Introduction: How to Make a (Totally Fake) Antique Sign

Picture of How to Make a (Totally Fake) Antique Sign

We recently finished up a renovation for our Mudroom and needed something for a long blank wall between our garage entry door and the doorway to the kitchen.  We looked around at antique shows and thrift shops and didn't find anything she liked.  So my wife decided to make an antique sign out of some cheap lumber.  Here's how she did it.

Step 1: What You'll Need

Picture of What You'll Need

So here are the materials you’ll need to make a faux antique sign:
 1×12 pine board cut to desired length
 2 colors of craft paint – one for lettering and one for background
 paint pens in a third contrasting color – fine and medium thicknesses
 1 1/2 or 2″ angle brush
 small 1/2″ chisel-edge or angle craft brush with short bristles (mine says “angle shader” on it)
 graphite paper or carbon paper
 ball-point ink pen
 computer with word processing program (or even better, Photoshop)
 printer & paper
 tape
 60 grit coarse sandpaper
 220 grit fine sandpaper
 2 D-ring hangers or a sawtooth picture hanger
 hammer
Start by deciding where you’re going to put the sign once it’s done.  Then you can determine how long your 1×12 needs to be to fill the wall space.  The wall that mine is on is about 7′-6″ from the doorway to the kitchen to the door that goes into the garage, and I just bought a 48″ wide board (no cutting!).

Step 2: Lay Out the Text

Picture of Lay Out the Text

I set my template up in Photoshop as actual size.  Since the 1×12 is actually only 11.25″, I made my blank document 11.25″ tall x 48″ wide.  It was helpful to be able to see how it would look all on the same document.  I set up guides a few inches in on each side, and 1.5 inches from the top and bottom edges.  If you have Photoshop and want to download the template, you can find it here.
I decided to go with the phrase “Farm Fresh Eggs” since we have chickens, but you can do whatever you like.

Step 3: Assemble the Template

Picture of Assemble the Template

The font is called Dutch801 extra bold and is at 435 point font.  I exported it as a PDF and printed it under the “Poster” print option at 100% so that the letters would be the correct size when they printed.  It ended up printing on 10 sheets, and I had to cut and tape them together to get my long template to use for tracing and transferring the letters onto the board once I painted it.

Step 4: Print Out Shadow Reference Page

Picture of Print Out Shadow Reference Page

And then I made a separate version with a dropped shadow and lighter fill color for the letters, so that I could clearly see where I would need to add the thicker lines to each letter.  This dropped shadow is what makes your sign look 3-D, and is how handpainted signs were made in the past.

I printed this one out to fit on one piece of paper, not actual size, since I was just using it as a visual reference for doing the dropped shadow.


Step 5: Distress and "Age" the Board

Picture of Distress and "Age" the Board

Then you want to distress the board to make it look older than a brand-spankin’ new piece of pine.  Here’s where the hammer comes in.  In the same way that I “aged” our bench, I hit the board with my hammer to soften the edges and corners.

Step 6: Painting

Picture of Painting

Cover the entire board with one coat of craft paint in the background color you’ve selected.  I wasn’t sure how much paint I would need so I mixed a few colors together.  I ended up using just one of the little tubes I bought.  One tube should cover a 48″ board no problem, but I always buy an extra in the same color just in case.  And don’t worry about the wood grain showing through.  The paint won’t be completely opaque and that’s okay.

Wait for this coat to dry completely according to the specified drying time on the paint container.  After it’s fully dry, take your printed-out and taped-together template and lay it on top, centering it on the board and making sure it’s straight.  Tape along the top edge and sides so it doesn’t move and mess up your lettering in the next step.

Step 7: Transfer Lettering Onto Board

Picture of Transfer Lettering Onto Board

Slip your sheet of carbon or graphite paper between the board and the template and begin tracing around the edges of each letter with the ball point pen.  Your transfer paper probably won’t cover the entire length of the board, so you’ll need to scoot it along as you go.  I used an orange pen to trace so that I could easily see where I left off.

Step 8: Fill in Lettering With Paint

Picture of Fill in Lettering With Paint

Use your small craft brush to fill in the lettering with the contrasting paint color you’ve selected.  Again, the paint won’t be completely opaque.  If you don’t stay exactly in the lines (like on the tail of the “a” above) don’t worry, you can hide it in a later step.  If you don’t want to mess with filling in all those little serifs during this step, then choose a sans serif font.  I liked this font with the serifs because I thought it looked antique-y, but filling in all those little serifs took some patience.

