Letter by Letter: How to Turn Old Wood Into Cool Signs


Since way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth…in the 80’s….I’ve been making hand-painted signs.   I used to tear apart old pallets and use the rough wood, but now I use any kind of old wood that I find.  The wood I’m using today happens to be the leftover part of an old beadboard door painted in a cool chippy green.

I use Microsoft Word to spell out whatever it is I plan to say.  Use whatever font floats your boat.  For this sign I used AR DECODE with a font size of 475.  After you print out your saying, lay the pages down and line up bottoms of the pages.


You will have to overlay your pages when working with such a large font.  You won’t have to do this with smaller fonts.



You can just eyeball how closely to place the letters all the while keeping the bottom of the pages lined up.  Tape them together, avoiding taping right over the letters.



Cut the paper that is overlapping the letters out, so that you can see the letters better.   This also aids in tracing the design onto the board so you won’t have to press between two pieces of paper.  (After taking this picture, I realized my design was too big to fit the board and I was also missing sections of the letters.)




Evenly trim away the paper at the end of each word.  From here you can either eyeball the distance between each word, or you can measure, as I did the distance between each word.  My words were approximately 5″ apart.  Once it’s spaced where you want it, tape it down, leaving the bottom open for the graphite paper.



Get out your graphite paper.  If you’re working on a light surface, like I was, use a dark graphite.  If you’re working on a dark surface,  I would suggest using a much lighter colored graphite paper.

Place the graphite paper underneath your lettering pages and trace over each letter.  Make sure you keep moving the graphite paper under your work or you’ll end up tracing out some letters and nothing will show up underneath.  Not that I’ve done that or anything.  Cough, cough.



When I’m tracing, I like to use a different color pf pen.  In other words, not black pen on black photocopies.  I usually use a purple or red pen on black.  That way you have a better idea of where you’ve been in the tracing procedure.



Since you’ve taped your paper down, it’s okay to lift up and check your progress.  Since this was beadboard, the going was a little rough, but you can see where the graphite paper left its mark and where I need to paint.



I use two different sizes of brush:  one with a long, thin tip and one with a slightly wider tip.  It all depends on what gives you the most control over your painting.  Your paint should be thin, but not so thin that it bleeds.  Just thin enough that it’ll glide onto the surface evenly.



When I finished the sign, I realized it didn’t show up very well, so I added some white highlights.  I’m not an artist and I have no training in shading, so don’t criticize…I just did my own thing here.



The finished product!



There are computer programs out there that let you bend and curve your lettering and I used to love playing with all the possibilities.  I no longer have that program and for the life of me can’t remember what it was.  If you know the name of it, PLEASE tell me!

Again, you can use this technique on just about anything you choose.  Go forth and paint!

Bye from the bungalow,


Linking up to: Finding Fabulous, French Country Cottage,  The Shabby Nest, Savvy Southern Style, Fingerprints on the Fridge, House of Hepworths, Remodelaholic, Chic on a Shoestring, Coastal Charm, Vintage Wanna Bee, Hope Studios, Fingerprints on the Fridge, The Shabby Creek Cottage, Chic on a Shoestring, My Repurposed Life, Addicted 2 Decorating


  1. That is fabulous. Love the green bead board. Thanks for sharing at Wow.

  2. That looks great, Jean! I love it! I have plans to do something using this technique on two signs I found at Christmas Tree Shops on clearance. Once I paint them, I just need to choose fonts and then I’ll get started. I’m a little nervous because I’ve never done this before, but you make it seem so easy!

  3. Great sign…like a old cafe in Paris! I’d love to try one. Nice reclaimed wood too.

  4. I love your sign. Wonderful job! One program that you can use to curve letters is PhotoImpact.
    Thanks for sharing.


  5. I love your sign. Very cool.

  6. LOVe this….looks great!

  7. Here from Hope Studio Link Party. Great tutorial that I am pinning.

  8. Jean–I LOVE your sign. Great tutorial on transferring the letters! Thanks so much for sharing at catch as catch can!

  9. Found you over over at Coastal Charm while looking through the linky parties. I have been wondering how people get the lettering onto the sign to paint and graphite paper makes perfect sense! Definitely going to give it a whirl because I have been craving to try some signs. I use Microsoft Publisher a ton and you can bend and curve lettering with it. Not sure if that was the program you were referring to or not. I have a lot of fun with it for other projects.

    • Hey, thanks for checking me out! Err…I mean my blog! I’ll check out Microsoft Publisher….that sounds like what I’m looking for.

  10. Your sign looks great – I love the beadboard background that you chose! The graphite paper looks really interesting. I’ve never seen that for sale before.

    Since you said that you design your lettering in Word, is it the Word Art function in Word that you’re thinking of? It might be hidden in the menus depending on what version you’re using but I have Word 2010 and it’s still there if I go to the “insert” menu at the top.

    • Muwahhhh!!! That’s a big ol’ kiss from me!! I found it under Word Art where you said and then Text Effects! Sheesh!! It’s like they were trying to hide it!!! Thank you so much. Next time I’ll just look harder! hehe!

  11. jean, this sign is so wonderful! thanks for sharing this!

  12. This is such a fabulous post! Love your blog. As you can tell, I’m reading you from present to farthest past. Just.love.this.sign!!!

  13. FYI, most Fedex-Linkos shops have blueprint copiers which are ridiculously useful gadgets for folks willing to get creative. Instead of taping your pages together and “tiling” them to get long form prinout, just output as large as will fit onto a legal sized sheet from your printer, then head to Kinkos and use the blueprint copier to enlarge it even more on huge 3-foot wide rolls of output paper. (you’ll need to do some math to get your enlargement percentages right, but it’s easy).

    Output is cheap– you can do a huge 3’x5′ output for 4 bucks or so — and since it’s regular old toner-based photocopying, you can then use the cool spray lacquer trick to get super rich blacks so you can use the output pages as actual posters and display material.

    Cool signs.

  14. Thanks for this great tutorial — I have several pieces of old, weathered wood I want to use for signs but can’t afford the Sillouette and was wondering how to get the letters painted in the font I wanted!

  15. Great blog, I just found you through House of Hepworths. Just a tip, I use Word as well and make LOTS of signs. I wrote a post about saving ink, that I’m sure you will find helpful… http://followyourheartwoodworking.blogspot.ca/2013/05/how-to-save-ink-when-printing-large.html

  16. Sign looks great!!! Being a teacher I print a bunch of “signs”. I like using powerpoint (Don’t care for the new version so much). It gives you the word art stuff and you can enable the “ruler”; so, you know exactly how tall/spaced your letters are. It’s super easy to move things… just click and drag. Someone mentioned saving ink, in word art you can change the fill color to white (or no fill) then do the lines in dashes (if all your gonna do is trace them anyway this makes it easier to see where you’ve been). Great idea with the carbon/graphite paper.

  17. Laura Scott says:

    Thanks for posting this! You rock for sharing ideas with those of us who need inspiration! God Bless you!

  18. Nicklaus says:

    Thanks for posting it love it

  19. Great information. Lucky me I found your website by chance (stumbleupon).
    I hve bookmarked it ffor later!


  1. […] one was done with my tried and true method of sign painting.  You can see that tutorial here. This particular sign was made with the end of an old table.  I left the original paint.  I […]

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