A few months ago I watched a video from Jon Peters where he made a decorative sign post. The post turned out so nice, as does everything else Jon makes, that it inspired me to make one of my own. If you want to make one of your own you can get the plans from Jon Peter’s website. The final design I settled on is extremely close to that of Jon’s. Just a few little changes for my application and tools.
The main structure of the post is a section of treated 4×4 lumber. When working with treated lumber it is important to use hardware that will last in an outdoor environment. Typical, general purpose brad nails are galvanized but the coating isn’t thick enough. It is recommended to use hot dipped galvanized or stainless steel hardware for that reason. So for this build I picked up a small pack of stainless steel 1-1/4” brad nails and some 2” stainless steel screws. The brad nails are for a temporary hold while the glue sets up or to help position items until they are secured. I also picked up a bottle of PVC cement as all of the decorative elements of this post will be from PVC board.
Here you can see the PVC boards standing behind me and the two 4×4 posts I picked up for this build. You can also see that the post I’m looking down had quite a bit of twist to it. Enough twist that I decided to put these back in my shed and go get two more that weren’t twisted.
With two new boards in the shop I started at the miter saw station by cutting what will be the horizontal arm to size.
A half lap joint will be used to connect the horizontal arm to the post. To make this joint I set the depth stop on the miter saw to half the thickness of the material.
Then a bunch of cuts can be made to remove the material.
I was aiming for a really tight fit with this joint. Treated lumber will always dry and shrink a little bit and if the joint was already a little bit loose it can quickly become really loose. I used an offcut to test and make sure the joint would be tight enough that a hammer is needed to close the joint.
After the joint is fitted properly I cut the three exposed ends of the post pieces to add a simple 45 degree detail. Just basic 45 degree chamfers. Nothing special but just enough to make the piece ends appear finished.
Here you can see how long the post is. The lower two feet will be buried and the top should be around the 6′ mark when it’s installed. Adding the PVC is next and to make that process a little easier I removed the arm and elevated the bottom side. This will allow me to rotate the post without the PVC pieces getting in the way on the workbench surface.
PVC is great to work with in the fact that it machines like a really soft wood with no defects. It’s horrible to work with in the fact that the dust gets EVERYWHERE and sticks to everything. First up for the PVC was to cross cut a bunch of sections to stack and build out the post.
Four of those pieces were ripped down at the table saw for the first build up layer.
The first pieces to be attached to the post were sized to be slightly wider than the post + one thickness of the PVC. This way I can attach one piece to the post with a couple brad nails and then a couple of screws.
Then the post is rotated, PVC cement applied to the overhanging piece of PVC, and the second section of PVC is cemented to the first and secured to the post with screws. The process is repeated until all four sides of the post are covered with a layer of PVC.
On top of the first layer will be the decorative layer. Just a simple rail and stile assembly with trim on the inside. The center rail sections will all be the same width. The stile pieces will be two different widths. All cut at the table saw, by ripping to the appropriate width first.
And then the rails are crosscut to the final length with a crosscut sled.
Assembly is extremely easy. Just a little bit of PVC cement on the mating surfaces and a couple of clamps to hold it all together for a minute or so. PVC cement bonds PVC sooooooooo fast. It’s important to make any adjustments immediately after glue is applied.
One of the PVC boards I bought was thicker than the others. To flatten the raised pieces I ran them through the drum sander until they were all the same thickness. All of these boards not being the exact same thickness was a minor annoyance. You’d like to see an engineered product like this be a little more consistent.
Then the rail and stile pieces can be added to the previous layer starting with the narrow stile assemblies. PVC cement and brad nails is all that was used to secure it.
These were sized so that they overhang both sides by about 1/8”. Then trimmed flush with a router. It’s much easier to trim an overhang flush than it is to try to get a 100% exact length fit off the saw.
And with the first rail and stile sections trimmed flush the wider rail and stile sections can be added. The reason for two width stiles is to make the distance from the inside area to the corner of the post the same on both sides. If all stiles were the same width then the distance to the corner would be different because this is a butt joint and therefore only one of the stiles will touch the final corner location.
A 1/2” thick baseboard layer will be added and therefore I needed to reduce the 3/4” PVC to 1/2”. I figured that since the PVC was cutting effortlessly with the other machines I’d pass it through the planer to see if it would plane as well. And of course it worked great.
It did put a noticeable bow into the board though. This is a section about 30” long and the pencil is positioned for a size reference for the amount of bow. Luckily it won’t affect this project due to the way it is being used but I figured I’d show you what it can do if one side gets warmer than the other. I’m guessing heat is what caused this bow anyway.
Back at the table saw with the miter sled the baseboard pieces are cut to a little longer than the width of the built up post + one thickness of the baseboard piece.
Then those pieces are attached with more PVC cement and a few brad nails. I made sure to strike a square line around the post to reference off of rather than using the bottom of the already added PVC. This will prevent any slight misalignment on the bottom of the PVC to be transferred to the top of these baseboard pieces where they will be seen.
All of the PVC board I got was 3/4” thick. I wanted the top moulding to be thicker so I glued two pieces together with a couple brad nails for positioning and then PVC cement and clamps.
After enough time for the cement to set up I cut off the ends that had the brad nails and then jointed one the seam faces flat and square.
And then trimmed the blank square and to the final width at the table saw.
The top moulding is a simple, shallow chamfer. I drew a couple different angles on the end of the moulding piece until I found an angle that I liked.
