There are a lot of options for wood for your wood sign projects. Here I will describe my experience which matched my goal of carved wood signs. With all the information out there from DIY’ers and professionals which is the best for your projects?
The best wood for your wood sign projects depends on your purpose for the wood sign. Generally, the best wood for wood signs is pine and plywood. Their flexibility and ability to be used for multipurpose projects is key as well as the cost is the best.
Purpose of Wood Sign Drives Best Wood Decision
Ask yourself the question, what kind of wood sign will I create? This question is key to determining what is the best wood to use. Many folks in my research focused on specific wood for their wood signs and the common question which came to my mind was that it really doesn’t matter except what is the purpose of the wood sign you are going to create.
There are many types of wood signs, so to continue the general theme of best wood for your wood sign I wanted to give a general overview for your information.
Indoor Wood Signs – These wood signs are generally for Home Decor and do not have to be an expensive choice. Pine or Plywood would be an excellent choice of wood. Not being exposed to weather or outdoor elements allows Pine or Plywood to be chosen.
Outdoor Wood Signs – Wood for outdoor signs limits your choice of wood due to being exposed to the weather elements. Additionally, the wood would require maintenance repeatedly over the years. Most people think of outdoor signs for commercial purposes, however, the trend for wood signs for the home has been growing over the recent years. Medium Density Overlay (MDO) is an excellent choice for these applications.
If you would like more information on wood for outdoor signs you can see our article “Outdoor Signs – What Is The Best Wood?”
Commercial Purpose – Most of your commercial signs are going to be outdoor signs for advertising. Less common will be in the indoor application for wood signs. Additionally, they will be more specific or custom to a brand or event. Medium Density Overlay (MDO) is the best option for outdoor wood signs. It also works very well for the raised letters for commercial outdoor signs. Pine or Plywood would be an excellent wood choice for indoor wood signs.
Custom Purpose – Custom wood signs include a variety of woods. This can range from cedar, walnut, cypress or mahogany. These exotic woods can be very expensive however very beautiful when completed.
I created a chart below to help further the explanation of the purpose of choosing the best wood for your wood sign.
*Disclaimer – Listing is not all-inclusive – The provided list is a high-level review
Basic Wood Choices – What Are They?
As mentioned the be previous paragraphs it is important to know the purpose of your project to pick the best wood for your wood signs. Here we will dive into a couple of typical wood choices to give you a perspective on what will best serve your wood sign project.
According to Wikipedia – there are more than 126 species of pine. They have been used for many applications including lumber and construction, Ornamental, and food. Interestingly enough I didn’t know when I was doing research that there were so many species of pine.
Focusing on the lumber aspect of pine why is this the best choice wood for wood signs?
Durable – Pine is very durable and stiff which makes it an excellent choice for many wood sign applications. It is able to be used for furniture projects and provides durable enough to withstand most weight requirements.
Longevity – If properly primed, painted, sealed, or varnished to protect your wood sign pine can last to an estimated 10 years or longer if indoors. It really comes down to protecting the wood for your wood sign.
Waterproof – Pine is generally not waterproof and would not be a good choice for an outdoor wood sign application. However, if you properly prime, paint, treat or seal the pine it will prevent water penetration.
Rot – Not protected with a treatment pine will rot over time. As mentioned regular pine is not a good choice for outdoor application without properly protecting it.
Cost – The cost of pine is typically cheaper than the other choices on this list. As of the writing of this post cost of pine in your local hardware store can range from $12.00 to $13.00 for a 12″x4’x.75″ which would be used for most wood sign projects.
Medium Density Overlay (MDO)
Medium Density Overlay (MDO) is plywood with a weather-resistant resin bond overlay created with heat and pressure. Much like plywood, its cousin, Medium Density Overlay (MDO) has cross-laminated strains of thin wood bonded together, but with the resin overlay. This makes Medium Density Overlay (MDO) an excellent choice of wood for outdoor signs as it is extremely weather-resistant, in fact, it is the choice of many street signs.
Durable – Medium Density Overlay (MDO) is extremely durable to weight and weather. With its high-quality fiber with phenolic resin solids, Medium Density Overlay (MDO) will last for years.
Longevity – If properly primed, painted, sealed, or varnished to protect your wood sign Medium Density Overlay (MDO) can last over an estimated 10 years or longer if indoors.
Waterproof – Medium Density Overlay (MDO) is specifically designed to withstand weather unlike pine it was created to supply outdoor sign makers and concrete formwork industries.
Rot – Not protected any wood will rot in my opinion. However, Medium Density Overlay (MDO) was designed for outdoor applications. The odds of Medium Density Overlay (MDO) rot are very slim, however, I still would suggest properly priming, painting, and sealing your wood for your wood sign.
Cost – The cost of Medium Density Overlay (MDO) is typical of most plywoods. During my research in the United States, the typical cost of Medium Density Overlay (MDO) is $36.00 for a 4’x8′ sheet. Keep in mind you will be able to use this sheet for multiple signs and the cost per sign will justify the cost of the 4’x8′ sheet.
If you would like to see what products I’m using and purchase you can see my recommended products here – “Recommended Products“
Best Wood For Wood Sign Pros And Cons
We have been through a lot of details regarding the best wood for wood signs. Let’s look at the pros and cons so you can make the best decision for your wood sign project.
Pros Pine And MDO
Pine – Pine is very flexible for many applications and can provide many finishes from paint to stain. Additionally, it is very available and cost-efficient. It is easy to apply stencils too, carve, edge, and distress for a rustic look and fairly light to hang on the wall.
Pine is an excellent choice for your high-level production pieces as well due to its flexibility. For many reasons, pine is a highly recommended wood to use for your wood signs.
MDO – Medium Density Overlay (MDO) is an extremely usable wood for wood signs. Its advantages are it can be used easily for indoor and outdoor use, is paintable, can be stained, stenciled or distressed as well for a rustic look. Additionally, it can be used for many commercial wood sign uses. With the high-quality fiber with phenolic resin solids, Medium Density Overlay (MDO) resists weather elements and will last extremely long with little to no maintenance.
Cons Pine And MDO
Pine – Pine is softwood and does not stand up to weather elements. If exposed to moisture pine will continually warp and crack. This will affect the wood sign’s overall look and affect the paint that is applied. As well pine is more prone to be damaged as it is a softwood.
Medium Density Overlay (MDO) – Although like plywood, Medium Density Overlay (MDO) has a panel on the top that does not show any wood grain. If you are wanting more of a natural wood look Medium Density Overlay (MDO) might not be the wood for your wood sign. Additionally, Medium Density Overlay (MDO) needs painted with primer and paint to be effective. It is really meant for solid color paint appearance.
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