How To Make Live Edge Wood Signs

How To Make Live Edge Wood Signs

14 minute read

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Introduction to Live Edge Redwood Slabs at the Calico Carver

Live edge redwood slabs first became available at the Calico Carver in Knott's Berry Farm in 2019.  Before that, the owner, Rich, had been looking for a reliable and sustainable source of this precious material for nearly 20 years.  You see, Rich grew up carving wooden signs.  And back then, live edge was considered cheaper--as it had not been processed and planed down to clean, sharp edge boards--and it was common.  But over time, live edge became harder to find reliably, and as redwood trees are protected, much less common.  Now our redwood slabs come from tree trimming and municipality services that remove old, diseased or storm damaged redwood trees, not from within the forests--where they are protected, and belong--but from city, county and private properties throughout California.  These trees are often at risk of falling, have recently fallen after a storm or strong wind or have fallen long ago and have not yet been removed.  Sometimes they are repurposed lumber used for telephone poles or other rural construction.  Rather than sending these trees to mills to become sawdust, mulch--or worse--to a landfill, we give them a brand new life.  Repurposing live edge wood is an environmentally conscious choice, reducing the need to harvest new timber and reducing carbon emissions.  Buying a live edge wood signs from the Calico Carver, or online at Calico Wood Signs, is making the choice to honor the redwoods, while preserving them.  Learn more about why the redwoods should be protected here:

These live edge wood signs slabs make stunning personal and professional signs, and you can cherish a Calico Wood Sign for generations!

Live edge wood signs slabs can also be used for other projects.  Outdoor and indoor tables and benches, countertops and shelves, and epoxy or resin river tables are very popular, because they look amazing! river table live edge live edge table live edge countertop live edge shelf 

Where to Buy Live Edge Wood Near Me

Shop for local sources of live edge slabs by searching for tree trimming services or urban wood recycling programs in your area.  

If you're in Southern California, you can check out Street Tree Revival, an offshoot of West Coast Arborists, who do an incredible job salvaging tons of good, urban timber from ending up in landfills, repurposing it into good, usable wood! 

What is Live Edge Wood

Live edge wood slabs keep the natural tree's edge in tact.  They make remarkable natural and rustic art pieces, furniture, decor, and much more.  They are not uniform--each is unique--and they showcase natural beauty as opposed to man-made, machined uniformity.  Many of us do not conform to the crowd, have our own quirks and unique traits that make us who we are, individuals.  And so we can relate to live edge for its individual character and its differences, which define and enhance it, much like ourselves.  Live edge wood can give a space a woodsy or cabin-like atmosphere, or it can stand in contrast to modern construction and decor.  It creates warmth to the feeling or vibe your space can provide, as it is inviting, it is familiar, it is strange and it is wonderful all at once.  We are innately drawn to it for the comfort, sustenance and sense of wisdom trees have provided humans throughout our evolution.  A live edge slab, sign or table is a centerpiece.  It makes a statement.  It will impress visitors and is something special that all can admire. 

For most projects, such as tables, counters and furniture, the bark is removed from the live edge, if it remains at all, to better clean and seal the edges of the wood.  In the case of the redwood slabs we use at Calico Wood Signs, this leaves what we call the golden edge.  The golden live edge shows all the details of a tree edge that remain hidden under the bark: nooks and crannies, cracks and knots and sometime even small branches.  It is called golden because the the yellowish color of the outer layers of a redwood tree that surround the red center.  While remaining rugged and unique, a golden edge is cleaner in appearance than with the bark remaining.  At Calico Wood Signs, we sometimes leave the bark intact on our live edge signs.  We have found that, while it is not permanent, the bark can stay intact for years.  The bark on our display signs have since we put them up in 2019, and they are handled (sometime man-handled) by Knott's Berry Farm guests everyday.  The bark can make for an even more rustic and woodsy look to your live edge sign, and many of our customers prefer us leave the bark on, when we can.  If you have a live edge Calico Wood Sign that has the bark, and it is starting to fall off, there are a couple of options you have to restore it or remove it.  1) You can do nothing; many people buy our signs to put outside and weather, so this adds to that worn-down-by-time appearance.  2) You can also try to reattach the bark, using wood glue or dry wall screws to hold it in place.  3) You can also remove it completely and show off the golden edge that was underneath.  Lightly by hand sand the golden edge clean with a high grit sandpaper, like 220, and refinish the edge with a wood sealer--such as poly or spar urethane, varnish or lacquer--to prevent or slow down further deterioration.  Whether it has the original bark, or the beautiful golden edge, live edge redwood slabs are the best material to make a hand-carved and uniquely personal Calico Live Edge Wooden Sign! 


Add some rustic elegance to your décor with this unique wooden beach sign. This wooden sign is the perfect way to show your love for both nature and the beach. With its beautiful mountain and beach silhouette, it's perfect for any outdoor space. Hang this sign in your garden, on your porch or even inside your home. Live Edge Wood Signs

How to Carve Live Edge Wood Signs

At the Calico Carver and Calico Wood Signs, we only use live edge redwood slabs, because redwood--being a soft wood--allows for us to do what we do--carve out your sign by hand-- and to do it well.  The soft wood enables us to get smooth, clean lettering and the detail in our artwork, that would not be possible to do by hand in hard wood.  And redwood, like many hardwoods, lasts a long time.  The natural resins and oils produced by redwood trees slow their natural deterioration, prevent decay in damp conditions, and allow the wood to handle harsh, outdoor conditions better than many other softwood species.  Redwood is even naturally pest resistant, to some extent.  The natural chemicals in the wood and bark, such as tannic acid, help protect the wood and help to make it resistant to termites and other pests. 

A live edge redwood slab will make for a beautiful, expertly carved Calico Wood Sign that you can enjoy for generations in your family!  We know some of our customers still have their routed edge redwood signs they purchased from at our shop over 39 years ago, so we can only imagine how many decades you can get form a more durable live edge sign!  

Before we carve into a live edge slab, there is some prep work to be done.  If the slab is warped or the surface uneven, we will plane it down to a level surface and sand it smooth so there are no uneven parts that can interfere with the routing.  Once the surface is smooth and level, we layout lines for the text that will be carved into the slab.  Once the space for the lettering is laid out and spaced correctly, we may roughly sketch out the artwork, ensuring before we carve anything that all the elements going into that sign are going to fit, and be appropriately spaced.  Once the layout is complete, we go to the routers.  All of our signs at the Calico Carver and Calico Wood Signs are freehand routed.  We have several routers lined up, each with a different bit, so we can save time from changing bits.  At our shop, we have been using the same Makita routers -- -- for at least 20 years.  They are 1 horsepower, large enough to get the job done but not too big as to be too bulky to handle, and not too powerful, which could cause blowouts while carving.  

When carving into wood using the freehand routing method the Calico Carver is known for, the key is anchoring the router with your hands.  Loosely handle the router with your thumb, index and middle finger tips, and keep the bottom of your palms planted in place on your sign.  This will help keep the wood in place while you are working, and will prevent you from losing control, which is very easy to do with a hand-held router.  Our signature lettering style, Calico Bones font, comprises several different strokes with the router that, together, create the letters and words.  Each letter should take up about the same amount of space, which helps with spacing the lettering so words do not look smashed together or spread out, and fill the space of the sign aesthetically.  

Once all the lettering is carved, then we move to the artwork.  Check that the original placement works with the final placement of the lettering.  The letters often take up a little more or less space than when first played out, so artwork placement may need to be adjusted to better fit the remaining space.  Most of our artwork is learned through experience, carving it over and over... and over again.  We learn the feeling and technique of the router strokes, and rely on these more than our eyes, which are used to keep the router bit in the space where it should be.  For this reason, when guest watch us make their signs at the Calico Carver in Knott's Berry Farm, they notice that we don't draw any of the artwork out, but rather draw shapes--triangles for trees, circles for bears or deer--because those drawings are simple to keep the art in their space, and the artwork comes to life from our experience from having practiced it enough to have it locked in memory.  

After we are finished carving a wood sign, it is time to paint it or burn it.  Prep by cleaning out the carved surface with an air compressor, wire brush, or if it's all you have, your fingernail, removing all loose material.  Traditional carved signs are burnt with fire to darken the inside of the carving, making it stand out from the rest of the surface.  Using a torch, carefully move along all the carving.  There is no need to go heavy with this.  The goal is not to get solid black, but a dirtier mix of black and brown.  Lighter is usually better.  At the Calico Carver and Calico Wood Signs, our shop is not equipped to handle a torch, and you may not be as well.  You can mimic the burnt look from a torch with spray paint.  Use a flat black, or the color you prefer if you are not trying to recreate the burnt look, and lightly spray the carved surface.  Again, do not go too heavy.  The lighter the spray, or the less paint you use, the better.  You want to have a dirty look to the painted areas, not a solid black or color.  Too much paint can lead to several problems later.  Once the overspray from the paint is removed, what remains in the carving will be darker than you may expect.  Let the paint completely dry before removing the overspray.

To remove the overspray or burn marks from the surface of the wood, while keeping it in the carved areas, use a handheld planer.  Keep the blade as high as you can while still removing the top layer of the wood that has been painted or burnt.  If the blade is too low, you will remove too much of the surface, and you risk removing the carving and having to redo your work.  After planing, use a belt sander with 180 grit sandpaper to sand the surface smooth from and planer marks and any remaining paint or burn marks.  Move back and forth lengthwise of the wood sign, never keeping the sander in one spot while it is running.  Also, keep the sander strait so that it moves parallel to the grain, strait from one edge to the other, in overlapping strides.  If you angle the sander, it will leave sanding grooves that will not be able to be polished out, and leave an amateur finish on your sign.  You do not need to push down or apply pressure to the sander, let it do the work for you.  If you apply too much pressure, you may sand away the carving.  Polish the sign smooth with a palm sander using 220 grit sandpaper.  Move the sander in circular motions covering the entire surface, then move straight back and forth from edge to edge once to make sure any remaining grooves from sanding are going lengthwise from left to right.  

Clean off any dust from sanding with a clean rag, vacuum or air compressor.  You can paint by hand any artwork that needs it.  Paint markers are a great tool for fine detail painting on carved wood signs.  A paint brush can easily brush paint into your deeper carving, where you will not be able to get it out without some effort, or receiving it out.  If you paint it, let it dry.  They apply the finish.  Select a wood sealer that best fits your needs.  Gloss looks great on signs hanging indoors.  Matte finishes often look better outdoors, as they have less of a glare, and leave the wood looking more natural or rustic.  A poly or spar urethane will protect the wood from moisture, UV rays and temperature fluctuation.  There are many choices available and we suggest using an aerosol spray version.  This will keep an even layer of finish along the surface and within the carving.  Spray several light coats to create the best seal and finished look.  

Congratulations!  You have made a hand-carved live edge wood sign.  Hang it with hooks and eyes, or mount it with a sawtooth hanger, and sit back and enjoy your work.  Or gift it to someone!  They will think you are so talented, creative and caring for taking the time to make them something personal, meaningful and uniquely for them.  The carving will demonstrate your character, and the live edge sign will give them character.  

We hope you found this article helpful.  If you have any questions regarding making your own live edge wooden sign, or would like to place an order to have a professionally made Calico Wood Sign, email or visit


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