Dan has been a homeowner for some 40 years and has nearly always done his own repair and improvement tasks. He is a licensed electrician.
How to Engrave Your Own Stone House Sign or Address Marker
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 cost me $8 and a little paint. That's about how much buying regular steel letters to nail to the front of the house would have been. 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.
Step 1: Choose the Base Stone and Consider Location
- 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.
- Be aware of the proposed location. When I made mine, I knew it would rest on an area that started flat but then curved down to the left. While one edge of 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. I used 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.
Step 2: Set Up Your Workspace and Collect Tools and Materials
- This is not a task to be accomplished in an hour. My project 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.
Step 3: Engrave the Stone
The first step is to transfer the stencils to the stone.
- Lay out the stencils as desired for a pleasing appearance. For my project, I drew a gentle curve on the curved stone as a guide for stencil placement and laid the stencils 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 on. 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 at a time, 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 I used was a very lightweight one 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.
- I 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.
Photos to Show the Engraving Process
Step 4: Finishing Touches
- Clean the stone. 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.
- Paint. Each letter needs to be carefully painted in with a small artist's brush. Black is a common color, but others can work as well; I used 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.
- Prepare the site. 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.
- Consider light. 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 house 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.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: What Dremel and bits/attachments did you use for your stone carving? I plan on doing something similar to a 40" sandstone block.
Answer: I used a tool similar to the ones found here: https://www.amazon.com/Carving-Expert-Double-Tungs...
© 2011 Dan Harmon
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on May 02, 2016:
I used a simple oil based house paint. It needs re coated now, but has been several years. Acceptable, in my mind.
Karen on May 02, 2016:
What type of paint did you use? My daughter has a cornerstone address marker on her house, but the paint has faded on the numbers. I know you said epoxy is best but difficult to work with. What would be best?
Thank you for your help.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 22, 2012:
@ Just ask Susan: I doubt that shale would do very well. It tends to chip and break on flat planes, and is fairly hard and brittle as well. Sandstone was used here; a very soft rock with virtually no fault lines in it, and makes it easy to remove material just where it needs to be.
jellygator from USA on October 18, 2012:
This is pretty cool! I used to have one with a Kansas Jayhawk. Now I know how to make 'em. They're a popular item that is for sale all around here, but I haven't seen personalized ones.
Judi Brown from UK on October 18, 2012:
You make all these projects look so easy! Your house sign looks great - don't know if I'm up to it though (I know my husband isn't)!
Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on October 18, 2012:
What a great idea! I have tons of shale stone, and all the tools needed to do this, as well as your instructions. Thanks!
This will work with shale right?
Natasha from Hawaii on October 18, 2012:
I had no idea one could make an engraved stone sign at home. That is really cool!
Angelo52 on October 18, 2012:
Great idea. Looks like even an amatuer stone cutter can get this one done. Add a dust mask and goggles and good to go. Great article.
Jill Spencer from United States on October 18, 2012:
Looks like a good weekend project (for my husband)! Voted up, awesome & shared. --Jill
Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on October 18, 2012:
I'll bet you could find some good blank stones at a quarry or a rock shop. We actually did a wooden sign for our house, but I suppose there are restrictions involved in a subdivision or urban area.
I wonder if you could make your own headstone!
Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on October 18, 2012:
Voted across the board on this one and pinned etc. I think it's a great project. I love it. Wonderful directions how to do it as usual. Fantastic stuff. A stone sign address is a great idea to make your home to special!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 02, 2011:
Thank you! It was a quick and easy project and really improved the look of our property.
Interestingly, some company came by a couple of weeks after engraving this street sign, offering to paint numbers on the street curbing. They wanted twice what I paid and it would have been downright ugly!
RTalloni on October 01, 2011:
Great detail for an unusual project. This is a great solution to ugly house signs! :)
Voted up and bookmarked.