Making My First Sign

Posted by JD on 21st May 2014

I was 13 years old when I helped make my first sign.  It was a 8' x 4' W1-7 Double Target Arrow.  Back then, we painted them by hand(it is actually ink).  First we covered the .080 aluminum with 3M Yellow Engineer Grade Material, then, we taped off the shape of the arrow and the border with 2" masking tape. Then I painted  inside the taped lines.  Being new and somewhat shy on my first day, I remember one of the workers telling me to "put some damn paint on the thing."  After about an hour of painting and a sore wrist, we set the large sign aside to dry, then carefully t off took masking tape.

Another one of my first jobs at the sign shop was cooking on street sign names.  We had a great big vacuum heat applicator, which was pretty much a great big pizza oven, with a rubber diaphragm.  The diaphragm would suck down all the air between the sign and the oven tray.  Then I would turn on a timer and cook the street sign names onto the aluminum blanks. For large orders of street signs, we would send the list of street names into 3M.  You would get a roll of the street sign names printed on Engineer Grade material.  I would unroll the material and cut the names off in 6" increments, then group them by length, 24", 30" & 36".  After that, I would carefully line up and overlay the face of the sign with the .080 aluminum street sign blanks  It was a hot job in the summer time because you couldn't have a window open or fan on around the heat applicator because it would throw off the thermometer of the oven.

I've cut sign blanks of all sizes on the shear, which is a dinosaur of a cutter.  The old story about that is when a guy was using the machine by himself in the old days, which is an safety No, No, and cut of all four of his fingers.  Trimming the Diamond Grade, High Intensity Prismatic, Engineer Grade Prismatic is another job I did. We just didn't have Diamond Grade back then.  Trimming is a monotonous job, the best way to do it, is to get three or four guys trimming at once and you can at least have a conversation with the guys to help pass the time.  I used to put a lot of sign orders together for my dad and Jon Callender to deliver.  As well as wrapping them up to go out UPS.  I did a fair amount of silk screening in the day.  All I can say about that is, "I got more ink on myself, then I did  the signs," as I was often told. 

I've had a lot of good times working in the sign shop over the years.  I have made a lot of good friends and worked with a lot of people.  I am very grateful to  have been able to grow up in and around the sign business.  I don't dread going into work.  It is a good job and can be a fun place to work.  I have some excellent employees that  work hard and do great work.  I doubt if anybody will ever read this, but I am told I have to have a lot of "content" on my site.  Google likes it.  So I hope the Google worm will crawl this article and approve of it.