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  1. #1
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    Sandblasted Signs are a wonderful part of the types of signs that we generically label "Dimensional Signage"...

    Sandblasted signs and the artisans that create them have earned their own certain niche in that spectrum of "dimensional" signage...This tutorial will seem quite wordy, but I'm gonna try explain here some techniques that have taken me years to learn and perfect....

    Although maybe not as "highly" dimensional as other types, they can be every bit as "artistically rich" and perhaps even more "artistically creative" than other types of dimensional signage, especially if combined with carvings, gold leaf, alternative finishes, etc....With imagination and design planning, there are very few limitations...

    Some reading this might say..."I can't do that kind of work, because I don't have or can't afford the blasting equipment"...Well you CAN if you want, and already you likely have all the other equipment it takes to produce these type signs......
    A bit later we will discuss alternatives for doing this without having blasting equipment on hand....

    Of UTMOST IMPORTANCE in beginning this type of signwork, is the knowlege of the DANGERS involved, the most dangerous of which is the use of silica sand as an abrasive...

    There are other alternative abrasives that will help decrease this risk, as will the use of "blasting cabinets" decrease the risk...personal protection is the first step...
    All that will be discussed later in this thread...Otherwise "Safety First, always Pays..."

    "Education" regarding these dangers is the first Step...."Protection" is the next Step...and Implementation of this knowlege during production is the Most Important of all....

    If you are new to this sandblasting and considering trying it....BE SURE and read Chuck Cobb's pinned post in this dimensional forum about safety and concerns...that will begin your education concerning the "sandblast dangers" aspect....

    I'm starting this thread with a tutorial on doing a sandblast wood sign....

    After that I want to discuss other aspects of the process such as safety, other materials available and links to suppliers, abrasives, blasting equipment, stencil types, and finishes...

    I hope this will become an "ongoing" learning experience for us all...
    I also hope that some other talented members here that are also doing this type of work will join in to help...
    All that "overview" stuff being said.....

    I'm doing a doctor's office sign this week and next week, a double faced sandblasted redwood hanging sign...
    It all began with this....the design drawing....this one done with CorelDraw....

    Most any of your basic signmaking programs and plotters can be used for design drawings, the patterns and the stencil...
    I used this drawing to sell the job to the customer...

    Jordan5a.jpg

    It's a smaller sign....24 inches high by 40 inches wide....but a good size to start with for a step by step....
    JimmyG's Signs & hieroglyphics
    Local colour FINE SIGNS since 1980....
    slightly out of register......a drop shade away from statesboro blues...
    a tad bit offbeat and indeed a fine tone of local colour....
    designs, graphics, blasted redwood, hand-lettered painted signs, illuminations, metalworks, and other artful deeds that get installed into reality or maybe carved in stone.....

  2. #2
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    Ok...the next step....the PATTERN....

    So..it was designed in Corel Draw...the shape was drawn accurate to scale there, and along with the oval and florilis converted to .ai files because I use a 2nd computer for plotting...The copy was added and kerned and all plotted to actual size on coated paper....

    Since this job is a cutout shape with no baselines, I often will add extra lines (horizontical and vertical) on the pattern to allow for me to register the pattern to the joints in the redwood sign blank....very important for cutting out the blank and for the final sandblast grain to appear fairly aligned to the copy...

    Pattern1.JPG

    This particular job, I handcut the shape outline from the plotted pattern, taped it on the redwood blank and transfered the outline with ink pen....mostly to check my accuracy and alignment to the sign blank joints....

    Many times, I will just glue the paper pattern to the blank with spray adhesive and cut by that with the jig saw...also works quite well and saves a step when the job design has some square reference points...
    JimmyG's Signs & hieroglyphics
    Local colour FINE SIGNS since 1980....
    slightly out of register......a drop shade away from statesboro blues...
    a tad bit offbeat and indeed a fine tone of local colour....
    designs, graphics, blasted redwood, hand-lettered painted signs, illuminations, metalworks, and other artful deeds that get installed into reality or maybe carved in stone.....

  3. #3
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    The next step...the redwood sign BLANK....

