By Dean Bielanowski
We got through assembly of the rails and clamps to hold
the letters ok...
The clamps that hold the signcrafter to your workpiece.
Despite their small size, they work well once everything
is locked down.
Half the battle is finding all the letters you need
from the pile!
Once your letters are inserted and arranged, you can
attach the second clamp/rail holder and tighten it up...
This adjustable clamp pushes, and keeps letter
templates snug against each other.
I am making a sign for my 2 year old's bedroom.
These support bridges slide along the rails and help to
eliminate flexing/bending of the aluminum rails when the
weight of the router is added.
The supplied bushings and adaptor will fit most Skil
and Craftsman routers, and some other models...
They didn't fit my smaller router, but I do have a
bushing set for my big Triton router that works fine.
Note the position of the support brackets, helping take
the weight of the 3HP Triton router.
Note the "O" in the left. This is what happens when you
forget to slide those same support brackets out of the
way of the base!
A nice clean depth is achieved. The generic block font
of the letters in the Signcrafter package should appeal
Practice makes perfect... I still need a little more
After a few practice runs, you will be making signs the
same quality as this one!
One of the best aspects of woodworking is that it
allows you to produce items that are one of a kind or cannot be
bought anywhere else. You can craft items for friends,
relatives, or even just for yourself! You can increase the value
of a gift tenfold when it has that handcrafted touch. One thing
I have always liked are wooden signs. Whether they be displayed
on a shop front, at the entrance of a property or on a bedroom
wall, the warmth and unique characteristics of wooden signs are
simply more impressive than their plastic or metal counterparts.
The trouble is, making them by hand can be a difficult process,
particularly if you are not into carving, or do not have the
patience for it! So, today I thought we would take a look at a
sign making set from Milescraft. Designed to be used with a
router, the SignCrafter allows sign creation to be a much
As you can see from the image above, and the images to the
right, the SignCrafter comprises two main components - the
letter holding assembly, and the individual sets of letters,
numbers and symbols. The SignCrafter ships unassembled so some
basic assembly of the components is required.
Assembly took me roughly 15 minutes, although I
was watching a baseball game on TV at the same time. The
instructions provide an assembly diagram. I must admit that it
wasn't the best set of instructions I have ever seen (diagram
only - no text) although I managed to assemble all parts without
too much frustration. Just take your time, sort out the various
nuts and bolts and other components before you begin and you
should not have too many dramas. There are 4 boxes of templates
(the letters, numbers symbols etc), 2 which contain the smaller
templates and the other 2 containing the larger templates. There
are 2 of each letter/number in each size in case your words
require the same letter twice. Included in the kit are 2
template guides to attach to your router. The documentation
mentions these will fit most Skil and Craftsman brand routers.
Unfortunately they didn't fit mine, but if you have a router
with a set of guide bushings, you can use those instead. A 7/16"
and 5/8" bushing is what is required, preferably with at least a
1/2" bushing depth. The router and router bit are the only other
two additional items you need to get going. It should be noted
that you can buy special sign making router bits for your
router, however, these would need to be correctly sized to be
able to plunge through the bushings with adequate clearance.
How it works...
Firstly, find a suitable piece of timber or MDF to make a sign
with. The aluminum rails are a fixed length, so your timber must
also be of a similar length to work easily. The rails are
intended to work on boards as long as 30” and as wide as 4” to
12”. You can use it on longer boards if needed by simply sliding
the whole Signcrafter jig over as you go, although you might
have to do some measuring to ensure even spacing between
letters. While I'm on that subject, the templates are designed
as such to provide even spacing between letters when your words
are set up within the rails. This eliminates most tedious
measuring requirements in the majority of signs you will make.
Shorter signs can be made my working on a longer piece of
material to begin with, then cutting it down to size later, or
you can do them by disassembling the Signcrafter and using the
rails themselves held in place by other forms of clamps. It's a
little involved, but if you have a need, once you have used the
Signcrafter the first time, its not too difficult to figure out
how you could use it for shorter lengths of material.
Once you have your blank piece ready, you clamp
one end of the Signcrafter to the piece (bear in mind the
following was how I set things up). The clamps provided are not
large, and look a little flimsy at first, however, once they are
applied they hold really well, especially after you tighten the
end brackets to the clamp rod. With one side clamped, you can
slide your letters into the rails, in order, from the other end.
You can use other templates to act as spacers if needed at both
ends, and smaller, thinner spacer templates are included if you
are making more than one word in a line, allowing you to nicely
space between words. You can use a combination of large letters
and small letters, all large, all small, and mix in either large
or small number templates as well. The larger templates will
produce 2 1/2" sized letters/numbers, while the smaller
templates produce letters/numbers of 1 1/2" in size. You are
provided with the full alphabet of letters A through Z and 0 to
9 in numbers. There are 2 of each letter and number in each
size. Essentially, you can create signs with any word/number
known to man, or woman... It is very flexible in this regard.
