Sign Making Wood Carving Tutorial (Step-by-Step Guide)

Sign making is a very beautiful and useful form of wood carving that has its own unique techniques. Whether you are looking to carve signs better or you are carving wooden signs for the very first time, we will cover a lot of aspects that will help you carve signs in the best way possible. So, how do you carve a wooden sign?

Choose a good quality wood, clean and smoothen it.  Then Get a large piece of paper to sketch the pattern, you can also print out your preferred pattern using a computer. Place a carbon paper between the wooden board and the pattern that you will trace and finally carve out the transferred pattern with a sharp carving knife 

Now that you know the rudiments of carving signs on wood, if you want to become an expert wood carver or love carving as a hobby, continue reading as we unleash in details, steps, methods, and tips in wood carving.

Before we get into the step-by-step guide we will give you an insight into the tools that we prefer that you would use. If you want to go straight to the tutorial click here!

Wood Carving Tools for Sign Making

To get to the final results you require, here are some essential tools every woodcarver should have.

1. Hand carving tools

  • Carving Knife: The carving knife is used for whittling, paring, and chip carving. It is has a handle attached to a high carbon steel blade.
  • Chisel: The chisel has a sharp cutting edge which is attached to a handle. It is used for cleaning up surfaces. Chisels are available in different shapes, and these shapes determine their function. There are beveled edge chisels and paring chisels, among several others.
  • Gouges: There are several types of gouges, and the shape represents its function. It looks similar to a chisel but gouges have a curved cutting edge. Gouges are useful for making round or hollow cavities in wood. Some typical gouges are the U-gouge (veiners), V-gouge (v-tool), and spoon gouge.
  • Mallet: The mallet in this scenario is a carver’s mallet. Woodcarvers use it to drive tools like gouges and chisels into the wood during carving. It can be made of either hardwood or plastic.
  • Rifler: The rifler looks like a file. Its job is to get into places that are hard to reach. The rifler’s grip lies between the two filing edges located at the end of the file.
  • Leather Thumb Guard: This is a safety gear worn on the thumb. It is usually made of leather, and its duty is to protect the fingers against cuts when carving with other tools.

2. Power carving tools

  • A rotary chisel: The rotary chisel is attached to an angled grinder, and it is used to shave off wood in bits. It has circular blades that take off pieces of wood very fast.
  • Die grinders: Die grinders are smaller than rotary tools. They usually have a rotating spindle where a collet holds the cutting bit. They can be used to smooth out your work.
  • Reciprocating saw: The reciprocating saw has one purpose, and that is to cut and shape. The blades can move up and down on a pad. They are also useful for cutting large chunks of wood.
  • Power Sanders
  • Drills
  • Power planer

A short Review on some notable Hand and power carving tools

There are different combinations of tools that you could use for any wood carving project including sign making. Here is our recommendation on the tools we think work best. You can still use your own tools if you want, but, in our opinion, for the best result, it would be great to get your handsthe ones listed below.

BeaverCraft S14 Wood Carving Tools Kit

The Beevercraft Company specializes in making hand carving tools. This wood carving tools set consists of a spoon knife, a whittling knife, and a long bent gouge. The razor-sharp blades, accompanied by their exquisite design make this kit beautiful to behold, easy to use, and capable of performing its functions.

Each tool in this kit has oak wood handles, processed with linseed oil to give your hands complete comfort while carving. The beaver craft S14 set, however, lacks sharpness, as stated by several previous users, but you can easily sharpen your knife yourself.

Tacklife Cordless Rotary tool

This rotary tool can attain speeds of 5000rpm, 10000rpm, and 15000rpm. This rotary power tool is probably best for only light jobs and should not be used for cutting tasks.

So what can the Tacklife cordless rotary tool do, you may ask? It supports 31 accessories. One accessory at a time. Some of the supported accessories include sanding bands, drill bits, grinding wheels, and diamond bits. These capabilities make it suitable for polishing, cleaning, engraving.

Additional features of the Tacklife tool include a micro USB connector and a hand-size pen design making it very mobile and easy to charge anywhere and anytime.

Step by Step Guide on How To Hand Carve Wooden Signs

Now, let’s take a detailed look at the process of hand carving wood signs taking every step of the way from start to finish.

