Interested in making your own wood pallet sign?
Pallets are one of the greatest things to hit DIY ears. After getting married, making a wood sign with our last name on it was a must. A few weeks later, my husband spied some pallets sitting outside by a dumpster near his school and asked if he could take a few. To our surprise they not only said yes, but also told him that he could grab pallets any time they were sitting out back. Score! Try to get the pallet with the best looking wood – you will thank yourself later.
I knew that I wanted the name to stand out more than paint on wood, so I purchased some white chipboard letters from our local Michael’s (Hobby Lobby didn’t have the style I wanted and it was difficult to determine the size I wanted online). If you are like me, you will have a lot of the necessary materials lying around.
Materials Needed to Make a Pallet Wood Sign
- Pallet wood
- Wood screws (depending on the wood thickness, I would use ½”-1” screws)
- Paint or stain for wood
- Paint for chipboard letters (use two colors for a distressed look)
- 2 Paintbrushes (one for pallet, one for chipboard)
- Wood glue or hot glue
- Chipboard letters (can use paint or vinyl instead; keep in mind that the letter size needs to fit onto the length of the pallet wood – the letters I used were ~6″ tall)
- Sandpaper (fine 200-240 grit and medium 100-180 grit)
- 2 D-ring hangers (use anything strong enough to hold the sign)
- Gloves, dust mask and safety glasses are always a great idea 🙂
- Optional items:
- Clear polycrylic or polyurethane (for protection)
Tools Needed to Make a Pallet Wood Sign
- Reciprocating saw or hammer
- Phillips screwdriver (for attaching D-rings)
- Optional items:
- Circular saw or similar saw (only if you want to trim the pallet length)
Let’s get started! Time to get your safety gear on.
Break pallet down.
You can use a hammer, but a reciprocating saw (a.k.a. sawzall) is best. It is important to wear gloves while handling the pallet wood due to splintering. Unless you ask, you will not know what chemicals were used to treat the wood or what chemicals were spilled on the wood.
You will likely end up with nail heads or full nails after prying with a hammer. If so, use the hammer to remove the nails.
Pick ~3 of the straightest boards along with the boards for the lattice on the back.
You can use more than three boards depending on the size you want. Ideally, these boards will be straight, fit together, and be the perfect size. In the real world, we call that luck!
Try to choose boards without chips or splinters. Put your boards together to see if they fit together and if you will need to trim them down. Lay your letters on top to get an idea of spacing and to decide if you want to add another board.
Sand with medium grit sandpaper and cut boards.
We ended up trimming the pallet boards down a little with a circular saw. This worked out because it didn’t require pulling the nail heads out of the ends of the boards (see the photo in step 3). Then we used a power sander with medium grit sandpaper to sand down the rough wood. You can use a sanding block if you do not have a power sander.
After trimming, the height of the three boards was 10.5″ and the width was 35.5″. Had our name been longer or the chipboard letters been taller, I would have adjusted as needed. Also, I could have made our sign a perfect rectangle, but chose to leave the imperfections around the knots because I wanted a rustic look.
Arrange boards and measure the combined height.
Subtract 2 inches from the height for your lattice. Cut two or three boards at that length.
Example: If the sign height is 10”, subtracting 2” will leave 8”, so you will cut two or three additional boards 8” long for the lattice. The lattice, or braces or frame, is what will hold the boards together on the back.
We used three boards for the lattice, but it was unnecessary. Our wood was not in the best shape, so it was more security in case of splitting, which turned out to be a good idea (see photos in the next step – you can see where my lattice splintered). If your wood is in good condition, you shouldn’t need the third board.
Attach the lattice.
Lay the main boards good side down. You can use a clamp to secure the boards together, or use a helper if you have one handy. You’ll want to put the lattice boards approximately 3-4” away from the outside edge.
If your wood is hard or in questionable condition, drill a pilot hole prior to attaching the lattice board to the back in order to reduce the chances of the wood splitting. Otherwise, find screws that are about ¼” less than the total combined width of the lattice board and main board combined. Drill a screw into the back of the lattice where each board meets to lattice.
You’ll attach the d-rings later (I just didn’t get a picture until after I finished the sign).
Sand with fine grit sandpaper and stain.
After securing the boards together, sand the front and edges with fine grit sandpaper using a power sander or by hand. Wipe the boards with a damp cloth to remove any sawdust prior to staining or painting. We used Minwax Stain in Golden Pecan, which ended up a little darker than I wanted, but when you already have stain lying around…
Be sure to test stain or paint on a piece of the pallet wood that you will not be using. Since pallet wood comes in different types of wood and in different conditions, it is more difficult to determine how it will look without testing it on a scrap piece.
While the stain or paint is drying, prepare the chipboard.
*If you are using paint or vinyl for your letters, skip this step.
Lay out your chipboard letters on something you don’t mind getting paint on (parchment paper, cardboard, paper towels, etc.). I used dark red chalk paint to apply one coat onto all of the letters. When I was to the last letter, the paint had dried on the first letter. Using white chalk paint, I painted two more coats onto all of the letters, applying one coat to all letters before doing another round.
I’ve seen a lot of cool distressed signs using turquoise on top with black underneath, but that didn’t really fit with the color scheme I have in my home. The combinations are endless. I just wanted something that would stand out against the pallet wood, and after my stain turned out darker than I wanted, I chose different colors so that the name would pop. Originally, I wanted dark red letters with black peeking through.
After 30 minutes, use fine sandpaper to distress chipboard letters.
* If you are using paint or vinyl for your letters, skip this step.
Ensuring that the paint is dry enough, use a piece of fine sandpaper to lightly sand off the top two coats of paint, allowing the bottom coat to show through. You can do this just around the edges for a light distressed look, or go crazy for a more rustic, distressed look.
To get a good effect, I focused around the edges, heavier around curves and lighter in the middle of the letters. I would consider mine more on the conservative side.
After waiting the recommended time for stain to dry on the boards, use a protective sealant such as polycrylic or polyurethane. Wait the recommended time for that to dry.
In complete honesty, I did not wait for the recommended time. I waited about 3-4 hours for the stain prior to applying the polycrylic. The next morning, I started the next step. Still, I’ll leave the waiting time up to you!
When everything is dry, apply the chipboard letters with glue.
*If you are using paint or vinyl for your letters, skip this step. Instead, this is where you will paint your letters or apply the vinyl. Wait for paint to dry before moving to the next step.
Lay out the letters and space them to your liking, then shift them straight above where they will be glued down. Use a small amount of wood glue or hot glue to attach the letters. Note: If you make a mistake, wood glue allows more flexibility than hot glue.
When all the letters are glued down and you are satisfied with the way it looks, lay a towel over the sign and place a heavy item on top of the letters to make sure they stick. You can use a wood board and clamps for this, but heavy books worked just fine for me.
When you believe the letters are secure, attach the d-rings for hanging the sign.
I waited an hour, then flipped my sign over and got the d-rings ready. I used a screwdriver to attach the d-rings, but a drill would have worked, it just seemed like overkill for the tiny screws that came with the d-ring set. A small/medium set will work. Place each d-ring about ½-1” from the top of each lattice and screw it in.
We tried to use a cable hanging system for this, but when my husband held the sign up to test the strength, we knew it wasn’t going to work for our purposes. The d-ring felt much more secure.
Hang your sign and admire your handiwork!
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