Gilding projects And How Tos, How To's

raised wooden letter DIY wall sign art

Cafe Wall Sign Art

The outhouse is coming along nicely now. The walls are done. The windows are all looking pretty, even the one I had to reglaze. And the furniture has all been upcycled. And now with only the floor left to do (I’m planning something quite special for that) it just leaves me with the styling up and faffing to do. Which let’s face it is always the best bit. The bit where the actual design you had in your head becomes a reality. And as my design is inspired by the Gran Caffe culture of Italy I though it would be a bit of fun to create my very own signage as a homage to these wonderful places. So here’s how I made my DIY raised wooden letter wall sign art.


raised wooden letter DIY wall sign art - raspberry flavoured windows

my raised wooden letters ready to make my DIY wall sign art


But first what to put on the sign? And why my obsession with the cafe culture of Italy? Well firstly I’m being rather boring and rather literal. My husband said I should make one that says ‘Raspberry Flavoured Windows’ but let’s face it that’s a bit of a mouthful! And secondly it would cost a fortune in lettering. So instead as I mentioned I’m going literal. My sign will say ‘Gran Caffe’. My husband is waiting for the first person to ask where the ‘D’ is when we finally have someone over to see it! And keeps making jokes about it being your grans cafe! Funny……NOT! So that’s the what to put on it but why my obsession?


Cafe Wall Sign Art


Italy has always been my favourite country in the world. I love the culture, the people, the food, well just about everything about it. My husband and my boys love it as much as I do too. I’ve sat in wonderful restaurants at night when the boys were small fast asleep next to me and I’ve pushed them around lava cobbled streets in pushchairs which is not an easy task to say the least! And I still love it. And one of my favourite things to do there is while away the hours in a cafe. A place to sit, meet friends, chat and people watch. And it doesn’t matter if you want a glass of wine for you, a coffee for your friend and an ice cream for your child. They serve everything under the sun, all at the same time.


Cafe Wall Sign Art


And there is no better place on this earth to people watch than Italy.  Bustling Piazza’s full of the most beautifully dressed people walking alongside regular Joe’s and Joanna’s. And it doesn’t matter what time of day either. A morning coffee, a pre lunch drink, early evening cocktails or a night cap. And there is always someone who strikes up a conversation with you. I have met some amazing people from all over the world whilst sat in an Italian cafe. It’s just not the same is it? When the only alternative here in good ol’ blighty is a ‘Costa’! Anyway I’ll shut up now shall I, all this talk of actual normality is getting to me. Will there ever be a ‘bustling’ space again??


Cafe Wall Sign Art


On that note let’s get back to the sign shall we? This is actually incredibly easy to do and I think you’ll agree, it looks like a million dollars when it’s finished. It certainly does not reflect the £20 odd pound cost that it takes to make it. So first up you need to decide on a word or words for your sign. For me it’s ‘Gran Caffe’ but maybe you’re naming your ‘home bar’? Or you want a ‘Naughty Corner’? Or perhaps ‘Cocktails’? The world as they say is your crayfish! Once you do have your word though it’s time to order your letters. I bought mine in Hobbycraft. But there are lot’s of places to find them online too. Just google wooden wall letters.


raised wooden letter DIY wall sign art

painting the wooden letters to seal them


Now true to my style and that of historic signage too my letters are going gold, with????? You guessed it, gold leaf. But as the letters I have bought are MDF (which is why they are so cheap) they will need priming first so that the gold size (the glue) doesn’t get absorbed into it. MDF is extremely porous and wherever you use it, it’s always best to prime it first. I’m using  some left over Rustoleum Satin Furniture Paint from my mid century dining chair upcycle project. I always have a look around to see what leftovers I have lying around so I can use them up rather than buying new. Basically I boshed it on with an artists paint brush. I am so proud of my adulting skills here, I actually remembered to put rubber gloves on!


raised wooden letter DIY wall sign art

being doubly careful and painting the backs of the wooden wall letters too


Remember to also paint the backs of the letters too once they are dry. Just to be on the safe side. Oh, and talking about the ‘safe side’ I went the extra mile and spent 10 minutes giving each letter a second coat of paint too. The paint really did sink in with the first application.


raised wooden letter DIY wall sign art

Applying size to the wooden letters ready to gild them


Once all your letters are dry it’s time to gild them. Having said that you don’t have to. You can choose any colour for the letters that takes your fancy and then miss out the gilding steps and skip to the end. Your sign will still look amazing. But if like me you love a pop of gold carry on reading. I’m using acrylic size for this project which is a specific king of glue for gilding that stays sticky or open for a few hours to give you plenty of time to do the gilding part. Paint on as you would any sort of paint as evenly as possible making sure to cover all the areas you want to gild.


raised wooden letter DIY wall sign art

leaving the size to dry and come to take ready for gilding


The acrylic size is a bit like watery PVA glue to use. It goes on white but as it dries it turns clear. This only takes between 15 and 30 minutes depending on ambient temperatures etc. Once clear it’s time to test it to see if it’s ready to gild. Using a finger knuckle drag it lightly across the size and if it makes a squeaky (can’t think of another way to describe it) noise then your size has reached tack. This is the correct term to describe when the size has reached it’s perfect sticky stage ready for gilding.


