This sign was made for my cousin for his wedding with hand carved lettering. The sign is a reclaimed mahogany border with a couple of pieces of bookmatched cherry for the panel. The lettering is infilled with a glow in the dark epoxy and the whole think is lit from the back with LED strip lights. It was designed to be used either hanging on the wall or leaning on a table. The adaptor connects to the lighting at the sign so this can be easily removed for just the glow of the letter without the lights.
I start with a beautiful piece of cherry that is about half the width of what I need for the frame. This is perfect since I only need a thin panel anyway, so I cut it right down the middle as deep as I can on both sides. These cut lines then act as a guide as I finish the cut on the bandsaw.
The surface of the cut is a little rough and the kerf of the bandsaw is smaller than the table saw so it has a high spot in the middle. I send both of the cherry boards through the planer to smooth the surface down.
Her you can see that bookmatched pattern that I was talking about. By cutting the board in half, you basically get 2 of the same pieces of wood so the grain interacts between the 2 pieces in interesting ways.
I straighten out the edges of the two pieces on the table saw so there is a perfect seam between them and then I apply glue to the edges and clamp them together.
After the glue is dry, I pop the panel out of the clamps and sand it smooth. You can see the grain continuity pretty good here. I actually decided not to glue up the piece with the grain bookmatched, but decided it actually looked better with the grain lines continuous. I flipped one of the boards around so the grain lines up at the edge and creates a cool S shape instead. The grain in cherry is pretty subtle, but I love the look anyway.
I use a combination of my table saw and miter saw to cut the panel down to final size.
Next is the border frame for the sign. I pull out these reclaimed mahogany balusters since they are an amazing color and would do a great job contrasting the cherry, especially as the sign ages. I use my router table to cut out a 3/8″ wide groove around the inside perimeter of these pieces that is the same thickness as the cherry panel I just made.
I measure out 4 pieces and cut 45 degree angles on both ends for miter joints at the corner of the frame.
Probably I should have carved out lettering in the frame prior to assembly, but I got excited and decided to assemble the frame now. The panel was cut about 1/4″ undersized in both directions on purpose. This allows for me to install some small foam pieces in each of the sides that will hold the panel in place, but it will also be able to expand and contract through the seasons without pushing against the frame itself.
Wood glue is applied to the ends of the mahogany boards and they are assembled into place with the cherry panel in the middle. I use a strap clamp to pull everything tightly into place. I also use some screw clamps on all 4 of the corners just to verify that everything is held flush.
I print out a mirror version of the text that I want to transfer onto the fame and the measure it out to make sure it’s centered and tape it in place. The template is printed on a laser printer so I can use acetone on a rag and just rub it on the back of the piece of paper to transfer the toner down onto the piece of wood.
No CNC needed! It honestly just takes a palm router with a straight bit in it and a super steady hand (and patience). I carve up almost to the line so that I can refine it slightly later with a chisel if needed. Also, the depth of the cut is just about a 1/32″ short of the full depth of the panel, you’ll see why that is later.
Not too bad, looks like it was cut on a machine… I am a machine!!
I mix up some 2 part epoxy and also mix in some glow in the dark powder (that and the bubbles it what’s giving it it’s milky color here). By not cutting all of the way through earlier when I was carving, the epoxy holds itself in and after it cures I can just sand off the thin layer of wood that is left on the back side.
All of the cavities get filled with the epoxy and then it’s just a waiting game. I use a propane torch to pop the bubbles every 10 minutes or so. They heat gets them to rise to the top and pop with just a quick pass over the surface.
Once the epoxy is cured, I use my belt sander to bring the epoxy down flush with the surface of the wood and remove all of the excess.
I also sand through the grits with my random orbital sander to bring everything really smooth and fill in any pinholes that are left in the epoxy from bubbles.
Now I can flip the whole thing over and reveal the translucency of the letters! I use my belt sander to take off the thin layer in between me and the epoxy letters.
It’s probably not necessary since it’s just a frame, but it’s fairly large and heavy with all of the wood, so I decide to add spline supports at all of the corners. This is done with a jig on the table saw to make a thin kerf cut, then a thin piece of wood is glued in that kerf and cut flush with the surface. This reinforces the joint by having wood with grain running the opposite direction across an end grain to end grain joint.
The whole thing is sanded through the grits and then I apply the finish. For this I chose a boiled linseed oil to bring out the color of the wood and then buffed it all with a few coats of paste wax.
Now I get to install the best part, the lights! I first install a couple pieces of pine on the top and bottom of the space in the back of the sign. These are a little thinner than the frame to allow them to act as cleats to attach the back panel on. The lights are installed by holding them on edge with hot glue and running them around all of the words.
Too get power to them, I drill a whole through the bottom edge of the frame and insert the plug into that hole where it is glued into place as well. This way the sign can easily be disconnected from the power if they want to hang it up on the wall without the cord.
The back panel is just a piece of hardboard that I cut down to size and install in place with some short screws into the wood cleats on the inside of the frame.
Then the last piece of the puzzle is a keyhole in the top piece of the frame to hang it from. This is cut with a keyhole bit in the palm router by temporarily gluing a scrap piece of wood on the frame to help me follow a straight line.
Time for the action you’ve been waiting for. The lights in the sign are operated with a remote that talks to an IR sensor that is hidden behind one of the letters (it’s translucent enough to be able to reach through the epoxy). This will turn the lights on and off, change the brightness, and also change them to any color desired. Not only do the lights illuminate the letters, but after they’re on for a while they charge up the glow in the dark powder in the letters.