Tar Heel Signs

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Lightspire Design and Fabrication

Call 919-824-3320 or email us

How We Made That: A Sign for Five Oaks

Follow along as we make a 5-foot wide sign for the Five Oaks community in Durham, NC.

The Concept

We can work with our customers design needs in quite a few different ways. Sometimes a customer may have no idea what they want in a design. Other times we may be replacing an old, worn-out sign with an identical copy (for which there is usually no file available -- just a picture!). In the case of Five Oaks, they a pretty good idea of what they wanted and sent us an image they had worked up in Photoshop.

The Design

Once we know what our customer wants and needs, we take that concept and refine it. This involves tweaking the design to make sure the final sign is strong, easy to read, and can be manufactured in a way that meets their needs for quality and price. As part of this step, we create 3D models that show how the final product will appear so that the customer can be sure their sign looks exactly as they expect.


The exciting step that everyone loves to watch -- our 800 pound robotic router carves out the sign.

On to Finishing!

After cutting, the sign moves on to one of finishing stations. Here's what it looks like after carving but before any finishing takes place. At this stage, the sign already looks great at a distance, but we believe in attention to detail, so there's lots of little work to be done before painting starts!

Sanding, Hand-Carving, and Detailing

While our giant robot does a lot of the hardest work for us, it still leaves a lot of little details that we take care of with a little old-fashioned craftsmanship. There are little spaces where the router bits won't fit, small flaws in the finish, and the occasional tiny manufacturing defect in the material itself. Each of these require a human touch.

Here you can see the area just to the left of center that we haven't detailed and the area right of it that we have. Lots of delicate work and craftmanship are needed to get it right!


The high-density urethane foam we use for carved signs isn't porous, but it does have texture. Two coats of primer make sure the sign will hold paint well.

Support Layer

To give these large signs the strength and stability needed to make sure that last and look good for years to come, we mount the sign to a layer of marine-grade plywood (a step well beyond "exterior" plywood. Gluing the layers together requires a liberal dose of waterproof glues and several days curing time under pressure. Here you can see the two signs we're making stacked up and ratcheted down to ensure we get a tight, permanent bond between the HDU and the plywood.


Another labor intensive step! Each layer in the sign is painted by hand. This sign has a background and foreground, so it's fairly easy for us compared to signs that have multiple layers and lots of intricate details. The simple, yet bold form of this sign has great visual appeal -- but also keeps the cost down for our customer! Once we are satisfied with the finish (front, sides, and back!), the sign is ready for the customer!

Work with us! Let's make something wonderful for you!

Call us at 919-824-3320 or send us an email!