    Shown here is a "cutoff" or leftover from a hand jointed blank from another job...
    Jointing and glueing the sign blank is shown further down in this tutorial....

    Blank.JPG

    This particular job I used 2x6 lumber to make the blank, and jointed with biscuits and used "Gorilla Glue" (A high quality polyurethane glue)...I know I'm out of sync here, but "making the blank" is shown further, later on in this how-to thread....First I want to mention alternatives.....

    These days given our wonders of millwork technology, premade blanks of redwood, western red cedar, and other fine woods are easily available...
    Most Premade blanks are auto machine jointed and glued up with electronically cured glues, and finish sanded by large drum sanding machines...basically ready to use...

    Although quite expensive, premade blanks allow those without advanced woodworking skills to carry on with the project, and most definitely save some time in the job process...
    It is rare for these premade blanks to have biscuits or other joint reinforcement additives...

    Mostly what is available "premade" is vertical grain redwood and western red cedar....Balsa wood and some other wood types are available, but may not yield the attractive sandblasted grain patterns so common with redwood and cedar...

    I (on average) pay $24 per square foot for vertical grain Redwood premade blanks, and that includes shipping....Later I will try add a links post with a list of suppliers....

    For beginning practice work or for interior use signage: I Will suggest using premade, edge-glued, white pine blanks or panels that are inexpensive and easily available from larger Builder stores such as Home Depot or Lowe's, etc...Most of these are available in 3/4" to 1-1/4" thickness...

    The disadvantages will only be grain type and longevity factors...I have actually sandblasted MDO plywood with some interesting effects...

    Myself, I actually prefer to hand joint my blanks because I can match wood grains to make the sandblast more even and easier to paint, add joint reinforcements, and just plain enjoy the woodworking aspect of it all.....
    Not to mention, by doing it myself, I will greatly increase the longevity of the sign with less cracks and faults in the future...
    Seems like a silly concept at times, but it's all for the sake of hidden quality....

    Sometimes tho, for the sake of a customer's budget, I will use "less expensive" and "lower quality" grades of redwood or red cedar lumber boards which also need be hand jointed and glued....
    The disadvantage of that will be with longevity, and the "attractiveness" of sandblast grain which can be remedied some with the use of a "grain frame" during sandblasting...
    JimmyG's Signs & hieroglyphics
    Local colour FINE SIGNS since 1980....
    slightly out of register......a drop shade away from statesboro blues...
    a tad bit offbeat and indeed a fine tone of local colour....
    designs, graphics, blasted redwood, hand-lettered painted signs, illuminations, metalworks, and other artful deeds that get installed into reality or maybe carved in stone.....

  4. #4
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    The redwood sign BLANK...(or panel)....continued....
    I've glued up a panel using 2x6 redwood boards, planed and edge jointed with biscuits....
    {...I'm out of sync here picture-wise but you'll see those in posts below....}

    The blank has been finish-sanded smooth and even surface-wise, just like a premade blank would arrive ready to use....
    Any knot holes or voids are filled with "bondo"and sanded smooth, especially if in areas where lettering stencil will be applied later...

    So...I transfered the pattern to the blank and went to work with my trusty jig saw...

    Blank1.JPG
    I use a PorterCable jig saw without any angle adjustments to the baseplate, because it gives an accurate perpendicular cut...For the long cuts, I used a 6 tpi...4 inch Long, wide jig saw blade because the panel is 1-1/2 inch thick....For the tight curve cuts, I switched to a thinner scroll jig saw blade, 8 tpi...(teeth per inch)...

    After Jig sawing, I sanded all edges true and square with a belt sander, 50 grit and then 100 grit, and followed that with a palm sander with 80 grit and 120 grit sandpapers...

    Note the horizontal and vertical alignment lines transferred to the blank for pattern alignment and later on, the stencil alignment...The other smaller lines you see in the photos are the locations of the joint biscuits at 6" on center...


