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!
Ready to learn? Here we go!
What You’ll Need:
Miter Saw/Circular Saw
X-Acto Knife/Utility Blade
Computer & Photoshop
(or Alternative Program)
Shop Rags (for Stain)
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.
2. Next, cut your 1 x 5 pieces to your desired length. I cut mine into three 16” wide boards.
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.
4. Cut your stringers from the 1 x 2 x 6’ board.
5. Glue and nail your stringers to the back of your sign.
6. Use a sander to smooth out your sign and prep for staining.
7. Next, stain your sign! I used Varathane stain in Golden Oak.
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!
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!
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.
10. Once your design is taped together, use your measuring tape to help center the design.
11. Tape your design to the sign once it is centered. This will prevent it form moving around.
12. Now comes the tedious part… use an X-Acto knife or utility blade to cut out your design.
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.
Make sure to do a few coats!
14. When you are happy with your paint coverage, remove the stencil and the tape.
15. Use a small paint brush to fill in any gaps in the lettering and to clean up any edges.
I also keep the X-Acto knife close to scrape off any paint that may have escaped.
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!
16. Once your sign has dried, attach picture-hanging hooks to the back.
Now, hang and admire (or gift to a loved one and admire their reaction)!
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!
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!
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.