Rustic Farmhouse signs can add some nice interest to your home and really tie a room together. Getting creative with different combinations and mixtures of stain will really make the lettering ‘pop’ or blend well in your kitchen, living room or bedroom. I love layers of texture in my home decor and this is another way to add that on your wall with the various shades of stain on each plank. In this article I will show you just how easy it is to make these yourself with minimal tools and thecheapest materials.
Making your own decor cheaply!
Most tutorials on youtube or pinterest for diy-ing your own decor are detailed enough, but the authors often utilize hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of tools. Sometimes they do so without you even knowing it! I’ve seen certain ‘popular’ DIY-ers build pieces with what they claim is construction grade lumber, but somehow get this lumber with a very smooth finish and perfectly square, without ever showing you how it happened. Well, if you’ve ever shopped ‘construction’ grade before then you would know that finding anything smooth is next to impossible, and 8 out of 10 boards have some kind of bending/cupping/twisting to them. I’m not saying it’s impossible to find ‘perfect’ smooth, straight lumber. But, it is more likely that they have a thickness planer or joiner that they ‘forgot’ to put in their video.
But fear not! The design I utilize in this tutorial can be built with ‘horrible’, cheap $2 boards that are bowed, bent or cupped. In fact, all of my boards have some defect to them. But I will give you the tips you need to select the proper boards as well as overcoming the defects or incorporating them into the style. Also, and this is most important – I bought some cheap hand tools, and use only them to construct this sign. So, this is a perfect article for someone who is just starting out with a low budget. You could even make these in an apartment if needed!
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Tools and Materials
If you have access to nice tools, or even just regular power tools, then by all means utilize those as they will save you much time. However, if you are just starting out or live in an apartment, then you will need the following tools at a bare minimum. It is amazing to see how little you need if you are just getting started and don’t mind a bit of ‘sweat equity’. This is also one of the best ways to quickly build experience, as if you get used to hand tools, you will gain skill much faster.
Miter Box & Saw Set – I picked up a really cheap miter box for less than $10. It even came with a saw, which I used for cutting the lumber for one of the signs. – REQUIRED
Back Saw or Pull Saw – can purchase with the miter box for free, or you can pick up an inexpensive Japanese Pull Saw for less than $20. The Japanese pull saws are really nice and forgiving when you are just learning. I tend to grab it for quick jobs as it is really nice. So, this one is optional since the miter box/saw combo already has you covered.
Tape Measure – $5; Required
Square $4 (Optional)
Speed Square $5 (Optional)
Hammer $5 (Required)
Something optional, but recommended is a pair of c-clamps at a minimum ($6 per). Bar clamps are better, but can be costly. I buy most of mine from a general surplus store that has a large selection of tools and materials. In fact the large 36″ clamps you see in this article were only about $7 each.
I had enough lumber for three signs. Two of which are ~18″x23″, the other which is 10″x23″. But, let’s say you are going to make just one sign that is identical to one of my larger ones. If so, this is what you will require (prices are as of Jan 2019). Also, it would serve you well to read our article describing what to watch out for when buying lumber so it doesn’t warp. Just because it is straight inside the store doesn’t mean it won’t warp a day after getting home…..
1″x2 “x8′ furring strips (2) ($1.42 per)
1″x3″ x 8′ (1) ($1.92 per)
1″x4″ x 8′ (1) ($2.07 per)
Sand Paper $4-$12 depending on what you buy. You can get away with just doing 80 or 120 grit, since this is a ‘rustic’ sign. But the smoother you make it, the easier it is to stain.
Pre-conditioner for stain $5 – you really should use this, as pine can turn out ‘blotchy’ if you don’t give it the pre-conditioner. One can will last you a really long time. And if you think you will do more ‘rustic’ things in the future, than you should just pick it up.
Stain $4 per can. However many colors you want. I used the following;
Pickeled oak (almost like a white wash)
Weathered Oak (gray + reddish color)
Shop towels, or paper towels. $10 for shop towels – these work really well for staining. Just make sure you dispose of them per the instructions on the stain can. Think of them as paper towels on steroids.
Finish nails $1.34 – just go cheap.
Wood Glue $4 – you really only need this for the mitered corners, if you choose to do that. If you are going to just use nails to hold it together, then you could probably just use crazy glue on the mitered corners. I used wood glue on all the boards since we might be ‘gifting’ a couple of these signs. It just adds some rigidity to the overall sign. I used up some left over titebond glue from a previous project, but any type of wood glue should work just fine.