    Blank2.JPG Blank3.JPG

    Next I used an electric hand-held router with 5/16 inch beading bit to router both sides of the edge all around...Just a basic electric router without the "plunge" attachments...A roller bearing on the end of the bit provides the router a "fence" or "cut stop"... so the edges are not harmed and the router bit shapes the edges into the "bead".....

    BlankEdge1.JPG .................BlankEdge2.JPG

    As the final step for finish blank preparation...I paint both sides and edges with a clear laquer or oil base sanding sealer, fine sanding in between coats and followed with another coat or two of clear gloss laquer or oil base varnish...

    I do this to provide a gloss surface for the stencil to stick firmly to, harden the surface wood grain, and greatly reduce the raised area splintering (such as lettering) that can occur with stencil removal after sandblasting....
    JimmyG's Signs & hieroglyphics
    Local colour FINE SIGNS since 1980....
    slightly out of register......a drop shade away from statesboro blues...
    a tad bit offbeat and indeed a fine tone of local colour....
    designs, graphics, blasted redwood, hand-lettered painted signs, illuminations, metalworks, and other artful deeds that get installed into reality or maybe carved in stone.....

  5. #5
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    The next step....the STENCIL....

    I layout the lettering and gang all components for maximum use of the stencil area...

    I do this in another lettering plot program (SignWizard) because it allows for "X/Y axis sorting" and cuts the stencil letters one by one, vertically up the page, which greatly reduces plotter material "run-off" that comes with cutting one line of copy and then another line...

    I cut this stencil on my 1992 Roland Camm-1...sharp 60 degree blade...full knife force pressure...all speed settings on the slowest...If my old Camm-1 will do this...most any plotter can and will...

    For longer plots, I set up "table pallets" that are even and level to the actual plotter cut table so that the stencil runs thru without the drag of material hanging off the plotter front and back....(hope that makes sense, but it really helps...

    Stencil1.JPG..
    I prefer to use Anchor # 155 in 20 inch wide...(Camm-1 is 20 inch...) because the highly aggressive adhesive will hold up to my aggressive blasting habits...It has a heavy clear mylar backing with the stencil edges trimmed back to allow the plotter rollers to run on the mylar backing....

    Anchor stencil comes in several widths and several adhesive "tac" factors, to be suited to the substrate material being blasted and the type of plotter used to cut the stencil..Also available is Anchor stencil for hand cut methods, in rubber and other synthetic stencil materials...Other brands will work as well, it's a matter of using them to find your personal preference....

    Weeding this stencil is meticulous because the stencil is stretchy and easily disfigured....so I handcut weed borders around the copy and make short cuts on top and bottom of each letter, in order to weed small negative areas at a time....(shown back up in photo 1....)

    Stencil2.JPG

    I mask the weeded stencil with TWO layers of high tac R-tape masking and draw in all copy baselines and graphics alignment lines, horizontal and centerline marks....Two layers of masking will give the masked stencil a bit more strength against distortion, when the stencil is applied later by hinge method...

    For larger signs, with lettering above say 6 inches, I will apply a full width of the sandblast stencil to the blank...using a large roller or squeege, I will "center hinge" the "one layer masked" stencil...one layer of masking will help prevent stretching and bubbles...with practice, the masking of the sheet stencil can be skipped....

    After that I plot and prep intermediate vinyl lettering, apply that to the stencil areas and hand cut the lettering out with a #16 x-acto knife....Saves some steps on larger signs and the vinyl lettering is a very accurate guide to hand cut the stencil by, and goes pretty fast....


    The next step will be the stencil application to the sign blank...
    JimmyG's Signs & hieroglyphics
    Local colour FINE SIGNS since 1980....
    slightly out of register......a drop shade away from statesboro blues...
    a tad bit offbeat and indeed a fine tone of local colour....
    designs, graphics, blasted redwood, hand-lettered painted signs, illuminations, metalworks, and other artful deeds that get installed into reality or maybe carved in stone.....

  6. #6
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    The next step....the STENCIL APPLICATION...

    Alot of this step is known to most here...same basic principles with vinyl lettering application...

    Most times...I start with the sign panel BORDER.....
    Gotta have it to transition from finish panel edges to sandblast texture areas....

