How to Create a Beautiful Rustic Sign in 6 Easy Lessons
I adore foyers. A well designed entryway is like a home reaching out its arms and welcoming visitors in a warm cozy hug. Our house doesn’t hug visitors … yet! Our foyer is a work in progress (with much more to come!) but I’m making great strides. In time, our entryway will be cozy and warm and lovely in all the right ways, and I’ve made a fabulous start by crafting this super easy DIY. I’m thrilled to share with you how to build a beautiful, rustic sign in only six easy-to-follow steps! As always, this DIY is done on a budget, so get ready to get beautiful without spending a fortune! And for all you visual learners, feel free to watch the video tutorial embedded below; otherwise, hit that down button and keep on reading.
Lesson 1: Sand Your Sign
In order to make your very own rustic sign, you need to make sure you have a beautiful, smooth wooden surface on which to work. How do you get one? Follow along below!
- A hobby board OR a piece of wood (try a 1 by 8 by 6) to cut down
- Saw (if you need to cut wood)
- 220 grit sandpaper
- 120 grit sandpaper
- A sander
- A respirator
- Eye protection
- Blower / fan / rag
There are a few places to get some wood. Perhaps the most easiest way is to buy what’s called a hobby board, at either Michaels or Home Depot. They’re pre-cut and pretty ready to go. In fact, depending on the quality of the hobby board, you may get to skip lesson one all together (lucky you!). But if your board is rough, or if you decide to use a saw to carefully cut off a piece of lumber, you’re going to need to sand, sand , sand.
When you sand your board, there are a few things to keep in mind before you begin. Always, always wear a respirator and eye protection. You don’t want that sanding dust getting in places it doesn’t belong. (It’s AWFUL.) You may feel (and, okay, even look) dorky, but go with it. Your health and safety trump fashion.
When you sand, you can use a variety of tools, ranging in cost and ease of use. You can use sandpaper on its own, use a sanding block, get sandpaper that fits onto a small hand sander (like a Ryobi Corner Cat), or use a tool that’s more robust, like a random orbital sander.
Use sandpaper that’s lower in number and move up to sandpaper that’s higher in number. The lower the number, the coarser the grit. Start with sandpaper that’s 80 or 120, and finish with sandpaper that’s 220. By finishing with sandpaper that’s a higher grit, you’ll have a nice smooth finish.
Be sure to sand with the grain of the wood? See those gorgeous lines running through your wood? That’s the wood grain. Treat them like directional arrows pointing you where to sand and follow along. Try to run parallel to the grain of the wood rather than sanding across the grain. Doing this will help you get that nice, smooth finish you’re looking for!
So how do you know when you’re done sanding? Sanding takes awhile. Usually longer than expected! Run your fingertips along the wooden board and test how smooth it is. You don’t want any jagged areas or splinters. They’re not cute! Keep on sanding (and sanding and sanding) until the wood is as smooth as you’d like it to be.
Once you’re done, your new goal is to get rid of as much sawdust as possible! You don’t want to move onto the next step with heaps of sawdust everywhere. I use a lawn blower and blow away all of the sawdust. You could also sweep up the sawdust, fan it away, or even use a rag to brush it off your piece as best you can. Bottom line? Try to get as much sawdust up and off your board and workspace as possible.
Want to watch a sanding tutorial? Well, we got one for you right here!
Lesson 2: Distress Your Board
Okay, now your board is nice and smooth. What’s the next step to making a beautiful rustic sign? Wreck it up again! This is one of my favorite steps. It’s time to distress your board!
- Your board
- A hammer
- Screws of various size threads
- A handful of nuts or bolts
It seems a little counter-intuitive that we just spent so long making or board nice and smooth and now we’re distressing it. …But we want a final product that’s perfectly imperfect. We want a rustic sign that looks aged, worn, and weathered, but won’t give you eight million splinters.
There are a number of ways to distress your board, and one of my favorite methods is using a hammer, screws with various size threads, and a handful of nuts and bolts.
Start by whacking your board with the hammer to get a feel for the softness of the wood. See how the hammer dents the wood? Just be sure not to whack it too hard to crack the board! Try hitting the board with both ends of the hammer to see what the indentations look like.
