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How to do Lettering on Signs Yourself

Number 7 - February 1993

L. Layer & R. Nicholls

Unless you are an artist, drawing the letters for a sign will pose a problem. The easiest way to ensure that your letters are uniform is to use ready-made cardboard stencils. It is easy to lay out text in letter stencils on a signboard. When they are in the right position you can trace around them.

If you cannot find any stencils to buy you can make your own UNISTENCIL. It will only give you capital letters, but this is better than drawing free-hand.

(Idea taken from Parks Magazine/developed by Lindy Layer and Rosemary Nicholls)

Using Stencils to Make Signs

  1. Choose a piece of wood to use for your sign board.
  2. The board need not be absolutely flat but should be planed down and smooth.
  3. Lay out the text on your sign-board.
  4. Find the lower and upper range of the letters and mark them on the board.
  5. Work out the length of each word and of the whole message. Use your judgement, rather than a ruler, the spaces between letters depend on the particular shape ofthe letter. The space between each work should be as wide as the letter W.
  6. Work out your right and left margins and check the text is well centred.
  7. Check for any spelling mistakes now.
  8. Fix your letters in place and draw around each one.
  9. Using a set of chisels carve out the letters to a depth of 2-3 mm. Follow the outline of the letter with the straight face of the chisel towards the outside.
  10. Treat the sign with wood-preservative such as creosote. (Discarded engine oil is a cheap substitute).

Adapted from 'Guidelines and Techniques for Environmental Interpretation' by Klaus Berkmoller.