Constantly getting lost while roaming around your sprawling country estate? Tired of having visitors mistake your potting shed for a potty shed? Or maybe you’re getting feeble-minded, like me, and just want to hang out a sign so you’ll remember where you live. The Rockler Interlock Signmaker’s Templates – State Park Fonts Kit (whew!) may be just what you need to keep wandering guests on the right path, or to label your numerous dwellings so no one bunks down where they shouldn’t oughta.
Whether you’re a wealthy landowner, a woodworker looking to make a little extra coin selling custom signs on eBay or Etsy, or on the maintenance crew at Yosemite or a local campground, the Rockler Interlock Signmaker’s Templates Kit can help you consistently create attractive, professional-looking rustic signs. These signs would look great marking cabins, shelters, trails, outbuildings, your Kegerator—you CAN get a bit carried away using this set, like Marc did with his label maker.
A Template for Success
The unofficial name of our little 25-acre farm, despite my wife’s efforts to quash it, is TOFTS ACRES. TOFTS in this case is not the name of the old geezer we bought the farm from; it’s an acronym for “Too Old For This Stuff.” I have another S word that I have been known to substitute for “stuff,” but you get the idea. I’ve long wanted to make a sign to legitimize the name, and make it official, but I have zero artistic ability, and plenty else to do, so the sign-making project has languished.
That all changed recently, with the recent fateful arrival at HomeFixated Global Headquarters of two perfectly-matched items for us to evaluate: The Rockler Interlock Signmaker’s Templates Kit, and a Dewalt DWP611PK Compact Router and plunge base, both provided to us for review by their respective companies. Woohoo, my sign was destined to become a reality!
It’s Got Everything You Need – Almost
The Rockler Interlock Signmaker’s Templates Kit comes with 99 individual templates, and contains a good assortment of letters, numbers and symbols, including the @ character, in case you want to publicize your email address. The templates are made of sturdy, black plastic, with locking tabs on either side to firmly embrace the adjoining character. They also provide special kerning spacers you can use to get more attractive, natural spacing.
The letters and numbers in the kit are designed so there are no disconnected areas in the finished sign, even on letters and numbers with enclosed areas, such as A, R, B, 6, 8, and so on. These letters and numbers have two-part templates, and the end result is a more professional looking sign.
The kit also includes a nice brass guide bushing. This bushing is a round, threaded two-part piece that fits into an opening in the router’s base plate. The main body of it fits flush with the bottom of the plate, and there is a round protrusion about 3/16” long that fits perfectly in the grooves in the templates and guides the router’s path, hence the name “guide bushing.” The kits used to come with a plastic bushing, but no one had anything good to say about them. They get hot and warped, among other shortcomings. The included brass guide feels solid, well-made and substantial, and should last a very long time.
The instruction pamphlet is short but informative, and provides a few examples of word setups, both with and without the kerning spacers. There is also a list of letter combinations where kerning is suggested. Perhaps the best resource, though, is online; Rockler’s website includes a great free layout tool. Here, you can type in your desired sign language, and the program creates a template showing you exactly what letters, spaces, and kerning to use, on however many passes it takes to get the letters and spacing perfect.
One thing the Rockler Interlock Signmaker’s Templates Kit doesn’t come with is the special sign-making router bit. This meant I had to double up on my meds, fire up the truck, and point it in the direction of my local Rockler store on McKnightmare Road. I guess I could have ordered it online, but I’m an instant gratification kinda guy, plus I really enjoy poking around the Rockler store, finding new stuff I didn’t know I needed. (The meds were necessary because the Rockler store is located in the midst of Shopping Central, and I’m NOT a shopping kinda guy). An hour later, I had the necessary bit (and possibly a few other essential items) in hand, and I headed home to begin my quest to immortalize TOFTS ACRES.
The Rockler Interlock Signmaker’s Templates Kit In Action
Having never made a sign before, I decided to actually read the instructions (sort of a novel concept for me) and see how it worked out. This was also my first experience with a compact router (Damn—TWO manuals to read!) The reviewers on the Rockler website, all of whom have more woodworking experience and expertise than I have, mostly favored using a compact plunge router with this kit. This makes sense, as the smaller size should be much easier to control, and less fatiguing if you’re using it for any length of time.
I decided to use a nice clear piece of salvaged ash baseboard to make my initial sign, before tackling more exotic (translation—pricier) species of wood. I wanted to get a feel for how the Dewalt DWP611PK router handled: how the bushing followed the template, how the torque affected the tracking, and so on. I inserted my sporty new Rockler sign-making bit into the router, put the router into its plunge base, screwed in the brass guide bushing, and adjusted the depth stop. I got out the letters I needed, and used Rockler’s layout tool to see if my sign required any oddball kerning or had any other special needs. My many years of clean living had paid off, apparently; no kerning needed, and only two passes would make my sign complete.
My piece of experimental ash was 1X6”, and the template letters fit onto it nicely, with about 3/16” left above and below. The template letters snapped solidly together, and formed a nice, smooth surface. Rockler’s instructions show blue tape being used to secure the templates to the wood, and they mention double-sided tape as another option. The reviewers on their website were pretty evenly split on how to hold the templates in place. Several said blue painter’s tape worked great; just make sure it’s perfectly flat with no wrinkles. Others said double-sided tape was the only way to go, as the base of the router can catch on the edge of the blue tape, causing the router to jump.