And then transferred that angle to the table saw with a bevel gauge. I also cut one more flat section on the moulding to establish the final thickness.
Before fitting the top moulding I started making the rest of the moulding. It’s another basic chamfer but this time on a small piece.
It’s easier to cut the chamfer first when possible and then rip the piece to the final size. Here the small moulding takes is final shape at 1/2” x 3/4”. I figured out how many strips I needed and batched out all of the moulding before fitting it on the post.
To cut the miters I’m using my miter sled at the table saw. I’ve always found using a miter sled or a crosscut sled to be safer and more accurate when cutting small pieces vs using my miter saw.
With the fence set to 45 degrees I made a test cut on two pieces and checked the joint against a square.
Now all of the miter cuts can begin. I started by cutting one angle on every one of the pieces I had with the pieces facing up like they will be when installed.
To get the length the piece is set with just the point inside the opening and then both the length and direction of cut are marked in the bottom side of the moulding.
The piece is placed back on the miter sled with the bottom facing up and it’s cut to length. The first couple pieces are always cut a little long until you start to understand your marking precision and how much of the line or none of the line needs to be removed.
Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth until all of the interior sections are fit.
Then the top moulding can be fit. Here you can see the flat top of the moulding that I mentioned earlier. I started this fitting process with just one miter cut.
I took that piece to the post and marked its length on the back side against the post. With only one side marked I compared that measurement with all sides of the post to verify that the post was not square. It was rectangle and therefore two of the sections will be longer than the other two.
I decided that it would be easier to cut all of the pieces the same length with the stop block on the miter sled first and then determine how much needs to be removed from two of them.
By holding all of the pieces in place I could tell that not only was the post not a square but it wasn’t even a perfect rectangle. From here I marked each miter joint so I knew exactly what two opposite pieces needed length removed. Doing it this way allowed me to figure out the length that resulted in perfect exterior corners but also left a small gap on one edge against the post where the post isn’t square.
And those two pieces are cut using the stop block to make sure they are the same length.
To make installation a bit easier I glued two of the pieces together first. Then glued the two halves together and to the top of the PVC assembly on the post.
Caulk can be your best friend on painted pieces. I’ll use it on all of the seams and nail heads.
I ran out of PVC cement by the time I got to the top of the baseboard moulding. So I used the caulking as a glue to help hold these pieces in place.
Once all of the moulding was fit and installed I caulked every seam on the PVC.
The final piece to install is the 45 degree brace on the back side of the arm. I basically resawed a piece of 4×4 to get a 2×4.
And then established its final length with 45 degree cuts on each end.
Next up is attaching the arm to the post. I chose to use epoxy for this part mainly because it will lubricate the joint as it’s closed. A water based PVA glue will typically swell the wood at the joint making it harder to close. This joint was already cut tight so the epoxy will actually help seat the joint. Another reason was so that I could use the leftover epoxy to fill a couple of knots that the post had.
Three 3” screws were used to pull the joint tight and pin it while the epoxy cures.
Once the arm is installed the rear arm brace is installed with just screws.
Finally the finishing process can begin. For a durable outdoor finish I’m using Total Boat Elixir. It’s a water based enamel paint rated for indoor or outdoor use (I incorrectly called this a water based polyurethane in the video). And because it’s water based applying it won’t stink up my whole house and clean-up is a breeze.
I wish more companies would sell finishes in plastic bags instead of metal cans. Being able to squeeze the bag to mix the finish rather than potentially contaminating the finish with a stir stick is so nice. And pouring out of a bag is a LOT less messy than pouring out of a can.
The color didn’t show that well on camera here because anything white in my shop gets slightly over exposed on camera due to the amount of light I have in the ceiling. But the color isn’t exactly white. I went with the Oyster White color, which is more of an off-white, because it matches the color of my house more so than pure white would.
The same finish in bright red is used for the sign. Again, finish in bags is awesome. If you missed it, here’s a link to the sign making video.
Here’s the most annoying and time-consuming part of this project. I really do not have much patience for delicate paint work like this. Getting in between every little groove on this logo sign was a pain in the neck, literally.
After the first coat dried and I backed up the camera a bit the Oyster White color can more easily be seen.
I made a simple story stick based upon a center line to located the holes for the sign mounting hardware. This can be used on both the sign and the post arm.
Very carefully the holes are drilled by hand to be as close to perpendicular to the surface as I could get them.
To lock the hardware into the sign as well as seal the freshly exposed MDF I mixed up a little bit of epoxy for the hole.
And then the hardware is installed. Instead of using chain I went with a longer stainless steel eye screw. This will give me the same length as the chain but last longer and should not rust.
The same holes are located and drilled in the bottom of the post arm.
For the post arm I went with hooks instead of eyes. This way the sign can be changed out easily for seasonal changes or taken down if I know a bad storm is coming. The hooks are installed parallel with the arm so that the sign can swing in the wind but a strong gust of wind wont be able to blow it off the hooks.
And here are some final installation pictures. I didn’t record digging the hole because it’s just boring but the hole is 24” deep and the post was set into concrete.
I’m very happy with how both the sign and the post turned out and I’m glad I went with the Oyster White color instead of the pure white color. It may not look like it on camera but the off white gives the post more of an antique look in person. Also, it’s nearing the end of winter when I made this project so the yard and everything else around the post doesn’t look that great. I’ll be sure to post some pictures to instagram this spring when everything starts to grow back and the post doesn’t look so new.