I'm a signmaker. I work mainly in vinyl decals applied to a varity of
substrates, but I need to make dimensional signage from time to time.
Problem is I can't afford a CNC router, and I'm a total newbie with
Sometimes I get MDO Plywood (not MDF) letters from this company.
http://www.woodenletters.com/lettershop.htm They use a CNC router and
are very good. Problem is if I quote a customer for 12" letters for
example, my cost is over $18 for Arial and for Times we're looking at
$23+ per letter. That means before painting and mounting, Vetinary
Clinic is around $300 my cost. For the rest of the work and mounting I
quote $400-450 and I get nothing. I can get formed plastic letters for a
little less than wood. They also save me a lot of work, as there's no
painting involved, so perhaps the quote is now $300... and my cost is
about $200, which still isn't low enough.
My guess is there's somebody in my market with a ShopBot. He's charging
the customer 1/3-1/2 less for MDO than I can buy wood for because he's
doing it in house.
I bought a $90 belt/disk sander from Grizzly. I bought a $100 16" scroll
saw from them too. Finished out my Grizzly shopping spree with the small
ShopFox oscillating drill press for $115, which I use for sanding more
than drilling. A friend lives in the Muncy, PA area so we incorporated
this trip into a visit. I'm strongly considering a $200 router from
Sears that's both a fixed base and plunge router, as perhaps it is
easier to use than the scroll saw.
The only power tools I owned before this endevor were some $15-20 B&D
tools from Wal-Mart, a drill, jigsaw and 1/4 sheet sander. That jigsaw
actually pulled to the left no matter what. I returned it and the new
one did too. Never found much use for them.
I cut templates with my plotter, lay them down on the wood, and just
don't do all that good of a job. I suspect it is because I have no
experience. I also suspect to a far lesser degree it is the tools.
I don't know if I can find anyone to cut letters for less than I'm
paying for them now. I'm not looking to rip someone off, but seriously,
an unfinished 12" MDO letter seems expensive at $18-23+ depending on font.
Any advice or offers is appreciated. Thanks.
send replies to email@example.com (knock off the last m)
If you have some interest in using a power tool, you could use a router
with a flush trim bit to duplicate the letters yourself. Scrap the
idea of buying a Sears router and go for a decent brand name tool. I
personally like my Porter Cables, but Bosch, Dewalt, Milwaukee, etc
would also be options. Buy 1 of each letter from your source. Tape
them to a sheet of MDO with carpet tape. Rough cut them with a jigsaw
(not a precision tool by the way), and then use the letters you bought
as template to cut out the letters with a flush trim bit chucked in
your router. Works like a charm. May be easier to do in a router
table, but MDO has no grain so chipout isn't a concern, and the letters
sound like they're big enough to safely secure to the sheet of MDO.
Better yet, send me a set of the letters and I'll do it for you for $10
a letter regardless of font. Just kidding, sort of. I need to find a
source to pay for this nasty woodworking habit I picked up.
One suggestion would be to find a new supplier.
A quick google for mdf letters shows
They are suppling mdf and other woods anywhere from $5.50-12.00
for 12" high letters.
There are inexpensive lettering templates made for use with routers.
Probably that font and size will not be acceptible to many customers
but you can study the design to get ideas for how to make your
A pantograph can be used with a router to transfer a pattern and
scale it so you can work from a paper copy of a font to make your
Someone used to sell a router pantograph, I disremeber whom.
?? That site shows $12.80 per letter for Arial and $16.00 for Times, for MDO
in upper case. Lower case is somewhat cheaper.
Your client would, I'm sure, prefer the sign to read "Veterinary Clinic". :-)
Sixteen letters at $12.80 each is $204.80.
Actually, at the site you gave, they cost *more* than wood.
I agree with Bob's suggestion that you should look for a less expensive
Perhaps... but if *every* bid you make is accepted, that means you're not
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
Nobody ever left footprints in the sands of time by sitting on his butt.
And who wants to leave buttprints in the sands of time?
When in business get the tools you need or you are not in business, or
don't enjoy what you do and don't stay in business. Sometimes we even
borrow to get a head start, so long as we are confident in what we are
doing, that's not out of line. You will be able to write them off
somewhere down the road. You don't have to go overboard. You do have
to get what you need. Go cheap and it will cost you far more in
quality, wasted effort and eventual replacement.
One solution is to visit the ShopBot website ( http://www.shopbot.com ) and
check if there is anyone in your area with a 'bot. You may find someone
close to you willing to do your occasional work.
Make one of these guys, or hire a local shop to make you one. Then
layout the letters you need on a piece of hardboard, and cut them
(slightly smaller than the finished template) out with a jigsaw. Use
a file and some sandpaper to get the templates into finished shape,
and viola, you've got yourself a letter making machine. If you need a
different font, print it out on your computer and make another set of
templates. You'll be good to go for any job you'll ever need to do,
and it shouldn't cost much overall. If you're doing a lot of letters,
you can also make aluminum templates for durability.
You could do the same thing with a the set of templates mentioned
above, and a router with a set of guide bushings (I'd recommend
Porter-Cable for this, simply because the bushings can be found so
easily) If you go the template and guide bushing route, understand
that the templates need to be larger than the letter you want (make
the templates the size you want plus twice the width of the bushing
you are using).
If you don't have a good dust collector or a powerful shop vac, get
one of those as well- you are going to kick up a hell of a lot of dust
routing that stuff.
Aut inveniam viam aut faciam
Snip of woeful tale
I've done a bit of vinyl application and vehicle wraps, so I may have
If you've got a plotter, I assume it's probably in the 48" range. As
such, you should be able to produce the sign in vinyl. As the jobs
come up, it'll be a lot of work until you have a full complement of
templates, but here goes:
Plot all the letters in the sign and cut them on vinyl.
Apply the vinyl to some 1/2" MDF (not MDO), applying the letters to get
the most out of the sheet of MDO.
Cut out the letters slightly oversize with a jigsaw.
Use your sander(s) to get them to the exact size of the vinyl cutouts.
As you know, the *exact* size is not so important as smooth lines.
You now have a set of templates to be used with a jigsaw and router.
Like I said, it's a lot of work on the first sign, but MUCH less on the
second (you can reuse letter templates that you've already made) and
even less on the third. You probably will "lose money" on the first
half-dozen or so, but it's one less middle man, and one less scheduling
Hope it helps,
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