I decided to try the blue tape method of letter fixation, since I had a roll of it handy, and I DIDN’T have a roll of double-sided tape. (Hey, I’m not lazy, I’m efficient!) I taped it at both ends and in the middle to fix it in place, then ran tape along top and bottom, making sure it was tight and smooth to prevent router snags. Since my workbench is in the barn, and it was dark and scary out there (and since my workbench is nowhere NEAR as sporty as Marc’s), I just clamped the board to my portable table saw, which was in the living room (an ongoing project) and waited for a sign…
Let’s Make A Sign!
Once I had the template set up, the rest was a piece of cake. The guide bushing fit perfectly into the cross bar at the top of the T. I fired up the Dewalt DWP611PK, pressed the lever on the side, and plunged right in. The guide bushing follows the cutout portion of the template easily, and the sign-cutting bit worked its magic, leaving a thick pile of sawdust in its wake. After routing each letter, I just hit the lever on the Dewalt again, and the router body popped back up. I moved the guide bushing over into the next letter, plunged in, and in a matter of just a couple of minutes, I had completed the first pass. Easy peasy!
Three of the letters in my sign were two-parters: O, R and A. These letters are clearly marked (A-1 and A-2). After doing the first pass, I just cleared out the sawdust (I used a 16p nail head to loosen it, then just blew it out), and removed the tape from the offending letters. Then I simply pried them out, snapped in letter part 2, taped it into place, and routed out the remainder of the letter. It was quick and easy, and the letters came out perfectly, with no gaps, gouges, or other gruesome gaffes. Maybe I’m not TOFTS after all!
After all the letters were formed, I put an Ogee bit in the router, and went around the edges to class it up a bit. I hit the routed-out areas, and the face of the board, with a light sanding to get rid of the rougher areas.
Then I took some leftover paint from a previous project, and filled in the letters, using a small artist’s brush. After it dried, I hand-sanded the face of the board to clean it up a bit (including some minor paint splatter), threw a coat of polyurethane on it, and called it done. (We’re going for rustic here; don’t want to class it up TOO much).
Some Awesome Sign-Making Hints
Routing out a sign makes a LOT of sawdust. The best solution is to keep your shop vac handy and suck that stuff up; alternatively, blow it off. Either way, try to keep the sawdust mounds from getting too big. When you’re doing two-part letters, DON’T try to re-use the tape. The sawdust will affect holding power, and you don’t want any letters shifting and ruining your literary masterpiece; that’s a template for disaster. When you’re finished, make sure to clean the letters off with a rag to get all the sawdust off before putting them away; if they’re sticky from the tape, use some denatured alcohol.
One recommendation in the instructions is to be sure the bit stops spinning before you bring it out of the routed area. This helps make sure you don’t chew up the edges of the template, which might render future letters somewhat less attractive. If you’re using a plunge router, however, it’s not really necessary; the guide bushing keeps the bit from hitting the template while the router bit retracts. If you’re routing free-hand, though, it would definitely be worth waiting the few seconds for the bit to spool down.
Another piece of useful advice was to use light side pressure on your router against the templates, as the centers on some numbers and letters aren’t very beefy, and will deflect if you push against them too hard. Don’t force it; let the tool do the work. One gentleman said he got the best results routing each guide twice, once in each direction. Finally, a couple of reviewers recommend using a “dummy” template on each side of your work to support the router, advising that this is an especially useful tip if you’re routing a single letter or number. I used this technique with good results on my sign, figuring if it was called a “dummy” template, it was probably intended for me. Here’s a video from NewWoodworker.com with their take on these templates.
After making my first sign, I am very impressed with the Rockler Interlock Signmaker’s Templates kit. It’s intuitive, easy to use, well thought out, and includes a good assortment of characters to get your sign-making underway; about the only additional character I’d like to see is an arrow. I took it slow and steady, and even with my limited woodworking experience, I ended up with a really professional-looking sign, with no mistakes or screw-ups. If you DO happen to accidentally chew through the edge of a template, or if you need more of a particular letter or number so you can lay out longer signs, you can purchase individual characters through Rockler’s customer service at 800-376-7856.
I didn’t try the kit with a full-size router, but I can see where it might be a bit cumbersome, as at least one reviewer mentioned. Rockler recommends using a plunge base, and most of the reviewers on Rockler’s site used compact routers with plunge bases, like the Bosch Colt or the Dewalt DWP611PK. I really liked the Dewalt – it’s a solid tool, very simple to set up and use, it performed flawlessly, and it seems like a perfect choice for projects like this.
Where to Buy
If you have your own version of TOFTS ACRES, or anything that deserves to be immortalized by a well-crafted sign, I highly recommend the Rockler Interlock Signmaker’s Templates Kit. It’s available directly from Rockler in two sizes (dimensions are for actual routed letters) – the 2-¼” kit I had is $50. If you hang with the Biltmores, own your own park, or just want to have the biggest of everything, get the 3-3/8” kit for $80. Either way, let us know about YOUR sign-making experience!