WoodCentral's video reviews
Sign Carving With Your Router

Sign Carving With Your Router
by Jim Bartz

RM Nordstrom Films: 2006
DVD, 44 min., $26.95

    Jim Bartz is a signmaker and cabinetmaker from Michigan. He has found that signmaking can be very profitable and doesn't require an enormous shop or a large investment in tools. Jim shows a plethora of sign examples along with a few "embellishments" that can be used to personalize or decorate other woodworking projects. The technique he prefers is freehand routing, using no letter templates. It provides greater variety in lettering and sizing and offers endless design options.
     In the video, Jim talks about the qualities to look for in a good plunge router as well as the router bits he most commonly uses. He also discusses the need to add a larger acrylic base to the router; since the technique is freehand, it's essential to be able to see your work clearly. Jim talks about how he uses a computer drawing program and clip art to design the signs. Tips are given about why some letters are easier to carve than others. Jim also shows how he prints a drawing of a large three-foot sign using a printer to make a multiple-page "tile" of the design, which are assembled with tape on a light table.
    Jim lists the species of wood that he prefers to use to make the signs. He also explains the steps he took to make the three-foot piece for the example sign, including the planing, jointing and gluing. A hand-held belt sander is used to prep the surface, using several grits in succession while sanding in multiple directions to create a uniform surface. Once the design is sanded, Jim trims it to size with a circular saw and transfers the design to the blank with carbon paper with a pencil or ballpoint pen. He darkens any light lines with a pencil. Then he cuts irregular or curved areas of the sign's profile with a jigsaw and sands these surfaces.
    Jim clearly defines the two types of sign carving -- engraved and relief -- and provides great examples of each. As he carves a large relief sign, he explains the importance of the larger acrylic base in bridging the gap between lettering and the border. And as he works through the process of outlining, he clearly shows the technique and how to work around the details, letters and border with the various bits.Once the lettering is completed, Jim begins to remove the background. He gives suggestions on how some effects can be added to the sign's appearance by how the background is cut away. Jim installs white oak cleats on the back of the relief sign to resist warping over time. After carving the relief sign, Jim demonstrates the technique used to make an engraved sign in the shape of a fish.
    When it comes time to finish the signs, Jim shows some of the detail work he does to prepare for the finish, including the use of chisels, rasps and sandpaper, and the use of a flap sander in a drill to sand the letters in multiple directions. Since both of his example signs will be used outside, he chooses good quality exterior finishes. He thins the first coat to increase its penetration into the wood. After the second coat, the signs are ready to be painted. He recommends using good quality brushes and oil-base enamel for painting. He also notes that nothing painted that's exposed to the elements will last forever without touching up. Having the paint on top of the finish makes touch-ups easier. As Jim starts painting he gives several good tips to avoid mishaps with the paint and how to achieve a good finish.
    Jim does an excellent job discussing the importance of safety while woodworking. He talks about router safety and the use of safety glasses, and recommends using a good quality dust mask. He also encourages everyone to adopt an attitude of safety.
    The company that made this DVD is owned by Jim and his sister Diane. It is their first and they did an excellent job. It's extremely well prepared, very clear and easy to follow. The sound, lighting, photography and overall production are all top quality. I enjoyed this DVD tremendously. It has a lot of qualities that other instructional DVD's do not. Jim is an incredible craftsman and an informative instructor. His mastery and passion for woodworking are very evident. In 2006 this DVD won the Telly Award.

. . . Greg Haugen