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 Making a Vertical Grain Sandblasted & Routed Cedar Sign

Our customer wanted a sign produced form one solid redwood panel 2' x 10" . We found a few pieces that might have worked but not only were they several thousand dollars, when I explained that it would be most unlikely for any board that size to be all vertical grain, (it would mean that the tree it came from must have been about 5 feet in diameter. and they aren't cutting those trees anymore).  I asked why they wanted it to be one solid piece and the reply was that they didn't want to see the glue lines which you usually see in larger pieces of wood. It is even more noticeable with sandblasted signs as the wood grain is exposed and the difference between each board can clearly be seen2x12 vertical grain cedar choosing the best way to laminate 2320x240

I suggested that if we could find some redwood or cedar boards that were very similar in density with good clear vertical grain we should be able to minimize the glue lines.vertical grain cedar from the end320x240

After searching for some time I remembered a company I used to buy from but I thought they had gone out of business. I found them and asked what they had, Unfortunately they had sold all of their 10 and 12 "  Pure, all heart, clear, vertical grain redwood boards but they did have a few 2 x 12" heart vertical grain rough sawn Cedar boards. Planed lumber is referred to by its rough sawn sizes, so a 2 x 10 actually measures 1.5" x 9.375".surfacing rough sawn 2x12 vertical grain cedar 6 320x240surfacing rough sawn 2x12 vertical grain cedar 3 320x240

So these rough sawn cedar boards actually measured 2" x 12"x 11' . The sign was to be curved in shape (its a sausage) so there would be one glue line length wise running down the middle of the board and two very short lines at the top on each side. 

Once I had the go ahead I drove the 196 mile round trip so I could choose the boards. The owner and I worked our way through quite a lot of lumber and down near the bottom of the stack we found three boards that looked like they came from the same tree , color density etc. By the time they were in my workshop those two 2" x 12" x 11' boards cost well over $850.00 think about that? And redwood is even more expensive, of course its a lot more available on the west coast than here. But by the time you have paid the shipping it works out the same.


What is vertical grain

 There are three main ways of cutting up a tree ( yes there are more than that but we are talking in general terms here, this is about signs not the lumber industry).

  • Plain Sawn

    Plain is where the log is sawn into straight layers using the whole log this maximizes the whole log with little waste but some of the cuts produce lumber that is unstable. It does also produce some vertical grain but not much.
  • Quarter Sawn

    Quarter is as shown in the diagram where the log is turned through 90 degrees after each cut this stiill maximizes the lumber produced but more of it is stable
  • Rift Sawn

    Rift is the most difficult and produces the most waste but it also produces the most vertical grain . Vertical grain is is not only the most stable cut, it is also very attractive and therefore costs the most.


quarter plain and rift sawnSandblasting wood.

When a piece of wood is sandblasted, sand or an artificial granular material is forced through a ceramic nozzle by air at high pressure. When the sand hits the wood it eats it away. Because wood is made up of sapwood (earlywood) grown spring though summer depending where its growing, and (latewood) later in the year but before winter. It is eroded unevenly the sapwood being much less dense than the latewood. Any part you don't want to be eaten away is covered with a rubberized stencil that the cutting medium bounces off.

That's why if you blast a piece of pine parts of it will be eaten away very fast and parts almost not at all as the resin in the latewood makes it flexible enough that the sand bounces off. What happens is some parts will have almost unreadable letters or graphics, as the latewood and any knots are left at the same height as the original face. It looks terrible and will rot very fast.The fact is its the message that the sign carries that's important and that's what should stand out.

Its very desirable to have an attractive looking dimensional sign but although the back ground should look attractive it should also be uniform and even so as not to detract from the job that the sign has to do. Have you ever looked at a vehicle wrap that instantly attracts your attention because its so colorful and intriguing; then when its gone you realize that you have no idea what company it was or what they were advertising. Its the same principal.


We use clear vertical grain cedar and redwood  (and sometimes Oak and Mahogany) because they give us a very stable substrate that also looks very attractive and uniform. If we can get boards of a similar grain density, when they are sandblasted there is very little difference between them and so the glue lines become invisible.

With this particular project the whole thing was to be left natural except for the letters. Because the location where the sign will be going has some attractive and unusual architecture. Its a mixture of contemporary metal with lots of exposed stained wooden beams and the customer naturally wants the background of the sign to match the color of the beams which is very difficult to do.

Sandblasted Cedar or redwood absorbs stain much faster than manufactured pressurized laminated Pine beams so trying to use the same stain just wont work I'll come back to this subject later.

 Back to the project in hand.

vertical grain cedar starting the rout paths 3 320x240

vertical grain cedar starting the rout paths 7 320x240 

After we inspected the boards to see which would be the best way to glue them together we planed one face of each very carefully removing less than 1/6th" each pass that gave us a smoother finish and we were able to stop when the boards were flat and even. After trimming and planning the faces to be glued we clamped them together to make sure we had a perfect fit made some minor adjustments and then double doweled them .

We use a high quality epoxy for most glue jobs but with PVC and wood there are better alternatives, so in this case we used a water proof marine wood glue. It is crucial that 100% of each face is coated with the glue Not just one was then clamped up with 18 bar clamps; 9 on each side. This will stop any bowing from uneven pressure on one side.

vertical grain cedar hogging the end 2320x240

vertical grain cedar routing the finished shape 2320x240

Next day the clamps were removed and the excess glue sanded off, it was then time for the CNC router.

First we removed the top 0.25" except for the letters and because the sign was 10' and our router is 8' we had to do a bit of maneuvering . then we cut out the final shape. Then the surface was given a sanding to remove any machining marks and the letters were covered with the sandblast stencil, as was the shadows to the letters. the whole thing was then sandblasted.

vertical grain cedar routing the finished shape 4320x240

vertical grain cedar preping for sandblasting 2320x240

This shows the sandblast stencil covering the letter as well as the shadowvertical grain cedar shadow 320x240 The grain look achieved by sandblasting is because the sand erodes the early wood faster than the latewood creating two layers the more dense the wood the less difference there is between the early and latewoods so the grain difference is not so pronounced as with this piece. That's a good thing.

wursthaus 1 blasted zoom900xwhatever

Once the desired depth was attained it was taken and inspected for anything unusual before the stencil was removed.

 As I said earlier staining is difficult at the best of times but with two woods so different in every way we will be running numerous test to get the look right which will be done next week so I will be adding on to this soon with the result


 More to come on this project, its funny how simple it looks compared to its actual complexity.






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bottom collage Lauren 1a 364x168

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Signs we manufacture are used for but limited to: Business signs, shops signs, restaurant signs, condominium Signs, subdivision signs, golf course signs, street signs, housings development signs, salon signs, beauty parlor signs, real estate signs, commercial signs, industrial signs, house signs, farm signs, beach house signs, resort signs, traffic signs, hotel & inn signs, pub signs, vehicle signs, interior & ada signs, boat signs, truck signs, office signs professional signs, trail signs wall sign, entrance signs, lobby signs, street name signs, outdoor signs, custom signs, mall signs, retail signs , marina signs, architectural signs.

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