All letters are the same font.
The font is block type, and it is quite nice
actually. I have seen and used other letter templates before and
the font used with those templates is rather unappealing,
sometimes quite ugly!
With your letters/numbers now arranged to make
your word, slide on the 2 black supports and attach the other
end bracket and secure it down. An adjustable clamp on this end
helps keep letters snug up against each other so they wont move
during the routing process.
With everything clamped down, you are pretty much
ready to go. Hook up your router to a power supply, ensure you
have the right bushing installed for the letter size - 5/8" for
larger letters, 7/16" for smaller letters. You can use straight
bits, ball nose, v-bits etc equally as well.
Now... I have read other reviews of this
particular product and one of them mentioned really bad flexing
of the rails when routing out the letters due to the weight of
the router. I am not sure whether this was an issue with earlier
models, or this person just wasn't using the supporting bridges
supplied. These fit onto the rails and can slide along them
either way. Because the rails sit up above your workpiece, they
are prone to flex if you DO NOT use these bridges. Position the
bridges fairly close to your router placed over the letter you
are going to rout out. You must ensure there is adequate
clearance for the base plate of the router on both sides of the
letter, as you could hit the support brackets first, thinking
this was the edge of the letter template and ruin the letter. I
was guilty of this on my first run. The brackets extend down to
touch your workpiece so they provide full support to the rails
when positioned appropriately. As you can see from the photo of
the letter "J" I routed out in the right column, even with a
heavy 3HP router riding on the rails, there is no evidence of
rail bending/flex, producing a nice smooth-bottomed cut. As you
rout out each letter more your support brackets along the rail
for maximum benefit.
Speaking of large routers, ideally you want a
smaller router for this type of work, and one that slides
smoothly across the rails. I found adding a little wax to the
rails helped here. To get good, clean letters you need to be
able to keep the bushing riding around the outside of the
templates religiously. The Triton was not ideal for this task.
It is heavy and bulky and more suited for table use rather than
freehand use (table use is what it was primarily designed for).
Saying that, you can get perfectly fine results with any router
with a little practice. There is no fault in the Signcrafter
itself in this regard, just user error. After a few runs, you
will iron out the bugs in your technique and become more
accustomed to using a router with the jig. I found pulling the
router toward you gave more control than pushing it, although
it's a personal thing. The router does ride on the aluminum
rails, so the letter templates do not flex at all, although just
be careful when inserting the bushing into the templates, and
make sure it is in the template before you switch on and plunge
down for the cut. The last thing you want to do is ruin your new
letter templates! Replacements are available from Milescraft
(for a small charge) in case you do accidentally damage one. If
you find you are making words that repeat the same letter more
than twice, you can also order extra sets of letters/numbers to
solve this issue.
you just start on one end and move to the next, routing out
letters and adjusting your support brackets as you go. It
doesn't take long to make a sign once the initial setup is
finished. I found sorting out and finding the actual letters I
needed from the bunch to be the most time-consuming task. You
can make multiple line signs by simply adjusting and moving the
clamp downwards on your workpiece, and the same process begins
again. There is no real brain-power involved with the task, just
a few simple steps to remember as you go along. You may only
need to change bushings half way through if your sign uses a
combination of larger and smaller letters/numbers.
Ideally, for best accuracy, a router with a
see-through base plate or a router that allows you to see your
bushing riding around the template would ensure optimum results,
because you can anticipate all the the turns in direction needed
for specific letters, and not risk moving the router away from
the template edge and spoiling the letter.
I have made four signs so far with the Signcrafter. The first
two were practice runs and had a few errors... I just finished
one out of wood the other day for a rushed birthday present.
Hopefully I can get it back soon for a brief period to take some
photos to add here. A natural wood grain sign looks really nice.
What you can do to get a nice finish is paint the whole sign
once lettering has completed in black, let it dry, then belt
sand or plane the face away removing the paint on the surface
(not in the lettered depressions). What this does is give you
nice clean paint lines around the letters further enhancing
their shape and borders. You can then apply your favorite wood
finish, taking care around the painted letters, or even cover
them with a clear protective finish.
Are their any major problems with the Signcrafter?
Not many. Most problems you may encounter are likely to be a
result of user error. It would be good if Milescraft offered
shorter rails as an accessory to work with shorter material
lengths. The product is by no means foolproof, no product really
is, but for US$39.99 it is one of the cheapest sign making sets
going around that does give good results with a little practice.
With Christmas coming up or just for family or
relative's birthdays, wooden signs certainly make a very unique
gift that will not be forgotten in a hurry. They can also be
decorative or serve a practical purpose around the house or
workshop. Every workshop should have a nice wooden sign don't
you think? :-)