Step One: Sourcing for the Wood Board and Tools

Make a list of all the appropriate materials and tools you will need to complete the task successfully. Some of the required tools and materials include wood, tracing paper, pencil, carving knife, v-tools, chisel, gouge, a leather thumb guard and a mallet, paint, sandpaper, workbench, and wet brush. Also, ensure that you have a brightly lit workbench that is set to just the perfect height for you.

After successfully sourcing and selecting tools, next search for the perfect wood for the sign carving. It is important to remember that the ideal wood for carving has to be in the shape of a log and should be at least 1 inch thick to handle the task ahead. Examples of good wood for sign carving include redwood, reclaimed wood, western cedar, balsa wood, pinewood, and linden wood.

Step Two: Drafting the wood sign Pattern

Once you determine the wood sign’s specific size, mark the portion where the sign will be. You can use freehand to sketch the pattern on paper. Alternatively, you can choose a pattern from the computer. Using the computer method, next select the print option to generate the pattern on paper.

Step Three: Tracing the Pattern

We have a whole separate article on the different ways to trace a pattern on wood. If you are unfamiliar with the different ways of transferring a pattern onto wood, learn how to do it in many different ways by reading our article 9 Best Ways To Transfer a Pattern Onto Wood – Wood Carving Tips

One of the simplest ways that you can do it, is by placing the carbon paper between the wooden board and the pattern. Once you are sure it is correctly aligned to the position you want the wood sign to be, use tape to hold it down.

Use a pencil to trace slowly trace over the design. This will ensure that your pattern is transferred to the wood accurately. After completely tracing, remove the carbon paper and the pattern paper.

Step Four: Hand carving the transferred pattern to create the Wood sign

Use a V-shaped tool or a right-hand chisel to carve out the pattern on the wood and ensure that the v-shaped tool is facing up. To create Block lettered signs place the V-tool inside the outline. Also, ensure that the width of the V-shape tool will give you the width you desire.

Once the V-tool is in the right position, slowly push it into the transferred pattern; this will remove small chunks of wood at a time. You need to make sure your hand is slightly tilted so that one end of the tool is facing upwards while the other end is carving along the line. At the end of each outline, stop by tilting the edge of the tool back down, this will break off the already removed chunks.

Step Five: Finishing

After hand carving the sign on wood using the appropriate tools, sand the wood with sandpaper and clean the resulting dust.

Finally, paint the whole board with a primer, next, paint for the second time in another color, and finally paint the sign in your preferred color.

You can also use a sealer of your own choice.

Step-by-step Guide on Carving a Sign With a Router

A routing tool is a power tool used to cut and shape wood; this tool can also be used with various other detachable woodworking tools. It is convenient and portable to carry about on a worksite when working on a big project. You can also decide to fasten the router to the workbench.

Required Tools and Materials

  • Pencil
  • Router
  • Pair of safety goggles
  • Router bit
  • Grip pad
  • Carbon paper
  • Workbench.

Step One

Follow steps one through three described earlier on how to hand carve wood signs. They are mostly preparation and don’t differ from the instruments that you prefer to use

Choose the sign’s size and consider the size of the board you are going to be using. After picking the design and board size, prepare the board by trimming and sanding to smoothen the rough edges.

Step Two

You can choose to make a freehand pattern or a computer-generated pattern. Freehand gives that country-style feeling and is excellent for homes and gifting purposes. If the sign is for a business for a formal purpose, use a computer-generated font.

Step Three

Once you create the pattern, clamp down the wood on a workbench and attach the right router bit. There are different router bits, the one you will select depends on the style and depth you want the sign to have. You can also easily switch out the router bits. We recommend using a plunge router instead of a fixed router because of how easy it is to move it.

Step Four

Plane the finished wooden sign and paint to complete its exquisite look. Once again you can also use a sealer instead of paint.

Methods of Transferring Sign Carving Pattern To Wood

Pattern transfer is a method of putting the blueprint of your design on wood. This section of this article will discuss various ways to bring your patterns to life using the different wood carving techniques already explained. As mentioned earlier, this is not a full list of methods, be sure to read the full list here

Ideally, the woodcarver should always consider the pattern’s size, the pattern’s color, the project’s budget, and its purpose before selecting any of the pattern transfer methods to be discussed.

1. Paper Method

We will be discussing the Carbon paper, transfer paper, and vellum paper methods of transferring patterns to the wood under the paper method.

The Carbon Paper Method

Carbon paper is paper that is coated on one side with carbon. This paper could also be coated with any other pigmented residue in the form of dry ink. When carbon paper is placed between two surfaces, whatever is done on the top surface will be visible on the surface beneath.

