When I committed to going to one of the many Letterhead meets being planned, I wanted to create a project panel that would be something different from
the usual day-to-day vinyl work that I normally do. Having been impressed, in the past, by the beautiful wooden panels and gold leaf projects I had seen at
previous meets I decided to try something along the same line. This is a description of how I approached this project from the point of view of the novice
that I am at this type of endeavor.
I used Corel Draw to do the design work. First of all, I imported a panel blank from one of my Vector Art CD's. I then began typing in the text that I
wanted and assigned the fonts that I thought would look pleasing. In this case, for the word "LETTERHEADS", I used Benguiat Bold. Then I manipulated the
letters to add some flourishes and spurs. Finally, I imported a scroll from a clipart CD and "flowed" the word "LETTERHEADS" around the scroll using Corel's
ENVELOPE" tool. Adding an outline finished it off.
Once I had the layout the way I wanted it, the next thing to do was start cutting out the raised lettering and scroll. The way I started at this was to put
a pen in my plotter and plot the individual letters and the scroll onto paper so that I could transfer the shapes to SignFoam using carbon paper. The first
obstacle that I encountered was that I initially plotted the letters as they appeared on the layout. After the first letter was cut I could see a problem
with that method. During cutting the blade on a scroll saw will cut at a slight angle depending on which way the material is pushed or turned. This results
in the back side of the letter being different in shape from the top side. Since these letters were going to be sanded and rounded over on the surface I
decided to re-plot them in reverse. That way their base shapes would be accurate.
At this point I traced the shapes of the letters and scroll onto SignFoam using carbon paper.
Then began the job of cutting the raised letters on the scroll saw. I used the finest spiral blade I could find. This allowed for moving the SignFoam
through the saw in any direction since the blade actually has teeth spiraling down it's length sticking out in all directions. The blade on the right is a
standard fine blade and the one on the left is the spiral cut blade and is about 1/32" in diameter.
I found it to be a fairly painless procedure to cut out the letters with this type of blade. In total I believe the cutting process took me about 4 hours. I
am sure someone with more experience than myself could accomplish the task in far less time.
Below is a picture showing the majority of the cutting completed.
The next step was to sand the letters to get rid of the inevitable "wobbles" and "nicks" where the letters were cut and to give them their rounded shape. I
used 180 grit sandpaper for this and improvised by wrapping it around several drill bits of various diameter to sand the inside curves. It was "fiddly"
work and quite time consuming but as each one was completed I felt a certain sense of accomplishment.
Once all the letters were smoothed and rounded, I cut out the "outline" in cheap vinyl so that I could place the letters on the outline to make any
modifications to the shape, in order for the completed letters to match the outline that I would eventually produce. Of course, there were the inevitable
"nicks" where the saw had bitten off more than I intended, but I planned to repair those after the letters had been primed a couple of times.
In this picture you can see that the top of the letter "L" is cut and sanded at the wrong angle. But by laying it on the outline it was easy to re-sand it
The next step in the project was to prime the letters. I used a water based high build primer for this part of the job.
You will notice that I sprayed the primer and since the letters were so small and lightweight, it was necessary to "anchor" them to prevent them from flying
all over the place. I used push pins that were pushed up through a piece of cardboard to anchor the letters. This also made it easier to move the letters
out of the spray booth as the next portion of the project began.
Of course the inevitable accident had occurred during the sanding process and I had broken off a piece of the scroll. I simply mixed up a tiny amount of
LePages 2 part epoxy and glued the broken piece back together. Since epoxy is extremely hard compared to foam I elected to wait until I had built up the
primer before attempting to sand the epoxy down, where it had squished out at the joint. The primer is closer in hardness to the epoxy so I would run less
risk of gouging the foam accidentally. I would also be filling a couple of the saw blade nicks that were too deep to sand out.
Since the priming process was going to involve spraying several coats, with waiting time in between each coat, I began the second part of the
project but for continuity, I will skip ahead to continue the work on the letters and scroll. Below is a picture of a couple of letters and the scroll that
have had automotive, catalyzed spot putty applied to fill in a couple of saw nicks and around where I had glued a couple of broken pieces back on.
At this point I wanted to paint the letters with gold coloured paint so that any "holidays" (small spots that don't get gilded due to cramped location or
whatever) in the final gild wouldn't be noticeable. I used automotive basecoat sprayed
through my airbrush to get the colour on but One Shot would have
worked just as well. After spraying the letters with colour I then poured some One Shot clear into a small margarine container and dipped the letters into
it. This ensured that every surface got a nice smooth coat of clear. As the picture below shows, I used push pins to hold the letters.
