Carving a sign

Ok, so it’s not an artistic piece or even an architectural molding, but it’s a carving! A friend of ours wanted to place a cap on the sign at his farm. He brought over a piece of yellow pine and a sketch of what he wanted. The top of the board is to have a bull nosed edge to shed water and the letters are the address.

The shape of the board was cut out on a bandsaw and I thought I could use my router top to put on the bull nose. After looking at the grain on the board, I decided to do the form by hand. If I had used the router, I would have had to fight tearout. The bull nose radius was started with a block plane. It worked well as I was able to peel off small portions of the wood and change directions to be able to follow the grain. I used a 2/12 chisel to finish the radius. The 90 degree areas were done with the 2/12 chisel.

The numbers were printed out from a computer and placed on the wood with spray adhesive. Shouldn’t be a problem as the finish is paint. I learned how to use a mallet doing these numbers. Yellow pine grain is tough – compared to the soft wood of the board. I made many an ‘oops’ and really didn’t want the field to be as deep as it is, but it’s better than an uneven surface. Still working on the numbers and field.

One problem I had was with very soft wood in between the hard grain. In the deeper parts of the numbers, no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get a clean cut – the soft wood wanted to scuff up and tear off. I tried sharpening, but it didn’t help. So, some places look like I carved them with a hammer.

I took the sign top to the requester and they loved it (even though I thought it was not so good) and are painting it now. My question is, what do you do about pithy wood in a carving? Should I put a little glue on it to toughen it up? Or am I just not doing it right?

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dorisfiebig
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 20:35:56

    hi doug, nice to see you back with a carving 🙂 … and, if the person who got it loves it, then the work is well done 🙂 of course, for ourself we are critique, and that is good, since we learn from it. well done from me too … as to your question, i have carved both panels (mucha and the small one) in pine, and experienced same as you. i could work the problematic areas best when doing small cuts with lots of feeling. no rushing, otherwise the wood tears and splinters and does what not terrible. but going slowly with a sharp chisel and in the best direction makes it possible to carve it cleanly without adding glue, or whatnot… just patience is the way, at least that was what i found… thanks for posting !!


  2. markyundt
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 20:50:39

    Somehow I wasn’t able to find Doug’s comments so I’m not sure what he said exactly.
    As far as your questions Doris, yes, yellow pine is rather difficult to carve for the grain reasons. Also, it will tend to have a relatively short life as a sign, even painted, as this pine doesn’t seem to weather very well. Cedar, Redwoods , etc. work well for exterior signs. For general carvings some sugarpines work pretty well.
    Keeping the chisels extremely sharp is the only real recourse to carving this stuff. Also , for exterior signs, it’s a small detail, but what I tend to do is to bevel letters, numbers and the lower sections of the recess down and away from the background to facilitate water run off. It doesn’t allow water to sit on top of letters/numbers/ borders of the inset parts.
    And yes this is a carving. Architectural as well. It needed to be designed to fit a style, then carved!


    • Doug
      Aug 21, 2011 @ 23:16:43

      Thanks for the constructive comments, Mark. I wish that my friend had chosen something other than yellow pine – both for weathering and for carving, but that is what he brought over to me. I left a radius in the bottom of the ‘number window’ and tried to leave some taper on numbers to channel the water. I tried to think like a rain drop while carving ;-).

      As for the spongy wood, Doris I’m glad to hear that it’s problematic for you professionals as well. I will think about enjoying the time removing small fragments next time I work in this type of wood.

      My next project is a 5 ft tall cross for a church (from the same folks that requested the sign top.) This time I get to select the wood, but I don’t think I get to do much carving as they want a very plain design. I’m hoping to talk them in to a few embellishments, some inlays or something. But, providing a product that meets the expectations of the customer is a priority. Thanks for this great site and the chance to learn more!


  3. dorisfiebig
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 22:36:07

    hi mark, oh, it was not mine question, about carving pine but dougs, and the post on the sign is his,,, just wanted clarify that. i enjoy when we have guestposts. (maybe i should write next time an intro paragraph, so all reader can realise when a post is by a guest writer, the little tag “voices of our guests” is too small to be easily seen)


  4. Ralph Giarnella MD
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 11:52:16

    superglue might help keep the toughen up the wood.


  5. markyundt
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 15:14:04

    OK,, I’m a dope! I didn’t even bother to read who the author was. I just thought it was you Doris.
    Sorry Doug!


    • Doug
      Aug 23, 2011 @ 02:29:54

      Oh come on, Mark – it’s just one of those computer things. I took it that you were replying to me. The comments were very constructive and I appreciate them and those from Doris, also.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: