Create a screw sign! Tell the world, “a maker lives here”

I first saw this project at Maker Flat, a Portland B&B created by Bryan Danger and filled with handcrafted furniture and accessories. On the front deck was this awesome sign with the house number formed by screws, acting as pixels of a sort. I was blown away and decided right then to both make one for my house and to put a picture of Bryan’s sign in my next book (chock full of maker projects, coming out in fall 2018).

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Here is Bryan Danger’s house sign, which was the inspiration for my own.
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And here’s mine, which looks awesome next to our front door.

Since the book only contains a picture of Bryan’s sign, with no how-to, here is the step-by-step for creating one like mine. You can do it all with a cordless drill, but it helps a lot to have a drill press for the pilot holes, so each screw goes in perfectly square and the sign ends up looking very uniform.

Also, I used about 6 lbs. of 2-1/2-in.-long stainless steel screws, which aren’t cheap. You want stainless steel, which won’t rust or tarnish outdoors. I drove them into a cedar decking plank, which will weather to a nice gray. But you could use other outdoor woods for your sign, like white oak, teak or ipé, and put a finish on them to preserve the color if you want. Personally, I’ll enjoy the contrast between weathered wood and the shiny screws.

I also took advantage of a sweet Woodpecker’s T-square for laying out the grid, though a normal square and tape measure would work too. Read on for all of the steps and tricks.

We love the finished sign, and visitors always stop to give it a close look. “Gorgeous,” one said recently. Music to my ears.

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If you get all the screws evenly spaced and at the same hight (more on that later), they will catch the light all at once and look amazing.
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Step one is creating a grid. I used this big awesome T-square from Woodpeckers for this step, sticking my pencil in the the holes and sliding the square to draw parallel lines. The key here, aside from accuracy, is creating a grid that will space the heads of the screws as close as possible without them touching. 3/8 in. worked well for my screws, which are #10s.
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Design is the hardest part. Draw circles on your grid to simulate the screw heads. What you are actually doing here is creating a font. I had to re-do this whole grid and layout thing three times until I had created numbers I liked!
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Here’s the whole layout. Note how the slanted part of the number 7 actually has screws that land halfway between grid lines. Sticking strictly to the grid forces all diagonals to be 45 degrees, which is too much for some numbers.
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Use an awl to punch the center of each hole. This will keep the drill bit from wandering.
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You can drill these 3/32 in. pilot holes by hand, but a drill press guarantees they will go in square for a perfect-looking sign. Let the bit find the center of the dents you punched earlier.
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Sand away your pencil marks. If you want to apply a finish of some kind, this is the time to do it.
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Sneak preview!
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Here’s the trick for getting all the screws at the same height. Drive one row at a time with a cordless drill, getting them as close to the last row as possible. Then…
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Put a flat board next to the last row you drove, and adjust the screw heights by hand, feeling with your fingers to be sure they are at the same level as the board. Your fingertips are super sensitive to any differences. Note: I drove the first few screws all the way through the board, so their tips just reached the back side, and then planed this board to the height of those screws.
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I attached 4 keyhole hangers from Rockler.com for hanging the sign. That’s it! Screw the sign to your house and be the envy of the neighborhood.
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There’s no mistaking the look of handcrafted work.

 

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2 thoughts on “Create a screw sign! Tell the world, “a maker lives here”

  1. Hi Asa
    Nice idea, now if I was to make a sign I would speak nicely to my friend who has a CNC and get him to drill all the pilot holes, then put in the screws myself.

    Are you likely to go to the AAW in Portland on June 15th thru 17th?
    Cheers
    Roger in UK

    Like

    1. A CNC would be perfect for the pilot holes! That would let you design the layout on the computer, which would be much easier than my pencil approach. Nice little turn-key business in fact. Make custom signs for everyone! It would be nice to also automate driving the screws, but I’m not sure how one would do that. Thanks, Roger. (unfortunately, I won’t make it to AAW. I’ll be on a spectacular backpacking trip with good friends. So AAW comes second!)

      Like

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