Creating the actual panel. I have a friend in the custom boat building business and he happened to have a mahogany plank sitting in the corner that suited
my purposes perfectly. I would have simply used the plank as it was but he insisted that the panel needed to be "glued up". Basically this involved sawing
the plank into several pieces lengthwise and then flipping each alternate piece. This results in the grain running in opposite directions on each adjoining
piece. and results in a panel that won't warp over time. Much like a butchers block. I thought this wasn't really necessary but since it was his plank and
he offered to do the gluing up, I wasn't about to refuse his offer. As he explained it to me, he simply did what he had explained and then used West Epoxy
to glue the pieces and clamped them overnight. After that it was up to me to finish shaping the panel.
First I used his jointer to smooth the edges of the rough blank and bring it down to it's final dimensions of 24" x 12". Then I used his planer to smooth
and "thickness" the panel to the desired 1". Again, I plotted the outline of the panel onto paper and used carbon paper to transfer the shape of the ends of
the panel onto the rectangular blank.
I used a band saw to cut the shape of the ends, being careful to stay about 1/16" outside of the lines. I wanted to be sure that I didn't accidentally
wander inside the lines because, unlike the raised cutout letters, I couldn't "fill" in any mistakes.
Once the ends were cut to their rough shape, I use my belt sander with an 80 grit belt to smooth the ends to their final shape. I then hand sanded the ends
with 180 grit paper to get then as smooth as the jointer had made the straight sides. Next I used a hand held router with a special bit which has a bearing
at the bottom of the shaft, below the cutting part. I just ran the router around the edge of the panel using several passes until the bearing stopped any
further cutting. This type of router bit is basically idiot-proof for creating a cove around the edge of a panel. I don't consider myself to be an idiot but
I AM pretty new to all of this woodworking stuff, so it was handy to have a tool like this to make things easier.
As mentioned earlier, I was now at the point where I was ready to do some more spraying, so I picked up the cardboard sheet with the letters on it and moved
it out to the main part of the shot and got ready to start the process of building up coats of varnish on the panel. My objective was to build up enough
layers, block sanding between each layer, so that I could get the surface to be as smooth as a sheet of glass. This was going to take more than a couple of
coats, as I was to discover.
After 3 coats of varnish I did my first block sanding of the panel. As you can see below, it was going to take several more to build up enough thickness so
that I could get the entire panel to the fairness and smoothness of a piece of glass.
At this point I decided to change my strategy. Since I would be sanding the varnish on the panel until it was completely smooth and flat, I decided that I
could get a better build-up of varnish using a brush and concentrate on the depressed areas as well. On top of the higher build, it was also a lot easier to
clean the brush than to clean up the spray gun after each layer of varnish. Below is a picture of the final block sanding after having built up varnish in
the low areas as needed. You can see that the sanded portion now shows no low areas except where I had to add a bit more varnish by brush. Soon it was going
to be time to apply the vinyl graphics that were a part of the whole project.
This picture shows the panel after the final sanding. As you can see it is now completely smooth and fair.
I then sprayed the final coat of varnish to get a nice shiny smooth surface to apply the vinyl part of this project.
I cut and applied dark maroon 2 mil cast vinyl to the varnished panel as I had intended to do from
the start. But after looking at it I realized that the
dark maroon would be just fine as an outline for the raised lettering, but the words "Maritime" and "2004" were not bright enough.
I also set the painted letters on the sign prior to having gilded them, just to make sure that everything fit well. As you can see the maroon is just fine
as an outline but the raised letters overpowered the other lettering and they weren't even gilded at this point.
I was unsure of the outcome if I had cut a mask and sized and gilded the words "Maritime" and "2004" so I decided to use SignGold to enhance those words. In
retrospect and after having observed an expert do just that type of thing at the meet I should have surface gilded those words. But as I have said, I was a
novice at this type of work. The SignGold did, however, brighten things up.
My next step was to start the gilding process on the raised letters and scroll. I used One-Shot quick size, waiting about 2 hours before gilding. I quickly
learned that with gold size, more is not better. In fact the least amount of size is the best and gives the brightest gild. I used patent leaf to gild the
letters. It was, for me, a tedious job so I only tackled 2 letters a day leaving the last few letters and the scroll to be finished at the meet. Again, in
retrospect, I think I should have used a combination of patent and loose leaf to gild the letters. Patent for the tops and outside edges of the letters and
loose for the insides of letters and in the tight inside curves.
FINALLY, the project was completed at the meet!! After gilding the last of the letters, I carved small grooves in the back side of each letter and applied
some 2 part epoxy to those grooves. I then affixed the letters to the panel and put it in a safe place away from inquisitive fingers until the epoxy set up.
The final result of the project is below.