    The same applies with design elements that will need some "transition" to separate colors and textures....planning ahead on this will make finish painting much easier and give a more defined final appearance....
    (exceptions would be rustic style signs, perhaps with jagged edge cutouts to imitate a rough, weathered board, etc...)

    I next applied strips of stencil following the outer edges of the sign blank....
    (The edge has been router beaded, so I have nice sharp outer edge to work off of while hand applying stencil strips...)

    Border1.JPG
    Anchor #125 Border stencil can be purchased in 1" & 2" widths...
    I apply the border stencil much wider than my finish border will be and aligned to the surface corner of the beaded edge...

    I use a "gauge" stick that guides on the beaded edge to draw lines for the border cuts on shapes... and a ruler straight edge to draw in lines for the border thickness on straight borders...

    Then...I hand cut the borders and pinstripes...all done for accurate border width...
    On this sign, I added a second pinstripe border as afterthought...
    It will allow for some color emphasis with final painting.....

    Border2.JPG
    Precutting border stencil to the finish widths and applying precut will Always leave a wobbly border because the stencil is easily stretched when applied....

    A wobbly uneven border will be highly noticed as very ugly on the finished sign....I have done things this way on very large signs with wide borders, but I'll premask the stencil with one layer of masking to keep the stencil from stretching...

    Most times, I will also use additional spray adhesive under border pinstripes to keep them from blowing off during sandblast....

    Photo #3...Drawing out the border lines for hand cutting....
    Shown are the "gauge" sticks used to guide the ink pen against the beaded edge, to draw the border lines on the stencil, inside the outer shape...(aftermarket parts handmade tool...)

    Border3.JPG
    The blue painters tape (low tack) is applied to protect the beaded edges from spray adhesive overspray during stencil application...
    and later on helps to keep the glue from the "blast protection edge mask" from sticking to beaded edges during sandblasting...This will be explained further in steps later on....

    Photos #'s 4 & 5....The completed border and pinstripe on the 2nd face....
    Border4.JPG


    Border6.JPG

    To be continued.....sandblast stencil Tips and tricks....
    JimmyG's Signs & hieroglyphics
    Local colour FINE SIGNS since 1980....
    slightly out of register......a drop shade away from statesboro blues...
    a tad bit offbeat and indeed a fine tone of local colour....
    designs, graphics, blasted redwood, hand-lettered painted signs, illuminations, metalworks, and other artful deeds that get installed into reality or maybe carved in stone.....

  7. #7
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    The STENCIL APPLICATION...continued...

    The lettering stencil was masked with 2 layers of high-tac application masking, and all baselines and centerlines drawn on...

    Photo #1...The stencil is taped in place with high-tac masking tape (the green 3M tape)...using centerlines drawn on the blank for alignment...

    StenApp1.JPG
    Two or more strips of green masking tape are used on each hinge (top or bottom method) to insure the stencil will not move or come loose during hinge application...

    StenApp2.JPG
    Note the stencil is cut apart into smaller sections (Photo #2) and application proceeds...Working with smaller sections of stencil helps accuracy and prevents mistakes...

    Photos #3 & 4....Showing the hinged stencil with the clear mylar backing removed...This is the point where additional spray adhesive is applied to the wood blank and let tack dry before the stencil is applied...
    StenApp4.JPG


    StenApp3.JPG
    The stencil is rubbed down firmly with squeege or 4" brayer and the application masking paper is removed...

    Photo #5....The completed stencil....

    StenApp5.JPG

    The next step...FINAL PREPARATION of the panel BEFORE SANDBLASTING....
    JimmyG's Signs & hieroglyphics
    Local colour FINE SIGNS since 1980....
    slightly out of register......a drop shade away from statesboro blues...
    a tad bit offbeat and indeed a fine tone of local colour....
    designs, graphics, blasted redwood, hand-lettered painted signs, illuminations, metalworks, and other artful deeds that get installed into reality or maybe carved in stone.....

  8. #8
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    Sign Panel PREPARATIONS for SANDBLASTING...