If you decide to use the carbon paper method to transfer patterns, it is best not to use woods like dark wood. Instead, use basswood, which is light in color. Graphite paper is similar to carbon paper. It offers better qualities because graphite patterns are easy to clean off from the surface of the wood.

Using Carbon Paper to Transfer Pattern to Wood

1. First print or draw your pattern on regular paper

2. Next, pinpoint the exact location on the wood where you want to place the design.

3. Place the carbon paper on the designated area. Using the paper carrying the pattern, cover the carbon paper, and secure them to the wood with tape.

4. Use a pencil or ball pen to trace out every possible contour in the pattern.

5. Once this is done, remove the tape, and the pattern transfer process using carbon paper is complete.

The Transfer Paper Method

A transfer paper works similarly to carbon paper; however, unlike carbon paper, which is available in only grey color, the transfer paper is available in various colors. It is perfect for dark wood, like mahogany. To transfer a pattern to wood using carbon paper, follow the carbon paper method’s steps.

Vellum Paper

Another type of paper material for transferring patterns to wood is vellum paper. It can be made using dead animal skin or cotton. Vellum paper is excellent for 3D carvings on wood. Woodcarvers love this paper for its light, flexible, and highly textured surface.

Using Vellum Paper to Transfer pattern to wood

1. Cut out the vellum paper into the pattern you want to carve on wood. 

2. Locate and attach the vellum paper to the part of the wood where you want it to be. 

3. Use a bright pencil to draw around the area where the vellum paper is taped.

2, The Graphite Pencil Method

Let’s now move away from the world of papers and talk about the graphite pencil. A 6B pencil is a good representation of what the graphite pencil can. Graphite pencil is also more effective than carbon paper since the graphite pencil is easy to clean off. Alternatively, you can also use a charcoal pencil.

Using a Graphite Pencil to Transfer pattern to Wood

1. Once you get the image you want to transfer unto the wood, shade the back of the image with the graphite pencil. 

2. Next, locate the exact position on the wood where you want the image to be, and then tape the image to the wood, let the shaded portion be faced down. 

3. Use a pen or pencil to trace the paper and then remove the drawing from the wood.

Precautions and Tips for Beginner Sign carvers

If you have little or no experience in carving signs it is quite important that you keep in mind some precautions, therefore please run through the section below to get familiar with the hazards of carving signs and some pro tips on how to get better.

1. Safety First and Always

The first tip involves safety first and always taking the necessary precautions. This tip applies to both expert and beginner carvers. If you are power carving ensure that you wear a face shield to protect your eyes.

2. Draw the pattern on wood before carving

Unless you are an expert carver we advise that beginners always draw the pattern on wood before carving, this will save you from making mistakes and wasting material and time.

3. Work along the grain

Another important tip is to always carve along the grain, carving against the grain will tear the wood and destroy your artwork. If you are unsure of where the grains are just make a light cut on the wood, if it doesn’t tear you are good to go and if it does peel off that means you are going against the grain.

4. Ask Questions

Always ask your instructor questions if you are ever in doubt or if you get to a point where you do not know what to do. There is no shame in asking questions if you get lost along the way.

5. Don’t Rush

Always remember that art cannot and should not be rushed. Take your time and remember that many of the master wood carving pieces you see around weren’t done in an instant, so calm down when carving. Working while tired will lead to a lot of mistakes.

Additionally, beginners should opt for softwood when trying to carve sign on wood and they should also try as much as possible to use clean wood that has very few knots, as they are a perfect choice for beginner carvers. 


Can you Make money by making wood signs?

Of course, you can make money from carving wood signs. Art is beautiful and beauty sells. Once you are able to hone your skills to perfection, a lot of people will be interested in buying your carvings. Wood sign carvers are able to net an average of $10,000 a year.

We also have an article on How To Earn A Full-Time Income From Wood Carving so be sure to check it out if you are interested in making it your career.

How long should wood dry before carving?

In order to get the best results dry the wood a minimum of 6weeks under a temperature of 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Final thoughts

Wood carving signs are fun to carve as long as you do not hurt yourself in the process. We covered the tips, guidelines, and steps on how to carve wood safely, so if you like what you have just read, give it a try yourself!

Thank you for reading this article, if you we hope you learned something useful and that your sign making have a good time carving signs.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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