Introduction: How to Make a Tiki Bar Sign

About: Code / Craft / Capture / Compose

Have you ever wanted to create those Tiki style signs where everything looks smooth, textured and weathered all at the same time? You may have seen signs like this at Disneyland, or at a restaurant or bar that has tropical theming.

Well it's actually pretty easy but you do have to put in the time to do it and it requires a few different router bits to finish it nicely.

So let's get started...

Step 1: Video

I also have a video on my YouTube channel of me creating this sign.

If you like what you see, please consider subscribing to my channel and sharing it with your friends and family as I'll be creating more videos like this all the time.

Step 2: What You'll Need

Here's a list of the tools and accessories you should have on hand before starting:

  • A Router
  • Router Bits
    • 1/8" Straight or Flat Bit
    • 1/4" Round Bit (Optional)
    • 1/2" Round Bit
    • 1/4" V-Groove But (Optional)
    • Key Hole Bit (Optional)
  • Jig Saw
  • Hand Held Torch
  • Wire Brush
  • Clamps
  • Paint
  • Paint Brush(es)
  • Paper Towels

And of course the usual:

  • Gloves
  • Safety Glasses
  • Face Mask with Filter

Step 3: Design & Layout

After you have selected your wood (I'm using a 2" x 12" piece of Douglas Fir, cut to about 3ft long) and cut it down to your desired size, you next need to design your sign. This can be hand drawn on to the wood, cut a template out of paper applied to the wood, or as I like to do, use my vinyl plotter to cut the template which I then apply to the wood surface.

I then lightly spray paint the template with a flat black and spray just enough to cover the letters. It should dry fairly quickly, so I usually just pull my template up almost right away.

And as you can see, you're left with a pretty decent outline of the template. I've used paper before and even left the vinyl on instead of painting it, but when the router moves over them, it can get messy and rip the paper or vinyl and just take it from me, its a lot easier to just paint or draw it on the wood and remove the templates before routing.

Step 4: Route Your Design

Now this section may be called "Route Your Design" but you don't necessarily have to use a router. You can use chisels, a Dremel, glue laser cut lettering or even just paint. However, if using paint, please wait until after the distressing process.

I used my router and the 1/8" straight bit to route along the outside edge of the letters. But you could also inset your lettering by routing out the entire insides of the letters, if you want that sunken in look. As we continue on, you'll see why I chose to outset my lettering.. as to give them a more hand carved look.

Step 5: Shape Your Sign

Once I knew where my lettering is, I could then draw my sign shape or edges. I don't use a template for this, because I want each sign to be unique and just flow with the grain of the wood.. well mostly and where you can.

Because the sign is supposed to look distressed, weathered and perhaps water logged, or like a piece of a shipwreck, the edges could either be smooth, have sharp edges, be choppy, rounded, squared, you name it. Your options vary and its just a matter of your tastes. In this case, I'm going for pointed to rounded edges that will become smoother as we progress.

I just draw my lines with a pencil on the wood. In some places I tried to flow with the grain and others I completely ignored the grain as to treat it like a break in the wood. On other signs, I've had knots in the wood and I've completely cut around them or cut into them as if the knot fell out.

After designing the shape, cut it out using a jig saw. Before I have suggested to not cut directly on the line, but in this case, it doesn't matter since its supposed to look distressed and we won't be sanding anything.

Step 6: Distressing

This is a fun step.. but it can also be dangerous if you're not careful.

Using the 1/2" round over bit, route some random lines along your sign. Make some deeper than others. Don't worry about trying to make it perfectly straight, in fact, don't make it straight. Route on the edges, route in the middle but just don't route over the lettering. You can try to go between the letters if there is a big enough gap, say if there was more than one word, you could route between the words, but not too much and don't route between letters in a single word.

Just try to make it random. Don't think about it in your head too much.. just focus on your router and where your going next and not about the way it looks. Once you think you're done, then take a step back and look at the sign and decide if you need more distressing.

I usually wait until after I burn the sign the first time, before adding more distressing. Which is the next step anyway.