Step 9: Outline and Add Shadow

Picture of Outline and Add Shadow

Once the lettering is completely dry, take the fine-tipped paint pen in the third color and trace around all of the letters.  You can use a script brush and craft paint to trace the outline if you'd like.  I’m certainly not a newbie with a paint brush and I’ve got a pretty steady hand, but I didn’t want to risk boo-booing the sign at this point.  So that’s why I oped for the paint pens instead, since they’re easier to control.

The ones I used came in a 2-pack, and I use both of them.  So if the fine-tipped ones you buy are sold as individuals, get two of them.
After that is completely dry, take the medium-tipped paint pen in the same color and add in the dropped shadow, using the printout as a visual reference for where they fall for each letter.

This is the step where I said you could fix any tiny spots that aren’t entirely inside the lines.  The thicker dropped shadow lines give you a little fudge room to cover those up.  In the photo below, the “a” and “r” are done, and the “m” isn’t – it makes such a difference!

Step 10: Sand, Finish + Hang

Picture of Sand, Finish + Hang

Once the lettering is all dry, take the 60-grit coarse sandpaper and rub it all over the surface of the board, even over your now-perfectly painted letters, keeping with the wood grain.  The coarse sandpaper will give you a nice, streaky faded look on the lettering, while toning down the brightness and any sheen of the background paint color.

Go around the edges with the 220 grit fine sandpaper to expose the wood underneath the paint and give it a distressed, aged look.

Finally, take a clean, dry cloth and wipe down the entire sign to get rid of any remaining sawdust from sanding.

If you'd like to make it look even more aged, you can add a thin layer of wood stain on top and wipe it off immediately after applying.  I did this on one corner, then decided I didn't like it, so I sanded it out and skipped this step.  

Then you’re ready to add your hanger of choice to the back and mount on the wall.

For the blog post my wife did for this project, click here.  She also gives directions for building and finishing the bench we made for this same room here.

Comments

chris15252 (author)2013-09-20

My go with your technique. Love the instructable!

Gartholameau (author)2013-09-17

Very nicely done. I like how it turned out. I was wondering if staining the board a weathered grey before painting the yellow and lettering would allow the grey to show through when you sand off the paint. It might give it a seasoned look beyond the sanded/flaking paint, then again it might sand off the grey stain also. Again, well done, thanks for sharing.

offramp (author)Gartholameau2013-09-19

Here's what I do to achieve the look you're suggesting:
Take a piece of charcoal - in my case, I grabbed some out of the firepit - and rub it into the wood in the areas you're likely to make 'worn' and thus, exposed. Then do all your paint finishes as necessary. When you go to 'wear away' the chosen areas, you'll have nice, dirty aged wood waiting for you underneath. I chose charcoal because it won't seal the grain the way a stain would, and the more you rub it, the deeper it goes, as opposed to going away.
I did this with a Fender Jazz bass I found in a flea market. The thing was almost totally destroyed; instead of restoring it I decided to re-imagine it as a faux vintage guitar, so I brought it home and took the finish off, glued it back together (yes, it was that bad), and then pre-determined where the worn spots were going to be...adding the charcoal then later revealing it.

captianoats (author)2013-09-17

Hmmm I'm not sure if you can iron on wood or not. Let me know if you try it!

yellowcatt (author)captianoats2013-09-18

to iron on the text outline you would need to use a laser printer - the heat just melts the toner. If you only have an ink jet then you would need to get photocopies done.
You could of course use the traditional sign writing method and use a pounce wheel.

tabrown05 (author)captianoats2013-09-18

Yes, its a long and proven technique. I've been doing it for years as a transfer method,

tabrown05 (author)2013-09-15

Save yourself some steps print the test in reverse and iron on the copy, then you can paint directly over the transferred image.

mrdavidlowe (author)tabrown052013-09-17

When you iron it, does the ink transfer to the wood? I just want to understand what you mean by that.

tabrown05 (author)mrdavidlowe2013-09-18

Exactly.

Ninzerbean (author)tabrown052013-09-17

Brilliant, thanks!

cjohnson15 (author)2013-09-17

I really like your sign! I've been looking for something similar for a hallway in my house and I'm definitely going to try this. Thank you for sharing.

spyder2021 (author)2013-09-15

good job, although the sign looks real to me. Does not look fake :)

w666est (author)2013-09-15

Really smart and actually do-able by anyone.

doc.kennedy (author)2013-09-12

Nice descriptive post. Thanks and nice job!

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