Jessica Goldsworthy
Jessica Goldsworthy February 14, 2020 • 13 min read
Jessica Goldsworthy is a content creator at Square Signs, passionate about everything related to interior design and decoration. She enjoys DIY projects, learning new things and is always happy to share her knowledge and expertise with others.

With the new year starting, we all want to add some freshness to our homes. Getting new furniture or painting the walls can take a lot of money and effort. Instead, adding some nice decor like wooden signs may be exactly what you are looking for.

I’ve put together a full guide on how to make wooden signs, from preparing the board to making it waterproof. As a bonus, I’ll share some tips on how to make a wooden sign for outdoors as well!

Step 1: Creating the Wooden Board

No matter what type of wooden sign you want to make, the first step to take is to prepare the wooden board. There are a number of techniques you can work with. This time, I want to go into two of them:

  • How to make wood pallet signs
  • How to make plywood signs

How to Make Pallet Signs (Techniques)

The best thing about wooden pallet signs is that you don’t have to color the whole surface and you’ll still get a nice vintage look. This works great, especially if you’re looking for techniques and ideas on how to make farmhouse signs. 

Preparing a board from wood pallets isn’t back-breaking, but it’s also not the easiest task. That’s why I have a step-to-step guide to help you get an ideal board for your sign.

Step 1. First of all, you need to get the right material. I’d advise oak boards you can get from a local crafter’s shop or a lumber yard. 1″ thick board should be enough. You’ll also need wood strips to hold the boards together. I’d advise using 0.5″ thick strips for 1″ thick boards. 
Step 2. Cut the board into three or four pieces - the number depends on the size of the sign you want to get. 
Step 3. Two holding strips are enough for a middle-sized (12 - 18 inches) sign. Cut the strips so they are shorter than the width of your sign. They should still hold all the pieces of pallet together. 
Step 4. Now that you have your lumber ready, it’s time to sand the wood. 100 to 180 grit sandpaper should work to make the surface and edges smooth enough.
Step 5. Put the boards together with the nicer side facing down. Make sure they are aligned the way you want them for the final look. You can use a clamp to hold the boards together.
Step 6. Put the strips on both ends of the backside of your sign and make the pilot holes with a drill. Make sure not to damage the surface of your sign. Screw down using your drill and a screw bit. 
Step 7. You can leave the surface as it is or stain it for a more solid color. For different background colors, you’ll want to paint the wood with a brush. In general, you’ll need 3-5 layers of paint.

That’s it, my technique on how to make pallet signs! Here is my end result:

plain pallet board

Needed Materials

  • 1″ thick wood boards
  • 0.5″ thick wood strips
  • 100 to 180 grit sandpaper
  • Clamp
  • Drill
  • Screw bit
  • A few screws
  • Stain and Paint (optional)

Warnings and Tips

  1. Do you have an old pallet laying around, or have an industrial park nearby where you can ask around? That’s how to make farmhouse signs without paying for the wood. Cut the boards to the size you need and follow the same steps described above.
  2. If you can’t find 0.5″ thick wood strips you can also use the same board you got for the initial sign. Remember that they’ll create space between the wall and your sign you may not want to have.

Here we are, with a nice pallet board ready to create the sign.

In the next part, I’m going to share about preparing a plywood board. If you only want to learn how to make wood pallet signs, then skip this section.

How to Make Plywood Signs (Techniques)

Preparing a plywood board for a sign is easier than making a pallet board. However, there are still a few important steps you’ll need to take. 

Step 1. Get plywood from a local crafter’s shop. The employees can usually cut it into the sizes you want. 
Step 2. You can get sanded plywood from the store itself, but you may still need to sand it further for a super smooth surface. Fine 120 grit sandpaper will do ok, though it depends on the existing smoothness of your plywood. Don’t forget to sand the edges as well!
Step 3. There are two options to finish the edges of the sign. If you’re more interested in how to make rustic wood signs, then skip this step. There are many ways to smooth the edges like edge banding and wood filers. Here is a super cool trick I've learned that is just perfect. Apply one or two layers of PVA glue and leave it overnight. When you come back to it, the sign will be completely ready for smooth painting.
Step 4. Unlike pallet signs, I suggest you paint the whole surface before heading to the second step of sign making. You may need 3-5 coats of paint depending on the type of wood paint and the thickness of the paint layer you want to get.