    Photos 1 & 2...
    This particular sign, I want to be able to use my "grain frame" to enhance the background sandblast texture if needed...
    Both the sign panel and the grain frame must sit level on the blast easel for that, so that the blasted "enhanced" grain is even with natural grain direction and the panel joints...

    BlastPrep1.JPG BlastPrep1a.JPG

    So...I added a temporary "level base" to the shaped panel...a 1x2 wood strip held with screws...

    Photos 3 & 4....Masking the finish beaded edges to protect from sandblast...

    BlastPrep4.JPG

    Note the low-tac blue tape in place...This keeps the blast stencil glue from sticking to the wood on the beaded edge...
    Blasting creates heat on the stencil and the stencil adhesive will most always be left on the wood when the stencil is removed afterwards...It's very hard to remove later, and will surely mess with a nice paint finish...

    BlastPrep3.JPG

    For edge masking, I like Anchor "Blastlite' stencil #T226 high tac...(the pinkish stencil)...
    It's a thinner "mil" stencil commonly used for lower air pressure blasting stencil, it's very flexible and stretchy, and will easily conform to cover the shape edges...
    Scraps of thicker stencil will certainly work well, but takes more time to apply...

    In the past, I've tried using duct tape and layers of vinyl for this edge protection, but it most always deteriorates while blasting and abrasive "blow thru" causes nasty spots that I have to patch and sand before painting...more problems to have to fix later and lost time...

    Photos 5 & 6....Ready for Sandblasting and the blast Easel...
    All anticipated problems covered...

    BlastPrep5.JPG
    This next pic shows how it will sit on the blast easel so the grain frame can easily be positioned on a base 2x4 during blasting.....

    BlastPrep6.JPG

    Hopefully with careful sandblasting, I'll not "blow off" any lettering or pinstripe stencil...

    OK...this sign panel is headed to the Blasting Department...

    During this time-out, I'll try and relate some Tips for those that may not have their own blasting equipment...and some other important points...
    I will take some photos of our blasting equipment to show, and the blasting setup, etc...

    So therefore....To be continued soon.....


    The next step....The BLASTING PROCESS....
    JimmyG's Signs & hieroglyphics
    Local colour FINE SIGNS since 1980....
    slightly out of register......a drop shade away from statesboro blues...
    a tad bit offbeat and indeed a fine tone of local colour....
    designs, graphics, blasted redwood, hand-lettered painted signs, illuminations, metalworks, and other artful deeds that get installed into reality or maybe carved in stone.....

  9. #9
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    TIPS for Blasting Signs WITHOUT Owning Blast Equipment...

    First try Monument Companies...
    Likely the first thing you will hear is "NO...We don't want to contaminate our blasting booth"...

    Sandblasting wood creates fine wood dust that makes abrasive reclaiming (more than one use) Quite a Problem.
    The wood particles left in the abrasive mix will add a substantial "dust cloud" to the 2nd use blast and greatly reduce visibility and cutting power, along with compounding moisture problems.

    BUT...Most monument companies have smaller portable units for on-site blasting, cleaning existing monuments, etc.
    Many will do this for you outside their blasting booth, if their location permits. Many will already have experience with blasting wood signs and will do this for you at an hourly rate.

    Most monument companies use fine grit abrasive. Although I prefer Medium grit abrasive for redwood and painted or rusty steel, fine grit can actually help to bring out the grain with western red cedar. Fine grit is a must for blasting HDU.
    Medium grit gives more speed time wise, but requires larger equipment....

    For those first wanting to try it, go FIRST and WATCH someone else do it...Look at all the equipment, the abrasives, and especially the protective gear.

    Another option to look for will be painting/sandblast contractors with portable set ups. Another option will be steel fabricators and those specializing in equipment restoration.

    An important Issue here and in discussion to follow...Is definitely your LOCATION.
    In more crowded commercial locations and those near residential areas, there are likely codes to prevent this activity on your site. All this must be researched beforehand, PLUS all the safety aspect research.

    The NEXT OPTION for those that want to try it themselves is RENTING the Blasting Equipment...If your location permits.
    Having done your homework and researched ALL safety aspects, you will also know what to ask for with Renting personal protection Gear, that is Sandblast Hood and approved respirators...One will likely need to buy the approved respirator, so research on that is imperative.