Now, try experimenting with pressing sides of the screws into the board. Try to see if you can leave impressions of the threads onto the wood. You may need to tap your screws long ways into the board to press the treads into the wood. Turn the screws various angles to get impressions in all different directions.
Spend some time pressing the edges of the nuts and bolts into the wood as well. See what textures you can achieve. Try to be varied in your approach, and don’t worry about perfection.
Worse case scenario? You unleash too much anger onto your board and get a little heavy handed in your distressing. Don’t worry! If you accidentally splinter the board a bit, go back in with your sanding paper and smooth it back down.
For all you visual learners, yep! Here’s a video tutorial just for you!
Lesson 3: Stain Your Board
You’ve sanded, you’ve distressed, and now you have a smooth, splinter free board that looks pretty beaten up. Let’s keep making our gorgeous rustic sign. Time for stain! This is where the magic happens, and the character of the wood really begins to shine through.
- Your board
- Stain in a color of your preference
- A staining pad OR rag OR brush
- Newspaper or plastic for protecting your work surface
- Latex gloves
So how do you stain your board? Most important part? Read the back of the can! This sounds like a silly step, but stains can have different ingredients, with different application processes, and different drying times. There are a number of kinds of stains: oil stains, water-based stains, gel stains, stains with a poly finish in them… So it’s important that you read exactly how to apply the stain you’ve purchased.
I’ve used a number of kinds of stains and prefer Minwax Wood Finish in the color Provincial. It’s water based and dries FAST. It looks good applied lightly and looks good with a few more coats to darken the color. But you do you. Find a color that speaks to your style and read up!
Staining Like a Pro
Staining requires patience. You need to apply a coat, wipe up any excess so that it doesn’t dry in puddles, and wait for it to dry. If you don’t like the depth of color, then you can do it again. Don’t be tempted to glom on a spongeful of stain and let it pool on your board. It doesn’t work that way. It’ll dry tacky and ruin your gorgeous finish. So apply, wipe off, wait, and see.
When you stain, just like when you sand, you want to go WITH the grain of the wood. Those fabulous lines running across your board? Yep, those. Apply your stain running in the same direction.
If you’re applying stain to the tops and edges of your board, be forewarned that the wood might take the stain differently in these areas where the wood is cut across the grain. These areas might be darker than on the surface of the board. If I ever thought the edges were too darker than the surface, I applied another coat of stain to the surface to darken it up a tad. Easy!
Here’s a video tutorial hot off the presses, all about staining!
Lesson 4: Layout and Transfer Your Design
In order to make your rustic sign, you need an image! For this tutorial, you have a number of options for your design. You can use the gorgeous ready-made template that I’m using, which is shown below, or you can create or draw your own graphic. It’s up to you! If you’d like a free copy of the Home Sweet Home design, just scroll your way to the bottom of this post! Once you’ve decided on your image, the challenge you now have is how to transfer this image onto your board so that you can replicate it in paint. …Or you can paint it free hand if you’re talented like that. Me? I’ll stick to transferring!
- Your design printed to one or multiple pages depending on the size of your board
- Computer with printer
- Acrobat Reader if printing image bigger than 8 by 11
- Chalkboard chalk in white
- Mechanical pencil
If you’re using a board that’s bigger than an 8 by 11, you’ll need to print your design to multiple pages. To do this, I save my graphic as a PDF, open it in Acrobat Reader, and print. Under the “Page Scaling” option, chose “Tile All Pages.” I usually prefer to select “show cut marks” as well to give me an indicator where I should cut the pages with my scissors so that they line up correctly when I assemble them.
Once the image is printed, cut away any excess along the edges, and tape the image together. I usually try to tape in the white space of the image, rather than on the image itself. So now, you should have a taped up poster. How exactly do you transfer it?
Need some video tutorials for this? No problem!
Transferring Your Image
Take out a piece of chalk from your chalkboard chalk box. On the back of your image apply a thin layer, concentrating around the outside edge of your letters. Sometimes, it helps to hold your poster up to a window, with the right side facing the window, so that you can see the outline of the letters more clearly. Rub chalk all over the back of the image.
