Gilding Two Signs for Tanglewood Farm

A rather unusual project presented itself a few weeks ago. Jim Green, of Tanglewood Farm near Tamworth, had purchased a large timber sign from a local cabinet-shop. It was a little over three meters long, and the letters had been routed into the panel, which consisted of a solid piece of Merbau. A smaller sign of the same construction displayed the address number of the farm – 388. Both signs had been stained in a deep brown hue, and certainly held a rustic and understated beauty. But just as Jim was about to install them at the front gate, he noticed that the lettering was not as readable as he had imagined it would be. The sign needed to catch the attention of passing motorists.

Jim tried applying gold paint to the numerals on the smaller sign, but was still unhappy with the result. He knew that the sign would need gilded text. He loaded both signs onto his truck, and drove three hours north to drop them off at our shop.

The following photo series shows the steps which we took to gild the letters on the signs:

Sign for Tanglewood Farm

Jim holds up his timber sign.

Carved Wooden Sign

On a table in our shop

Gold Painted Letters

The Gold Painted Letters: Not as Shiny as Jim had Hoped

Gold Carved Letter

Furthermore, the woodgrain looked a little rough.

Masking the Wooden Sign

We first covered the sign with stencil mask.

Carbon Paper

Then, I rubbed the surface with carbon paper, which brought out the shapes of the carved letter.

Cutting out Letters

Next, I cut each letter out of the stencil, with a razor blade.

Wooden Sign in Process

Here’s the sign, with all the letters cut out.

Sealing the Stencil Edge

Then, I sealed the stencil edge with water-based clearcoat.


A coat of primer next.

Sanding Carved Letters on Wooden Sign

Sand & repeat (three times over).

three hour size

Next came a coat of three-hour size (glue), for a smooth surface.

Lefranc's Twelve-Hour Size

Once the three–hour size was dry, I applied a coat of twelve-hour size.

Gilding a Wooden Sign

After leaving the sign overnight, I gilded it in the morning.


The Finished Piece!

The Finished Piece!

Carved & Gilded Wooden Sign

And the smaller sign, this time with gilded letters.

Sign on ute

All loaded up & bound for Tamworth!


A Sign for The National Goanna Pulling Championship

Wooli, New South Wales is a picturesque seaside resort town north of Coffs Harbour. It’s also home to a somewhat unusual annual sporting event – The National Goanna Pulling Championship. A goanna is a large monitor lizard that can be found throughout most of Australia, but ‘Goanna Pulling’ is a sport for humans, not lizards. It’s essentially a two-person tug of war, in which the neck of both contestants plays a leading role. Here’s what I mean:

This year, we were approached by the Clarence Valley Council to make a sign for the event. They wanted it rustic and maybe just a little outlandish, in keeping with the sport itself. Here are a few images of the sign being made:

Rolling Paint on a Sign Panel

Rolling Paint on the Background Sign Panel

Painting Faux Rust

Applying a Faux Rust Effect with a Sponge


Creating a Woodgrain Texture in the Paint on the Add-On Panel, Using a Broom

Painting Faux Woodgrain

Painting a Lighter Tone of Brown on Top

Faux Woodgrain

…And Rubbing Most of it Off Again!


Cutting gout the Script Lettering on a Scroll Saw


Painting the Letters


Gluing Everything Together

Gluing Letters


Wolli Goanna Pulling Sign

And finally, here it is installed & ready for next year’s big event!

Wooli Goanna Pulling Championship Sign | Danthonia Designs Blog

(image courtesy of bearomite)


The Making of a Pub Sign: Part 2

Hi again. Welcome back to Danthonia Designs, where we’re working on our sign for The Oregon Public House. Last time, as you probably remember, we ironed out the design. This time, we’ll go right into the shop and start hand-crafting the sign itself. Now this type of sign has a long tradition, which goes right back to the Northeastern American coast, old wooden sailing ships, and the quarterboards which bore the name of each ship.

