Introduction: How to Create a Custom Rustic Sign

Hi, my name is Josie. I have been an arts and crafts enthusiast since I started finger painting in preschool. I am going to show you how you can have more freedom within your budget by creating your own décor and feel happier when walking into your home to see items surrounding you that no one else has, and that have meaning to you. In six easy and fun steps you will be able to have unique and meaningful décor to adorn your home with, which will leave you feeling happier at home and your wallet feeling more free than a home décor shop would!


Materials Required

  • Piece of wood (size, species, and shape of your choosing)
  • Wood stain (brand and color of your choosing)
  • Acrylic paints (colors of your choosing)
  • Small paint brushes
  • 2" paint brush
  • 220 grit sandpaper
  • Rag
  • Garbage bag

Step 1: Setting the Workspace Up

Before beginning the creation process of the rustic sign, the workspace must be set up. Begin by finding an open area with plenty of room to move around. This could be in a garage, basement, dining room table, desk, living room floor, she-shed, or a mancave. Once a location is chosen, take the garbage bag (13 gallons or larger in size work best) and unfold it onto the work surface. If the piece of wood is larger than the area of the bag, the garbage sack can be cut on one side to fold out to twice its original size (this will result in one layer of plastic rather than two). This will act as a protection barrier between the creation area and any paints or stains that may not make it onto the sign.

Step 2: Staining the Wood

Once the garbage bag has been laid out, set the piece of wood chosen for the rustic sign on top of the bag. Pieces of wood that are most advisable for this project can be found as several stores, such as Hobby Lobby, Menards, or Walmart. The wood being used for this example sign is from Menards and was just under $7. If one side of the piece of wood is more favorable than the other, position the less desirable side face-down on the bag. After situating the wood, shake up the stain of choice and open the can. The brand is not overly important, nor is the stain. Many aspects of this project are able to be mixed and matched for an individual, customizable, and unique end product, reflecting the taste of it's creator. For this sign, a dark walnut stain was chosen. Stains can be found at most hardware stores, Walmart, and Menards. This stain is eight ounces and was right around $4. A container this size is able to stain several signs.

Following shaking the container of wood stain to mix it, open the lid. Most of the time these lids need to be pried open. This can be done by using the end of a narrow paint brush handle, a flat head screwdriver, or a key. When the stain is open, set the container next to the wood on top of the garbage bag so any drips off of the brush can be collected on the plastic rather than the work surface. Dip the two-inch brush into the stain and make long, even strokes running with the grain of the wood. A two-inch paint brush can be found at most hardware stores, home improvement stores, Walmart, online, dollar stores, and fleet stores. The brush being used for this sign cost around $6 and can be used repeatedly if cleaned and cared for properly. Repeat these strokes, dipping the bush as needed, until the wood is evenly coated. Once the front-facing side of the wood is covered with stain, repeat this on the sides of the piece of wood to give it a more finished and even look.

Let dry according to the specific stain's instructions. Many brands of stain will instruct the wood to be wiped off after a period of time. Follow these instructions for wait time and use the rag to do so. Once wiped off, allow to dry and cure for the recommended time according to instructions.

Step 3: Choosing a Design

Choosing a design is the most crucial step in the sign making process. This can be done before beginning the project, or while the stain is drying. Some excellent resources of sign designs are Pinterest, home improvement shows and magazines, décor blogs, or a creative imagination. Choosing a design will also determine acrylic paint colors, brush sizes, and time needed. More elaborate designs may be more feasible if drawn out lightly with a pencil beforehand or with the utilization of stencils and reference pictures. The choice of design could also play a role in stain choice, so it may be wise to choose a design before picking and applying a stain.

Step 4: Implementing the Design

Once the stain has dried and cured for the recommended time according to instructions from the stain producer, it is time to apply the design! As previously mentioned, a more elaborate or intricate design may be accomplished best by penciling it out on the stained wood first. This is also advised for those less comfortable with free-handing designs. If it is determined that the sign's design should be mapped out, do this now.

Step 5: Acrylic Paint Design

Painting the design is the trickiest and most important part of the sign making process. This will be the most time consuming and demanding step within this process. Now that the design has been chosen and paint colors have been determined, gather the paint and brushes. Start by painting the lightest colored elements first, finishing with the darkest color in the design. This will provide a crisper end product. Possible mistakes made are also easier to cover when painted with a lighter color rather than a darker shade.

Once the desired design is painted, let it dry for approximately half an hour an hour, or until dry to the touch with a universal finish and appearance.

Step 6: Sanding

The last step before hanging or placing the sign is to sand the wood, staining, and fresh paint. This will help portray the desired rustic look, along with the design. A less abrasive grit sandpaper, such as 220 grit should be used. 220 grit will remove enough of the applied product on the wood's surface to give the sign a worn and authentic look, but is gentle enough to leave the sign readable and chic.

Begin by sanding the outer edges and corners with medium to light pressure until there is a notice shade difference in the wood. Next, start working towards the sign's center with very light pressure. Work the sandpaper back and forth, following the grain of the wood until a desired amount of product had been removed.

Note: the amount of sanding done to the sign is also a customizable factor of the sign and will be the finishing touch before the new piece of décor is put on display