Once you’re sufficiently chalked, lay your image, chalk side down, onto your board. Get it into the position you like then tape down the top edge. I like to keep at least two edges free so that I can lift and peek underneath as I go along.
Now, taking your mechanical pencil, with the lead retracted, press firmly on the outline of the letters. Go ahead and peek under if need be — you should see a thin white outline of chalk outlining your image exactly!
Don’t worry at this point if you have chalk fall out on your board. We’ll take care of that later!
Also, if your image doesn’t transfer clearly, feel free to go back in and rub a little more chalk on your paper.
Here’s a video showing you STEP-BY-STEP how to transfer your design like a PRO.
Step 5: Paint Your Design
Almost to the last step in making your rustic sign! So now you have a crisp, clear outline of your design in white chalk on your board, just ready for you to paint it! Right? Well, if you’re like me, you have a lot of extra chalk dust on there too. No worries! How do we clean this bad boy up and get to painting. Keep on reading!
- Thin paint brush
- Thicker paint brush
- Acrylic paint in colors you prefer
- Paper towel for blotting water
- Wax paper or pallet for thinning paint
First thing I do is use a little Q-Tip and some water to clean up a bit of the chalk dust. It doesn’t need to be perfect at this point — we’ll clean up all the chalk dust later — but I get up any big chunks of chalk that errantly made their way onto my board. Once it’s sufficiently chalk dust free, I get ready to paint! So how do you paint in your design?
Painting like a Boss
Lay out your supplies. Put a little dab of your color or colors on your pallet or wax paper. Have your water glass and paper towel ready. Put some water on your brush and use it to thin out your paint slightly.
Go slowly, try to have a steady hand, and outline the edges you’ve created, painting over the white chalk. I like to use my thinner paint brush for this.
Once your entire design is outlined in paint, use your thicker brush to fill it in! It’s like coloring in the lines.
Video tutorial for painting your DIY rustic sign? Yup! We got one! Here you go!
Step 6: Finish and Hand Your Board
You’ve sanded, you’ve distressed, you’ve stained, you’ve painted… my gosh, you’ve done a lot! Almost done! Now, time to finish your board. To take this last step, you’re going to need a few supplies.
- Sanding block
- Lint free cloth
- Rag OR Brush
- Clear finishing wax
- Brown finishing wax
- Picture hanging fixtures
When I finish my board, I actually like to go back in with a sanding block and lightly distress the paint before I apply finishing wax. Taking off some of that paint leaves the board looking a bit weathered, vintage, and lovely. Once you’ve sanded your paint slightly, you’ll want to take off any remaining sanding dust or chalk dust.
The best method I’ve found to do this is to lightly dab a lint free cloth in water and press gently on the board. If you’re using tempera or acrylic paints, be warned — they’re water soluble. You’ll want to be careful doing this so you don’t mar your beautiful paint job! Once your board is dust free, it’s time to take the very last step … finishing!
Finishing like a CHAMP
When using finishing wax, you’ll want to use a clear wax and maybe a dark wax too. Using a rag or brush, apply the clear wax to your board, moving in small circles. The wax should dry fairly quickly and will leave a velvety smooth finish. If I can’t see where I’ve applied wax, I feel the board with the fingertips. I can feel the wax even if I can’t see it! If the board still feels like unpolished wood, I apply more wax in that area.
Once the clear finishing wax is dry, I apply the dark wax. The dark wax sinks into all of the low areas of the board. Remember all that great distressing you did? This is where the dark wax really shines! I focus on filling in the divots, nooks, and crannies with dark wax to really let the character of the piece shine! If you ever apply too much dark wax, you can go back in with the clear wax and use it like an eraser. It works like a charm!
Let your finish dry completely (again, read the back of the can!) , then flip your board and hammer in your fasteners. I prefer to use saw tooth hangers, but you can use any kind of picture mounting hardware you prefer.
Last video tutorial… you’re almost there! Click below to watch how to apply your finishing stain and get-er-done!
And that’s it! Six easy to follow lesson later and you should have a FABULOUS rustic sign for your home!