My company, G2 Technology Group, was moving to a new office with more space. I wanted to celebrate the move by creating a sign for the brick wall outside our front door. I’ve seen sign’s in the past that were a little three dimensional and wanted to get the same effect without making the whole thing out of wood.
So my plan was to build the sign out of MDF and use some Styrofoam covered with Bondo to give it the depth without carving the whole thing out of wood.
Step one was getting the right dimensions. I took the logo and printed it out to get an idea of the size I was going for:
I then enlarged it to a 4×4 paper printout and taped it together:
I then cut out the shapes using an x-acto knife and taped the template onto a piece of MDF so that it wouldn’t move around.
I cut the shapes and letters out of the MDF with a jigsaw, I then used a Dremel to clean up the edges and get the tough corners the jigsaw wasn’t going to get so easily.
At first I was going to glue the pieces onto the white standard Styrofoam that comes in packages but the pieces were too soft and I was worried that chunks would break off when cutting and sanding. So I opted to go with polystyrene insulation boards, which are typically used for insulating homes. The foam was more rigid and tougher then the standard styrofoam. So I cut and glued the MDF to that:
I then had to cut the shapes out of the polystyrene insulation. For this I used a hacksaw so the blade would have tiny teeth prevent large chunks from getting ripped out and so that I could get in to the tougher areas, particularly in the lightning bolt shape. I also used some wood files to get the sharper corners. I also wore a breathing mask and goggles for this task. Not sure how nasty the stuff was but I didn’t want to be breathing in a lot of polystyrene dust, that’s probably not a good thing. I’ve since looked up the MSDS for it and it’s not too bad, but protecting my eyes and lungs from the dust was the right thing to do: Foamular® Extruded Polystyrene Insulation – MSDS
In retrospect, I wish I took more time and made the edges in these steps smoother. I did it quickly and my edges were pretty jagged and not exactly flush with the MDF. My thinking was that it was going to get covered later in Bondo, so who cares, but as I learned that process can only do so much and it’s better to be slow and careful all the way through so you don’t have to try to compensate for bad work later. The two big lessons I learned later on from this was:
1) to take my time and do it right, don’t rush.
2) When removing the foam it’s better to remove too much than not enough. (I’ll revisit this later as I am working with the bondo).
I wasn’t sure what the polystyrene and Bondo were going to do so I first applied some to a test piece, sure enough the too reacted and the bondo dissolved through the polystyrene. So I needed a protective layer between the two. I went with a polyurethane plastic resin to not dissolve the polystyrene and still be able to apply the bondo to. It’s a 1 to 1 agent, so you mix equal parts and the liquid starts to harden and sets as a pretty durable plastic. I got it from the Blic art store down the road for not too much money.
The resin would set pretty quickly so I did each of the shapes in small batches so I wouldn’t waste the material. This was another case where less was more and if I poured too much I felt I was racing the clock to try and get it on properly before it set.
Originally I was thinking I could also use some wood patching paste, since it’s pretty easy to apply and I already had some around the house. I experimented with it and it didn’t work out so well. It didn’t get the smooth rigid finish I was hoping for and seemed better suited for smaller cracks and fills then a smooth face.
After the foam was protected I could apply Bondo to help smooth out the edges. It was a process of apply, sand, and then reapply till I got the right shape and smooth edges effect I wanted. That stuff smells bad as well so I also wore a respiratory for that and made sure the basement fans and windows were open to move the fumes out. Like the resin, I learned that it was better to start with less bondo and apply it multiple times rather than mix too much and race the clock to apply it smoothly before it sets:
It was during this phase that I learned that second lesson from above: it’s better to have too little foam than to have too much on. For some of the edges where the foam was not even and flush with the MDF I accidentally sanded too much away and got down to the foam underlayer. When this happened the next application of bondo would start to dissolve the foam and I found myself having to go back and fill holes with the resin where the bondo had dissolved the foam. This also happened in some hard to reach areas so it got pretty frustrating. Now that I know I can avoid this on future projects, but it was a hard lesson learned.
After everything was smoothed out it was a quick coat of primer and then ordinary house paint that was in the G2 Company colors.
I also added a top coat of water based polyurethane to protect the surface. I didn’t want the paint to get knicked up or dingy so I added a couple coats to seal it all in.
And all together before we hang it in it’s final place:
To hang it and keep it spaced properly, I mounted it on a piece of MDF with Gorilla Glue, painted it white, and added a picture hanger on the back. We finally hung it up outside our corridor:
- MDF board – about $15 for a 4×2 foot board which was more than I needed.
- Polystyrene insulation boards – 1/2″ thick and 8’x 3′ board was $8.
- Polyurethane plastic resin – 16 oz kit was around $30 at the art store.
- Bondo – $15 for a big can which was way more than needed.
- Green and Gray Paint – Got the Valspar $3 sample sizes in the colors I needed.
- Water based Polyurethane sealer- $12 for a good size can was way more than I needed.