Crafting Woodworking

DIY Wooden Sign (Without A Stencil Cutting Machine)

diy wooden sign

If you’ve been following me for a while, then you’ll remember the days when I sold custom signs on Etsy and made a living off it while attending graduate school. I still to this day get so many questions about how I made my signs! Well, in all honesty, being a graduate student on a budget meant I couldn’t afford a stencil cutting machine. So, I had to get crafty! To help celebrate my one-year anniversary of my PhD, I partnered with my friends at Varathane to spill my secret as to how I made custom signs and stencils without a stencil cutter and how you can too!

Hey, did you know there’s a YouTube video for this project! Check it out below and make sure to Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more fun project videos!

My favorite part about custom signs is that you can legit just do whatever you want with the design! They are great gifts for friends and family, and when done right, you can save a ton of money on custom décor by making them yourself. In fact, the sign I’m showing you how to make today only cost me $10 in lumber!

how to make a sign without a stencil cutter

Ready to learn? Here we go!

What You’ll Need:


Miter Saw/Circular Saw
Nail Gun
Screw Gun
X-Acto Knife/Utility Blade
Computer & Photoshop
(or Alternative Program)
Craft Brushes
Shop Rags (for Stain)
Measuring Tape

Varathane Stain (I Used Golden Oak)
(1) 1 x 5 x 6’ Common Board
(1) 1 x 2 x 6’ Common Board
1″ Brad Nails
White Acrylic Paint
Printer Paper
Picture Hanging Hooks

The Steps:

1. First step is to decide how large you want your sign to be. For this tutorial, I made a 13 ½ x 16” sign.

how to measure wood

2. Next, cut your 1 x 5 pieces to your desired length. I cut mine into three 16” wide boards.

wood sign etsy

3. Run a quick dry fit to make sure you’re happy with the size. Then, take a quick measurement of the sign to determine the height of your stringers (or supports). My rule of thumb is to take the total height of the sign and subtract 2”. Therefore, my stringers will be 11 ½” tall.

diy custom sign

4. Cut your stringers from the 1 x 2 x 6’ board.

how to build a wooden sign

5. Glue and nail your stringers to the back of your sign.

how to glue wood

how to attach pieces of wood together

6. Use a sander to smooth out your sign and prep for staining.

how to make custom artwork

7. Next, stain your sign! I used Varathane stain in Golden Oak.

varathane wood stain

how to stain a wood sign

I know this post is sponsored by Varathane, but in full disclosure, I have been using their product for YEARS and I swear by it! It dries super fast and only needs one coat for coverage!

8. While your sign dries, begin to design your custom artwork! I use Photoshop to design mine, but you can use an alternative program if you don’t have it. In fact, here’s a great list of free alternatives to Photoshop!

good vibes artwork

I start by creating a canvas on Photoshop that is the same size as my sign. I then design my sign, and print the design in sections.

P.S. If you want to use my design, it’s available here and for FREE! Just click the link below to download and print!

Good Vibes Sign Template – DIY Huntress

9. Once the sign is dry and your design is printed, begin to attach the pieces like a puzzle. Tape all the pieces together as you go and trim any borders with a scissor.

how to paint a saying on wood

10. Once your design is taped together, use your measuring tape to help center the design.

how to paint a phrase on wood

11. Tape your design to the sign once it is centered. This will prevent it form moving around.

how to transfer an image to wood

12. Now comes the tedious part… use an X-Acto knife or utility blade to cut out your design.

how to make a stencil from hand

how to create custom stencil

Pro Tip: If you have letters with loops, use your blade to create small stencil inserts (like in the photo). This will help hold the inserts in place. You can fill them in later with paint.

13. Once your design is cut out, use a paint brush and acrylic fill in the stencil. I like to dab around the edges first and then brush inward to avoid any spill out under the stencil.

how to create custom stencil

Make sure to do a few coats!

14. When you are happy with your paint coverage, remove the stencil and the tape.

how to make a custom stencil

15. Use a small paint brush to fill in any gaps in the lettering and to clean up any edges.

how to paint a wooden sign

I also keep the X-Acto knife close to scrape off any paint that may have escaped.

how to hand letter a sign

Pro Tip: When scraping, if you gauge the wood or leave any marks, keep a small cup of wood stain nearby. You can use a small detail brush and some paper towels to clean up those as well!

how to make a stencil without a machine

how to hand letter a sign

16. Once your sign has dried, attach picture-hanging hooks to the back.

how to hang a wooden sign

Now, hang and admire (or gift to a loved one and admire their reaction)!

diy quote sign

While I’m aware that this process is time consuming, it saved me TONS of money on a stencil-cutting machine for years! So, if you’re on a budget like I am, then I hope you’ll appreciate the effort!

how to make a wood sign etsy

I hope you have enjoyed this project – it makes me feel so nostalgic! Maybe I should start making signs again!

Want to save this project for later? Make sure to Pin It!

In the meantime, hope you’ll all share those custom signs with me soon!

This project is sponsored by Varathane. My obsession with this stain is honest and real. All opinions and design ideas are my own. For more information regarding my sponsorships and disclosures, please click here.

Sam Raimondi

Sam is a full time psychologist and part time content creator from Long Island, New York.




  • Brigette

    Hello! I love this tutorial! Thank you for sharing it! I was wondering…have you had any trouble with paint cracking? You don’t put anything over the final product to make it last longer?

    • Sam

      Hi! I haven’t… I’ve made lots of these signs and no problems so far!

what do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.