    Most rental companies will have several choices for portable compressor units, likely starting about 100 CFM to 185 CFM and larger. (CFM=cubic feet per minute air supply)
    These will supply a Continuous air flow (CFM) at 75 PSI to 110 PSI of constant air pressure.
    (PSI=pounds per square inch air pressure)
    Most heavy duty sand pots require this constant air pressure to do a good job...
    Output air pressure from the sand pot is also maintained by the size of the orifice hole in the ceramic nozzle on the end of the blast hose...

    Sandblast Pots need to be Rated and Matched to the size of compressor output. Heavy duty sandpots will range from 100 lb. To 300 lb. and larger. Most are sized from .5 cubic foot, 1 cu.ft., 3, 4, 5 cu.ft., etc. This is the amount of abrasive they will hold.
    This size factor determines how often you will have to stop blasting and refill the sandpot.

    The air supply hose and abrasive output hose are sized (inner dimension wise) to the air supply and the abrasive grit size.
    The ceramic blast nozzle on the end of the output hose is sized according to abrasive grit and air supply.

    Higher CFM and PSI translates to the time it will take to complete the blast job, directly related to the force of abrasive output from the sandpot.

    I must say for those just starting out, it's best to try a 100 lb. sandpot because of weight and ease of setup.....300 lb. sandpots are quite heavy and bulky, and require larger and more cumbersome hoses.

    Set up of the equipment usually takes me about an hour by myself...I usually want to have other things to sandblast, such as several signs or other steel equipment or steel parts, when I do the blasting...
    I will also recommend this, for those renting equipment, to get your money's worth out of rental costs...You will see an example of this in the following photos...

    The next step will show the blasting process...
    I have finished the blast on this sign, taken some photos, just need to type some explainations....
    To be continued...
    JimmyG's Signs & hieroglyphics
    Local colour FINE SIGNS since 1980....
    slightly out of register......a drop shade away from statesboro blues...
    a tad bit offbeat and indeed a fine tone of local colour....
    designs, graphics, blasted redwood, hand-lettered painted signs, illuminations, metalworks, and other artful deeds that get installed into reality or maybe carved in stone.....

  10. #10
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    as an insert.....the DISCLAIMER Post....
    a grain of sand and a grain of mustard seed...

    "All content, verbal and photographic, contained herein is for entertainment viewing and perhaps more...All info, ideas, tips and tricks are open for discussion and interpretation by viewers...
    All viewers are responsible for their own safety regarding the activites discussed herein...
    The author of this thread accepts No responsibility for the irresponsibility on the part of viewers using this thread for their own experiments...."

    Research thoroughly all OSHA and NIOSH guidelines concerning sandblasting, as it is imperative to use only NIOSH approved respirators and safety equipment...I cannot emphasize this factor enough!

    The equipment shown following is a large, powerful setup...It is much faster blast time wise, but comes with increased concerns safety wise...Smaller sandpots and compressors will work quite effectively for blasting wood signs, but will take more time to complete the job...

    All this can be scaled down to the size of sign that you want to do...For example, blasting HDU signs use much lower PSI, fine grit abrasive, and therefore a smaller CFM compressor...The same applies to such materials as glass, tile, softer stone materials, etc.

    Blasting cabinets greatly reduce the risks and environmental concerns involved, that is another area of research all it's own...

    Later on, I'll try to provide some links for those getting started with sandblasting...


    Do your Homework, blast responsibly, have fun, get paid for it all....

    Before design there was a dream...
    Given design (and safety) there is progress...

    Next post....photos of the blasting process....
    JimmyG's Signs & hieroglyphics
    Local colour FINE SIGNS since 1980....
    slightly out of register......a drop shade away from statesboro blues...
    a tad bit offbeat and indeed a fine tone of local colour....
    designs, graphics, blasted redwood, hand-lettered painted signs, illuminations, metalworks, and other artful deeds that get installed into reality or maybe carved in stone.....


 

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