Wood House Signs

Examples of hardwood and softwood signs and the pros and cons for their use.

Oak sign with carved lettering

Rectangular oak house sign with carved mouse and text Anvil

Here’s a nice straightforward oak house sign with an added and amusing little twist.

Why do I like it so much? Well, there’s just no messing about, no frills, no flounce, it’s just plain, simple and honest. The maker has taken a decent piece of oak and carved the v-cut lettering into the surface. This lettering is nicely proportioned both to itself and the way it fits on the nameplate. He’s then added a simple bevel to the edge of the sign but to finish it off he’s then given us the bonus of the small, carved mouse running along the top, did you spot it? This sets it apart from the crowd.

But hang on, a carved mouse running along the edge of a piece of oak – that sounds like the famous arts and crafts furniture maker Robert Thompson, "The Mouseman of Kilburn". This sign is on a home not far away from there and I know they do make smaller items as well as the famous oak tables and chairs.

Only the person who created it will know if he is actually one of the Yorkshire “mousemen”, but if he is, his fellow workers will be able to identify him as apparently each craftsman carves the mouse in their own individual style.

Weathered name plaque

Weathered wood sign with name Valley View

This is what happens to wood plaques when they’re left to their own devices. Most will turn silvery-grey if untreated and exposed to the elements. However, oak is more resistant to splitting and rot than many of the other timbers used for exterior signs.

The v-cut lettering looks as if it has been done by a computer controlled (CNC) router. It is rather small in relation to the wood plaque and is not centred vertically.

Giving it a light sanding and picking out the lettering in white would easily bring it back to life. The whole thing should then be given a few coats of a preservative stain - to keep it looking good this should be done annually.

Varnished rustic timber slice

Rustic wood slice sign with house name Sunnydene

Even the most skilled tree surgeon is going to be hard pushed to reverse the effects of ageing on this cracked and peeling face - a prime example of why I don’t rate the wood slice. This one will be no more than 5 years old but already appears as if it could be drawing a pension in its twilight years.

People are lured into buying them by the promise of numerous coats of superior grade exterior varnish – you can see for yourself what happens to that – and of course by the price. But they don’t look like such a bargain three years later when they need to be replaced.

And there’s the old eco chestnut of the timber coming from managed and sustainable sources. To replace this sign another tree will have to be chopped down and more fossil fuels will have to be burnt to make and deliver it – not so green now!

House name on wood plaque.

Oval wood house plaque with hand carved lettering and text Leon Cottage

This wooden sign gives off that "made-in-the-shed-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden" look.

The plaque itself is thick and not even a symmetrical oval. Is it the top of an old stool which the maker found in his shed and, in an inspired moment, thought that it would be ideal for a new house name sign?
The carved lettering only adds to the overall clumsy appearance, the layout and positioning is poor - it is too large, too cramped and uneven.

The shed-meister has also been over enthusiastic with the varnish. Although it is absolutely essential that it is properly protected against the elements, the application of varnish needs care and patience. Put in on too thickly or don’t allow it to dry completely before applying the next and the result will be this lumpy finish which is far more likely to prematurely crack and fail. It is far better to apply several thin coats, allowing plenty of time for drying in between coats.

Useless fact of the day – men with sheds spend more time in them than they do with their wives and children. But surely they not all spending this time making house signs – so what are they up too?

Sign with scalloped edges and painted lettering.

Sign with scalloped edges and painted lettering Cooks Cottage

Another softwood sign which is showing the effects of the elements. The varnish is peeling and the silver-grey of weathered wood is showing through.

I think it may have a bit of an identity crisis brought on by the signwriter’s reluctance to commit himself to the use of an apostrophe. Its omission is just as bad as placing it in the wrong place. This is one for the hit squad at the Apostrophe Protection Society.

Wooden house sign

Old, rectangular wood sign with house name Harpooner Cottage

So, "Call me Ishmael" – a rectangular wooden plaque maybe from where Captain Ahab used to rest his whale bone peg leg when he was not in pursuit of Moby Dick.

Untreated softwood signs will turn this silvery- grey when repeatedly exposed to those south-westerlies that blow in from the Bay of Biscay. To prevent this, the Captain should have ordered the crew of the Pequod to give it a fresh coat of varnish every year when they stayed at the cottage on shore leave.

Old wood cottage plaque

Oval rustic wood slice sign with name Cor Cottage

An oval name plaque often referred to by sign makers as a rustic wood slice.

This one is most likely made from oak as with time it has darkened to almost black, a characteristic caused by tannic acid in the wood. Although it clearly shows some evidence of deterioration, had it been made from other timbers these days more commonly used for this type of sign it would have rotted away long ago.

The Old English style of lettering has been carved by hand. Local legend has it that a scantily clad young woman would often stand at an upstairs window. Hence the cottage derived its name from what the local men of the town would utter as they passed by.

This oak plaque would benefit from an application of timber preservative to prevent further deterioration. To keep the lettering readable, it should be carefully retouched every year. All in all a sign which should be kept if for no other reason than its age.

Framed sign

Wooden sign with metal framea and text Glenrigg

This sign consists of a oblong plaque framed by a decorative metal frame.

It has obviously been made some time ago, therefore both the wood and metal clearly display the effects of weathering.

The lettering is rather faded but has probably been retouched over the years otherwise it would be unreadable. Even so, it doesn’t stand out particularly well against the background. The font used is a form of Engravers’ Old English, this adds weight to the rumour that a member of the Addams Family lived at this address when the sign was first put in place.

The design is of its era; it nicely balanced and its exposure to the elements has given it a rather pleasant uniform patina. This sign should be kept but strictly as a backup to a newer sign which would be easier to read by humans rather than by passing bats.

Rustic wood sign

Rustic wood sign with name Harbour View

There are rustic slices and then there are very rustic ones like this. In fact this house sign is so old, gnarled and rustic that it’s bordering on the jurassic!

The house name, being in black on a very dark background, is almost unreadable. The Olde English script roughly translates as "Harbour View". If it had needed to appear any more ancient it would have had to have been written on a clay tablet in latin.

I can’t really find any redeeming features for this sign. It’s old, ugly and difficult to understand – sometimes how I feel first thing in the morning!

Rectangular wooden house sign – Church Cottage

Varnished timber sign with lettering Church Cottage

Like the fabric of many ecclesiastical properties the sign at Church Cottage is in need of repair.

The deterioration of this sign has reached the point where the house name would be unreadable had it not been carved into the surface and painted black.

The durability of all timber signs is directly linked to the amount of sun and weathering to which they are exposed. The varnish should be checked regularly and renewed at the first indication of cracking or loss of sheen.

Dig deep and put your hard-earned pennies in the collecting box so this sign can be saved for the nation – your reward will be in heaven.

House plaque - Holly Cottage

Carved wood sign mounted on gate with name Holly Cottage

This carved sign, fixed to the garden gate, looks as if it has been made fairly recently probably by an enthusiastic amateur. The lettering and holly motifs have been fashioned in relief in what appears to be lime, a wood renowned for ease of carving.

The overall design is somewhat crude but fills the plaque well. The lettering is unpainted therefore does not stand out well against the background. It would be hard to read this house name from a distance or in the dark. Also, the "C" of Cottage reads more like a "T".

Wooden signs are notorious for their poor resistance to weathering. This one does not appear to be sealed with an oil or varnish and this will only accelerate its early demise – you can see it is already beginning to crack on the mid line by the fixing screws.