Canadian Woodworking

Make a scrolled name sign

Author: Lesley de Abaitua
Photos: Lesley de Abaitua
Published: August 2021

Creating a custom sign is a great way to personalize any room in your home. With a few tools and a few hours, you can take some basic materials and turn them into something amazing.


Designing your sign is the first step in creating a cus­tom piece of art. You can purchase templates from a variety of sources or, if you’re like me, you can even design your own. Using fonts and graphics purchased from Etsy shops, I lay out all my designs in PowerPoint or Keynote, because these programs allow you to customize the size of your page. For this woodland nursery sign, I set it on a 30″ diameter circle. Once I laid it out exactly as I wanted it to appear, I had it printed by a large format printer so I could set my design up to be cut out on my scroll saw.

If your design is small enough to fit on one page, you could print it out and use as-is. If you didn’t want to send your design out to be printed you could print multiple pages and piece them together to create the design.

Large Format
Finding a printer that can print large format designs will save you a lot of time when it comes to printing your designs.

Scrolled name sign

Divide and Conquer
When working with large designs, it’s easier to work on your project in sections when possible. Cutting it into smaller sections allows you to minimize your material waste as well.

Scroll saw divide and conquer

Create a Barrier
By covering your material with contact paper or masking tape (as pictured), you can use spray adhesive to stick your pattern onto the material for cutting without getting your material covered in glue. Here, De Abaitua has covered the material in green masking tape before adhering the printed design.

Scrolled name sign - create a barrier

Drilling Small Holes
Using micro drill bits (1/16" and smaller) allows you to create very small pilot holes for pinless blades.

Scrolled name sign - drill holes

Start in the Middle
Starting with interior cuts allows you to cut the most delicate sections with stability. If you attempt to cut them last, you can easily break your delicate cuts.

Scrolled name sign - start in the middle

Move Outside
Once the detailed inside sections and puzzle portions are cut, you can move to the outside cuts. Always cut using a pilot hole to ensure you keep stability. If you cut in from the edge, your board will become unstable which can cause you to lose control when cutting.

Scrolled name sign - move outside

Check the Fit
Dry fitting your design once you’re done cutting ensures you have all your pieces, that everything fits together and you can visualize the finished product.

Scrolled name sign - check fit

Sanding is Important
Sanding can be time consuming, but to achieve a beautiful paint finish, your surface needs to be as smooth as possible. Unless your cut pieces are fairly rough, start at a medium grit like 120 and work upwards.

Scrolled name sign - sanding

Scrolled name sign - apply colour

Start Applying Colour
Painting can be done by hand, with paint sprayers or spray cans. Like everything, what method works best for you will come with practice and patience.

Scrolled name sign - apply colour

Lots of Spray Options
Spray paint can be tricky. It’s important to follow drying time directions and to use several thin coats to achieve a smooth finish.

Scrolled name sign - spray options

Test the Fit
Dry fitting ensures your elements all fit together properly once they have a layer of paint. If not, at this stage you can sand and adjust until it’s ready for gluing.

Scrolled name sign - test the fit

A Few Glue Types
Glue is often all you need to adhere your design to your backer. Using a combination of wood glue and super glue is a quick and effective way to glue your design down. When the piece being attached is larger or heavier, consider using screws or nails through the backer into the piece to secure it in place.

Scrolled name sign - glue

Hanging System
Using a strong, secure hanging system is essential for large signs. Cleat systems are great for heavier items while a. simple sawtooth hanger is often enough for smaller signs.

Scrolled name sign - handing system

Prepping your materials

The next step in creating your custom sign is deciding what kind of dimension, if any, you want to add to your design. For this woodland sign, I wanted the words to be puzzled into the tree, but I didn’t want them to get lost in material that was all the same thickness. For that reason, I decided to cut the green part of the trees at 1/4″ thickness and the rest of my design at 1/2″ thickness. Using materials of different thicknesses is a great way to get a more dynamic-looking sign.

To achieve the puzzled portion, you’ll need to cut both the 1/4″ and 1/2″ material at the same time. This is called a stack cut, because you literally stack the material on top of each other.