Just four steps and this is the final result you should get!

plain white painted plywood board

Create your sign online!

*Note: Before starting your design with the online design tool make sure to choose wooden sign product option.

Needed Materials

  • Plywood 
  • 120 grit sandpaper
  • PVA glue in case you want a really smooth finish
  • Paint

Warnings and Tips

  1. The thickness of plywood is important. I’d advise using 1″ thick plywood so that you don’t need additional reinforcement or framing. If you want to have a frame around your sign, 0.5″ thick plywood will do just fine. 
  2. Make sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions on your paint to get specific information - like how long you should wait before applying each layer, whether you need to sand it or not, and so on.

That’s it, the plywood board is ready for decoration. In the next part of the article, I’m going to tell you about 3 different techniques to turn your wooden board into an awesome sign. I’ll also share some tips like how to make rustic wood signs.

Step 2: Decorating the Wooden Sign

Now that the tricky and dull part of getting your board ready is finished, it’s time to get to decorating it. No matter if you have a pallet or plywood board, there are far too many ways to decorate them to speak about in a single article. So, I’ve gathered my favorites: 

  • How to make wooden name signs with stencils
  • How to make wood signs with vinyl lettering
  • How to transfer a picture to a wooden sign

How to Make Wooden Signs with Stencils 

Stenciling is the most popular way of creating signs as it works great. No matter if you are looking for ideas on how to make wedding signs, signs for your office, or everyday signs for your home, stenciling is the easiest way to do it. You can get the stencil at a craft shop, or even use ones created for cakes! Paper stencils may also work fine. This is a “traditional” type of style, yet it allows full creative freedom and never looks dull. Just follow my steps to get the perfect design!

Step 1. Take the “outer” part of the stencil and put it on the sign, moving it around to decide the best position. You can also cut different parts of the stencil to change positions.
Step 2. The most important part is to get a good adhesion between the stencil and the sign to avoid paint bleeding. Take off the stencil from the sign once you decide where you want it. Spray both the surface of the stencil and the sign with special stencil spray or adhesive spray. Reposition the stencils as you did in the first step.
Step 3. It’s time to color the sign. There are a few ways to do so like spraying, brushing, and rolling. This time I’m going with the latter. I like using a dense foam roller as it gives a smoother finish and is easy to work with. Make sure to load your roller with the paint evenly.
Step 4. Now gently wipe the roller on a paper towel to remove excess. This step is essential to avoid paint bleeding. 
Step 5. Paint your sign smoothly. Don’t put much pressure on the roller so as not to push the paint under the stencil.
Step 6. Take off the stencils. You have your sign ready!

I promised to share some techniques on how to make rustic wooden signs. You can find that in the warnings and tips section.

Needed Materials 

  • The wooden board created in the first step
  • Stencils
  • Stencil spray or adhesive spray
  • Dense foam roller
  • Paint

Warnings and Tips

  1. Stenciling the sign is not always easy and you may have paint bleed in some areas. That’s not the end of the world. Take a correcting brush and simply paint over with the color of your sign’s background.
  2. To make the sign look rustic and old I use fine sanding paper. Make sure the sign is ready and completely dry. Take 200 grit sandpaper and start sanding the surface and edges of your sign. The key is to put very little pressure in the center and increase on the edges. 
  3. Don’t use adhesive or stencil paint if you have made stencils yourself out of paper. You’ll have to hold it with tape or your hands. I’d also suggest you go with spray paint if you’re using paper stencils.

Inspiration Ideas

  • Gather Eat Laugh

Gather Eat Laugh kitchen wooden decor idea

  • This Kitchen is for Dancing

This Kitchen Is For Dancing wooden decor idea

  • Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home pallet decor idea

Create similar signs online!

*Note: Before starting your design with the online design tool make sure to choose wooden signs product option.

How to Make Wood Signs with Vinyl Lettering 

Need some techniques on creating wooden signs with vinyl lettering? That’s my favorite! It’s also an effective technique if you’re wondering how to make wooden name signs.

Keep in mind that you must have a smooth surface before applying the vinyl. That is to say you’ll need a little extra sanding and a smoother paint layer. Here is my step to step guide on how to apply vinyl lettering on a wood sign.