Step 7: Torching & Wire Brushing

WARNING: Don't Try this at Home Kids
Please ask your parents for help on this step as you can easily start a fire if you don't know what you're doing.

This step can be fun, but please don't mess around with the torch. Be sure there is nothing flammable you and it may be best to do this outside.

We're basically going to torch this enough so that the wood on the top surface has been fully blackened and burnt. Burn the sides and within the edges.

We'll then use the wire brush and going with the grain, brush away all of the charred wood layer.. and be sure you wear your face mask here. You don't want to breathe in any of that charred wood dust. You may need to brush harder in some places. Wire brushing will smooth out the wood giving it that weathered look.

You may want to use a smaller, finer wire brush around the lettering or at least don't brush so hard.. otherwise you may end up with brush lines on your letters.

Step 8: More Weathering

As I started before, after you're done wire brushing, you'll know if you need more distressing. And if my case, I did. Still using the 1/2" round over bit, but routing deeper this time, I routed more lines across the sign.

I then switched to the 1/4" V-groove bit and routed around the letters again. This was to create a deeper and wider carve around the letters and I felt it needed more definition.

Once I was done routing, I then torched the wood again.

Step 9: Final Weathering

Yep, once again I felt I need to do more weathering. In this case, you'll notice that the V-groove bit made lines between the letters that I wasn't liking.

I switched to the 1/4" round over bit and routed around the letters once more. This time I went a bit deeper as well. This got rid of the lines the V-groove bit made and helped the lettering stand out just that bit more.

Then I torched and wire brushed the wood for the final time.

The last 2 images above show just how smooth the torching and wire brushing get the wood.

There is no exact number of times that you may to take in order to get that final look your going for. I've done it with one torching process and I've done it with 5 torching processes. It all depends on how you feel.

Step 10: Hanging Hardware

This is really up to you, but I thought I'd show you what I usually do on signs like this.

I use a key hole bit and route either one hole in the center or 2 holes, one on each side, depending on how large the sign is. Now I say "hole," however it doesn't actually go all the way through. But it is deep enough to let the head of a nail have room to sit in there.

The process is to push the router down, enough to that the tip passes the edge of the wood by about 1/8". Then move the router away from you, or rather push the router forward, but do not lift up the router.. leave it on the wood surface. You'll want to push the router forward about 1/8" to 1/4" as this is where the nail will eventually rest when its hanging on the wall. Then bring the router back to the starting position and raise it out of the hole. Be careful to not move the router during this time, or you may ruin the area where the nail will rest.

If you feel that this is not strong enough to hold your sign, you can get metal hardware that you can screw on the outside of the key hole, which will help reinforce it.

Step 11: Painting

This the boring part!

Actually, it can be quite relaxing.. but it is also kind of tedious. Depending on your paint, you may have to paint 2 or more coats to get that finished look. Then put on ever clear coat or sealant.

Course you also have a choice to make here as well. In may case, I made my lettering outset and routed a decent channel around them. So the choice here is, do you paint only the top of the letter or do you paint the sides of the letters, going down into the channel? I chose to paint the sides. The letters, or channel, wasn't that deep.. maybe less than 1/8"

I also have a photo of the color I got from Home Depot as I've had other ask what color it is. It looks like ocean water and I thought it was perfect for this sign.

By the way, this sign took 3 coats of paint.

I've seen clear coats somethings darker the wood upon applying it and it hasn't lightened up after it dried. Not sure if this is because of the burning and brushing is allowing the wood to soak up the clear coat more or not. But it can get too dark for my tastes. So I often do not apply a clear coat. You may want create a testing piece of wood and try it out before you apply a clear coat on yours.

Also note that the burning process does, to some degree, help protect the wood. In fact, there is a Japanese technique of preserving/antiquing wood called "Shou-sugi-ban Yakisugi."

You may try using Tung Oil on the finish instead of a spray clear coat.

Step 12: You're Done!

Congratulations.. You just created a Tiki Bar sign!

Or at least one inspired by the Tiki style, depending on what your sign says.

You can use this same process on other things as well.. for instance:

  • A Medieval Sheild
  • A Weathered Door or Flooring
  • A Picture Frame
  • And More