Carving signs from plywood is less expensive than carving signs with cedar or redwood as the sign substrate, but will it last as long? The simple answer is probably not, but I have just started carving in plywood so I have yet to see how it will last out in the elements.
My experience with plywood signage tells me that, unframed, a sign made from plywood will begin to show signs of weathering within several years. An adequately primed and painted plywood sign should last at least five years is what I generally tell my customers, but it depends on UV exposure, edge exposure to moisture, sign colors, and whether the lettering is painted or cut vinyl.
I am not sure how the carved lettering in plywood will fare when exposed to the Virginia elements. High heat and humidity in our area has a tendency to work on any exposed veneer joints where temperature can buckle the layers of the plywood allowing moisture to enter into the layers doing progressive damage. Cedar and redwood signs don’t have this vulnerability, thus the substrates will typically last a lifetime with regular maintenance.
I originally suggested a more expensive and durable carved cedar sign option, but unfortunately it was beyond the customer’s budget. That’s when the customer asked about carved plywood as an option. At first I wasn’t sure if that was even possible, but I soon discovered that it was doable. To create the same effect of a cedar sign, I had to laminate two 3/4″ pieces together since the thickest plywood I could get was 1″ thickness and carved cedar is typically made from 1 1/2″ thick boards.
Once the sign was glued up, I took off the clamps, sanded, primed, and painted the background and graphics, adding several borders to make it more interesting. The customer suggested a white edge outline to help the sign pop from the green or brown-gray background, depending on the season. The customer replaced the old timber frame with new wood posts and beams. The protection from these extra large timbers around the sign edges should help the plywood panel fare better against the elements.
The customer was pleased with the final result! Now I will be sure to offer carving signs in plywood as an alternative to carved cedar for customer-candidates willing to compromise overall durability in their sign for lower cost.
Mark Hackley owns Augusta Sign Company near Middlebrook, Virginia in south-central Augusta County.