Make Your Own Engraved Stone Monument House or Street Sign
Why an Engraved Stone House Sign?
Engraved stone monuments have become very popular with the application of lasers and other tools for doing the engraving. We very often see them at the entrance to subdivisions, shopping centers, major stores and the like. They can be quite beautiful but are also quite expensive and usually require more than simple muscle to get them into place.
A small version can be made into a house, or street, sign however. A smaller stone with a street address and perhaps a name engraved on it. This is easily within the abilities of nearly any homeowner with just a few tools, can be carried and placed with relative ease and can provide that necessary address sign for your home.
The stone sign shown above carried a price tag of $8 and a little paint - about the cost of buying the regular steel letters to nail to the front of the house. Yes, it took a while to make but it certainly looks better and is even more visible than such letters. This engraved stone sign would make a great first project for the homeowner learning to do their own home improvement projects.
Choosing the Base Stone
For a street sign a flat slab of stone is probably best. Yes, a giant two ton boulder can be used if an appropriate location is available but be aware that you cannot move it without heavy machinery. Lettering will also have to be quite large to look reasonable and will require a good deal more work.
Be aware of the proposed location. The expected placement of the sign made in this article was on an area that started flat but then curved down to the left. While the stone could be buried in the ground (and should probably be buried to some degree) it made the job easier to find a piece that already had some curve to it.
Choose the type of stone carefully. The stone used here was sandstone; a soft, easily worked type of stone that is readily available in flat slabs of various sizes. This slab was approximately 3 feet by 2 feet by around 8 inches and weighed right around 100 pounds. Large enough for a sign yet small enough to handle. Other types of stone will weigh different amounts for a given dimension. It was purchased for $8 at a local nursery that carried various stone products as well as plants and trees while shopping for stone pavers for a new patio.
Setting Up For The Engraving Process
This is not a task to be accomplished in an hour - the sign shown required about 4 hours to complete - so make sure you have a comfortable area to work in. You will need the stone to be placed on a firm surface at a reasonable height for work and in an area large enough to work all around the stone. A Black and Decker Workmate proved to be the perfect height and was easily capable of holding the stone. A small office chair on wheels provided a comfortable seat to work from and was easily rolled around as needed.
A set of stencils will be invaluable. Two inch stencils are on the small side to be visible from the road, while four inch stencils are probably on the large side for most sizes of house sign. For this sign 4" stencils were chosen for the numbers while the rest were a 3" size. Simple block letters are preferable as they will be easier to engrave, but a fancier curved font could be done with more effort.
Some method of grooving the stone around the stencil is necessary to prevent chipping out too much stone. A dremel rotary tool was used with a straight cutting bit; while this bit did the job admirably a harder stone will probably require a diamond tipped blade of some kind - another reason to stick with sandstone. A hammer, ½" cold chisel, tape measure and pencil were the only other tools used.
Engraving The Stone Sign
The first step is to transfer the stencils to the stone. Lay out the stencils as desired for a pleasing appearance. In the example provided a gentle curve was drawn on the curved stone as a guide for stencil placement and the stencils laid onto the surface, centering them as well as possible considering the uneven edges. Using a pencil (it will wash off easily) draw the numbers and letters in. If two rows are needed be aware that much of the pencil mark will be removed on the second row and it may well have to be redone. The marks come off of the stone very easily and simply rubbing your hand over them will remove a good deal of any markings.
Using the rotary (dremel) tool carefully groove the outside edge of all the letters to a depth of around 1/8 inch. Deeper cuts may be made by making repeated passes with the tool, but will also require more work with the hammer and chisel. Stencils do not give a complete letter due to the necessity of holding the stencil together; it will be helpful to hand draw these last few lines so that the grooving process does not remove stone where it should remain. As cutting stone is hard work it is probably a good idea to groove only one letter, chisel it out while the tool rests and cools, then groove the next.
Using the hammer and chisel chip out the stone, again to a depth of around 1/8". Hold the chisel at around a 30º angle and strike lightly with the hammer. A hard blow is not necessary; the hammer used in the example is a very light weight hammer intended for body work on cars. Change the angle of the chisel as necessary to remove just the right size of chip. A steep angle will dig deeper but take a very small chip (if any) while a very shallow angle will take a large chip that is very thin. Vary the angle of the chisel constantly according to what you are doing. Never set the chisel at the groove and chip towards the outside of the letter; this will chip away stone outside the intended area. Take extra caution when chiseling at the groove. The groove is there to prevent chipping outside the letter, but if you chip directly at the groove it will do so anyway.
The example used a ½" chisel, but either wider or narrower will work. Just make sure that the chisel will fit easily between the grooves you have made with the rotary tool. Far better to have to chip twice down each letter to get the proper width than to take a gouge out where you didn't want to.
Finishing the Sign
With the engraving finished, clean the stone by either vacuuming it or washing it with a garden hose and letting it dry. It simply needs to be clean enough to paint, so all that is really needed is to remove the small rock chips and dust from the lettering.
Each letter needs to be carefully painted in with a small artists brush. Black is a common color, but others can work as well; the example uses a dark brown/red paint to accent the letters. Paint will likely need to be redone in a few years; epoxy type paint will last longer but will be more difficult to work with before it sets up. It will take a while to carefully paint in all the letters.
A shallow trench was dug in the ground to accept this monument sign and hold it upright, but it could also have been braced with steel rods driven into the ground. In this case a small solar light from a set of landscape lights was placed over the sign to provide some lighting at night.
This home is set at an angle to the street so that the house number is not readily visible, but this engraved sign fulfills that requirement far better than some numbers painted on the curbing ever would.
© 2011 Dan Harmon