How Long Do Cedar Signs Last?
Sandblasting, carving and routing are three ways that cedar wood can be fabricated into rugged and durable exterior signage for businesses, churches and other not-for-profits. Cedar and a few other American softwoods and exotic woods like redwood and mahogany, are the best choices for outdoor wood signs. Painted aluminum signs are also a great choice for outdoor signs if your don’t mind the commercial look and feel, but for neat three-dimensional images that are the best for downtown areas and certain industry-specific applications like retirement centers, parks and recreation sites, churches, schools, and medical offices, I believe finished wood signs are the way to go!
LIFETIME LINKED TO CONSTRUCTION METHODS
So how long should cedar signs last? First let’s talk about sign fabrication methods so you are comparing apples to apples when considering a sign’s lifetime. At Augusta Sign Company we use 1 1/2″ to 2″ thick cedar boards laminated edge-to edge. Each board is from 3″ to 7″ wide, no wider, since cupping can be a concern for wider boards. When I build a sign panel I use West System Epoxy, a durable and tested adhesive used in the ship building industry for years, so it can be trusted if correctly applied. Make sure that when the boards are being laminated that the clamping pressure is just right…too much pressure can squeeze the glue out of the joints, weakening the sign panel structure.
Whether the letters are carved or blasted into the panel, or if the background is gouged out leaving raised graphics, has no real bearing on longevity, except that you probably should pay a little attention to thin details in letter characters, such as in script or serif fonts, since sometimes these can break off over time. One big consideration is the final finish. Sandblasted backgrounds should always be stained versus painted. Stains do not peel over time and they bring out the character of the interesting wood grains in the sign. I recommend using a stain consisting of 50% Bulletin Color and 50% Penetrol for backgrounds. Any flat lettering, edges, borders, and unlettered backs can be primed with a durable oil based primer like Zinsser Brand, and then finished with either oil based bulletin paint or quality latex paint. 23K gold leaf is great if used sparingly in a sign. Gold is a precious metal so it will outlast any stain or paint.
It is not necessary to clear coat a sign if the proper finish materials are used. A clear coat will only last a minimal amount of time before needing re-coating, and the UV protection from something clear just can’t help protect the wood any more than the solid color finish below, in my way of thinking. I think it’s a waste of time and money unless you need abrasion protection like on vehicle lettering or signage in a high traffic area where there’s lots of opportunities for people to mess with the sign.
After all this, how long can one expect a cedar sign to last? The cedar itself will last your lifetime as long as no one hits it with a mower, a tree doesn’t fall on it, or a car doesn’t run into it. But you can expect the finish to last an average of 10 years under normal conditions. So as long as you put your sign on a 10-year maintenance cycle, and nothing weird happens like a tornado or accident, it will last forever, at least from your point of view!
Mark Hackley owns and operates Augusta Sign Company of Waynesboro, Virginia
AUGUSTA SIGN COMPANY
501 S. Magnolia Avenue, PO Box 519
Waynesboro, VA 22980