stained wood signs

Manufacturing Basics: Solid Wood Materials

As I'm chatting with clients I would like to explain answers in more detail but I often can't because I need to field so many questions in a day.  This post is a chance to give you some more info on natural wood and barn wood signs.  I'm a huge fan of how these materials burn in the laser and the variety of things we can do with them.  They look great.  But they have a few limitations.  I'll explain the pros and cons as well as the recommendations I make below:



When asking for a solid wood sign at low cost you will be limited to the width of the average tree.  Common lumber sizes range from 2" - 6" wide.  These dimensions are based on how big a common tree is.  Larger dimensional timber is available in species like pine (for example 8 - 12" wide), but this is not a material we'd recommend for sign making. 





When you'd like your sign to be made from solid wood (compared to our standard plywood material), you will be looking at a max sign width of 6 - 7".  You can make a large sign if your sign is long and narrow.  But it cannot be wider than the above if you're aiming for a low-cost sign.  





If you're prepared to assign a higher budget to your sign (2-3x minimum) we can source specialty planks in wider sizes.  These have to be brought in as a special order.  Special order planks go up to 12-18" wide.  These planks come from much larger trees.  Large i.e. older trees are rare, and are more costly to cut and transport.  The planks will come at a higher cost.  Special order planks can be any species, including exotics like dengue, bloodwood, zebra wood and walnut. 


We can also (occasionally) source barn wood in wide sizes.  I've seen barnwood planks come in as wide as 22".  When we see these pieces in the studio we flatten them (wide wood planks tends to curl) and offer them up to lucky clients.  Barn wood panels range from plaque sizes (7 x 10") to more substantial sizes (22 x 36").  Barn wood is limited to the panel sizes we have on hand because we have to source the pieces in advance and put them through our own finishing process.  That process takes 3-4 months.  Each panel is individually sized.  


You'll see sign makers (such as old-school rotary engravers) biscuit join or laminate planks of wood together to make large sign panels.  You may have seen these at the side of the road as a large lodge or campground signs.  We don't do this type of join here because laser etching a joined natural wood panel will produce different colour variations on each plank.  Unless you're ok with a very motley/rustic look, this is a process we suggest clients avoid with laser engraving.  Long story short - we stick to naturally available plank sizes.




Lots of clients request barn wood from us.  No wonder, it looks great!  A little word of caution: real barn wood is not the same as the barn wood you see in Home Depot.  It's significantly more rustic.  It's dusty, with deep grooves, and it burns beautifully on the laser.  It makes a gorgeous sign. 





When you request barn wood from us, you're getting the real deal.  We do our best to toss and cut away imperfections, but you should expect to see knots, pits, holes and nails.  It's virtually impossible to deliver a barn wood sign that is clear of imperfections.  Real barn wood is a good material for large scale and rustic/industrial spaces. 





If you have a clinical or corporate environment (or a space like a baby's nursery) you will want greyed modern wood, not barn wood.  Greyed modern wood has a smooth finish and a cool grey colour. 

It looks aged and weathered but is cleaner and more hygienic.  We can produce this material for you in the common lumber sizes mentioned above.














We try to avoid mixing stain with laser cutting.  Aside from the toxicity problem, staining woods can create unpredictable results with the wood grain.  We need the grain on your sign to be as smooth and predictable as possible to ensure legibility.  For these two reasons we steer clients away from stains and instead suggest they choose the species that grows naturally in that colour.  For example, instead of adding a dark stain, we suggest you use walnut as your sign base.  Alternatively, we can paint your backer a solid colour.



In the studio we're wary of making sure your sign is legible.  Signs have characters, some very small, conveying information.  The wood grains and imperfections in solid wood planks can easily create problems with legibility.  This is the final limitation of solid wood planks.  We suggest using solid wood planks only for signs with large, heavy type.  It's for high-impact art. 




If your sign has small characters or complicated illustrations we suggest you go with a plywood background.  This is our sign making material of choice in part because it's clear, even and predictable.  We never have to worry about a crucial part of a word falling over a knot in the wood, making the sign unusable.  Plywood is perfectly clean and even.  




I hope this helps!  What did you think of this post?  Let me know in the comments!