The tools and techniques that we use are essentially the same as what they would have used back then. The main difference being that, in those days the signs were made out of huge planks that were quarter-sawn from gigantic trees, such as sequoia redwood or western red cedar. Nowadays, such majestic giants are protected, so we use a material called High Density Urethane. We laminate it to PVC to make a very durable panel which can actually be worked with all the same tools that you would use for a wooden sign. We can even make the sign look like wood, just by how we apply the paint with a brushed texture.

After a coat of primer and three coats of green, we stick on the stencil, which gives us the placement of the letters, the flourishes, and the outside shape of the sign.
The letters on this design are pretty large, pretty big stroke width, so we’re going to choose one of our larger chisels, and we’ll carve it at a shallower angle than we normally do, to avoid digging too deep.

For the tree logo of the Oregon Public House, we decided to chip-carve it, which gives it a ripply sort of a look. And we do that with a swan-necked gouge. It’ll look beautiful once it’s gilded.

Meanwhile, the banner is cut out of the same material, and it’ll get sculpted and painted. It’ll get all the same sort of treatment that the main sign gets, and then right at the end, we’ll attach it and it’ll be this three-dimensional element, which casts a shadow…it’ll just look beautiful.

All the processes that you’ve seen so far are just almost like second nature. We do them on every sign that we make in this shop. But on this particular sign, we’re going to use a technique that’s known as engine-turned gold. It’s something that’s normally done on smooth metal surfaces such as vehicles, but how will it look on a bit of a textured, brushed surface like we have on this sign? With a deadline looming, we don’t have a lot of time to find out.In the next video, we’ll get serious about painting and gilding, so stay with us. See you then!

Sign Design

Sign Carving

Wooden Sailing Ship




Sequoia Trees

Sign-making Tools

Sign Panel Brushed Texture

Weeding Paint Mask

Hand Router

Carved Sign Letters

Oregon Public House Sign Design

Scroll Saw

Palladium Leaf Box

Sign-Making Equipment


Applying Gold Size

Open a Can

The Making of a Pub Sign, Part One

We made this little video a while ago, but only got around to posting it here now. Hope you enjoy it!

Don: Portland is a city known for its many brewpubs, and one of the newest is The Oregon Public House. It’s also establishing a reputation as being one of the best.

Here at Danthonia Designs, we make handcrafted signs from our workshop in Inverell, Australia. We were recently commissioned by The Oregon Public House to make a classic pub sign for them. We’ve made a lot of pub signs over the years, and each one has its own unique character.

Joe: The local public house has always been a place of friendship, community and old-world hospitality, and the handcrafted pub sign over the door plays a big part, not only in the way it’s designed but in the care and craftsmanship that goes into making it. People will come back again and again to a pub where there’s good food, good atmosphere, but it’s the handcrafted pub sign that gets them through the door the first time.

Don: We started off the design process by first of all establishing the look and the feel that the folks at Oregon Public House wanted.Then, we came up with some pencil sketches. We drew our inspiration from the classic old pub signs of England and Ireland, as well as the vernacular hand-painted signs of the American Old West.

Pete, from The Oregon Public House, sent us photos of gilded flourishes off an old fire engine, which he wanted us to incorporate. After a little back and forth, we finally settled on this design, which everyone seemed happy with.

The next videos in the series will follow the sign as it makes its way through the many stages of our shop, from the pencil sketch all the way until it’s hanging. Feel free to leave a comment, sunscribe to our channel, start a conversation with us, but whatever you do, don’t miss the next videos in this series!

Beer Mug

Beer Mugs

Custom Sign Shop

Hand-Lettered Movie Title

Oregon Public House Sign

Sign Design Pencil Sketches

Engine Turned Gold Ornaments

Gilding a Sign

Gilding a Sign

Custom Sign-Making Shop

HDU sign on a scroll saw

Cutting HDU on a Scroll Saw

Designing a Custom Sign

Brush Texture Coat

Painting Accents on Engine-Turned Gold

Hanging up Apron at Custom Sign Shop

Sculpting a Crest for The Red Dragon

Here’s the post about the Red Dragon Sculpting video, as promised. First, the transcript:

There’s just something about a handmade object that’s attractive and beautiful. Everything used to be hand-made. Actually, everything used to be custom-made. It’s inspiring to think back to the times before the industrial revolution, when there was no such thing as mass-production.

Actually, these days, it seems like once again, a lot of folks are starting to wake up to this fact & realise that products need to have a bit of soul to them. They need to have a bit of a story behind them. After all, who would want something that’s mass-produced and made by a machine, when it could be hand-crafted? It’s an old way of doing things, but it’s becoming new again & I think that’s a beautiful thing.

You’re in the sign-shop of Danthonia Designs, in Inverell, Australia. Every sign in this shop is hand-crafted. Every sign is custom-made. You won’t find two signs in this shop that are the same. We feel like we’re not just making signs, we’re making the world more beautiful. We’re helping small businesses. We’re keeping old crafts alive. Of course, most importantly, we’re making people happy. There’s nothing instant, there’s nothing fast about the process of making a handcrafted sign. There’s skill involved, and there’s something very beautiful about it.

And then, just to see the finished work of art & to know that it will be hanging there for years. It’ll be out in the wind & weather. It’s going to last a long time. It might be around for longer than we are. That’s just very, very satisfying!

Very inspiring, I know, but now for the nitty-gritty:

Chisel Sharpening

Here, Geordie is sharpening one of our angled chisels, on a Japanese waterstone.


Using carbon paper, we traced the artwork onto a panel of HDU.

Drawing with a Sharpie Pen

The lines were darkened using a sharpie pen.


Cutting out the shape with a hand-held jigsaw


I guess you can tell what’s happening here, without me explaining it.

gilding brushes

Our collection of gilding size, gold leaf, and squirrel-hair brushes (No animals were harmed in the making of this film)

Peeling the stencil.

Peeling the stencil.

The finished Crest

The finished Crest!

The finished sign was shipped to St Petersburg, Florida, where it was affixed to the stern of a replica pirate ship called ‘The Red Dragon’. This vessel will make its home in Port Aransas, Texas.


Making a Dimensional Crab Sign

This little video takes you through the process of making a fully three-dimensional sculpted crab, from laminating the substrate all the way through to photographing the finished sign.

Most of the steps are pretty self-explanatory, which is why the video has no speaking, but in case you do want to know a little more of the nitty-gritty of the process involved, here it is:

Sanding the PVC

Our sign-panels are made of SignFoam 3, laminated to foam PVC, and the crab was no exception. First, we sanded the PVC thoroughly, to make sure the adhesive would stick well.

Unrolling Double-Stick Tape

Trimming double-stick tape

After applying the tape, the edges had to be trimmed. If you forget this step, the extra tape will stick itself everywhere! This shot has a title overlay, but hopefully you didn’t get too distracted.

Hand-Drawn Video Titles

Speaking of titles, I drew them up very quickly with a sharpie pen. With the help of Photoshop, I reversed the colour and removed the background to make a handcrafted title, suitable for a slightly industrial ‘maker video’.

Peeling the Paper off the Double-Stick Tape

Next, we peeled off the paper.

Sticking the PVC to the HDU

…and carefully stuck the two materials together.

Adjusting the Pinch Roller Width

This little crank on top adjusts the width between the two rollers, on our pinch-roller.

Pinch-Rolling the Sign Panel

Here, we’re pinching the laminated panel together. Sorry if this confused you. This was actually the first pass through the roller. That’s why there are only two layers, not three. So, technically, this shot should have come earlier in the piece. Oh well, it looked nice where it was.

Laying Carbon Paper onto the Sign Panel

Now, the panel is all laminated. Nancy is laying carbon paper down, so she can trace the shape of the artwork onto the panel.


