Introduction: Carving House Signs With the Arbortech Power Chisel

Wood carving letters and basic images is not difficult - this is my very first attempt and the results were very satisfying. Much of the success is dependant on getting a good and accurate pencil sketch onto the wood and having a steady hand for the carving process.

Two house signs were created here, with increasing degrees of complexity. The second sign, 'Deer Park Farm', was given a deep burnt finish with a blow torch to create the high contrast that the design required. The cost for this project was pretty much zero as the wood came from Deer Park Farm - just a tin of yacht varnish at 10 quid - the power chisel was kindly donated by Arbortech.

Enjoy your woodcarving!

Hazards:..........Diatomaceous earth dust harmful

Step 1: Tools and Equipment

  • Arbortech power chisel
  • Arbortech woodcarver's starter kit
  • Mini multitool as in photo
  • Orbital sander
  • 200 to 60 grade discs for sander
  • White exterior paint
  • External gloss varnish (yacht varnish)
  • Artists paint brush
  • 2" paint brush
  • Pencil
  • 2" thick plank or oak
  • Gas blow torch
  • Diatomaceous earth (use a dust mask as this is carcinogenic if inhaled)
  • Face mask
  • Scalpel
  • Computer and printer

Step 2: Preparing the Wood

The oak plank needs to be perfectly smooth before the carving is started, so it must be planed and then sanded through the grades of 60 to 200 grit.

Step 3: The Meusydd Sign - Print and Draw on the Design

Select a suitable font for your house name, bearing in mind that it needs to be easily visible if you ever want to recieve deliveries from the couriers. Avoid anything too ostentatious, unless you live in a castle or a 10 bedroom manor house. I printed my house name onto separate bits of A4 paper and joined them together with parcel tape.

Cut out the shapes with the scalpel, taking care to create 'tabs' for the insides of letters such as 'D' and 'O'.

Write in the letters with a dark pencil - chalk or marker pens should NOT be used as the lines need to be thin, bold and accurate.

Step 4: First Carving Cuts

Start carving by making central grooves in the letters, following the curves whenever possible, using the large V shaped chisel. Sometimes, on thin parts of the letters, I managed to cut the wood out in one slow pass, but others had to be done in 3 separate passes with the same chisel.

Step 5: Use the Small Gouge Chisel to Finish

The groves in the letters can now be tidied up by running through with the small gouge chisel. Use the multitool with a grinder attachment to finish off.

Step 6: Paint in the Letters With White Paint

Use a small artists brush to paint in the letters. White will be the best colour for visibility. Dont worry if the paint overspills onto the main board as this is then sanded off after it has dried.

Step 7: The Deer Park Farm Sign

A stage up from the Meusydd sign, this project requires a little bit more skill with the Arbortech power chisel. One of the main challenges was getting the high contrast seen in the photoshopped logo above.

Step 8: Painting in the White

The white was painted in and sanded off as with the previous sign, but it was very obvious to me that there was currently not enough contrast to make this image work.

Step 9: Applying Heat Resistant Paste

Wearing a face mask, I mixed up some diatomacious earth with soapy water to create a thick paste and spread this into the white areas to protect them from the heat of the blow torch. It would have been difficult to paint white over black if the inset areas got burnt by the flame.

Step 10: Burning the Wood

I lit the blow torch and very carefully started burning the wood around the letters and inside the tree and deer images. I managed to get a fairly good degree of control, but obviously a smaller, more focused, torch would have been better. I kept a very close watch on the amount of 'black' that I was creating as I did not want to completely lose sight of the wood grain. Most importantly, I did not want to have 'overspill' into the letters as this would have been a disaster, but in the event the diatomaceous earth did a really good job and there was no problem at all.

Step 11: Wipe Off the Earth

The diatomatious earth was carefully wiped away, taking care not to contaminate the work area. The groves were cleaned out with a 2" paint brush.

Step 12: Checking the Contrast

The effectiveness of the burning was checked by spraying lightly with water to simulate the effect of the varnish. It seemed pretty good to me, although I gave some areas a bit extra flame as this could always be sanded down a bit if it was too excessive.

Step 13: Paint on the Varnish

A number of finishes are possible, including oil or wax. I chose varnish as it's relatively easy to sand down and re-coat a flat surface if it starts to look a bit tatty.

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