Since I needed to only stack cut the sections with the trees, and my design was so large, I cut my design so I could work on it in sec­tions. To create the stack-cut portion, I glued the 1/4″ board and the 1/2″ board together using super glue along the outside edges.

Covering the top of my board in painter’s tape also allowed me to tape the edges of my stacked materials together for extra reinforce­ment. If you wanted, you could also nail your boards together, or even use spray adhesive between boards. Using painter’s tape on the top of your material and between sections protects the material when you’re adhering your design to the board.

I use spray adhesive to stick my paper design to my material. If I glue it directly to my material, it creates a lot of work to sand off. By gluing the design to the tape, I am able to peel the tape and design off once I’m done cutting.

While your glue dries for your stack cuts, now is a good time to cut out your sign backer. For this sign, I cut a 30″ round out of MDF. MDF is a great material to use when creating a painted backer since you don’t risk it yellowing like wood does over time. Cutting rounds can be done a variety of ways, including using a band saw, jigsaw or router. All of these tools have jigs that you can purchase or make to make circle cutting simple and safe.

Cutting your design

Starting with interior cuts allows you to cut out the smallest sec­tions of your design while keeping your project stable. To start, you will drill pilot holes in each of the interior sections so you can feed your blade through. I work on a DeWalt scroll saw, which takes pinless blades. This style of blade is very thin, so you can drill small pilot holes if needed. I use micro drill bits when doing small detail work. Once you’ve drilled all your pilot holes, you can start cutting the inside sections.

Using a scroll saw takes a lot of patience and practice. For me, cutting out a design like this is fairly consistent in terms of the blade and speed/tension that I use on my saw. I will typically use a #5 Pegas modified geometry blade or a #5 or #7 double reverse tooth blade for 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick materials. Both styles of blades are designed to cut from both the top and the bottom. This prevents tear-out and also cuts fairly quickly. Due to the speed of the blade, I usually set my saw speed midway for the interior cuts. For the out­side cuts, I increase my speed to 8. To set your tension, you need to ensure that your blade isn’t flexing too much, but also not so tight that it will break. Again, this comes with practice (and likely a few broken blades).

If you find that your material is jumping around, and you have to hold it down to prevent it from vibrating, your speed is likely too low, which is causing your blade to catch the material and pull it. Conversely, if you find yourself losing control and not able to stay on the lines of your design, your speed may be too high or your blade TPI (teeth per inch) could be too high for the material you’re using. Switching blades and adjusting your speed/tension until you find the right setting is the best way to perfect your scrolling technique.

Once the inside sections are cut, I move on to any puzzle cut sec­tions of my design. In this case, the main word “Violette” and the trees would be cut first. For these detailed cuts, I keep my speed around 6 to ensure I stay as close as possible to my design since all the puzzled pieces will need to slot together.

Finally, I move on to the remainder of my exterior cuts, which include the small woodland animals. For the animals, I cut each portion of the image as a separate piece that will be puzzled back together to give them dimension.

Once all your ele­ments are cut, you can dry-fit your design to ensure everything fits together before starting the finish­ing process. At this stage, I discard any scrap portions from my stack cuts (or save them for future use if they can be used again). Confirming you have everything and no further cutting is required, you can move on to the most time-consuming portion of your project: finishing.


To begin the process, I sand all of the larger elements with my orbital sander and 220 grit sandpaper. When using MDF, this is typ­ically a quick process since it sands very smooth. For smaller, more delicate pieces, I prefer to sand by hand using files, Micro Zip hand­held sanders, and smaller pieces of sandpaper at high grit, typically 220 and 320.

Painting also offers many options, and for custom signs like this one, I primarily use Behr paint as it comes in many colours and is a long-lasting paint that doesn’t fade or require sealer. However, acrylic craft paints and spray paint are great options.

