Making a Good Trail Sign

  1. Start with clear, rough white oak lumber.  For a 1″ thick finished sign, I buy slow dried boards 9/8″ thick from my local hardwood supplier. Stouter’s better. Trim it to width, in accordance with your design.  I like to make several signs of the same width on a single plank and cut it into separate signs later, so lay out your work, including saw kerfs, per your designs and in consideration of your equipment’s abilities with long boards. Depending on how the work is mounted and laid out, you may find carving multiple signs goes faster keeping them on a longer board and cutting them apart as part of the finishing work.
  2. Plane the back of the sign so it’s flat, but leave the front rough.  If there’s cupping on the board, I will generally plane the convex side (leaving the concave face to become the sign front) – this because a flat plane in the center of the board can grab a vacuum better than two strips at either edge of the board.
  3. Mark the sign blank ends and the sign middle on one edge of the plank.  Mark the end of one sign, then 1/8″ further along to account for your cutoff saw blade kerf, mark the beginning of the next, and so on.
  4. Mount the board onto the CNC router table with the sign’s center oriented and positioned properly, ensure suitable clamping or vacuum hold down to prevent your work being lifted during milling.
  5. Run the job, routing the cut features and marking where to drill the mounting holes.
  6. Paint the carved sign and let the paint dry completely.  I use flat, no-sheen paint and for simple, unadorned trail signs with either 1/8″ or 5/32″ letter strokes, Rust-Oleum’s primer paint seems to work the best by far.
  7. Now plane the painted front of the sign, scraping away the rough original surface and the unwanted paint, leaving a smooth face with cleanly painted carved features.  Remove as little wood as possible.
  8. Finishing to 1″ thick makes for a good trail sign
  9. Round the corners of the sign with 1/2″ radius, round the edges of the sign with 1/8″ radius, sand all faces and edges.
  10. Drill 3/8″ mounting bolt holes with an auger bit.  The sign will be mounted with 1/4″ stainless bolts and washers, leaving room for movement through the seasons and years.

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