Sign Work

I rarely do signs anymore. At one time, they were the mainstay of my business: quarter boards, transom banners, house signs, and small business signs. Then the CNC router revolution came along, and I decided not to do a John Henry. So I still carve, but not a lot of signs. Do I miss it? Not really. Carving a small banner for a skiff reading TITANIC is a hoot the first time, but the humor is thin the sixth time. The year the Pirates of the Caribean movie came out, I must have done ten BLACK PEARLS. Then there were the 12-foot sloops named POSEIDON, KEGGER, CLEOPATRA’S BARGE. The Cleopatra carving was eventually hung in a home because the customer ordered it in size too large for the transom. I had to tell them that I could not shrink it.

By contrast, there were thoughtful customers designing name boards for summer homes, boat owners looking for the unique and the nonconventional. One of the nonconventional customers was a woman with a gorgeous canoe. For her, I carved a pair of thin cherry bow boards that complemented the canoe’s style.

If you’ve listened to my story, but still want to engage in the traditional work of carving quarter boards, transom banners, and the like, here is my advice. Get a subscription to one of the graphics magazines that cater to signmakers ( Google is your friend). Many of these produce annual guides to production costs. Unless things have changed, pricing guidelines for hand-carved work is included.

There is a parable in the boat building Trades, it also applies to maritime carving: Want to know how to make a small fortune in the trade? Start with a large one—best of luck.

5 Replies to “Sign Work”

  1. Carving is not new to my region. But, it dates way too back. 7th century and further. I think you might have come across Hampi’s famous sculptures. It is always a treat to see the centuries old art-work. I should still visit the Ellora Caves. These professional fields are getting confined deeper and deeper only into the houses of the original artists.


  2. I get what you are saying. It’s why I don’t do commission work. I wouldn’t want to make the same quilt over and over though I might get a better outcome with practice. For me the challenge is the part I enjoy most. Most would rather buy the cheap knockoffs from China than pay for quality work. Love your sign though. It’s definitely not a knockoff. 😉 Have a great Memorial day weekend.


    1. Lots of knockoffs these days. They even look “handmade”. There is a law of economics – Gresham’s Law. It states that debased currency (clipped, fake, etc) drives good money off the market. It seems to work with craft items as well. But with the additional kick that eventually most people can’t recognize good work because they’ve never seen it.

      Liked by 1 person

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