Learn how to use upcycled wood – like barn wood and pallet wood – to make simple farmhouse holiday porch signs. The rough nature of the wood gives each sign a rustic texture and makes them tough enough for indoor/outdoor use. Save money and make your own porch signs for every season – fall, winter, spring or everyday! Save money this Halloween, Christmas and Fourth of July with some old wood and a little paint!
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I really love decorating with signs and quotes but I don’t like paying craft store prices for something I can make myself. These rustic DIY holiday porch signs come to you fresh with farmhouse style from my actual farmhouse! They’re unique and varied, just like the wood itself.
Actually, one of my favorite things about these porch signs is that the wood is old and pitted. It creates a bit of a challenge when painting, but the wood is strong and weathered. The smooth surface pressboard signs from craft stores simply can’t stand up to the elements like reclaimed wood can.
Pallet Wood for Porch Signs
I was inspired to finally make holiday porch signs because of some 100 year old barn wood we were removing from one area of a porch near our farmhouse. The wood is solid oak and, even cut as paneling, very heavy. It’s also seen its share of wind and weather, so it’s very sturdy.
If you don’t have access to 100 year old barn wood, never fear! Any reclaimed hard wood like oak, ash, birch or walnut will work. Have an old table? Scouring yard sales for old furniture is a good place to start hunting wood.
Many of us already have a pile of pallets from various projects and that’s because pallet wood is very versatile. Pallet wood is typically strong and you can usually find it for free, which is a huge bonus.
It’s easier to take pallets apart with a sawsall, or reciprocating saw, but you can do it with hand tools, too. In fact, you might prefer it since a saw can rattle your joints.
Pallet Wood Links
Here are some handy links for learning about working with pallet wood for making DIY holiday porch signs.
- Pretty Handy Girl discusses the pros and cons of using pallet wood for projects in her article The Real Facts About Using Pallet Wood.
- My Repurposed Life can teach you how to disassemble pallet wood without power tools with her Tips for Dismantling Pallets article.
- The Thrifty Couple explain how to Find Free Pallets for DIY Projects here.
- Pallet wood comes connected in back by nailed crossbars. If you have a Sawsall tool, you can cut out your porch signs with the crossbars intact and it should be sturdy enough if your sign is at least a foot wide. If you don’t have have that fancy schmancy tool, you’ll need to connect the pallet wood in back with new crossbars. The DIY Playbook can walk you through that process here. It’s simple, but does require some basic tools.
Preparing the Wood
The first thing you need to do with reclaimed wood before painting it is to clean it up. For my old barn wood all I had to do was wipe it down with a damp rag. I knew there was a good chance that the old paint might show through and change the color of my designs. That was the effect I wanted because it gave the porch signs a weathered look.
Plus, I also like the deep grooves and knotholes of my barn wood and didn’t want to smooth any of that out.
To Get Smoother Wood
However, if you’d like to start of with completely clean and sealed wood, here are a few basic steps to take.
- If you have a power washer, power-wash each piece of wood front and back. If not, simply scrub each piece with hot, soapy water. Remember that wood like pallets has no traceable history, so you’re not ever really sure where it’s been. You may decide that you’d only like to use these signs outdoors on the porch, which is a perfect place for them!
- Allow the wood to dry completely, which may take a few days depending on your climate.
- If you want a smooth finish, or if there are dangerous splinters and rough spots, use an orbital sander to sand down the wood. If you don’t have an electric sander, use sand paper and create a smoother finish by hand. There are block sanders you can purchase at the hardware store that are easier on your hands to use than plain sand paper.
- If you want to use stain instead of paint to color your holiday porch signs, you should apply that before painting on words or decorations. Stain is NOT finish, which is applied at the end to protect the porch sign. Stain is only color and can also be found at any home store. Be sure your stain is completely and totally dry before you attempt to paint words or pictures over it. You may have to put down multiple layers of paint since some stain color might show through. This is true of base paint, too.
Designing the Holiday Porch Sign
If you’re handy with a paintbrush, you can probably just free paint your own designs. If that’s the case, a quality indoor/outdoor paint brand is all you need.
I use what I have on hand in my paint stash which is interior Behr paint in mixed colors. My porch is covered and so my porch signs won’t be exposed to too much sun or rain. I apply a high quality, clear sealant after I’ve painted my signs and trust that to protect them. It can be reapplied after a few years, if needed.