Cutting out the Sign shape on the Bandsaw

Cutting out the crab, on the bandsaw.

Cutting out a large Crab on a Bandsaw

This took a while.

Routing the HDU

To save time with the hammer and gouge, we used a hand-held router to hog away some of the SignFoam on the thinner areas of the sign, such as the crab’s legs.

Drawing Guidelines for Sculpting

Drawing a few lines on, for sculpting.

The Sculpting Process

The sculpting was all done by hand, both with and without the use of a rubber mallet.

Sanding the Crab Smooth

After all the gouge work was finished, the crab needed to be sanded.

Sanding a Crab Sculpture Smooth

Nearly finished now!

Moving the Crab to the Painting Table

In this shot, the author carries the crab to the painting table.

A Coat of Primer

Nancy applies a generous coat of primer.

Painting the dark Undercoat

Followed by a dark undercoat

Painting a Lighter Blue

…and then a lighter one.

Starting in with the Artist Acrylic

And finally, the artist acrylics.

Affixing Hanging Hardware

Screwing in the stainless steel hanging hardware

Taking a Photo

Joe takes a photo of the finished crab.

A Sunset behind the Workshop

And, of course, every good video has to end with a sunset. Here’s one behind our shop.

Closing Title

And that’s it!

(Note: This video was made about a month ago. In the meantime we’ve done another one, called Making a Handcrafted Sign. At some stage, I’ll do a blog post about that one too, but until then, you can watch it on on YouTube, our videos page, or a french design blog called Aether Concept)

Shooting the Breeze with Sideshow Sign Co.

Sideshow Sign Co.

Luke & Jasmin (image courtesy of Warby Parker)

Rusty tin sheds, barbed wire, old trucks, faded wool bale stencil lettering…don’t we all love rural Australia? Luke Stockdale’s Aussie bush upbringing undoubtedly had a great influence on his work. His solid vintage signs have clearly struck a chord with customers all over the USA, too. This is evident by the many projects filling his Nashville-based workshop, Sideshow Sign Co.

sign shop welding nashville

(image courtesy of Nashville Scene)

With the help of his wife Jasmin, Luke is producing the type of classic, timeless signage that only improves with age. We’re pleased that he took a little time to tell us about how he went from a Melbourne design course to bending steel and wiring light-bulbs in Nashville.

sign shop in Nashville

(image courtesy of Warby Parker)

My wife is a Nashville native. We met in Prague in 2006 and the two of us have been back and forth across the Pacific ever since. We lived in Melbourne before deciding to settle in Nashville.

Sideshow Sign Shop

Adam Gaskill at work in the shop

Adam Gaskill Custom Bike

My full-time fabricator, Adam Gaskill makes these amazing bikes when he’s not beltin’ out signs. I’m lucky I’ve got him because he’s just as passionate about digging up old sign-making techniques as I am!

custom bike nashville

Another of Adam’s creations

I got a Design degree from RMIT and worked as a freelance designer for seven or eight years, mainly branding and album artwork. The move to sign-making was innocent at first, I made a few interior typographic pieces for restaurants I was re-branding, and the demand came from there.

sideshow cafe sign

Over the next couple of years I tried to learn as much as I could about traditional sign-making. It’s been a trial & error process, but I was lucky enough to have the whole ‘distressed and weathered’ thing to fall back on while I was honing my sign-making skills. I could make my mistakes look like they were intentional! I still feel like an amateur sometimes but we’ve managed to make some pretty solid work.

electric sign sideshow

‘Leave it to an Aussie who was born and raised in rural Australia to come to the states and exemplify the current vintage Americana style movement.’ – Uncrate

My folks were affected by the ‘Black Saturday‘ fires in Victoria, in 2009. They lost everything, but managed to get away with their lives in the nick of time. Unlike a lot of Black Saturday victims, they were able to claim enough insurance to rebuild. I relocated to stay with them for the next nine months and the three of us designed their new home. The house just won a HIA award. The whole experience made me want to make stuff for real, so you could say it influenced my move into sign-making.

rural australian letterbox

This one was a gift to Luke’s mother. It hangs on her mailbox in rural Victoria

The light bulbs were just something I knew I could do – I had access to sockets and bulbs, and I knew how to do some basic wiring. As far as the aesthetic goes – my style as a designer was kind of vintage Americana. And I’ve always been a lover of old signage & typography.

sideshow sign dimensional

We’ve done a few apprenticeships, but we’re taking a break from them for the moment.

