Here Kitty Kitty

The customer is always right — as long as they don’t say no to any suggestions or artwork that you give them. My customer (Nebraska Humane Society) has been fantastic to work with. They have included me in most of the decision-making — from paint color, to overall design of the interior and exterior.
Meeting with architects and engineers has never been one of my favorite things to do because by the time you meet with them the project is already drawn out, and the idea work is done. But with this job they gave us the freedom and the budget to design all the signage and help with the interior design.

This project included five large dimensional signs with significant sculptural elements, 150 office and directional signs, five large wall graphics, one monument sign, two backlit exterior can signs and some cut-out letters for the front of the building. All were produced with little or no changes in design.
This is how we went about producing the sign for the lobby. We’ll talk about the entire project somewhere down the road.

I decided the lobby sign should be 4' x 9' because this is the first thing you see as you walk into the large lobby. Each sign was designed differently, but by using the same letter styles and color scheme they worked well with each other.

We create our artwork using an art table (2000), a #2 pencil and prismacolor pencils. All done by hand — Y2K-compliant.

I still draw my artwork on the art table and use colored pencils for color. It looks better and sometimes gives me an edge over computer artwork.

We used an overhead projector to make patterns from the original artwork. After that was done, Randy Thomas (best helper in the world!) pounced all our panel shapes and cat pieces with an electric pounce wheel.

After projecting the artwork to scale, patterns are made and then Randy pounces the image on HDU.
We use a jigsaw to cut out all the large panels and cat silhouettes.
A Craftsman 16” scroll saw is used to cut all the letters. This saw cuts through HDU like a hot knife through butter, leaving an edge that needs little or no sanding.
Our router and routing table is used to finish the edge route. Ball bearing bits are the greatest.

We used a Bosch 1587VS jigsaw to cut all the large shapes out of the HDU. We have other brands of jigsaws in the shop, and the Bosch cuts well, but the hunt still continues for the perfect jigsaw. We use a fine-tooth blade (about 13 teeth per inch). This blade leaves a good cut in HDU at either high or low speed. The speed really is determined by how comfortable you are standing over the large pieces you are cutting.

When cutting 1 1/2'' and 2'' HDU you may have problems with the blade rolling over and leaving a beveled edge (not square). Friend and fellow Letterhead Dave Correll has a good way of dealing with this problem. Dave mounts a 6'' x 6'' piece of clear plexiglass to the base of his saw, leaving an open space for the blade to move. I’ve used this trick and found this really helps with that problem.

My favorite saw in the shop is the Craftsman 16'' scroll saw. It takes a little time to get used to but when cutting HDU this saw is the cat’s meow. We use the scroll saw for cutting letters up to 12'' tall. It cuts very clean and smooth and leaves an edge that needs little or no sanding.

We also use a Craftsman table router, with ball bearing bits to finish the edge of the letters. We just place the letter on the tabletop and set our depth on the router bit to what looks good for that particular letter.

After locking down the router, you just push the letter around the bearing bit. The bearing will not let you cut into the letter, but removes the round-over. It’s a quick and easy way to change the shadow or highlight you’ll get on your letters.

What kind of primer do you use? This is probably the most-asked question we get from people in the sign trade.

The primer we chose for this job was Jay Cooke’s primer ( It was the first time we used it and we thought it worked really well; it has good coverage, dries quickly and sands easily.

I think we’ve tried just about all of them now. We like different primers for different things… Shur Fil lacquer primer for priming HDU when we’re going to gold leaf, because it sands very smooth. Coastal Enterprises primer is also a good product. 1 Shot®‚ poster paint makes a good colored primer. It’s one of those endless questions that can’t be answered with just one product. You’ll have to try them all and see what you like best.

For sandblast stencil we used Anchor Brand #117. This rubber mask comes in different sized rolls, and adhesive. We like the #117 because it sticks well to primer and does not come off during sandblasting.

Sandblast mask is applied over primed panels. Randy is using a washer with a pen placed in the center. The washer rolls around the letter leaving a perfect outline. We cut the mask by hand and it’s ready for blasting.

We placed the letters on the mask and used the washer trick for a perfect outline. To do this, pick the size of your outline by measuring the thickness of the washer from the center wall to the outside edge. Then, place a pen in the center hole, hold the letter down and roll the washer around the edge of the letter. We then hand-cut the mask and the panels were ready for blasting.
We have a sub-contractor do our sandblasting due to space and mess issues. He does the blasting while we wait.

After blasting we removed the mask and paint backgrounds with primer. Letters and background will need at least two coats of latex. Jay Cooke’s primer and latex paint are used on all backgrounds and letters.

Using Coastal Enterprises one-part glue, we glue and screw the cat pieces together. Drying overnight, they’re ready to carve in the morning.

Starting in on the cats we used Coastal Enterprises one-part glue, and screwed four 1 1/2'' pieces together so they would not move.


The next day, Jim starts roughing out the first cat using a drywall saw.
An automock HCT-30 is used to remove everything that doesn’t look like a cat.

Jim Curran, a good friend of mine did all of the cat carving. He started out using a drywall saw to rough out the block. From there he used an auto mock HCT-30 woodcarving tool. This tool comes with a five-blade pack and is used to remove most of the larger pieces, or as Jim says, “everything that doesn’t look like a cat.” He then uses a carving knife and sandpaper to get the finish puuurrr-fect.

Jim finishes the cat using a carving knife and sandpaper. Now it’s ready for paint.

Mark Sundell (a long-time friend and sub-contractor) started the cat painting with solid coats of 1 Shot lettering enamel. After this was done he airbrushed the detail onto the cats. To finish them off, he sprayed matte clear over the entire piece.

The body is painted with 1 Shot Lettering Enamel. Mark then airbrushes on the detail.

PL300 is used to glue down all the lettering.

We made the shelf for the cats to sit on using one 1x8 and one 2x4, along with a piece of crown moulding, and painted the whole assembly white. We also used a piece of PVC latticework as the background for the cats. Mark carved the two ribbons and the backgrounds complete.


(Below: close-ups of the finished carvings.)