I use digital silhouettes and an inexpensive projector to project an image onto the wood so I can’t paint the design onto it. I’ve used this method countless times for different projects and find it to be a time saver all around. The projector works on walls, as you can see below.
And it works on porch signs, as you can see below.
The model I use is a Rofisa LED Projector which I’ve had it for several years now. It’s not fancy, but it gets the job done and continues to work. (Even though I accidentally tossed it down the staircase once, though I don’t recommend you do that.) I bought it from Amazon but they no longer carry them that I can see.
This Weton Wireless Mini Projector looks pretty similar.
Free Holiday Porch Sign Designs
I’m not artsy enough to free-paint a holiday porch sign – it would end up a mess. So, I use the design tools at PicMonkey to help me create silhouettes for easy painting. You can also do this Canva.com. Both PicMonkey and Canva are free tools, but their yearly fee is worth it for more design options, in my opinion. (Of course, I use them a lot to run this site; you may get by just fine with the free versions.)
I detail how to make a basic porch sign design with PicMonkey below, but I have the designs I used available to you in our FREE holiday book, Merry & Bright.
Merry & Bright has a link to a document with the silhouette designs we’ve used for our family. All the signs have hyperlinks for you to click on and from there you can download the image. Easy peasy!
There are 12 free graphics in all from fall and winter holidays to spring and general welcome signs. Simply click on the link you want and it will open in a new tab. You can save the file to your device to use for your own porch signs. Happy Holidays!
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Using PicMonkey to Design a Porch Sign
PicMonkey makes it simple to learn to use their software – they have every tutorial for their tool here. In brief, here’s how to use the tool to make a porch sign:
- Navigate to pickmonkey.com and click on Design up in the top task bar.
- Your browser will most likely ask you if you want to enable Flash (for while it still exists in 2019); tell it yes. Click on Design again.
- Click Apply to create a plain, white background.
- Go down to the bottom of the menu items on the left and click Resize. Click on the check mark in the box that says Keep Proportions. Enter the desired pixel size. Hit Apply.
My wood pieces were 9 1/2″ x 53 1/4″ so I created silhouettes that were 500 x 2000 pixels. If you’re using one strip of pallet wood, your sign will be much more narrow, so you’ll want a more narrow silhouette. Create one silhouette and try it out to see if you can adjust the image enough using your projector. You can also manually move the projector closer and farther away from your sign to make a smaller and larger image.
Putting Words and Background onto the Silhouette
Once you have a size, the rest is simply a matter of applying text and graphics to your silhouette. One thing to remember is that less is more when it comes to porch signs. You want the sign to be simple to read, so there’s no need to use a whole sentence of text or a lot of pictures.
- To the left of the menu (on the left) there are a few icons. You can familiarize yourself with all these tools using the training videos I mentioned before. If, for example, you were making a Halloween porch sign, click on the small, dark gray cat on the left. This will bring up a number of Halloween tools PicMonkey has for your use. If you click on Trick or Treat, you’ll see a section labeled Scary Silhouettes. Click on it.
- Pumpkins, creepy hands, a haunted house and a spooky tree all pop up as options to apply to your porch sign – which is blank at the moment. You’ll recognize the haunted house and the outline of the pumpkins from two of our porch sign designs above. If you like, pick one and hit apply. You can drag the design anywhere you like, but they’re meant to go at the bottom of your porch sign.
- Continue to play around with any of the tools you see and like. Remember, though, that it’s easiest to use silhouettes on the projector for a holiday sign*. Keep it simple. Don’t forget to add text by clicking on the “Tt” on the left**.
*You can do a full color and graphic design, if you prefer, but it will require more detail. I reproduced a Cecily Mary Barker flower fairy on my daughter’s wall with this projector, which created a huge mural. It was fantastic but it took a very long time.
**At this time, PicMonkey doesn’t have an option for formatting text vertically all at once. You have to manually input each letter and place it. This is super annoying and I hope that at some point there will be an option to manipulate text a little more to create vertical wording, as well as curved. For now, you have to do it one letter at a time. This is another reason to keep your words short and easy to read.
Finishing and Saving
The last step is to make sure you name and save the file.
- You do that by hitting Export. You will then be prompted to name your file and save it to your device.
- After you have it saved, you can close PicMonkey.
- To produce the image for projection, you can follow the directions that come with your projector. For mine, I need an HDMI cord to connect my computer (where my porch sign silhouette is saved) and my projector. I also need a power cord for both my computer and the projector. So, be sure you have several plugs nearby before you begin painting!
