DIY Home Brewery Sign

Soon after I started brewing, it began to pop into my head from time to time that I should have a proper name for my home brewery (though admittedly it seems a little heavy handed to call a picnic cooler and a big pot a “brewery”).  In The Perfect Keg (my review here), Coutts mentions the beard of the barley, or awn, the little spiky hairs on the head of the barley plant.  Thus the name “Barley Beard Brewing” was born.

Some of my friends (you know who you are), didn’t care for the name, claiming it lacked the proper panache.  To which I replied, “Then brew your own damn beer.”  Now that I finally had a proper name, I needed a sign to hang in my garage, right above my mash tun.  For anyone interested in making their own, here’s how I went about it using a router to carve the lettering.  If you don’t have a router, I’ll also talk about a similar process to paint the lettering.

finished DIY home brewery sign

My finished DIY home brewery sign.  (click to enlarge)

Stencil

You’ll first want to create some sort of stencil to trace the lettering onto the wood.  Perhaps the most straight forward way to do so is with Powerpoint or something similar.  Change the size of the slide to match the size of the board you will be using (in Powerpoint 2007 its in the Design tab>> Page Setup).  Remember, most lumber will be planed to a smaller size than whatever its called (in the US, lumber is generally planed 1/2 inch smaller, so a 6 inch board is actually 5.5 wide).

Start by adding a thick border around your slides.  This will help with alignment and keep things from getting too close to the edge.  Then, use a text box to add your text.  Font size is corresponds to 1/100ths of an inch, so printed in real size, 100 font will be 1 inch/ 2.54 cm tall (capital letter, not including anything that goes below the level of text like the bottom loop of a ‘g’).  When selecting your font, keep in mind what you will be doing with it later.  Anything too loopy or with too little space between lines might be hard or even impossible to rout or paint.  With a thin brush and practice, you can paint much finer details than you can carve with a router.

stencil

Stencil for my sign. Uses size 250 “Harlow Solid Italic” font.  Click for full size.

When you have something you like, split it over multiple slides so it can be printed on a standard size sheet of paper at full size (don’t “fit to sheet” when printing).  My sign was about 36 inches/ 91 cm long, so I split it over four pages.  Overlapping by a letter will help with alignment of your stencils later.  Trace the overlapped letter with the rest on the first sheet, then cut around it on the second sheet and align it to the traced letter.

split sign

The first two segments of the split sign stencil, and a penciled backing with the overlapped letter cut around.

Once printed, you can either align the stencil over the board with a sheet of carbon paper in between, or scribble pencil all around the edges of the lettering on the back of the page.  When traced over, the pencil will transfer to the wood.  The wood should be sanded relatively smooth first; I like to use a good cut of pine, as it can be sanded smooth due to its tight grain.  Oak, for example, is very difficult to trace on and work with because of its open grain and hardness.  When done tracing, go back and make sure no letters run too close to each other to get your router bit through; I had to shorten the trailing tail on many of the letters (like the r before the l, all the e’s, etc.).

stenciled sign

The pine board after tracing my stencil.

Painting

If you prefer to paint your sign, use a very thin pointed-tip brush to trace around the edges of the lettering first (I like a size 0 round tip), then fill back inside with a larger flat brush.  Use good quality acrylic with a high tint level from the art shop to make sure you only have to go over everything once.

Most good paints will be too thick to use out of the tube, so mix with up to 50% water.  Too thick and you can’t get fine detail, but too thin the color will bleed.  I usually keep a small dollop of paint and a small water cup separate and mix small amounts with the tip of the brush as needed.

other painted things

Other things I have painted using the stencil technique.

When applying a finishing coat to your wood, be sure to test on another painted surface first to make sure whatever you are applying over the paint won’t dissolve it and make it run.  I have used Minwax Polycrylic with success in the past, though many other options work.

Routing

You have at least two choices when routing your sign: carve sunken letters into the wood, or carve out the wood around the letters for an embossed look.  I went with the latter.  Just make sure you don’t carve away so much that your router will sit unevenly on your boardyou’ll want to leave a boarder close-ish to your letters.

To preserve as much detail as possible in the letters, find as small of a bit as you can; I used an 1/8th inch/ 3 mm dual flute (two cutting surfaces) straight aka mortising bit.  You can use alternately shaped bits, but these get a little trickier to control.  You’ll also need to clamp your board in place, or use a non-slip mat (that rubbery stuff to keep rugs in place works well).  If routing an outer edge instead of carving, the non-slip mat probably won’t hold it well enough.

routed sign

Routed sign. Notice the traces the router makes in the carved-away sections that must be sanded away later (click to enlarge).

