Introduction: Two-Color Technique for Signs and Plaques

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Painting wood is a good way to make it look better, especially if it is ugly wood, which is a thing. But adding two colors to a piece can get tricky if you want crisp lines. This is a technique that uses wax as a sealant to give you those crisp lines between colors with little hassle.

And if you do not want to get extra fancy, you can use the first five steps on their own to spice up a carving or make a simple sign or logo! Either way, I hope you find this Instructable worth your time. Please leave me feedback so I can improve upon them, and make sure you remember to be Inspired to make something yourself!

Step 1: What You Need

This project does not require much in terms of materials. You can use scrap pieces to practice, or actually make finished items. Here is what you will need:

  • a piece of wood - depending on the size of your project, this can be anything from a small piece of scrap to a full board. In theory, this should work with any wood-like material that you can carve after a fashion, like MDF or plywood, but I think solid wood works just as well.
  • paint - in all the colors you think you might need
  • wax - I prefer beeswax, but paraffin wax probably works as well - just to not use dyed stuff
  • lacquer - sprayed or brushed, this will seal the final product and give it some protection. Depending on what you are making, this is optional.

You can work with a number of different tools as long as they produce the desired result. Thus, generally speaking, here is what you need:

  • something to cut wood - to siz. Any kind of saw will do, depending on what you have. I used a miter saw.
  • something to carve wood - I use a rotary tool with a good carving bit, but if you feel so inclined (and confident) carving knives work as well. For larger signs, a router with a v-bit works great, too.
  • something to sand wood - any kind of sander than can do flat surfaces works here. Even a card scraper can do the trick.
  • a hot air gun - while you can get away with burning a candle for one step, I would still recommend a hot air gun for another. An oven might work, too.
  • clamps - to hold pieces down and keep them from flying away

Step 2: Preparing the Wood

You need a flat surface, to begin with, one that you can sketch your logo (or name, or number) on. It does not have to be too fancy since we will be sanding it flat anyway. In turn, having it pretty flat at the beginning will make that sanding a lot easier later.

I used a larger board with the intention to cut it to size later. This way, I have more room to put clamps so they do not get in the way. This board has been used for tests and experiments before, so you can consider it a scrap piece.

Step 3: Carving the Logo

I have sketched my logo using a pencil, but you can also freehand it if that suits your needs or design. I want mine to go a little deeper because I intend to remove some more material later (stay tuned), and I do not want to risk my carving not being deep enough. If you want to forego the second color your carving does not need to be nearly as deep. Actually, if you do not want to add texture to it, you can make due with shallower cuts as well.

Step 4: Applying the First Color

This is as simple as it gets. Apply paint to the logo. You can do it any way you see fit, but I recommend using a brush. Make sure that the inside of the carving is well painted, and paint the top area around it for good measure as well. The idea is that you do not need to pay close attention to crisp lines or anything. Just paint it and make sure the carving is not actually flooded with paint - you need some actual depth there.

Step 5: Sanding the Top

Use your favorite sander (or a card scraper) to remove the paint on the top surface. This step will leave only the carving painted, and this technique produces fancy signs on its own. So if that is what you were after, congratulations, you can stop now (save for some lacquer to seal the whole thing).

But there is more...

Step 6: Sealing the First Color

Imagine you want to color the rest of your piece, with the Logo to remain the way it is. You can do this by carefully painting around the edges, trying hard (and in my case probably in vain) to come up to the previous color but nor marr it.

Let’s try something different. Actually, I know that this works, so there is no need to try. We seal the first color with wax. I use beeswax because I had it in the shop and, well, I like it. Paraffine wax should work just as well, as long as you use the undyed stuff. Actually, even the colored wax might work, but there is a chance of the dye staining your paint job. Also, some candles only have their outer layer dyed, with the rest white.

Either way, I use the hot air gun to melt the wax, then push smear it into the carving. Using a lit candle to drip wax all over the carving should work hust as well. And to make sure it only seals what it is supposed to, I remove the surplus wax using a card scraper. A few more seconds with the random orbital sander would work just as well.

Step 7: Adding Some Texture

This step is optional, but I think it is worth it. Since I started out with a board larger than what I needed, I cut it to size at this point. The main reason for doing this now is that I also want to add texture to the sides.

I use a round-nosed carving bit to add dips to the surface. I try not to touch the first color, but that should not be much of a problem either, because it will blend with the texture of the surface. Looking back, I found that my bit was slightly clogged, and that left lines in the dents it made. I think they make it look interesting, though, adding more texture. Maybe that is a lazy person's excuse, but I have learned to accept those a long time ago.

Step 8: Applying the Second Color

I picked the colors I chose because I like to use this gradient in my shop as often as I can. If possible, I prefer using spray paint, so I thought it would make a good experiment. You can certainly do the same using paint anda brush, and I imagine it would be way easier to use a flat color.

Something you could do would be to use different color arround different letters or shapes. Come to think of it, you could use different colors as first color to paint different parts of your carving as well..

Step 9: Removing the Seal

Now comes the key moment. We need to remove the wax to reveal the color underneath. First, I try scratching away some of it with a screwdriver. A carving knife would have worked better, I assume. This is not really necessary, and you risk damaging the first color if you go too deep.

To remove the rest, I once again use the hot air gun. You could probably put the piece in an oven, too, and either let the wax drip away by placing it upside down on some spacers (and a sheet of baking paper to avoid a mess), or remove the molten wax with paper towels - which is what I do here.

Step 10: Done!

And that is it! All that might be left to do is clean up the edge where the two colors meet, possibly with a small knife. One thing I noticed is that using spray paint leaves a kind of skin on the wax that might stick around even when the seal is gone. It is easily (and carefully) removed with a screwdriver or toothpick.

If you want, you can seal the whole thing (again) with some kind or lacquer.

I made a logo using this technique, and I intend to use it on my Instagram to brand select images. We will see how it turns out, but the technique works, and I am curious to see what it inspires you to make! And you do not have to stop at two colors. Imagine routing a deep pattern, paint and seal it, then adding a shallow pattern over that, paint it, then do the surface. The result? A three-colored, layered carving. Make sure to use the "I made it!"-feature if you use this technique!

Thanks for reading, please share it if you found it valuable, and as always, remember to be Inspired!