The Perfect Holiday Project: Routing Your Own Wood Signs

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Photo by Lauren E. Dorsey

You can learn to route your own signs in just a few hours, and it’s a skill that allows you to create countless beautiful, low-budget projects that will last for years. Routing your own signs can help you inscribe the perfect personalized gift, carve inexpensive, beautiful holiday decorations, or add a rustic touch to your homestead!

This year, I wanted to decorate my house for Halloween, but I was hoping to do something a little different from the impersonal store-bought skeletons and cobwebs that have heavily dominated my Halloweens in the past.

Photo by Lauren E. Dorsey

After some looking around, I eventually borrowed a router from my neighbor and inscribed my own signs. This project took me about 6 hours total (having never used a router before), and the signs turned out looking fantastic. As an added bonus, I’ll be able to use them for years to come! While I painted my signs with orange and white, you can use any color combination that comes to mind. Some of the most beautiful signs that I’ve seen use white lettering and a natural wood stain to bring out the intrinsic beauty of the wood.

This project cost me a total of 40 dollars. 10 for the wood, 20 for the paint and brushes, and 10 for the sandpaper. As I mentioned before, I borrowed the router I used, but you can buy your own for about 80 dollars at any hardware shop, and with a few sharpenings, they tend to last forever. 

Materials You Will Need

  • A router
  • Safety glasses
  • A clear, uncluttered space outside with access to an outlet
  • Several pieces of wood (I bought my pieces from the $5.00 bin at Home depot, but you can use any quality wood you like as long as it’s got a flat side for the lettering)
  • Paint and/or wood stain
  • Paint brushes
  • Sandpaper
  • A hand saw


To begin, use sandpaper or a home sander to smooth out any imperfections in the wood. Smoother wood will make the routing easier and the paint look better. Then, adjust the depth of your router. You will want to set the router to different depths depending on how thick the wood is and how deep you want the lettering to be. As you can see in the picture above, I used a deeper setting for the large letters and a shallower setting for the smaller letters to help them both fit nicely. I found that a depth of ¼” or 3/8” is a great place to start, but as you get more comfortable with the equipment you can adjust the depth to your heart’s content. Just be aware that if you make it too deep, the wood can begin to smoke, and the router will be harder to control.

Next, practice making a few lines with the router to get a feel for how operating it works. One of the toughest parts of using the router is that you can’t really see what you’re doing; the outside of the machine blocks you from seeing the part making the cuts, so you have to get a feel for where the blade is in relation to the outside of the machine. The router also spits out a lot of sawdust so be sure to aim the openings away from you and wear safety glasses so that none of the dust gets into your eyes.

Photo by Lauren E. Dorsey

After you’ve done your practice cuts, get out a pencil or marker, depending on how bold you are, and sketch out your designs. I would recommend starting with big letters and trying for smaller designs or complicated fonts once you get more comfortable using the equipment. Routers really hate knots in the wood, so avoid those if possible, and remember that going slowly and smoothly is much better than going too fast. The sign below was one of my first attempts!

Route the wood! Don’t worry about perfection and don’t forget to experiment with cool designs!

If you’re using a plank like I did, saw your pieces apart last. It’s difficult to estimate how big the sign will actually be and very easy to stray from the initial design. Give yourself some room for error, and don’t commit to spacing until you have to.

Paint your background with either wood stain or paint! Don’t forget to paint the back of the sign to keep it protected from the elements if it’s going to be outside!

After the background paint dries, paint in the lettering. This takes a lot longer than I anticipated so  play some music or convince someone to come outside and keep you company while you do it. Don’t worry about minor imperfections, you can always do another careful coat of the background paint, or just let it be. Most people will only see your sign from afar anyway! 

Hang up your beautiful creation for all to see and start brainstorming new ideas for next time! You can get really creative! Some people use cookies (rounds of wood sawed off from logs) to create beautiful wood-stained signs that preserve the bark on the outside! Let your imagination run wild!

Photo by Lauren E. Dorsey

Do you have any ideas or tips for using a router? Share them below!