mistakes on our end, so we definitely recommend playing it safe!
If you do happen to make a bend in the the wrong spot or in the wrong direction, you can undo it. Lay the metal against a hard surface and hammer the bend flat. Then you can re-bend it in the correct spot/direction.
Step 6: Attaching the Metal Flashing
When you have all your bends made and everything fits, it's time to secure the metal to the wood. This is where the guides we made are going to come in handy. The blocks we made earlier hold the letter up to the correct height so that when the flashing is wrapped around them, the plywood is centered in the flashing. And the 3-3/8" block will show you, from the outside of the flashing, where the plywood is so that you can nail into it.
The first time we did this project, we were trying to simultaneously hold the flashing centered with the plywood and hammer into it at the same time. It was not the easiest thing in the world. So trust us when we say these guides will save you!
Another thing that made the project easier this time around is having a nail gun. We haven't used it much so we did have a slight learning curve, but once we got the hang of it it made nailing the flashing into the wood much faster. We used the outside height guide to show us what height to make the nails at, and we ended up cutting a little notch in it with our jigsaw to even use it as a place to rest the nail gun so our spacing was more consistent.
However, this is totally 100% doable with just a hammer and finishing nails. It'll take a little more time, but it's not difficult. We recommend nails that are only 3/4" or so so you're not hammering forever. Use the height guide to line the nails up with where the plywood is and hammer them in.
Whichever method you use, it definitely helps to have one person hold the letters secure while the other nails into them. If a nail goes through your wood don't worry, just pull it out with pliers, sand over the rough spot where it exited the wood, touch it up with a dab of stain, and re-hammer in the nail. Just think of it as added character.
There will be a few areas you can't nail into because a hammer or nail gun won't fit. We secured these with super glue. We used gorilla glue last time, but in our opinion, super glue was easier. Some places won't need nails or glue (like the tight corners of the K), but other places will (like inside the E - see the diagram above to see what we mean).
We dabbed some super glue in between the metal and wood, then used scrap wood and rubber bands to hold them tightly together. You may not need to do this step at all, it all depends on your letters. You can also often bend the metal so that it's bowing against the wood, which holds it against it. But adding a little super glue is easy in a pinch.
And congrats! You're done with the hardest part!
Step 7: Adding Lights
The last step is adding the lights. All in all, this is pretty straight forward. Just unscrew the bulb, pop the socket through the hole, and screw the bulb back in.
We had 25 lights and 25 holes, so we made sure that a light was used in each one. This meant we had to do a little back tracking on the legs of the letters. Where you have to backtrack, skip every other hole on and then fill the ones you skipped on your way back. See how I skipped the holes on the leg of the K? I'm going to fill those on the way back up.
Step 8: Enjoy!!
We are so happy to have another set of these marquee letters, and this set was WAY easier to build than our first. Maybe that's a testament to the skills we've learned over the past few years, or maybe it was just because while making the first set we were also trying to fix up our newly bought house and plan a wedding at the same time haha. Either way, we're super pleased with how these came out.
They are perfect for a wedding (we might be biased) but would also be awesome for an engagement shoot, baby shower, party, or even just as home decor. We have our set that spells LOVE in our living room and they make us happy every day. Hope you enjoyed our DIY Marquee Letters tutorial!
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