We can make fresh, new-looking signs as well as ‘distressed’ ones, but either way our fabrication is still traditional – steel, rivets, hand-painted, hand-cut lettering, etc. (although we do have a CNC for bigger jobs), so they don’t look like a modern channel letter or vinyl sign. People don’t generally come to us for clean modern signage, they come to us wanting them to look old. That’s kind of our thing.

lighbulb lettering in process nashville

One hundred percent of our signage work is custom. The only inventory items we have are our prints.

sideshow sign co prints

One of the Prints Designed by Sideshow (image courtesy of Librarian Tells All)

I was told about Sideshow Signs by Peter Vogel, of Nutmegger Workshop.

I would absolutely love to work with Peter. He’s really talented. Soon, I hope!

nutmegger workshop sign

Peter Vogel also makes hand-crafted vintage signs. Here’s one of his (image courtesy of AIGA)

Our most recent has been my favorite so far – a double-sided neon projecting sign for clothing company Imogene & Willie.

imogene and willie sign nashville

We have quite a bit of work in the shop right now. We’re doing another job for ESPN, this one is a big channel sign of their old logo, it’s going in some broadcasting hall-of-fame. Another piece for a circus.

Lightbulb ESPN sign and deer head

dimensional sign

Thanks, Luke and Jasmin!

French Periodic Table: Sideshow Sign Co. from Luke Stockdale on Vimeo.

Making a Sign for Twin Acres

We haven’t done a step-by-step article since the one about faux woodgrain. Time for another one! Here’s a sign we made last year, which I photographed at various stages of production. Here’s the sequence (albeit incomplete):

paint roller

Painting the panel with a roller

chisel carving by hand

Hand-carving the groove

chisel carving a sign

And the letters

sculpting a loon

Meanwhile, the add-on was being hand-sculpted. Can you tell what it will be?

painting letters on a sign

Painting the letters and grooves

painting a loon sculpture

Artist-Painting the add-on. It’s a loon.

rolling paint on a sign trim

Painting the trim with a roller

eye-bolts in a sign

Screwing in the stainless steel eye-bolts.

hanging sign with loon artwork

And finally, the finished product!

If anyone happens across this sign, in the region of Farmingdale, New York, please send us a photo!

A Sign for the Balvenie Craft Bar

scottish distillery

The Balvenie Distillery, Dufftown, Scotland

The distilling of whisky has always been a craft, but The Balvenie claims the title of the most handcrafted of all Scottish whiskys. Everything from the farming of the barley to the making of the barrels is done by hand, in the traditional way. Perhaps that’s reason enough for hosting an event dedicated to craft-work. Earlier this month, six skilled artisans and a select group of whisky aficionados converged for ‘The Balvenie Craft Bar’. It was held at Zenith Interiors, in Melbourne.

We have a natural affinity with artisans who still ply their trade as they have done for decades. We’re extremely excited to be working with these craftspeople who share the same values as The Balvenie.

– Sam ‘Dr Whisky’ Simmons, The Balvenie Global Brand Ambassador


Craft Bar invitation

The official invitation to the event

Of course, an event like this needed a handcrafted sign as well. Andrew Shannon, from The Balvenie contacted us and asked for a sign that was made of wood, traditional in design, and most importantly, was hand-crafted.

Below are a few images of the sign being made.