raised wooden letter DIY wall sign art

applying the transfer gold leaf to the front of the wooden wall letters for my DIY sign


Now onto the fun (and rather messy) bit. The gilding! I’m using Imitation gold leaf (it’s much cheaper than the real deal) in a mixture of loose and transfer leaf. Loose leaf is as it says on the tin. It’s loose and lighter than a feather. It also has a mind of it’s own too! Transfer leaf is altogether much easier to handle as the gold leaf is pressed onto a sheet of paper but It tends to work best on flat surfaces. So initially I used the transfer leaf for the face of each letter. Place it carefully down onto the face of the letter and then rub the backing paper with your finger to transfer the leaf onto the letter. And then carefully peel back the backing paper.


raised wooden letter DIY wall sign art

tamping the transfer leaf down before moving to the next step


Then using a flat artists brush gently pat down the leaf. If you have overhangs as in the picture above just gentle tamp it onto the side of the letters. At this stage you are not looking for perfection either. We just need to make sure the transfer leaf is stuck down well. And then it’s on to the messy bit with the loose leaf!


raised wooden letter DIY wall sign art

And then adding loose leaf to the sides of the wooden letters


Tear off small pieces from a sheet of loose leaf and then make your way around the sides of each letter. Your aim is to cover the sides completely with gold leaf. The artists brush will come in handy here too to help you tamp down the leaf and get into the tiny spaces of some of the letters. I may have sworn a few times with the letter A that’s for sure. And honestly by the time I’d finished I looked as though I’d been rolled in glue and then gilded too! It was everywhere! Once every bit of size has gold leaf attached to it use the artists brush to first press the leaf down with the brush flat to the surface. And then using a sweeping action brush away the loose bits to reveal your golden letters in all their glory.


raised wooden letter DIY wall sign art

finally giving the gilded wall letters a coat of varnish to seal the gold leaf

There’s one more step to go before we can start thinking about making the letters into a sign and that’s to give them a quick coat of varnish. Again I’ve gone with whatever I have left in my outhouse. The ever so sexy Wilko Gloss Yacht Varnish. One coat of varnish should be fine.  Gold and metal leafs are delicate to say the least and the varnish gives them a layer of protection. Plus some types of leaf tarnish over time as they react to the air and the varnish will stop this happening.


DIY raised wooden letter wall sign art.

Preparing the backing board for my raised wooden letter DIY wall sign art


Now it’s time to get those letters mounted. After all you can’t have a DIY raised wooden letter wall art sign without a back board! Once again my trusty outhouse came into play as I have lots of offcuts of 18mm plywood left over from when I revamped my youngest’s teeny tiny bedroom to give him more space by created a fitted look with a loft bed.  To find the ideal size for the back board I laid the letters out with a 1cm space between each letter and a 5cm gap between the two words. And then added a 10cm boarder the whole way around. I cut the wood to size with a circular saw (a jigsaw or by hand works too) and then gave it two coats of the Rustoleum satin furniture paint front and back with a light sand in between coats.


making a shop front sign

setting the letters out


And now it’s time to mount the letters. I gently dotted some sticks like shit on the back of each letter. And after using masking tape to show me where to place them I stuck each one down. And just to be doubly sure about my measurements I first stuck on ‘GRAN’ then went to the opposite end of the sign and attached ‘CAFFE’ in reverse order. Don’t be over indulgent with the glue at this point as it will squidge out if you’re not careful. If it does though you can remove most of it with a damp cloth and then any white showing after the glue has dried can be touched in with your furniture paint. At this point leave overnight for the glue to fully cure.

making a shop front sign

using a mitre box to cut the moulding


My plan was to leave the sign at this point when I came up with the idea in my head. But it came out so much better than I expected and didn’t feel quite finished with the raw edge. So I decided it needed a more professional edging. One quick visit to Home base later and I am the proud owner of some Hockey beading which will be perfect for that extra special finishing touch. All you have to do is carefully measure up the sign and then cut the corners of the beading at 45 degree angles with a mitre block and saw before gluing the moulding to the backboard. I used a couple of tiny panel pins to hold it in place whilst the glue was drying.


Cafe Wall Sign Art


Again I want mine gold so I follow the same process as previously done with the letters to gild the frame and top it off with a coat of varnish. Et Voila! OK, so that was French not Italian but I don’t know the equivalent phrase in Italian. Now all you have to do is hang it. I drilled two slots on the back and added ‘D’ cups so the I could hang my raised wooden letter DIY wall sign art level with the wall. And bloody hell! I managed to get my measurements right first tine and it’s actually level!


DIY Shop Front Sign


So there you have it, my  DIY raised wooden letter wall sign art. What do you think? It’s a great idea for personalising a space and I had fun making it too. In fact several people have asked me to make them one! And so I have added them to my shop. Not only that but you get to choose the word and either gold, silver or copper letters too 🙂 What do you reckon?


Rachel's Signature

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