Not included for building the sign, but can really come in handy is a piece of 2×4. You really just need one 4′ section. Maybe your friends or family can spare one? If not, they only cost about $2-3 at a big box store. This can act as a back-stop for the sign when you are nailing the trim. In this project I used a big aluminum level, but a good piece of 2×4 would work just fine.
For the boards, many stores will cut them up for you so that they can fit in your car. I had Home Depot cut them in half so that I had two 4′ sections of each board. This makes getting the lumber home easier.
But, when you purchase your boards, you want to sight them down the length. Choose boards that have minimum twist, cupping, or bowing. One trick I have learned to do this is to start by only picking boards that have straight, or straighter end-grain. What I mean by that is if the end of the board has straight lines, or slight curves, then that means it came from the edge of the tree. It will hold its form better than if it includes many tree rings, or the ‘heart’ or center circle of the limb. Stay away from any board with the ‘heart’, as this board will twist eventually. And that is very difficult to build with as it will want to make everything crooked.
Before you start cutting…
An important tip that can save you much time is to prep the boards before you cut! Begin by sanding the boards down to remove major burrs or rough areas. It doesn’t need to be perfect since this will be a rustic style. But, it is important to not have slivers poking out that can tear up your rags or paper towels when applying stain. Start out with 80 grit sandpaper, and progressively increase the grain size to 150 or up to 220. If you buy construction grade lumber I can pretty much guarantee that you will still have the ‘rustic’ look, as there are generally deep tooling marks on the boards that light sanding will not remove, as well as knots. I really find that prepping the boards before you cut them up saves time, as you can really get after them with sandpaper when they are large.
1×4 @ 17″ Long (4)
1×3 @ 22.5″ Long (4)
1×2 @ 24.5″ Long (2) (length to back of miter, longest dimension) mitered at 45 degrees
1×2 @ 18.5″ Long (2) mitered at 45 degrees
Use your speed square and tape measure to mark out your cut lines. Then, lay the boards flat in the miter box. If you have clamps available, and a flat work table of some kind, clamping the miter box to the table can really help. It can also help to clamp your board to the miter box.
Also, this can be a time-saving tip, but after your first cut, use that board as a gauge to set the length of the other boards. In this manner you can pretty much minimize length variation due to measuring errors. So, less measuring, more cutting since you use your first piece as a jig for the other parts.
Gently saw the boards per the cut lines, taking care not to cut into the box. It is easier than you think, and I have done it myself when going too fast. As long as your saw is sharp, there should not be much resistance while cutting. If the saw starts to feel like it is binding, then stop and check to make sure you aren’t cutting into the miter box! I got into my work a bit too much at one point and ‘widened’ my slot – oops!
For the 45 degree cuts, take extra care while sawing to make sure you are cutting true. If the mitered cuts taper a bit, that is ok, as you can put the ‘short’er dimension to the back of the sign.
Once this is complete, layout the boards/frame to see how it all fits. If you find that a couple of the boards are longer, you can either go back to the saw or use some 80-grit sandpaper to get its length correct.
For most of the cuts, I just used the standard back saw that came with the miter box. But for the last sign, I switched over to my pull-saw (Japanese). Since it was a higher quality saw it made the job much easier.
Staining the boards
Make sure you read the instructions on the cans of stain before you begin. And, know what you will do with the paper towels or rags after finished if you are using an oil based stain. Oil based stains get hot as they dry, and while this isn’t a problem for wood boards, it can be a problem for rags or towels – especially if they are just crumpled up and disposed – don’t do that as it can cause a fire. So please, follow the instructions on the can for proper disposal of rags/towels or cleaning of paint brushes.
I like to lay out my boards with their respective cans of stain in order to make sure I don’t ‘forget’ one or make some other mistake. Once you are ready, apply the pre-conditioner to the boards per the instructions. You really should use the pre-conditioner before staining, as it will reduce the ‘blotchiness’ that happens when some parts of the wood absorb more stain than others. Once complete stain the boards per the instructions. I’ve found that leaving the stain on a little longer will lead to deeper tone, while immediately wiping away excess leads to lighter shades of the stain.
For one of my boards, I applied pickled oak, and then when I was staining the ebony, I gently wiped the towel over one side of the pickled oak board, giving it a unique gray color. For the 1×2 trim pieces, I used dark walnut to provide a good contrast.