Ideally, carve only along one edge of the bit at a time rather than tracing arbitrarily through the wood.  Whenever I cut a fresh groove instead of working in from a cut edge, it cut a little deeper, making for different cut depths in some areas on my sign.  Many of these deep traces were between letters and practically impossible to sand out.  For long straight edges such the border, it is helpful to use the straight-edge attachment, as even a little wobble is obvious here.

When carving out large open areas, such as between the letters and the outer border, work along the edgeabout a half of a bit with at a timewith the grain instead of across.

Finishing

I first took some 150 grit sandpaper and smoothed out the router marks.  You can follow this up with 220 grit if you like, but its not going to get noticeably smoother after that.  I didn’t bother to sand the raised surfaces yet.  As always, sand with the grain.

sanded sign

Sign after sanding. The worst of the router marks are now gone, but many between the letters remain.

After getting all of the sawdust out using a vacuum or compressed air, you can apply some paint or stain if you like.  I had difficulty getting uniform color with the stain, as it absorbs much more quickly into some areas of the wood, depending on the cutting you did and the grain orientation.  Lightly spray painting from all angles is probably the easiest way to get uniform coverage.

I covered the entire surface with stain, then sanded the raised areas until all pencil marks and stain was gone, leaving a dark background and lighter lettering.  Use a sanding block or other flat sander so your letters don’t loose shape.  The lettering made sanding a bit tricky, tearing the paper from my orbital sander.  I ended up using a belt sander (carefully!) to take off most of what needed to go, and finished up by hand with a sanding block.

stained sign

After staining.

stained sign close up

Notice the uneven stain coloring because of some router marks I didn’t get out (click to enlarge).

The stain penetrated deeply compared to paint, so more wood had to be taken off (hence the belt sander).  I also had to constantly keep the dust away and use clean sanding paper, or the stain oil in the saw dust would color the wood again.  I was never able to get all of the stain off, as some followed little channels in the wood and made it quite deep.  In the end, I ended up with wood that looked slightly darker than it would have otherwise.

After sanding, I used compressed air and a vacuum to get as much of the sawdust off as possible.  But, sawdust likes to stick to bare stain, so I resorted to wiping it down with a clean, dry towel.  I used cotton swabs to get around all of the lettering and carved portions, as there was a noticeable build-up of gunk in the hard to reach places.

Finally, I applied five very light coats of Minwax Polycrylic clear satin, because that’s the only thing I had around in aerosol form, a must at this stage to get into all of the nooks and crannies without runs and pooling.  Aside from protecting the wood and giving it a harder surface, it makes the finish much nicerI consider it as much of a cosmetic addition as a protective coat.  If you plan to use your sign outside, get the outdoor formula.  You can also choose the level of shine you want, from gloss to matte.  Urethane gives wood a nice warm yellow tint, while other formulations (like Polycrylic) are less yellow.

finished DIY home brewery sign

My finished DIY home brewery sign.

– Dennis,
Life, Fermented

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About Dennis
Home brewer, home chef, garage tinkerer. Author of Life Fermented blog.

4 Responses to DIY Home Brewery Sign

  1. Ian Coutts says:

    Hey, Dennis, glad I provided a bit of inspiration. I like the name Barley Beard too!

    • Dennis says:

      Alternate names included Battleflag (with the tagline: Raise your brewing standard), Lazy Bear, and Dark Star. I don’t have any TM on Barley Beard, but if any commercial brewery out there uses it, I do request a few free beers or a tee-shirt or something.
      – Dennis

  2. HbgBill says:

    Like your sign.. like the name.. What’s not to like 🙂 Question tho. Router bits are round. How did you get into the sharp corners.. like the B, etc.

    • Dennis says:

      Hey Bill,
      Thanks for the vote of confidence in the name!

      I found that the bit I used generally did well enough. Its not as crisp as the original font, but once I sanded away my traced lines, it didn’t look like I had missed something. I did try taking a small sharp chisel and a razor blade to a few of the corners to clean them up, but I couldn’t ever manage to get a clean cut this way, and thought I was probably going to do more damage than good. I decided after two attempts to not push my luck.

      In the blow-up picture on the B, the top left-most corner on the outside is one I tried to clean up, and it is definitely sharper. But the rest is just what the router bit alone did (I even left the other B’s alone). The only other spot I tried to sharpen was the bottom-middle acute angle on the w. I think this was the sharpest angle and would have been the most obvious failure of the router bit. Even so, if you look closely enough, you can see the damage I did in the course of sharpening the angle.
      -Dennis

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