Thursday, August 22, 2013

Even More Signs (Summer Projects, Part V)

We seem to be working on a bunch of signs this summer.  Carolyn and Wally Sternberg are longtime FWS volunteers and good friends of ours.  Last summer they blogged about some signs they were making with a plastic material called ColorCore. The signs looked great, and Teri and I shared the information with the refuge manager here. We suggested that many of the refuge signs needed to be replaced or updated, and this was a great way to do that.

When we arrived this summer, our "to-do" list included production of new signs, so we got the materials ordered and waited for them to arrive. Wally gave us the specific type of routing templates to order and advice on the best router to use. His suggestions really kick-started the process here.  It is great to know other volunteers who have done similar projects, as their experience makes it much simpler to start a project on a different refuge.

ColorCore comes in 8' x 4' sheets, has a thin colored layer on each side, with a bright white center.  Once you cut through the outer layer, the white is exposed. This makes it perfect for making signs that never need to be painted and won't fade when exposed to the elements. We chose the standard FWS dark brown, though it is available in many other colors.

ColorCore sheets.
Our pallet of ColorCore material was delivered, but not where we needed it. Our first task was to reload it onto a trailer and move it to an older maintenance building that Teri and I have adopted as our home for this project. It is away from the normal working areas of the refuge and allows us to leave all of our equipment set up without interfering with day-to-day operations.

The key to making the signs is a lettering jig and a plunge router. The jig keeps the letters spaced and aligned correctly, and the router does the actual cutting.

An assortment of letters.
"DO NOT". The "I" is a spacer.
We did our first test cuts on a piece of scrap plywood. The ColorCore material is a little expensive, so we didn't want to waste any of it on practice.
Setting up test sign on plywood.
Once we got the router set up, we did our first sign. We spent most of our time measuring and making sure that the template was in exactly the right place, parallel to the sides, centered, etc. Once that was set the routing itself was relatively straightforward. Still a little nervous though, as one wrong move will ruin a sign!
Routing letters into a sign.
The process generates a ton of "snow", which are the plastic bits that are being cut away. Teri stays busy with the Shop Vac!! Notice the big fly on my shoulder? They like to bite you while you cut letters.
Blowing out the cuttings.
Our very first sign:
First sign!
Some are quick and easy:

Some take a bit more time:

One challenge was that about half of the signs need arrows, and there was no arrow template in the kit.  But we figured something out.  Any guesses where the arrow came from?

We have about 35 signs to do, and we expect more requests as folks see how good these look. We expect to be making and mounting signs right up until we depart.



  1. Looks like part of the "l" and maybe the "A" to me. That's a heck of a lot of signs to make... looks like it will keep you busy for a while.

  2. I vote for the "I" and part of the "Y". :)

  3. Doing about an I and a V. That's what we have done. How thick is your material?

  4. A winner (but then they've made these signs)!! Yes, it is an I and a V. We considered using part of the "A", but the "V" is more open and easier to route.

    We are using the 1/2" thick ColorCore. It seems plenty sturdy!


  5. These signs look great! Very professional. So good that they will never need to be redone, either.

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