Distressed Signs

When times get busy my blog is always the first thing that receives neglect. Please do leave me a little comment or a tweet or something though if you do read this - it will provide me with more motivation to write one more often.

Anyways onto the blog...

A couple of weeks back I went down to Hertford for Perry Signs annual Sign Writers Catch Up, basically a get together for sign writers, I realise this can sound quite strange to those not in the profession. In corporate speak you'd refer to it as CPD, maybe, maybe not. Over the weekend there were several different workshops going on, one of which was a distressed signs workshop hosted by David Agnew. As a result of this workshop and with distressed signage seeming to be in vogue at the moment I thought I'd do a little instructional on method of aging signs to make them look older the your grandma. Note that this isn't the only way to do it, it's just one way.

What you need:

  • Pencil
  • Paint - I have used a mixture of acrylic, emulsion and sign writing enamel for the boards I have made.
  • Wooden planks - these don't need to be new, get yourself down the reclaimation yard and find yourself some decent but cheap planks.
  • Wooden battens - can be found at reclamation yard or they're dead cheap at B&Q
  • Saw
  • Screws/ Nails
  • Drill/ Hammer
  • Sandpaper or sander
  • Chisel - any size or shape will do
  • Wire wool
  • Old rag
  • Rubber gloves
  • Wax - Again I have used different types - black bison wax and beeswax both work well.

So once you have all your materials the first thing you need to do is to make yourself a board up. You can see from my photos that I have used three planks fastened together with batten across the back. You can make your boards to any length you want. Just make sure that your battens keep it stable enough.

Once you are happy with the size of board you then need to get a piece of sandpaper and give the board a rub down. All you're looking to achieve from this is taking some of the really rough bits of wood off that might give you a splinter.

*It's worth pointing out here that I didn't take any photos of the process up to this point, sorry*

Once you've done that you can then crack the paint out. To make life easy for yourself you can simply stick to water based paints or like me you can mix it up and simply use what you've got to hand. Depending on your design you need to paint your board the colour you want it to be using emulsion or another water based paint such as acrylic.

Board built, roughly sanded, base coated and design drawn on. That piece of wood split off happened after painting but just adds to the finished effect.

Board built, roughly sanded, base coated and design drawn on. That piece of wood split off happened after painting but just adds to the finished effect.

The Jim Beam board was painted using the cheapest white emulsion I could find, whilst the Durex base colour was mixed using emulsion tester pots. The beauty of water based paint is that the dry time is really fast so you haven't got to wait around.

By the time you've had a brew and checked all your various social media outlets you're boards will likely be dry and you'll be ready to get a design onto. Again different methods here, 1 - make yourself a pounce pattern, either from a print out or drawing your design or, 2 - sketch your design straight onto the board. I pounced for Cadburys but sketched straight on for all the others, you can sand back the pencil or chalk lines so don't worry too much.

Design down, it's time to paint. I have used a mixture of sign writing enamel (1shot or craftmaster) and acrylics to do all of the boards here. The main reason for the mixture is cause I only had a restricted amount of water based paint colours. One tip is to consider is that when painting with enamels they have a shine that you wouldn't find naturally on an old sign. To combat this shine you can pounce your lettering as the paint is starting to go off, this will reduce some of the shine.

Jim Beam - fully painted. This was all done with sign writing enamels.

Jim Beam - fully painted. This was all done with sign writing enamels.

Pencil lines still visible but these will be lost in the next stage.

Pencil lines still visible but these will be lost in the next stage.

So your painting done and dry. Now onto the fun bit...the ageing process. Time to dig out your chisel and sand paper.

When ageing your sign you need to consider the areas that it may have worn more naturally than others, such as the edges, corners and high points in the board. You should focus your elbow grease into these areas. To start grab you chisel and make some cuts into the wood. This will create holes for wax to get trapped in and adds the the age of the board. I recommend following the grain of the wood with your chisel as this is the way the wood would splinter.

After you've created your splinters you then need to begin sanding. How much you sand depends on how distressed you want your sign to look. Have a play around. Do a bit, clean your board up, see what you think and keep going till you reach a level you're happy with.

Chiselled splinters.

Chiselled splinters.

Jim Beam board after sanding - note light sanding all over with heavy sanding in areas.

Jim Beam board after sanding - note light sanding all over with heavy sanding in areas.

Durex board - sanded back so base white coat and wood coming through.

Durex board - sanded back so base white coat and wood coming through.

Finally to add some real patina onto these boards you need to finish them with a wax. I have mostly used a black bison wax to patina these boards but I have found beeswax to work also however it's not quite as dark.

This part is easy, stick on some rubber gloves, get an old rag and rub your wax thoroughly into the board. I have found that with the black bison wax it can go on very dark in some places, if this happens you can give it a light rub with some wire wool and it will reduce the darkness.

Et Voila! You're done. You should have a sign in your hands that looks like you've dug it out the bottom of a skip/ swamp/ river, and it should have been a fairly simple and fun process. If you have a bash, let me know and show me some photos!

Here's a few of the finished pieces I have made of late....