Introduction: DIY Hand Painted Zombie Sign in Time for Halloween: How to Design, Letter, and Make

About: I'm a life-hacking reuse junkie who loves to create, even if all I'm making is a mess. I love hammers and rocks and history and hand planes. I hugged trees before it was cool but can still operate a chainsaw. …

There is a lot of variance as to the types of making/doing happening around here, and usually a fair bit of excitement (and pain). It's a regular zoo, and I'm all the animals. But amid the madness, there are signs in progress. Always signs.

Signs are the one thing I make that I know what I'm getting into. I have the tools and the know-how. I've painted insane quantities of letters. Sometimes for pay, sometimes for play. Always for the love of it. That's right, I love painting words on things.

So I've been meaning to make a nice, thorough sign'ible. About good design, about traditional methods, tools, and paint. This is not that that post. Instead, we're making a Zombie Defense sign to hang with the yard/garden tools (get it? Because the movies... okay, yeah, of course you get it). This sign is quick and dirty. Pie easy. With latex paint instead of oil-based enamels, unsanded plywood instead of MDO, and the simplest lettering design/layout.

Plus, it's going to look awesome. No practice. No toil. No tears. Shapooofee! You're a sign pro- *snap* - just like that! Well, sort of...

AND it's decor on the cheap. Really cheap. *FREE* cheap. Most of my projects fall neatly into this category. This one is no exception.

Step 1: Tools, Prep, and Layout

If you are painting a sign to hang with your landscaping tools, I'm guessing should be able to scare up some materials around your place. If you're planning on heading to the Big Box for any of this stuff, just don't, okay? Find something you have you can use. Don't go buy a new brush or fancy paint. This is a great opportunity to use up some of that house paint in the color your house is no longer painted in. No plywood? Paint on the wall above your tools! Anyway, this sign should cost you zero dollars. Here's what I used.

  • My neighbor is building a house, so I grabbed a scrap of plywood from his pile. It was in the shape of an origami swan, so I ran it through the table saw to make it a little manageable: 48" x 10"
  • Exterior latex, charcoal color. Ceiling paint, white (really, if you have another option besides ceiling paint, go with the alternative. Ceiling paint isn't really great at being paint at all... acts more like water. But I had ceiling paint in my shop I was tired of looking at, so...)
  • 2-1/2" angled paint brush (for the background), 1" square tip for the letters.
  • Ruler/straight edge
  • Stabilo pencil (marks on any surface... one of the most used tools in my arsenal. A regular pencil or chalk subs fine in this project, though)
  • A few bits of wood scrap (if you're going to add the axe stand portion) plus a few screws for hanging

Paint the base color. Latex dries fast, so you can begin laying out your lettering almost immediately.

I mentioned easy layout earlier and here's why: all the big letters are the width of my ruler. Each letter, save the M and the I, are 3" wide. We're drawing simple square letterforms. Piece of cake. Mark your baseline and the top line of the lettering. Draw letters.

Step 2: Paint, Axe, Admire

Once you're happy with the design, start painting your letters. Left to right. Top to bottom. Get your brush nice and loaded up with paint. That will help facilitate nice even strokes and keep flare out to a minimum. Make a mistake? Don't fret. It's paint. You can always fix paint. I recommend letting the mistake dry so you don't compound the mistake with the dreaded smear job. When it's dry, you should be able to remedy with a utility blade or just paint over the top. It's a ZOMBIE sign, guys. Not the end of the world (heh) if you have a paint drip.

If your sign will be holding an axe, work on that while you're waiting for your letters to dry. Trace the butt end of your axe onto a scrap of plywood. I used a jig saw to cut out that shape, then screwed another piece of scrap onto the back of the sign, finally fastening the cut piece to the second piece of scrap and the sign. Place your axe into its mount, then adjust the placement by hand. When it's where you want it, mark on either side of the head, just below the flare. Set axe aside. Pound a sturdy nail in the depth of your sign at the marks and what's left protruding will help hold your axe in place.

Now fasten the sign to the wall. I counter sunk a handful of 2" deck screws in it. After it was secure, I just painted the screw heads with the background color. Put my axe back on. Done.

Now stand back and admire that sign. Looks great (though with your mad DIYing skills I am hardly surprised)! Oh, and just a warning... once they see it, everyone you know is going to ask you to make one for them too!

Happy painting, and keep making awesome stuff!

(I've included photos of a few of my other recent painting projects in this step. If you want that nice, thorough, traditional sign'ible I've been meaning to make, please say so in the comments and I'll see what I can do!)

Survival Ready Contest

Participated in the
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Halloween Decor Contest 2016

Participated in the
Halloween Decor Contest 2016