This process may take a bit of trial and error, but don’t be discouraged. This method of silhouette projection will save you time overall. I don’t have the time or patience to sit and cut out templates for every porch sign from paper. That would take hours, though it is another way to accomplish these same porch signs.
If you decide you don’t want to mess with PicMonkey, remember that you’re very welcome to use our designs. There are others on the Internet, but be sure to check copyright on each image. You don’t want to reproduce copyrighted material without permission from the owner.
How to Paint a Rustic DIY Holiday Porch Sign
Now that you’ve done all the prep work, it’s time to actually paint your holiday porch signs. Here’s a video that will give you an overview of the process. Watch this first and then read the step by step instructions. If you still have questions after that, please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get right back to you.
Painting a Holiday Porch Sign Step by Step
This isn’t a complicated process, but it does take a bit of set up and time.
- Set up the projector and your work space. I like to put my porch sign up on a table or stack of boxes for ease of use while painting. This usually means I need to elevate my projector, too.
- Pick the darkest room in your house in which to work because the darker the room, the easier it is to see your projection.
- Prepare a small container for your paint so that you don’t have to haul around big buckets because your hands will wear out carrying those around.
- Be sure to have several sizes of paintbrush on hand. I usually use a smaller brush (size 1 or 2, round or flat) for detail work and a medium size (size 8-12, round or flat) for larger areas to fill in. Specialty and delicate paintbrushes like riggers (the ones with the long, pointy tips) aren’t generally necessary because upcycled wood is such a comparatively rough surface.
- Have a paint rag on hand in case you need to do a quick clean up or correct a mistake.
- Put your porch sign in its place, turn off the lights and focus the projection.
- Begin painting by outlining larger letters and graphics. I do this first because sometimes the projector or the sign will move slightly and I’ll need to realign. It helps to accurately realign the sign with the projection if I have some larger pieces already outlined.
- Fill in text and graphics with confident strokes. Don’t use too much paint at one time to avoid drips. Take your time and work methodically to get the entire sign painted.
- Before you decide the porch sign is complete, turn back on the lights and examine it. You may spot missing pieces of the design or areas where you need to put on another layer of paint.
- Once complete, put your sign to the side to dry.
- If you’re making a double sided porch sign, wait until the one side is completely dry before you begin.
Trouble Shooting your Porch Sign Painting
- If you miss-paint, don’t fret! Immediately see if you can scrape off your mistake with a finger nail or a painters pallet knife. Then, using a damp rag wipe as much of the mistake off as you can. Always use latex, water-based paints for this reason! If necessary, you can apply a touch up of your base color when you’re done applying the silhouette color.
- Remember, if something knocks your projector or sign, simply stop and realign everything.
- If your sign is slightly tilted in your work space, many projectors have a built in way to tilt the projected image so that it focuses top or bottom. I had to use this feature a lot when painting the walls of my 130 year old Victorian because she slants slightly here and there. Ah, old houses.
- If you’re using a particularly knotted or weathered piece of wood, be sure to apply some accent color to your text to make it easier to read. We have several picture below to illustrate. Basically, imagine that light is shining on your sign from the upper left-hand corner. Partially outline your letters on the left-hand side in ways that make the text more visible. I advice against outlining the entire letter because that can be distracting. Your goal is simply to brighten and clarify. You may want to experiment with the concept on a piece of plain paper before beginning to highlight your porch sign.
Finishing the Porch Sign
The last step after completely drying your porch sign is to paint several layers of finish on it. If you’re going to keep these signs inside, one or two layer should be fine. However, if you plan to put them outside to decorate your porch, add three to four layers of finish, just to be safe. You do NOT want all your hard work to go to waste!
Allow the porch signs to dry between each layer; I usually allow 12-24 hours.
Here’s the type of finish I use for most every kind of project like this – Minwax Polycryclic. It cleans up easily, goes on well and dries clear.
Display your Rustic DIY Porch Sign
I’m a big believer in less is more, as I said before. I usually just stand my porch signs on their own around my porch where visitors will feel welcomed by them. Sometimes I’ll place a few decorative items around them, too.
FREE Holiday Book!
I typically use natural materials like corn stalks and pumpkins for fall and pine for the winter months. You can read more about our natural decorations in our free holiday e-book, Merry & Bright. This book is only available during the holidays. It’s meant to help you DIY your holiday season with money and time-saving tips and advice. We also share with your our favorite recipes and traditions.
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