How To Easily Make A 3D Carved Wooden Sign – Without CNC!

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Let’s say you have a desk you’d to adorn with a cool looking name plate. One that makes a bold statement; One that says to others “I’m not just some working stiff. I’m a working stiff with an awesome name plate!” The following technique can be used for all sorts of things – signs, shop logos, decorative project appliques and much more – and it’s a lot easier than you might expect. And, you don’t even need a fancy-pants CNC machine. If you’re looking for an easy way to create a unique sign or name plate with lots of style, continue reading and I’ll show you how to make your own 3D carved wooden sign.

Easy Layout For A Great Payout

Use your software of choice or draw it by hand. I usually use Microsoft Paint.

At HomeFixated, we like to share interesting and useful projects that are both fun and easy to make. This carved wooden sign project is no exception. Though it may look difficult, it’s actually very simple.

Make sure the letters touch the borders.

The first step is to lay it all out, starting with the lettering: Choose your font, size and spacing. Then add a thick border and – if using more than one line of text – a thick horizontal dividing line. The tops and bottoms of the letters should extend all the way to the bold horizontal lines. You generally won’t want to leave them hanging in space. Finally, logos or clip art can be added to complete the look.

I filled the empty spaces with clip art.

Print And Apply Your 3D Carved Wooden Sign Pattern

Split pattern
Split the pattern if needed.

Scale the printout to suit your needs. If your pattern is too large to print as one complete image, break it into pieces and print each separately. Then cut out the sections and tape them together.

I’m making this sign out of 5/16” sapele mahogany. It measures 14-1/2″ long by 4-1/2″ tall.

Attach the assembled pattern to the wood using spray glue (I prefer medium tack, as shown below). Spray a fair amount onto the back of the paper pattern and allow it to sit for about 20-30 seconds before sticking the pattern to the wood. The wait time essentially makes the glue act like a “Post-it” note that will be much easier to remove, without leaving an annoying, gooey mess to deal with.

Spray glue
My go-to adhesive for sticking patterns to wood.
Pattern attached
Pattern glued to the work piece.

This Is Not A Drill. OK, Fine. It Is.

Making access holes.

The space between letters is going to be cut out with a saw. With smaller carved wooden signs, a scroll saw or coping saw should do the trick. If you’re making a larger piece, you might find a jigsaw to be the better option. Do what works best for you. There is no right or wrong way.

Regardless of the saw you choose, every patch of white space needs a hole large enough for the blade to fit into.

Access holes
Drilled for saw blade access.

A Little Snip-Snip On The Wood

Removing the waste
Cut away everything that isn’t part of the sign.

I’m using a scroll saw to remove the waste wood. Thread the blade through the various access holes and cut away all of the white sections.

Cut to shape
After waste removal.

3D Carved Wooden Sign Pattern Removal

Removing pattern

We’re done with the pattern. “Be gone with you”, I say! If the pattern doesn’t peel away easily, coax it with a heat gun or hair dryer. It shouldn’t take much to loosen the glue. Unfortunately for me, my old workshop is packed away in a storage locker until construction of the new one is completed and I couldn’t find either of my heat guns. So I opted for the kitchen oven instead.

Oven baked
A little heat goes a long way.

Preheat the oven to 250°, set the sign on an upside-down cookie sheet and bake it for a few minutes. Remove, season to taste and serve warm: Feeds 3! On second thought, you probably don’t need that much fiber in your diet. After a little warming the pattern should peel off effortlessly.

Assuming you waited the suggested 20-30 seconds or so between the application of glue to the pattern and sticking the pattern to the wood, almost no glue should remain on the wood. If you find yourself left with a bunch of sticky residue, use a clean rag dampened with mineral spirits to remove it.

Here’s Where I Draw The Line

Draw lines
Use a straightedge to draw lines along the borders.

Nothing personal, but we need to establish some boundaries. It’s not you; it’s me. Use a straight edge and draw lines to define the edges of the border and center divider.

Borders defined
Borders defined

Cuts Like A Knife – But It Feels So Right

I generally use one of these two blade shapes.

As with any carving, the size of the piece can dictate what tools you use to shape the lettering. I’ve made several signs in this style and carved them with a knife (typically, one of the two shown above). But for larger, thicker signs, chisels may be preferable.

Stop cuts
Scoring stop cuts.

The carving process begins by scoring along the lines we just drew. This acts as a stop cut, establishing a crisp edge and preventing the following cuts from running into the borders. After scoring, make an angled cut to remove a small wedge of wood.

Remove wood a little at a time.

Follow that up with another stop cut.

Another stop cut
Be sure your stop cuts are perpendicular to the face of the wood.

Creating an arc

Alternate between stop cuts and angled cuts until the letter becomes somewhat dome shaped, as seen below.

Nice curve
Work carefully to create a nice curve.
Shape the tops and bottoms of all of the letters.

The same technique applies to the end grain sections of the wrenches.

Wrench border
I usually don’t cut where the center divider meets the sides of the border, but I accidentally got carried away.

Faceting Takes The Wooden Sign To A New Level

The carving on this project is very basic stuff, but it creates a great look. Let’s look at an example then we’ll talk about grain direction.


Faceting 2

Faceting 3

Carved "M"
Carved “M”

Curl Up With A Good Look – Reading The Grain


Some letters – like an “I” – are rather straightforward. But when curves and angles are introduced into the mix it becomes more important to “read” and follow the grain. Following the grain reduces the chances of tearout and chipping.

Imagine the wood fibers as a bundle of drinking straws or a stack of paper and think about how they would react if you tried to cut across the ends. You want to cut in the direction that will push the straws together rather than pry and split them apart. In other words, you always want to cut “downhill” with respect to grain direction.

Let’s consider the wrenches and how to go about cutting the facets. The red arrows indicate stroke direction. Apply the same methodology to your lettering.

Side to side grain
Note that the grain runs from side to side, not along the length of the wrench.
End of wrench
The ends of the wrenches are curved.
First cut
Begin by faceting the sections that run along with the grain.
Second cut
For the curves, start your stroke at the first facets and cut towards the cross grain sections.
Third cut
Here I’m running into an inside curve. I stop my cut before the grain changes to an “uphill” direction.
Fourth cut
Next, I facet the shaft of the wrench, following the grain. This cut will terminate where the previous cut ended, on the inside of the curve.
Fifth cut
Finally, I deal with the “highest” curve (with respect to grain direction).
Finished wrench
The finished wrench.

Clear Coating The 3D Wooden Sign

All done shaping
Just needs a little sanding.

Now that the carving is done, go ahead and sand the piece to whatever smoothness you desire and remove all sanding dust with compressed air, a clean brush or a tack cloth.

Clear lacquer
I’m very fond of clear Rust-Oleum brand spray lacquer.

A few coats of spray lacquer and the project is done! I usually spray about 5-7 coats. What I love about lacquer is how quickly it dries, allowing you to apply multiple coats in a short period of time. In this case, I was able to give it 7 coats in under an hour and still have it dry enough to pick up and handle without embedding fingerprints.

Here’s some pictures of the completed sign, as well as a couple others I’ve made:

Finished 1

Finished 2

Finished 3

Finished 4

Finished 5

Maxina's name plate
This one is made from purple heart with a hard maple base.

Max 2

Wood 'n' Stuff
Wood ‘n’ Stuff name plate

Wood 'n' Stuff 2

Give it a shot. You’ll find that it’s easier than you think to get great looking results on your own carved wooden sign. And people will think it was done by a pro! Check out this video if you want to see my process in action:

Photo of author

About Steve

Steve made his first woodworking project at age 9 (in 1982) and whittled his first wooden chain at 18. He was also a consumer electronics repair tech and shop owner for a little over 20 years, until his impending obsolescence became impossible to ignore. Since then, Steve has focused passionately on manipulating his wood... in his workshop. Don't judge him.

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6 thoughts on “How To Easily Make A 3D Carved Wooden Sign – Without CNC!”

    • Thanks for the kind words! You’ll be seeing awesome woodworking projects from me on a more regular basis as soon as construction wraps up on my new workshop. The wait is killing me!

  1. That is awesome! Looks fairly time consuming but not difficult. At first I thought it would be done after the cutting but I guess the carving adds a lot of feeling to the final piece and interest.

    • Hey Rich, you actually could call it quits after the initial cutout stage. There’s no right or wrong way to make it your own. But the carving adds an eye-catching dimension that really sets it apart from the pack. Thanks for your feedback. Your support is much appreciated.


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