Step 1. Dust off the surface of the sign to make sure it’s clean.
Step 2. Sketch and cut the saying or design with a vinyl cutter.
Step 3. Once your design is ready, make sure to pull off all the excess vinyl. Be careful about this step as you don’t want to pull off the little parts of your actual design and ruin the whole thing.
Step 4. Stick on the transfer paper covering the whole surface of your design. Make sure there are no bubbles left in between. Use a squeegee to rub the surface of the transfer paper. This is to make sure the vinyl sticks to it really well. 
Step 5. Carefully pull off the transfer paper. All of the parts of your design should stay put. 
Step 6. Put the transfer paper on your sign. Sounds easy but happens to be tricky, especially with big designs. Make sure the positioning is correct as you won’t be able to change it anymore. Rub the whole surface with a squeegee.
Step 7. Remove the transfer paper.

Needed Materials

  • The wooden board created in the first step
  • Vinyl cutter
  • Vinyl 
  • Transfer paper
  • Squeegee

Warnings and Tips

  1. Plastic cards (like an old credit card, etc.) can replace the squeegee in case you don’t have one on hand. 
  2. If some parts come off with the transfer paper, lay it back down and press a little more.

Don’t own a vinyl cutter? There is no need to spend several hundreds of dollars on one. You can always order vinyl lettering. Use the free sign design tool with more than 5000 templates, or design it yourself from scratch. This is the easiest way on how to make wooden signs with sayings. Roll down for some inspiring ideas!

Inspiration Ideas

  • Welcome Home

Welcome Home wooden decor idea

  • Time to stay home

Time to Stay Home wooden decor idea

  • Love you to the moon and back

Love You To The Moon And Back wooden decor idea

Think your wooden sign is ready? What if I dare you to take the next step and transfer a picture to it? Let’s go for it!

How to Transfer a Picture to Wooden Sign 

Now you know how to make wooden signs with sayings and different designs. Here’s an incredible DIY technique to transfer a picture to wood. You can actually mix this technique with another one to make bigger signs both with a saying and a picture. 

Step 1. Make sure you have a smooth and clean surface no matter if your sign is painted or not. 
Step 2. Mirror print your picture with an inkjet printer.
Step 3. Apply image transfer medium to the area you want to transfer the picture to. Make sure you don’t have too much or too little of it for an easy and clear transfer.
Step 4. Place the picture facing down immediately after you apply the medium. You should be able to reposition it slightly after applying.
Step 5. Use a squeegee to smooth out the bubbles. Once the paper sits perfectly, let it dry for a few hours. Read the manufacturer’s note of your medium to get the correct timing since they vary. You’ll have difficulties when removing the paper if you leave it for too long.
Step 6. Peel off the first layer of paper without water if possible. Then add a little bit of water and rub the excess paper with a toothbrush.

Needed Materials

  • The wooden board created in the first step
  • Mirror printed picture
  • Image transfer medium
  • Squeegee
  • Water
  • Toothbrush

Warnings and Tips

  1. Print the picture on the thinnest paper possible. This will let you peel it off easier.
  2. If you have a pallet sign, make sure to position the picture correctly so that the little space between each board doesn’t ruin the picture.

That’s it! You have your sign ready.

Inspiration Ideas

  • Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother's Day wooden decor idea with a photograph

  • Family Portrait

family portrait wooden decor idea

  • Romantic Couple

romantic couple picture wooden decor idea

Design a similar sign online!

*Note: Before starting your design with the online design tool make sure to choose wooden signs product option.

Bonus: How to Make a Wooden Sign for Outdoors 

A quick heads up. I don’t want to disappoint you, but no matter what you do, a sign made of wood won’t last forever outdoors. That said, here are some little tricks to make your sign’s life span longer. 

  1. Choose a type of wood that’s more or less waterproof itself.
  2. Use weatherproof paints.
  3. Apply water-repellent preservatives.
  4. Add plastic edge caps.

All of these techniques work well but they will take lots of time and effort. To make it much easier for you, we have created a sign design tool with awesome templates to choose from. Just make sure to choose wooden signs product option before designing.

Here is what we offer:

  • Easy-to-edit templates made by professionals
  • Next day shipping! 
  • 24/7 professional support ready to help you with any questions you may have