The following six steps outline the process and provide additional tips and tricks along the way.
What you need
(1) Brace Board
(20) 1 3/4" screws
(1) Miter Saw (Optional)
(1) Set of Clamps
(1) Reciprocating Saw (Optional)
(1) Belt Sander
(1) Can Stain
(1) Circular Sander
(1) Staining Brush
This guide will assume that you have already have your pallet for the project. But if you don’t, I would check with your local hardware store. Often pallets are taken apart after holding a load, and businesses are looking for an easy way to get rid of them. The first step in the process will be to take apart the pallet. One of the easiest ways to handle this step is to use a reciprocating saw and cut through the old nails holding the boards together. Another option, which uses more finesse, is beating the boards with a hammer. The key is to hit the boards from behind, near where the nails are secured. When some distance has been created, use the back of the hammer as a lever to finish pulling the boards apart. Sometimes these pallet boards have been used before and have leftover sawed off nails. It is worth getting these out before moving forward because, well, tetanus is not fun. To do this you can use a new nail or screw driver to punch the nail from behind, driving it out of the wood.
Sawed off nails can be removed with a screwdriver or extra nail
Now that the pallet has been disassembled, the next step is to choose the boards you want to use and get an idea of how to best fit them together. Pallet wood is often warped, with bends throughout. You’ll find as you lay the boards out that the natural grooves tend to find a way of fitting together (if you decide that you need perfectly straight lines for your project, you can use a table saw to make a straight edge). After figuring out which boards you are going to use and how they fit together, you need to measure the the size of your sign.
Use the boards natural grooves to find the right organization
It’s time to bind the boards together. I chose a simple brace board, picked up from the local Ace Hardware. The board measured 1.5″ x 10′ x 1.5″ and cost $2.50. It has worked perfectly. My sign measured 17″ wide, so I made each of the brace boards 16″, leaving an inch of padding total. It is possible to use more of the space, but an inch provided the proper hold without risking exposing the brace on either side of the sign. If available, use a miter saw to make the brace board cut. If you don’t have a miter saw you can use a circular saw, a table saw, or a handsaw – any will work. Because I don’t trust myself to measure or cut 16″ exactly, let alone repeatedly, I made my initial cut and then used the cut boards to make my additional cut marks. This worked very well. It took a lot of the guesswork and inevitable human error out of the picture.
Miter saw use is optional – it will lessen the workload
Now is the moment of truth, taking four individual boards and making them one. A caveat going into this step – your project will dictate how close you need the boards. I wanted minimal space between the pallet planks, so using clamps was necessary. If you are going for a looser look and don’t mind a bit of the brace showing, you can forego the use of the clamps. Take your boards and flip them. Using the clamp, close the gaps between the boards. I found that clamping two boards initially was easier to manage than attempting all four. Then take your brace boards and drill a pilot hole leading into the pallet sign. Drilling the pilot hole helps keep the brace boards from splitting or splintering, risking the integrity of the sign. Move from side to side, moving the clamps as necessary. After you have your sets of two complete, use a clamp once again to bring the all of the boards together and finish the remaining screws.
Using the clamps to remove extra spacing
After the boards are complete, it is time to smooth the surface. I first used a belt sander with a very course grade (80) to get the thick initial layer removed. The belt sander also worked to sand down edges and make for a flat surface, evening out the slight height disparity between the boards. Following the belt sander, switch to the circular sander with a finer grade paper (220). Slowly work your way around the boards, feeling the spots you go over and ensuring that each plank has a smooth surface. Make sure to go back over the spots that are still a little course. An option that I skipped here was sanding the back of the piece. I have no children and my dog isn’t particularly inquisitive, so there isn’t much worry about splinters in my home. But, if you have kids or are putting the project somewhere it may be frequently touched, you might want to consider sanding the whole piece.
Use the circular sander after the belt sander
The final step is staining the sign. I went with a darker stain, but there are myriad options available. Something which worked well was purchasing a few stains and testing them prior to use. This helped in gauging what would look best for the final project. Staining is pretty straight forward. Truly, the most important step is cleaning off the boards after sanding. Use a clean cloth to remove any of the sawdust, prepping the surface for the stain. Make sure to mix the can well, and use a brush meant for staining or a down cloth. Apply the coat evenly and don’t slop too much stain into one spot. Allow the stain to stay for at least thirty minutes. You can consider adding additional coats as you feel necessary.
Your sign is finished! You can do whatever you want with it at this point. Add a picture, paint an image, or use a stencil to add your favorite inspirational quote. I decided to add an inspirational vinyl quote. The Christian wall decal that I recently purchased also worked on wood. It seemed like a really great option to try. The following will provide details in how to apply vinyl to your sign.
How to Add the Vinyl
The decal came in a tube, rolled up from the manufacturer. I took it out and rolled it out across the table to check for any errors.
I then used the flat edge of the art to line up exactly where I wanted to place it. I taped this edge and flipped the decal back.
Cut a straight edge at the top of the decal for straight reference
Then the transfer paper on the back needed to be removed. This was done by peeling slowly at a 90 degree angle, taking time to press firmly on any letters that might stick as the paper was pulled off.
Slow and steady wins this race
After finishing this step, I used the tape hinge to flip the piece back onto the wood. I laid from the top down and pressed firmly to make sure a seal was created.
Use a credit card to remove any air bubbles
The final step was to remove the paper from the top of the piece, leaving the vinyl sticking to my new pallet sign. Whenever a letter began to stick, I simply used my credit card or hand to press it back to the wood and moved on. The entire process took a little under 30 minutes and the final result was great. It really adds a nice charm to the room and a sense of accomplishment in building something yourself.
The finished product!