Today I’m going to walk you through how to make a DIY vintage marquee sign! This marquee sign was for a local couple to use at their wedding reception and they are thrilled with the results!
If you’ve never taken on a project like this, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that it’s not too difficult. There are just a handful of materials needed to make this vintage marquee sign, and if push comes to shove, you can build it with only a few hand tools!
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Here are the tools and items I used for the project:
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How to Make a DIY Vintage Marquee Sign
- Print & Transfer Template
- Cut Out Letters
- Drill For String Lights
- Finish Plywood
- Patina Galvanized Steel
- Bend & Install Metal
- Add Lights
1. Print & Transfer Template
To kick things off, we need a template. You’re in luck, I’m giving this project template away for free!
You can go ahead and snag that here, or at the bottom of the post.
You’ll want to print this off at 1:1 for the letters to be approximately 4′ tall. Or, you can scale it to just about any size based on your needs. 1:2 will be about 2′ tall, 1:3 is roughly 16″, so on and so forth…
Most office supply stores will have a large format printer where you can print these. Otherwise, you can open the file in Adobe Illustrator or a similar graphics program and cut up the image into sizes that your home printer will handle.
You have two options here. One, you could just spray mount the template to the material for your marquee letters and not bother cutting out and tracing. Or, you can cut out and trace the letters so you have a reusable template.
I did find that using a straight edge made the process of cutting out and tracing each letter go quickly! When I got into a rhythm of tracing the letters, I really just marked the corners while the template was on the plywood and then connected the dots after removing the paper template.
I’ve done the hard work for you by laying out the lighting locations (for a 4′ sign) on the paper template. You’re welcome! Simply mark the center of each hole with an awl, nail, or Sharpie for now.
2. Cut Out Marquee Letters
To cut out the letters, I started on the bandsaw. However, balancing a 4′ letter and getting a good cut was proving to be a little difficult. So I switched over to the jigsaw and was pleasantly surprised how much faster it was!
I could have gone a step farther and set up a straight edge for the long cuts, but opted to just free hand it all the way and had pretty good results.
3. Drill For String Lights
First, you’ll want to drill a pilot hole; about a 1/8″ drill bit will do just fine. Next, drill from the back of each letter with a 1″ Forstner bit about halfway through the material. Once all of those are done, switch out to a 1/2″ Forstner and drill the rest of the way through.
4. Finish Plywood
Now we’re ready for finish! This is a great opportunity to stylize your sign. You can customize it with your favorite colors, or you can show the world that you have impeccable style and duplicate my color scheme! Just kidding, but really… Isn’t that a great staining combination? 🙂
I start off by giving the letters a quick sand with 120 grit just to knock down any fuzz or splinters from cutting and drilling.
Next, I apply a liberal coat of Varathane Weathered Wood Accelerator with a foam brush. Once that dries, I distress the surface and then apply Minwax Early American stain with a rag. I moderately dilute the stain with mineral spirits so that the color isn’t as intense. I’m trying to make the sign look old and weathered, not like it just had a fresh coat of stain applied!
5. Patina Galvanized Steel
I used new galvanized steel flashing for the perimeter on these marquee letters. But, the question now is how do we make it look vintage to match the letters that were just stained?
Toilet bowl cleaner and steel wool to the rescue!
With the flashing rolled out, I set off to scouring the material with the toilet bowl cleaner and steel wool. I used a liberal amount of cleaner and didn’t worry if some was pooled up in places as this resulted in a random rust/patina pattern which I wanted. After the solution sat for about an hour, I rinsed, dried, and repeated.
Once another hour had passed, I flipped the flashing over and repeated this process.
6. Bend & Install Metal
The process of bending the metal to fit your letters tightly is one that requires a little extra attention. Some folks will make all of their measurements at once and then do all of their bending at one time. I opted to mark and bend as I worked my way around the letters.
Before I started marking and bending, I set the letter on a handful of blocks (cut to 2-5/8″) to center the 6″ wide flashing on the plywood. I chose to mark out about 3-4 bends at a time, make the bends, and then check my work against the plywood letters.
The process I settled on was to hold the metal against the letter and mark the metal at each outside corner with a pencil. For inside corners, I used a tape measure and then transferred that dimension to the metal flashing.
To make the bends, I held the flashing against a piece of aluminum tube and folded the metal over a crisp corner by hand. Then I used a rubber faced dead blow hammer to make the corners sharp.
Once all of the bends are made, I used a 16 gauge brad nailer with 1-1/2″ nails to hold the metal in place. For inside corners that I couldn’t get to with the nailer, I used construction adhesive and clamped the metal until the glue was cured.
7. Add Lights to Vintage Marquee Sign
I wore gloves for two reasons while installing the lights. One, I know it’s typically best to not touch the bulbs because oil from your fingers can shorted the bulb life. Two, I hate the idea of a bulb shattering in my hand. Guess I’m just a little paranoid. 🙂
While installing the lights, think about where you want the plug to be and plan accordingly. Also, if the number of bulbs required for a letter is greater than the number of lights in your strand, you have a couple options. One, you can buy a different strand with more bulbs. Two, (which is what I did) you can splice in a few extra sockets from another strand.
Before you move on to the next letter, go ahead and make sure all the lights work.
Go Build One!
Well, what do you think? Ready to build one for your home, office, or start taking orders? Go ahead and grab the free “How to Make a DIY Vintage Marquee Sign” template below!
As always, if you have any questions, let me know. And until next time, have fun making something!