What’s the Best Way to Add Lettering to a Project?

What’s the Best Way to Add Lettering to a Project?

What is the best way to get lettering, signs, pictures, etc. on a wood project? Things like a grandchild’s name, etc. I have tried to hand-paint names and such, but it always looks unprofessional. I want to get some nice text onto a woodworking project. – Don Winslow

Tim Inman: Well, let’s count the ways …There are so many I just want to offer a couple here. For something simple like a name, assuming you can’t take the piece to someone who has a woodburning laser, a cut stencil would be my first “go-to” choice. Just about any computer today can offer type sizes the way you want them. Print on paper or Mylar film, get a razor knife and cut away. Then use a stencil brush to paint inside the cutout, or aerosol-spray in the name.

Laser printers can be used to make homemade “iron-on” labels. Print out what you want, then use a hot iron to transfer the laser toner to the wood. It works with color and black-and-white laser printers. I’ve never had luck with inkjet printers for this though. To get it to come out right, use a word processer or publishing program to print a “negative” or flipped image before you print. This will make your paper copy come out in mirror image. When you iron it on, all will be right with the world.


Chris Marshall: Tim offers some great suggestions, and here are a couple more options. First, you could use router letter stencils. Rockler sells some nice plastic ones that clip together like puzzle pieces (to see them, click here). The letter sizes may be too large for your application, but if they’re appropriate, you could rout the lettering into the project with a core box bit and a guide bushing that follows the letter shapes in the templates. Then, either paint in the reliefs and sand the edges to clean them up, or just leave the letters unpainted and topcoat the project as usual.

I’ve also done a modified approach to Tim’s suggestion for using laser-printed lettering. I’ve simply picked a computer font I liked, printed out the sign I wanted, then mounted it to a wood blank with spray glue and routed out the letters by hand with a small-diameter straight bit and a trim router. It’s fussy work but fun if you have the time, a steady hand and the visual acuity to do it. I even let my kids make their own bedroom nameplate signs this way so they could get some safe practice with a router and painting in the letters. They seemed to really enjoy the experience.



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