How to Make a Pallet Wood Sign
My holiday pallet wood signs have been some of the most popular seasonal posts on the blog and so I thought I would show you a quick tutorial on how I put them together. Some other examples of signs I’ve used this technique to make include last year’s turkey silhouette (which I featured on my Thanksgiving mantel)
and this illuminated Christmas version (which I also used on my Christmas mantel)
You can see that they can be as refined or as rustic as you make them. (I personally like them pretty rustic, since that also means the least amount of work for me!)
This year I went BIG and created this giant 3 foot x 4.5 foot sign using the full length of the pallet boards. It was actually way too large for the mantel so I ended up hanging it on the front walk where I think it looks FANTASTIC. You really can get the full scale of just how large it is when you compare to the height of the garage door:
My favorite thing about these signs is that my total investment is less than $5. They would be practically free if I didn’t use stencil materials, but instead free hand painted them. If I had to buy the lumber to make a sign this large, it would easily be $30-40+ depending on the quality of the boards.
So how do I get this final product from a grungy old pallet I found behind Costco?
It’s is actually a lot simpler than you think.
First, you have to find pallets. This is actually the worst part for me. I just drive around the back of large businesses looking for their discard piles (usually next to dumpsters.) DON’T TAKE PALLETS THAT ARE STACKED UP IN ORDER TO BE RETURNED TO A VENDOR. That is theft. Many companies re-use pallets. I always make sure I’m taking the broken/discarded ones. Don’t worry if some of the slats are broken. You will have PLENTY of wood even from a busted up pallet.
Next, make sure the pallets you choose are clean and dry. If there is any sign of dampness or mold, you don’t want to use them. I’m lucky that I live in a dry climate, so I don’t have to worry about them sitting in the rain. If you are somewhere where pallets are left exposed to the environment, you may want to check more frequently to see if they have discarded any recently. You also can ask the store employees directly if they are getting rid of any pallets soon, and to set them aside for you. I”ve never had to resort to this, but it is an option if you really can’t scavenge them anywhere.
Once you have the pallet, you have to disassemble it. This takes a LOT of elbow grease. There are actually many methods to disassemble a pallet, but I use the good old “crowbar and hammer” method. I drive the boards apart until I can get under the nail heads and then pry them out. Usually I have a little supervisor to help me out:
You also could use a Sawzall to cut them apart, but I haven’t resorted to this method yet. I like NOT having the nails cut off inside the wood. It takes more work, but I think it is worth it. When I am done with the crowbar, hammer, sore muscles and a bucket of sweat, here is the lumber I end up with:
It is clean and nail free, although it is still really rough and splinter-filled, so you have to be carful handling it.
Next I line the boards up with the “pretty” side down into a pattern that I like, and use any scrap pieces to connect the boards. In this case one of the boards split in half so I used it as the back support (I don’t want to have to buy anything for this project, you could use 1x2s or something, but since nobody will see the back, I don’t bother). I like this “Z” shape because it keeps the boards from shifting or twisting.
I use a nail gun to make it the assembly go quick, but you could hand nail them as well. (If you don’t own a nail gun with an air compressor it is TOTALLY WORTH IT! Add it to your christmas list!)
This is the front side when I flipped it over:
Onto the hard part.. deciding how to finish it. You can see I have used different color stains and finishes previously, and I liked this unfinished color, but after a vote on Instagram and Facebook, I decided to go dark. REALLY DARK. My stain is the same color that I used to stain my oak bathroom cabinets. It is called “coffee” but really, it is almost black. I was so sticky from applying the stain with a rag, of course I forgot a photo of this step, but you’ll see the color in the next photos.
I knew I wanted a super fancy font on this version, so I used my Silhouette Cameo to cut long stencils out of contact paper (yes, you could cut them out of vinyl as well, but contact paper is only $1/roll!) For any Silhouette users who want specifics about the template here is what I did (warning.. boring Silhouette technical info ahead):
I created a work area that was 12 inches wide (the max cut width) by 36 inches long (the width of my board) and then I set it to “no mat” (since there is no 1x3 foot mat available.) I turned the orientation to landscape and blew up my font to fit the work area.
Once I had it the correct size, I used the weld button to make it one long stencil (if your is made of individual letters and not a script, you don’t have to do that.) This screen capture shows what it looked like right before the cut. (Note: I haven’t upgraded to the new 3.0 version so some things may look different):
In case you are curious, the font I used was Chopin Script. (Not sure where I got it from, but it was a free font.)
Here are the resulting stencils:
I used clear contact paper to apply them to the pallet (they are unruly, so be warned!) This photos shows you the final stain color I ended up with.
Next I used some left over wall paint to stencil the words. THE KEY HERE IS TO USE A DRY BRUSH TECHNIQUE. I cannot stress this enough!!! The boards are rough, the contact paper isn’t the tightest seal in the world. If you brush is more than BARELY DAMP with paint, it will bleed. I got a tiny bit of paint on my brush and pounced it off onto paper towels before getting anywhere near the sign.
Here is what the paint looks like. The shelf liner/contact paper is water resistant so the paint will stay on top. You can see who there is barely any paint on the exposed surface of the wood. That is intentional. A few light coats will always be better than too much paint all at once:
The final lettering is pretty crisp, even on the rough boards. I also cut the bottom wheat silhouette using the same stenciling technique. I wish it was slightly larger, but I didn’t want to piece it, so it is maxed out at 12 inches wide.
Now I had to figure out how to hang it, since I wasn’t going to be able to use it on my mantel as originally planned. I had some old hanging wire from a frame I bought at Ikea a while ago, and just drove two screws into the cross brace and attached the wire. Easy peasy:
Now it can hang on my exterior wall. Because I used latex wall paint rated for exteriors I’m not worried about it running, but you could seal it with polyurethane if you were concerned (or used a more soluble paint).
I love how it came out. And now that the leaves are finally starting to turn, it definitely feels like Thanksgiving is right around the corner!