Recently we had a client who owned a specialty clothing store over in Vicksburg, Mississippi, contact us while we were putting the final touches on a similar store just across town here in Longview, Texas. The interior theme was all things rustic and casual, and the sign he had in mind to be placed over the customer counter had to fit that environment and be an accent piece right where everyone would see it.
His logo was quite simple, but gave us something to work with, and after a look inside I thought I knew about what he was after. Back at the shop, I drew up a sign and created a simulated graphic that I inserted into a photo of his customer counter area. This I sent by email, and soon received his response which was basically, “I like it. Get to work”.
Well, I have to admit I had several projects in front of that one, so doing the job in a real hurry was not in the cards, but he was willing to wait a little while, and on a quiet Saturday morning I came down to the shop intent on getting this job on the road to completion.
After looking over my specs again, I headed back to the house to get some materials to work with. The background would be old, weathered and sun-grayed wood, and on the back of our property I have a dilapidated old barn I inherited when we bought the land. So far I have done little with it but stack a pile of rough cut lumber there for when I will get around to completely rebuilding this East Texas relic.
A little bit of effort turned up a few boards that looked compatible with each other, and had the look we wanted, and then I headed back to the shop. I ventured across the highway to our other facility, where we do a lot of metal cutting, some digging around behind that shop turned up a wide piece of 1/8” thick steel that had a formed edge on one long side, and looked to have been forgotten about.
Getting a green light, the next stop was our original Omax waterjet, where I set up the cutting job for making the letters and other elements of this logo. In about an hour I had cut everything we needed for this small job out of just part of the scrap of metal I’d found.
The rust, if this can be said, was perfect. It formed a nice texture and an even earth-tone color to the parts I made, exactly the coloring I needed against the gray tone of aged and faded wood that would comprise the background of the sign.
Then, with old wood planks and rusty waterjet cut parts, I went back to the sign shop and started assembling my client’s custom sign. I arranged the boards until I liked what I saw, and marked exactly which part of each board I would be using. I almost could have made another sign of the same size with the drops I had left over, but I was determined to use the most ideal part of each plank I had chosen out at the barn.
When I had cut the letters and logo parts, I also cut two pairs of steel strapping of the same rusty steel that the letters were made from, and used them to sandwich the planks together and make the sign itself. Later I would determine that the span between the steel straps was too long and the boards could warp in opposite directions in an unpleasant way, so I made another strap and would screw it to the back side of the sign right in the middle, with screws short enough they would not protrude to the front of the sign.
Small stainless steel 3/16” bolts or machine screws were used to pull the straps together and secure the boards. These were tightened down with a ratchet, and then the excess of each bolt was cut off with a pair of bolt cutters and ground smooth with the securing nut.
I did not want any screw heads in the rusty steel lettering itself, so small 3/16” nuts were welded to the backs of the letters and logo parts, into which threaded studs would be screwed in place instead of bolts, thus no bolt heads would show from the front of the sign.
A piece of white butcher paper was cut to fit the sign, and taped in place and the metal parts were arranged correctly and then traced around to make a pattern. The metal parts were removed and short threaded studs with ground points were threaded in place where the studs would later go, and the letter or logo part was placed carefully back into its traced position on the pattern. Firm pressure was applied by hand to make clear puncture marks.
Following these marks in the pattern, all the holes to secure the metal parts were drilled precisely in the right places. After that, the final studs were threaded onto the backs of the parts and each part was secured permanently in place, using some 3/8” nuts behind each one as spacers. No primer, no paint, no clear coat, no finish work of any kind was done since the weathered and rusty look was what we were after.
One final touch was taken, however, to disguise the bright stainless steel head of the bolts on the strapping, and even the nuts and washers on the back of the sign where the studs were secured. In order to keep this bright shiny metal from being a visual distraction, I took some flat back and flat rust red primer, in spray cans, and sprayed some of each color in tuna fish cans, then mixed the two colors a bit with a paint brush. Then all the new and shiny screw heads, bolts and washers, were “aged” right quick and became visually insignificant on the final product.
I did not alter the mounting eye screws and “S-hooks” used to hang the sign, and the installation was extremely simple. I stood on the customer counter, and pilot drilled a couple of appropriately spaced holes, treaded in two eye screws and hung the sign. Nothing to it.
The “River Outfitters” sign was a fun and simple job, but one that gave a client exactly what he was after and left another one of our calling cards in this town where we have left so many. It will be interesting to see how long until someone asks if we can do a similar sign for their rustically decorated business. My guess is, it won’t be long.