Painting a sign?

I carved an anniversary plaque on some Maple and painted the whole sign thinking it would be easy to sand off the paint and just leave the lettering in black. well it got into the grain and some spots were not sanding down very well even with a belt sander. Has anyone tried to cover the wood with the blue painters tape then carve it? Just wondering how you folks paint your wood and get it to look good.

Any help Is appreciated.


I think people use a sanding sealer before painting, I think that prevents the paint from seeping down into the grain, although I haven’t tried the technique yet myself.

I have found that after you cut the letters go ahead and stain the surface the way you want then apply at least two coats of lacquer (three is better) to get a nice finish. It is best if you get the stain and lacquer into the cut letters also to stop all paint bleed.

Then when the lacquer is very dry you can spray paint the letters and wipe down the surface to remove the over spray.

The paint just wipes right off the lacquer (be sure to wipe it quickly, if it starts frying it is more difficult)

You can even dampen a clean cloth in some soapy water to finish wiping the paint off.



I have not done a sign that way either, but watch on youtube they have some great ideas for doing exactly as you want. I seen one guy use shelf paper and stick it down, cut it out and the make minor repairs to areas that tore away and painted. Looks like it turned out great. Best of luck. My spindle is on the fritz so I am down until my 611 comes next week. Darn.

I do signs and engravings with that method fairly frequently. I typically use either brush-on sanding sealer for smaller parts, or a couple coats of spray-on polyurethane for larger ones. Then paint, then plane or sand. :smile:

Has worked well for me so far. The other trick I’ve learned, for saving ones that didn’t work right? Walnut stain. It’s dark enough that the little soaked paint bits disappear into the wood grain. This one had the sealing fail badly, I was testing a new method that didn’t work at all, so I gave it the walnut stain and was really surprised how well it came out! This is an experimental for the stain, so I didn’t bother sanding out the planer lines, etc. In a properly finished part, those would all be sanded away. The urethane also needs another good sanding to get rid of all that stood-up grain!


Thanks for the replies folks, finishing the project is just as much an art as cutting the wood. Might be interesting to get lots of views and techniques on this subject.

Again thanks for the good points.

The method I favor is spraying on poly - a few coats, sanding between each. Finish the last coat with steel wool. Then, I just sponge paint into the letters, wipe off the excess. No problem. It’s a pain to wait for the poly to dry completely - but you should give that last coat 24 hrs before slopping paint on to it. Also, be sure to use a damp cloth or tack cloth to remove all your steel wool fibers (or use synthetic steel wool).


Looks nice, lots of cool stuff to try but work just gets in the way. :smile:

I might have to give that one a try, I occasionally lose fine detail by sanding or planing the surface. That method sounds like a very good way around that problem.

I coat the newly cut piece with shellac, let it dry, mask off things that are a differing color than what I am currently working with and apply my color to the cut areas. Mask off the newly colored areas and expose the areas that are to get a differing color and apply that one then sand the surface.

most spray paints are soluble with lacquer thinner or mineral spirits and shellac does not react to these since its alcohol based. Here is what I came up with.


So when you use your thinner, you are just cleaning up any over spray? Does it mar or otherwise effect your shellac base?

Doesn’t your sanding take care of the overspray though - why the thinner? Also is there a specific shellac you recommend?

I would like to try this!

the lacquer thinner only dissolves the spray paint , it does not affect the shellac seal coat at all.

Specifically, the shellac seals the grain to prevent bleeding of the pigment into the surrounding wood. Depending on how thick the paint is on the uncut or top portions of the piece I will occaisionally wipe these areas with a lacquer thinner wetted rag to reduce how much paint and yuk my drum sander and dust collector see.

After a wipe down running it through the sander takes the top surface back down to bare wood ready for final finishing.

Also, When using this technique I will generally cut the piece 1-2 thou deeper than what I finally want to allow for stock removed by sanding.

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This is a good video showing how to paint the inside/outside of the sign.


I am really curious what bit he was using there! Every time I’ve tried that, the tape has come out as a shredded mess, entirely unsuitable for painting like that.

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I have heard of people using Vinyl instead of tape. The vinyl sticks a little better and doesn’t shred like tape does maybe?

But about the video? I’m not sure…

That is exactly what I was thinking, I have tried painting, taping and then cutting and it just made a mess of the tape. The bit tends to grab the tape and pull it off the material (then sling it all over the place)

I have used a roller to paint the surface after I sprayed the lettering and sanded the surface to remove overspray. If you have a good roller it works pretty well.

I wonder if a down cut bit would work better for this?

Good thought, I have not tried a down cut bit with tape.

Thanks for the feedback on the sign making and painting. My 1995 turned into 1945 and a few stars were lost in the engraving but the F-engrave plan worked here. I used the 12" masking tape during the cut which worked really well as I covered with the poly spray, followed by a ebony poly/stain mix. This was done on a black walnut piece. I really like it and thank everyone for their input on how to make the signs. My pictures don’t do the project justice.



@JkWestphal Tried the shallac technique today and it is awesome. Dries quickly, sands away well, leaves the detail. It made me very courageous and productive with the paints. Thanks for the tip.

Here is a photo after sanding but before final sealing (this is canary wood):