I’ve always loved the sign on “M*A*S*H*” with arrows pointing to all the doctors and nurses’ home towns. (Apparently I’m not alone – here it is in the Smithsonian.)
I decided to make one on a smaller scale as a backyard decoration, with all the places my husband and I have lived in our lives.
This would also be cute as a wedding decoration – if you want to go epic, you could have every guests’ hometown as well.
- Grading stakes. You can get a box of 12 1.3”x23.5” stakes at Home Depot for about $6.
- 2"x2" of whatever height you want. I wanted mine level with a low fence, so it’s 5 feet. You could also use a 2" round pole and screws if you want the signs to point in the exact right direction, but a square pole is easier to work with.
- Black and/or white paint for lettering
- Small paint brush
- Wood glue or Liquid Nails
- 1.5” nails
- Plaster of Paris
- Brown paint or stain for a weathered look (optional)
- Varnish or shellac (if placing outdoors)
Step 1: Cut Down Arrows
Cut down the grading stakes to 12” long from the tip of the arrow. Sand them smooth.
Find the distances between where you are and the cities you want (as the crow flies) using one of these free sites:
Step 2: Age Your Signs
Age your sign and pole. I used a thin coat brown and/or grey craft paint to give the sign some age. I did a few with brown, then mixed in some grey, did a few more, then mixed in more grey, so there’d be a variety of shades. If you want to age them more, lightly sand after painting.
Step 3: Letter the Signs
Paint on your cities and distances. For cities to the north and west, have the arrow facing left. For south and east, arrow facing right.
I’m bad at freehand lettering, so I typed each one out in 100 point font (80 for distances and longer city names), printed it out, taped them to each stake and traced them with a ballpoint pen. This creates small guides to use when painting.
Varnish the signs and pole if placing outdoors.
Step 4: Attach Signs
Glue and nail your signs to the pole. Put cities that are north and south on one side and east/west on the other.
I alternated cities north/south and east/west as best I could – I had a lot more north/south than east/west. You can get to each side by placing the pole on the edge of a table or step. I used s little Liquid Nails and two 1.5” nails to secure each sign, just to be sure.
Step 5: Make the Base
I used a half cinderblock, but you can use anything – a whole cinderblock, large coffee can, planter, etc. If using something without a bottom, like a cinderblock, place it on cardboard, carefully cover the bottom with a plastic bag, and pack in a layer of dirt. This will keep the plaster from seeping out the bottom.
Place your base in a corner so the sign can be propped up straight. I also used some 2x4 scraps to make sure it didn’t lean. Make sure it’s level.
Step 6: Add Plaster to Base
Mix up the plaster according to the instructions IN SMALL BATCHES.
I can’t emphasize this enough – plaster dries very quickly, so if you mix up one huge batch, it will be breaking into dry chunks before you finish.
I did 6 batches of 3 cups each mixed in an old Cool Whip tub. After the first two batches turned to giant clay lumps by the time I got them out of the tub, I did the next two with a little more water so it could get between the lumps and cracks of the first two. Small batches gives you that flexibility.
Keep your sign straight while the plaster dries. I used 2x4 scraps with clamps on one end and a weight on the other.
Step 7: All Done!
Treat yourself to a dirty martini with Hawkeye.