New Guinea Rosewood Sign Panel

We started by making a panel from two pieces of New Guinea Rosewood, source from our local lumberyard.

sandblasted sign

After applying a rubberised mask, the sign was sandblasted.

sandblasted sign detail

Originally, we had planned to follow-up the sandblasting by texturing the background areas with gouges. After seeing the how beautiful the grain turned out, however, we discussed the options with Andrew Shannon and decided to leave the raw sandblasted texture. The woodgrain had textured so beautifully, it would be a shame to gouge it away!

tablesaw sign

The sign panel was then cut down to size.

sign panel jointer edges

We smoothed the edges with the jointer

bandsaw sign inverse corners

and cut the inverse corners with the band-saw

belt sander sign edges

Geordie finished the edges on the belt sander, to remove any remaining saw marks.

sandblasted sign mask peeling

Next, he peeled back the sandblast mask, revealing the smooth areas beneath.

sanding a sign

A good once-over with a sanding block took care of any small splinters or dents on the raised areas of the sign.

cove edge wood sign

Next, a cove edge was cut into the front.

wood sign chamfer edge

And a chamfer (bevel) into the back edge of the sign

Now that the machining was finished, we embarked on the next step – staining the sign. In keeping with Australian pioneer tradition, we decided to use the natural colour of grass tree resin to give the panel a warm, deep-brown hue.

grass tree northern nsw

Being in rural New South Wales, it didn’t take long to find a grass tree on the property.

grass tree resin

Look on the ground next to any grass tree and you will almost certainly find chunks of resin that have fallen off the trunk. Here is one such piece.

resin in a jar

We collected a few pieces of resin in a jar.

home-made grass tree stain

Next, we added a few drams of pure Balvenie scotch. Just kidding, it was actually isopropyl alcohol.

home-made stain

Immediately, the resin started working its magic.

home-made stain

A good shake helped to accelerate the process.

stain filter

Next, the stain was filtered.


…and applied.

sign stain

Nice & thick!

wiping stain off sign

Finally, we wiped away the excess stain.

wood sign for The Balvenie Craft Bar

And the sign was finished!

We shipped the sign to Melbourne to take its place at the Balvenie Craft Bar. Here are a few photos of the event:

wood sign in melbourne window

Wooden Sign for the Balvenie Craft Bar in Melbourne

(image courtesy of Whisky & Alement)

melbourne whisky bar

(image courtesy of The World Loves Melbourne)

Guitar Parts

Some of Tim Kill‘s craft work

A display of handcrafted guitars

And the finished products in use!

artisan cheese in Melbourne

Homemade Cheese by Nick Haddow (image courtesy of Milk Bar Mag)

Blavenie Craft Bar

(image courtesy of Milk Bar Mag)

The Balvenie Craft Bar

(image courtesy of Whisky & Alement)

Sandblasted Wooden Sign in Melbourne

The sign stands in the window of Zenith Interiors (image courtesy of Milk Bar Mag)

Sandblasted Wood Sign

How to Carve a Letter – Part 4

Here’s our fourth video in the letter-carving series. This time it’s a hand-lettered, casual-style ampersand. Relax and enjoy.

Welcome back to our fourth and final letter-carving lesson. As I mentioned last time, today we’re going to be carving an ampersand. Now, the ampersand is a very interesting character. It’s actually a letter that’s been around since before the English language was even invented. It dates back to first centruy Rome, and it actually symbolises the letters ‘E’ ‘T’, as in ‘Et’. So, people have been carving ampersands for a long, long time. It’s also a letter that type-designers have always had a lot of fun with. There are many different creative shapes and sizes of ampersand, and there are alot of different styles out there. But, for this exercise, were going to use a style that we invented purely for this lesson, so here we go!

Start off with V-Tooling. You should be getting familiar with this by now.Next, we’ll be using the chisel. And, just remember that on the outside corners, we keep the bevel of the chisel down, so it follows the curve nicely…and here we have our beautiful hand-crafted ampersand!

So, thanks a lot for watching this video, and the whole series. Stay tuned for more videos on three-dimensional sign-making!