How to Make an Old Sign

How to Make an Old Sign

One project I really wanted to make was an old wooden-looking sign. I hoped to stumble upon a salvaged piece or something found. Lucky enough, I happened to find a foot board from a bed right down the street. It was the perfect shape to make into a sign. When someone throws something out, I usually take it for a project! With some paint and lettering, you can make this or any piece into an old sign. Here’s how!


  • Foot board – You could pick one up at a thrift or salvage store for only a few dollars
  • Sand paper
  • TSP
  • Chalk paint or regular paint
  • Paint brush
  • Sealant like wax or polycrylic
  • Printer and paper
  • Scissors, tape, ballpoint pen


This was the foot board I scored on the curb. It had a perfectly rounded top with molding on it and had the shape of an antique sign. I remember seeing one like this at Ballard Designs that sells for hundreds of dollars. Since I had all the supplies for this, it cost me nothing! The legs were really neat, but we ended up cutting them off to make this a sign. I thought it would look better that way. Who knows, maybe I’ll make something else out of the legs?

Foot Board Before

Lightly sand down the foot board and clean it with TSP. This will prep it for painting and take off any dirt.

Sanding and TSPTo make this look like an old sign, I used a dry brushing technique.  Dip your brush lightly in the paint and wipe most of it off. This is where the “dry brush” name comes in because the brush is mostly dry with very little paint. It gives the piece an aged look. I decided to use chalk paint that I had on hand since it leaves a flat chalky finish that is easily sanded. The chalk paint also helps make it look old. But any paint will work.

Don’t cover the whole foot board since you’ll want some of the dark brown color of the wood to show through. Wipe the paint on in random spots for a convincing antique look. It will literally take you about two minutes.

White Chalk Paint on Sign

Dry brush a second color onto the footboard. Follow up with a third color if you’d like. You barely need any paint for this project. A sample pot is plenty. The color I used on this was Annie Sloan chalk paint in Louis Blue.

Once the paint has dried, you can start lettering. I chose French lettering that reminded me of our trip to France a year and a half ago. I selected this image at The Graphics Fairy, she has all kinds of signs and images to use for projects.

Print the sign onto paper and cut it out to place it on the wood where you want the letters to go.

Old Lettering

There are a few ways you can transfer lettering onto a piece of wood or other material for a sign. I elected to use a tracing method. Use a ball point pen, press hard into the wood around the edge of each letter and it will make a mark into the wood. You can barely see them in the photo on the right, at the arrows, but they are there.

Transferring Lettering

Once the letters are all traced, color them in with a paint pen. I used a black oil-based paint pen. To start the paint pen, depress the tip several times to activate the paint.

Paint Pen for Old Sign

I choose a simple sign since this was the first time I had done this, but there are so many things other things you can put on your sign (your last name, address, or a favorite quote would be fun.)

Here is the lettering and sign up close. I distressed some parts with sand paper before lettering, which gave it an old look, but you can achieve this with the paint too.

Old Sign Lettering

To seal the sign, wax it with Annie Sloan soft wax. The wax has a low luster, which maintains the old look. Alternatively, you can use polycrylic or spray sealant.

Here is the finished sign, it’s pretty long since it was a foot board. I bet will look great above a bed.

How to Make an Old Sign

How to Make an Old Sign

This project came out better than I thought. It’s a nice change from painting furniture a solid color. I love the weathered look. The lettering is not exactly perfect, but that helps to make it look old too, right?

How to Make an Old Sign

If you want more sign projects, see how Brittany made new wood look old and created a wooden sign here. Come see all the spring projects I’m up to at Decor Adventures and I’ll see you pretty handy friends here next month!

Jessica at Decor Adventures Blog

~Learn more about Jessica~


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How to Make an Old Sign from a Foot Board

6 replies
  1. Jessica @ Decor Adventures
    Jessica @ Decor Adventures says:

    Hi Heather,

    I know what you mean about Ballard. Their one sign was what I originally thought of in making this. Now you will have to get some foot boards of your own to make signs! I’m sure you’ll find some this summer 🙂

  2. Heather
    Heather says:

    This is a spectacular project! I love the molded arch! I am a Ballard Designs nut (window shopper mostly) and I love that you were able to create something Ballard-worthy out of someone else’s throwaway! Gosh, I am kicking myself that I passed up an old headboard and footboard at a garage sale last year that would have been perfect for this purpose!

  3. sandi
    sandi says:

    Great project and I get very inspired by your tutorials. I love the mirror in the picture, did you make that also? If so, could you give a tutorial on that? Really fun to see your ideas and love the blog. Thanks!


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