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.

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