Once complete, allow the stain to cure/dry for 24 hours to ensure it is dry.
Assembling the sign
To assemble the sign, there are many different ways this can be done. If you are making this for yourself, you can pretty much use finish nails. Here is an example of a piece I made that just has one nail in the top and bottom of each slat, while only gluing the mitered joints. Since this is just going to be hanging on a wall, it should not be subjected to bumps, shakes, or other forces. So it really doesn’t take much to hold it together.
To begin, lay out your boards with how you want them to be displayed, then bring in the outer mitered frame. Just have a quick look to make sure it will fit together nicely. This will be your last chance to make any quick adjustments.
Now, we are going to nail the slats to half of the frame. In my example, I’m applying a thick layer of wood glue to the back ends of the slats. I do this at the back half only to minimize the chances that wood glue seeps out into the front, visible portion of the sign. This is optional. Again, as long as this is just going to hang on a wall and isn’t subject to forces, it should be just fine.
You need a way to hold the entire thing together while you nail the slats. If you have a friend available to help, then that is the easiest solution. But, there are an infinite number of ways to do this, but just about the easiest method is to clamp pieces of 2×4’s to a table and use this as a backing brace. Alternatively you can push one side up against a wall or something heavy. Gently tap one nail into each board, going the whole length. Then, repeat on the other side. Just take extra care to ensure that no nails are poking out, and that the boards maintain a decent alignment. I use a piece of scrap to help ‘remind’ me how high up on the trim I can nail without going through one of the main boards.
For the side pieces of the frame, apply wood glue to the mitered joints, and use your clamped 2×4 pieces to force the sides of the entire side together. Alternatively, you can push it up against a wall or some other heavy object to keep the positions firm until the glue sets up.
If you are only going to use nails……
If you opt to just use nails, I would suggest nailing the top/bottom trim to the slats first. Take extra care to keep everything aligned – this is where having a friend available to help would be nice – or a bunch of clamps. Hammer one nail into the top and bottom of each board. Once this is complete, put a few nails into the side frame/trim pieces. Then, if you mitered at 45 degrees, use some crazy glue and hold it really tight until it sets up. But, as I had said above, clamping some ‘stop blocks’ down on a bench or table can really help you out here. In a pinch you could use a wall, by just forcing the sign up against it.
Time for painting the sign
Now, you can carefully paint whatever message you want onto the sign. I used this GATHER STENCIL & this THANKFUL & BLESSED STENCIL. In keeping with the translucency of the stained wood, I wanted to use a paint that had a lighter look to it, so my choice for this project was this MILK PAINT. I chose the color ‘petticoat’. It reads as a white on the sign, but it is not a bright white, it has a slightly grey tone, which fit the look to complement the tones the boards were stained. If you have not used milk paint before, you can almost think of it as the opposite of chalk paint. Milk paint is very watery and can have some translucency to its’ coverage. But – feel free to experiment. You can always ‘test’ the look on the backside of the sign.
Chalk paint, on the other hand, is thick and has full coverage. You can use milk, chalk, acrylic paint, or craft paint to stencil your message on your sign. I suggest using a scrap piece of wood with your stencil before you do your actual sign, so you can get a feel for how the paint goes on. For the milk paint, I used a 1 inch foam brush. Line up your stencil on your sign and secure it with a couple pieces of painter’s tape. Get a small amount of paint on your brush and then dab in on a part of the stencil away from the design. This way you can get excess off the brush. I like to hold it on its’ side with my pointer finger on it and then with the brush with very little paint on it, dab it on the design. You want to dab, rather than brush over the stencil to avoid the paint getting under the stencil. Again, the key is to have minimal paint on the brush. You can go over it more than one time to get the desired amount of coverage, but you don’t want to get too much paint on the sign…especially if working with milk paint, which can run very easily. If you do make a mistake or lift up the stencil and see your design ran, you can wipe it off with a damp paper towel while it is still wet. When you are done painting, carefully remove the stencil and wash it and the brush with water.
If this sign is going to stay indoors, then you can be done. However, if it will be outdoors, or in an environment that has wild changes in humidity throughout the year, you should consider sealing the main part of the sign with a simple product called wipe-on poly. It is a polyurethane finish that is actually easy to apply, looks nice, and dries pretty quick. Even in cold temperatures I’ve only had to wait 12 hours to put a second coat on.
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Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you!
Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!