Outdoor Sign Made From Walnut and Cedar

About: Hard worker, great laugher, loyal friend/brother/uncle/son, amateur woodworker, and retired reality tv show contestant :)


If you think it deserves it, don't forget to vote :) This was my real first commissioned "woodworking job", and I was very excited to be provided the opportunity.

I was asked to create an "Old English Pub Style Sign" for an art shop/boutique in Boerne, TX (www.copperdragonfly.net).  They told me the basics of what they wanted [size, 2 different "signs" (one large, one small underneath), look, etc], but really allowed me to "create" it the way I thought would look the best.  After looking at many different types of wood, I decided to make the actual sign out of Walnut, and then use Cedar for the rest (words, border, dragonfly image, etc).  I also knew this would be outside, and take a lot of abuse from the sun and weather, so I had to protect it as much as I could from the elements.

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Step 1: Beginning Process

Once I bought all the wood, I then started working on the actual "design".  I went to the computer, and found a font that best matched what was on the companies website/business cards.  I printed out "Copper Dragonfly", cut each word out, spray glued each "paper word" to a piece of cedar, and cut each one out with my scroll saw.  I knew this was going to be a double-sided sign, so the cedar I used for each letter was fairly thick.  Once I had the letters cut out, I then took each one to my band saw and cut them in half.  That way, each side would be 100% identical.

Step 2: Dragonfly Creation

I obviously wanted to incorporate a Dragonfly as well, but didn't want to just cut one out and call it a day.  So, I decided to incorporate a bit of the "intarsia" technique while creating the Dragonfly.  I first cut the entire dragonfly out as one, and then cut that into about 14-15 individual pieces.  After that, I sanded down all the edges of each piece, and pieced the dragonfly back together.  This provided a bit more of a 3D look, and really brought a lot of character to the sign (in my opinion, at least). 

I also wanted to incorporate copper in the sign somehow.  I knew all the hardware (chains, hooks, etc) would be copper, but I also came up with the idea to make the eyeballs of the Dragonfly copper as well. 

I had 2 different techniques for the eyeballs.  The first one was simple copper plumbing caps.  They worked good, looked decent, but I couldn't find a way to keep the copper "new and shiny"...which was the look I wanted to go for.  So, after a bit more research, I found some oval balls at Hobby Lobby that had a flat edge.  I then bought some copper spray paint, and sprayed the balls (primed them first).  Although you can't beat the "shine" of actual new copper, I thought in the long run, this would look the best and have little to no upkeep. 

Unlike the "Copper Dragonfly" words, I actually had to make 2 of the dragonflies (1 for each side), so this took a bit of time to complete, but well worth it at the end. 

Step 3: Walnut Sign/Cedar Border

Now that I had the creative stuff out of the way, it was time to actually MAKE the sign!  Of course, the walnut I bought was rough, so I had to first start off by squaring the sides, and then planing them down to a 1 inch thickness.  After that, I used some exterior wood glue, and glued the 4 pieces of walnut together, and clamped them overnight. 

The following morning, I outlined my top arch, and cut that with a jigsaw.  I also wanted to border both pieces with cedar, to hopefully "pull it all together" at the end, and give it just a little more "pop" (gosh, I sound dorky, haha).  I tried to steam a piece of cedar for the arch, but it ended up cracking just a bit (I steamed it for a good 45 minutes, but perhaps that just wasn't long enough).  When the steam bend didn't work, I ended up cutting the cedar in quarter inch strips.  This allowed the wood to bend MUCH easier, and all I had to do was glue the pieces back together and sand them down.  You can barely tell that the bent cedar is made of quarter inch strips, so I was very happy with how that turned out!

After I was done with the ceder border, it was time to sand it all down, and officially glue everything to the Walnut.  I started with 80 grit, went to 120, then 220, then 330, then 400.  Time consuming, but what isn't in the world of woodworking!! :) 

Step 4: Finish/Install

After I was done with all the sanding and gluing everything together, it was time for the finishing touches.  Again, I knew this was going to get beaten up by outdoor elements, so I did a lot of research to see what would be the best method on finishing the wood.  If I could prevent it, I wanted to try and keep the wood (especially the cedar) the same color as time went on.  I found out that an Exterior Oil finish would not only keep the wood the same color longer, but also prevent it from the outdoor elements (waterproof, uv protection, etc). 

This was ANOTHER time consuming part, but something I didn't want to half ass either!  I ended up putting 5 coats of exterior oil on each side of the large sign, and 4 coats on each side of the smaller sign.  It seemed that by the 5th coat, the wood wasn't sucking up any more oil, so 4 coats probably would have been enough. 

After that, I installed all the hardware, and built the post for it to hang.  The post itself is also made out of cedar, and to give it an "older look", I chiseled out a 2x4 rectangle THROUGH the 4x4, and hammered the arm through with a mallet.  I then added 2 bolts on each side, and put another piece of cedar w/ 45 degree angles for additional support.  Once I hung it up, it was more than enough support for the sign.

I tried my best to keep most of the "design" a secret, as I wanted to surprise the owners of Copper Dragonfly as much as I could.  They seemed very pleased with the finished sign, and I think everything passed their expectations. There will probably be some small yearly maintenance, but hopefully the sign will last for a very long time.  Depending on how the 1st year goes, I may switch from the Exterior Oil finish to Cabot's Spar Varnish.

Thanks for reading, feel free to ask any questions, and please vote! 

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    11 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    This is so beautiful - you are skilled! I hope you are making more - I love seeing your projects..they are all amazing.


    7 years ago on Step 4

    This is absolutely gorgeous work. I'm a copper artist who lives in Texas and makes dragonflies, so I especially got a kick out of the project. Thanks for the wonderful write up!

    3 replies

    Haha, nice! Quick question for you then (for my future knowledge with copper)....what is the best way to keep copper from oxidizing? I read that a simple lacquer spray would work, but I just don't see how it would stick to such a smooth surface.

    Good luck with your dragonflies! I checked out the video, and it looked pretty cool. I must admit though...the clip AFTER your dragonfly under the bridge was probably my favorite, haha. I kid, I kid!

    I was the one working the camera! That was a hard day. Or maybe a better word choice would be 'difficult' :)

    I love the natural patina that copper gets, so I haven't experimented too much with trying to keep it shiny. I use wax to fill in the wings on some of my dragonfly pieces, and it seems the wax coating keeps the copper pretty shiny.


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 4

    if you'd like to see one of my copper dragonflies, check out this youtube video, it makes a brief appearance! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5HHwf9mpIg


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Great work!
    Just wondering instead of cutting you excellent dragonfly up to round the edges whether it could be done with a router bit on a dremel. Just a thought yours looks great anyhow

    3 replies

    Thanks pudtiny! Yeah, I could have probably done that as well, but unfortunately I don't have a dremel w/ a router bit. Instead, I just took each little piece to the drum sander and rounded the edges that way. I had to make sure I held on to those pieces tight though, cause I had a few fly out of my hand and then had to search for them in my messy garage! haha