For the majority of the sign, I used slightly watered-down Behr paint and hand painted each piece using simple craft and foam brushes. For the large white backer, I used a small foam roller to ensure a consistent finish. All of the elements required two coats of paint to get smooth coverage. Between coats, I lightly sand each element to ensure the paint is applied as smoothly as possible. It’s a time-consuming process, but necessary to ensure you don’t have any bumps or imperfections in your painted finish.

The large gold name was the exception in this project, and to get the metallic finish, I used spray paint. To begin, I primed the name in black, as in my experience using a dark colour beneath metal­lic allows for a brighter shine. Once primed, I then sanded by hand with 320 grit sandpaper to ensure the sides and top were smooth and ready for the metallic spray.

Spraying from a distance, and focusing on the edges, I coated the name lightly in gold. Spray paint can be very finicky, especially to temperature, so it’s essential to spray in a well-ventilated area that’s not too hot or too cold. Reading the recommendations for the spe­cific spray paint you’re using is important. With gold, drying times are necessary to follow, otherwise you’ll end up with a murky finish. Waiting 48 hours can test your patience, but it’s worth it in the end.

After the first coat is fully dry, I sand again at 320 grit, wipe the piece clean with a microfibre cloth and spray another coat of metal­lic on the sides to ensure they’re fully covered. I then focus on the top. Once it’s dry, you can be the judge if the process needs to be repeated. For this project, I sprayed the metallic name three times, sanding in between each coat. And if you do that math, it was in fact six days of drying and waiting to get the finish I wanted.

The eye details on the deer and fox were painted by hand using a fine-tip paint brush and black acrylic paint. For the eyes on the racoon and the dots on the back of the deer, I used the bottom end of a paint brush dipped in paint to make the perfect dots, a handy trick.

Glue the pieces on

Once all your pieces are fully dry and ready to be glued, it’s important to do another dry fit to ensure your elements all fit together. With puzzle cuts, even the smallest amount of paint can cause pieces not to fit properly.

To begin gluing, there are many ways to ensure you place your pieces properly. For smaller designs, I will keep the wood that I cut my design from and use it as a template to glue my elements down. However, for large pieces like this, where I cut my design in sec­tions, that’s not an option.

If you finish your backer before you cut your design, you can lay your design down and trace it on using transfer paper so you can see where each piece goes. This is my favourite method to ensure everything is in the right spot. Or, if you’re good with basic math and measuring tools, you can use levels and tape mea­sures to ensure proper spacing. In this case, since most of my design was puzzled together allowing me to see how it should be laid out, I was able to use a tape measure and speed square to glue up my design.

Glue is the best way to adhere your design to your backer. If you use nails, you will be ruining that paint finish you worked so hard to achieve. And since the material is so light and thin, nails really aren’t necessary. My glue of choice is a combina­tion of wood glue and super glue for larger pieces and super glue alone on small details.

For the larger pieces, I put wood glue in the middle, and super glue along the edges. The super glue dries quickly and acts as a clamp for the slower-drying wood glue. A quick tip to save you from glue squeeze-out is to lightly press your glue-covered piece on a scrap piece of wood or paper before gluing it to your backer. If you put too much glue on a piece, this dabbing step will save you from having that glue squeeze out all over your finished sign.

If you’re trying to attach a large piece of cut material to the backer, and you want to be extra sure it stays in place, you could drive a few small screws or nails through the back of the backer into the piece to be attached. Just be sure not to go through the face of the piece you’re attaching.

Hanging hardware

Once your glue is dry and your sign is ready, attaching hardware to hang your sign is an important step to ensure that it’s hung securely and safely. For smaller projects, a simple sawtooth hook is great. But for larger projects, I prefer to use a cleat system that screws into the back of the sign, and then the other portion is screwed or nailed into the wall. Many of these cleats are rated for up to 100 pounds, so they’re very secure for most projects.

Creating custom art work is a process and although it can be time consuming, the results can be outstanding. By using a few of these tips and tricks, I hope it will be a little less time consuming for you. Happy sign making!

Lesley de Abaitua - [email protected]

When she’s not busy chasing around her two daughters, three chickens or her husband, Lesley is often found creating scroll saw art in her home workshop in Tottenham, Ont.

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