Introduction: Recycled Wood Distressed Outdoor Beach Sign

About: Design/Process Engineer who loves to make things

While discussing summer project ideas with my mother, she suggested that I make her a beach themed sign to hang outside the house. I decided to use a wooden vertical slat design with a rope to hang it by. I also wanted to incorporate some sea shells, starfish, or sand dollars into the design. The color scheme was several shades of blue with white text. I also wanted to try my hand at distressing the sign to make it look old and worn.

Step 1: Materials & Tools


  • Wood
  • Screws
  • Wood glue
  • Rope
  • Sea shells, starfish, sand dollars
  • Epoxy
  • Sanding sealer
  • Spray paint/brush paint
  • Clear coat
  • Water


  • Hack saw/band saw
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Scissors
  • Xacto blade
  • Clamps
  • Sandpaper (various grits)
  • Rasps/files
  • Tape measure
  • Center punch (I used a hammer & a nail)
  • Paint brushes
  • Painter’s tape
  • Pencil/pen/marker
  • Disposable gloves
  • Respirator
  • Rags

Step 2: Disclaimer

As you can see in the section above, this Instructable utilizes several tools and materials than can be harmful if used incorrectly. Please use caution and ask somebody for help if you do not feel comfortable doing something.

Step 3: Planning & Research

I began by researching and compiling an archive of pictures of outdoor signs. I looked for all different styles, not just beach themed ones. I looked specifically for how the signs were constructed as well as the paint and the lettering/graphics. Since this was being made for my mother, I asked for her input on the design and color scheme. Once she narrowed down her preferences, I started designing the sign in my head and sketching it out.

Step 4: Cutting the Wood

After I had my final design selected, I began construction. The type of wood and the dimensions are completely up to personal preference, but I ended up taking apart an old clothing drying rack and recycling the wooden strips. In fact, I already had most of the materials I used in this project. The wood strips were very thin (about 1” wide), but you could easily use another type of wood cut down to a wider size. The strips had holes in them where the dowels were connected for the drying rack, so I simply cut off the ends and the middle. I did however leave holes in the ends of two of the strips so that I could use them later for the hanging rope. My design staggered the wooden strips, so I didn’t need to worry about cutting them all to the same length. Once I cut down enough strips for the size I wanted, I measured the overall width and cut two more strips to use as cross braces.

Step 5: Assembly

With the pieces cut, I quickly sanded the ends to remove any splinters. I then arranged the strips into an order that looked best and numbered each strip so I could keep them in the correct order. I then used tape to hold the slats together in the correct order/layout so that I could flip them over to install the cross braces. I laid the braces across the back of the sign and used a hammer and nail (use a center punch if you have one) to punch a divot in each spot where I wanted to drill a hole and put in a screw. I then clamped the braces onto the sign and pre-drilled and screwed the braces to each vertical strip It was at this point I realized I forgot to glue everything together :P Instead of unscrewing everything, I simply decided to lay beads of wood glue in the seams between each strip as well as the cross braces from the back side. This isn’t going to provide the maximum strength, but it should work well enough in conjunction with all of the screws.

Step 6: Prepping for Paint

Before painting the sign, I wanted to add some protection since it will be hanging outside. I applied three coats of Minwax Sanding Sealer to seal the wood grain and add a protective outer layer. This raises the grain on the wood, so I lightly sanded it afterward to make it somewhat smooth again.

Step 7: Adding Character

Since I wanted the sign to look old and distressed, I decided to add a some character by beating it up a little. I used a file and some screwdrivers to add scratches to the face and edges of the sign. I also punched some divots using a hammer and a nail and dropped in on a concrete floor and my driveway a few times. The rest of the distressing/weathering process will happen after paint is applied.

Step 8: Painting

I chose to paint the sign in 4 different shades of blue with white lettering. I used Craft Smart satin acrylic paint and a sponge brush to apply the color. I painted on four layers of each of the 4 shades of blue (pale blue, ocean breeze, island blue, bright blue). The total sign was 16 strips wide, so I chose four shades of blue, each being applied to four strips. I used painter’s tape to get a nice edge between the colors.

Step 9: Painting Design

When the blue was dry, I covered the entire surface of the sign with painter’s tape. I made my design in Microsoft Word and printed it out onto paper. Everything got cut out and traced onto the sign. I then used an Xacto blade to cut out the design on the sign. Before applying paint, I sprayed one layer of clear coat over the stenciled sign to seal any tiny gaps between the tape and the wood to prevent runs. I brushed white paint over the stencil to color in the text and the arrow. White does not cover other colors easily so this took about 4/5 layers with an additional 2 layers of white spray paint to fill in the color and cover some of the brush strokes. I actually wish I wouldn’t have used the spray paint because it had a glossy finish and the rest of the sign was matte. I also think it was too thick and being able to see the brush strokes in the white would have actually looked nice and authentic. Once the white was dry, I peeled off all of the tape to unveil the sign which is always the best part of any painting project. I then sprayed on 3 coats of a flat Krylon clear coat.

Step 10: Distressing

This part was both fun and scary! To make the sign look older, I started weathering and distressing the sign. I used several methods including sanding, cutting, scraping, hammering, and adding washes to make the sign look older than it really is. I tried to distress the sign in areas where the sign would naturally get worn like the corners and edges. This is an exciting part of the project, but also something that can get out of hand very quickly. I didn’t want to go too overboard since the sign will naturally wear down over time.

Step 11: Final Assembly

To finish the sign and complete the “beach” look, I cut apart a decoration my mom had so that I could recycle the starfish, shells, and rope. I also used several shells that we had collected from trips to the beach. I used Gorilla brand two part epoxy to adhere a starfish and some sea shells to the sign to finish the design. I also tied a length of rope through the holes in the end strips to hang the sign by.

Step 12: Conclusion

Overall I am really happy with how the sign turned out! The weathering looks really nice, and the beach aesthetic is perfect for summertime. My mother was also very pleased =D We’ll see how it holds up over time once it’s exposed to the sun, rain, and snow.

EDIT: It has now been several months since I've had this sign hanging outside through heat, rain, cold, and snow. I've noticed that the starfish began to curl up at the ends and pull away from the sign. This is probably a sign that I should only hang it outside during warmer months, so be aware of this if you decide to make one for yourself.