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How to Build and Paint a Wood Sign

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Get all the details on how to build stain and paint a wood sign below.

Like many of you, I love the look of a worn wood sign.  My home and decor are not rustic, more modern to be exact, but a touch of rough wood here and there adds so much character.  

However, I cannot bring myself to find, deconstruct, and build a sign from an old pallet.  So I made my own out of nice new clean lumber.  

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HOW TO build and stencil a wood sign. Full video tutorial.

Watch the full video series on how to build and stencil DIY wood signs on YouTube.

Before I begin I should tell you what I have against pallet wood.  It’s free and easy to come by, but it’s also dirty and could contain mold, termites or who knows what else.  I am not comfortable bringing that type of wood into my home.  So for just a few dollars I make my own DIY wood signs, here’s how I do it.

Start with these Materials:

  • 1×4 piece of pine, total length of 96 inches
  • Wood strip, around 1×2 inches
  • Miter saw
  • Drill and bits
  • Screws, 1 1/4 inch
  • Clamps
  • Gray stain and brush or cloth – this is my go to gray stain and it is beautiful.  Get yours here! 
  • Cricut or Silhouette
  • Vinyl
  • White paint and brush

This sign measures 16×24, so cut the 1×4 into 24-inch inch lengths using a miter saw. You can use these tips and techniques to make a sign of any size. The larger the sign, the more support you will need on the back.

To assemble the 1×4 boards into a pallet sign, cut the wood strip into 12-inch lengths to screw into the back.  These strips can be found in the lumber aisle at a hardware store, they are rough and inexpensive and perfect for back supports of a wood sign.

How to build a wood sign

Line up the 1×4 boards in the way you want the sign to look. I like a staggered look on the edges, so my boards are not even as you can see in the photo above.

Once they are all in place, clamp the 4 pine boards together then place the 2 wood strips on the back and drill holes through the strips into each of the 4 boards. Place screws in each board then remove the clamp.

Gray wood stain to make a wood sign

Now that the sign is built, that was really easy right? It’s time to stain the wood and prepare it for stenciling.

This is my go-to gray stain for just about every sign I make.  It’s light and you can use just about any color of paint over it. 

Use a sponge brush or clean rag to apply a very light coat of stain to the wood.  I like to be able to see the wood grain and have a rustic uneven finish to my sign.  When done applying the stain, take a paper towel and remove any excess stain from the sign by wiping from one end to the other.

Watching my staining technique in the wood sign video series.

Gray stain on wood - how to make a sign

Let the stain dry according to the stain package directions. For this gray stain, I let it dry overnight. This step is key in ensuring the stencil and paint you put on top will stick and hold up well.

Now that the stain is dry it’s time to stencil a wood sign.

3 Ways to Stencil a Wood Sign

I used my Silhouette to create a stencil that reads “Gather here with grateful hearts”. You can create a script font stencil from any font on your computer. Once you master this technique you’ll be making signs left and right!

Stenciling is a huge part of wood sign making, it allows you to create something custom with crisp lines that look professional.

You can also use a Cricut to create a stencil. Cricut Design Space has many premade options you can size appropriately and cut for your project.

When the font was ready I widened my design space to 16×24 to lay everything out on the computer, then moved the words around to cut on a 12-inch wide piece of vinyl.  

I prefer Oracle 631 vinyl to create stencils because it is repositionable, you can also use contact paper.  Be sure to watch the above video for 2 other stenciling methods, including how to make a reusable stencil at home.  

Now that the stencil is cut from vinyl it’s time to transfer it to the sign. I cannot stress enough how important it is to ensure the stain is dry before applying the stencil! Skipping this step will lead to paint bleeding and chipping down the road.

Transfer the stencil to the sign using contact paper or transfer tape. Smooth down to remove any gaps or bubbles, then pull back the contact paper or transfer tape to reveal the stencil.

There are a few other ways to add lettering onto wood, you can learn how to transfer letters onto wood or how to create a sign without a stencil. Try each method out and see what works best for you.

Now it’s time to paint this wood sign!

Gather sign. How to build stain and paint a wood sign.

Load up a small amount of paint using a stencil brush or sponge brush then wipe off most of the excess. Very little paint is required to stencil a wood sign.

Using an up and down motion, apply paint to the stencil. A light first coat is ideal. Once the first coat is applied, repeat the process with just a small amount of paint and apply a second coat. Do this until you have your desired amount of coverage.

When the painting is complete, remove the stencil right away and allow the paint to dry. Pull back slowly and use a small pick or tweezer to pull up any vinyl pieces left behind.  Crisp clean lines every time when stenciling with a Silhouette and vinyl.

That is how to make a sign! A process that once you get used to you will want to do over and over again. Make wood signs for your own home, or give them as gifts. You can even teach others how to make wood signs!

If you love making wood signs, watch this video to learn how to turn this fun hobby into a small business. 

In my opinion, you do not need to seal a wood sign at this point. If you follow these steps and keep the sign indoors, it will hold up well for many years to come. If you choose to keep a sign outside then it does need to be sealed. Sealing a wood sign can also give it a certain look that you are after. Whatever your motive, learn exactly how to seal a wood sign here.

Other types of wood signs

There are many ways to make a wood sign.

How to build stain and paint a wood sign

How to Build a Wood Sign

Yield: 1
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Learn how to build a wood sign


  • 1x4 pine boards - 96 inches total
  • Wood Strip - 24 inches total
  • 1 1/4" screws


  • Miter Saw
  • Sand paper
  • Clamps
  • Drill


  1. Cut 4 pieces of 1x4 pine into 24 inch pieces.
  2. Cut 2 pieces of wood strip, 12 inches each.
  3. Sand down any rough edges.
  4. Lay the 4 1x4 pine boards into the shape of a sign, stagger the edges if you prefer.
  5. Lay the 2 wood strips on top of the boards. How to build a wood sign
  6. With everything in place, clamp the wood together to secure it.
  7. Drill holes through the strip into each board, 4 holes per strip.
  8. Screw the stips to the boards.


This basic wood sign can be used as a base for any home decor you choose to make.

Did you make this project?

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If you liked learning how to make a sign, be sure to pin this and save these tips for your next project.

how to build and paint a wood sign

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3 ways to stencil a wood sign. Full video with all the details. Plus how to build a wood sign
step by step how to host a sign painting party with video. Plus how to build a wood sign and how to stencil a wood sign.

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Thursday 27th of February 2020

Instead of painting why not just use the vinyl lettering?


Monday 2nd of March 2020

I do that for a lot of signs and it's definitely an option. You get a different look with paint vs. vinyl.

Linda Krenz

Sunday 23rd of February 2020

I've been loving all the signs I see at Christmas craft shows and other events, but have never tried making one. It looks pretty easy and they are so cute for lots of areas in the home.

Kathleen Pope

Monday 17th of February 2020

I love this idea Sarah, especially how to host a sign painting party, such great and simple steps! Thank you!

susan schmidt

Friday 13th of December 2019

Very frustrated I took all this time cutting piecing wood, staining and now I stenciled and it stinks! Some of my letters bleed. My stencil still bleed after going up and down. Can i fix it after dry? what do I do? The letters are not crisp.

Can you help me?


Friday 13th of December 2019

I understand, that can be frustrating. It's hard to fix afterwards, you can try going back around the letters with a fine tip paint brush to smooth out some of the line. Other than that there isn't much you can do. Hope you are able to salvage your sign, best of luck!


Saturday 23rd of March 2019

Thank you for a very clear and inspiring project. I just love the use of wood and beautiful lettering which you make look like a breeze to do.

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