A Short History of Sandblasting Signs and the Tools Used to Make Sandblast Signs
Most of you reading this article probably will never make a sandblast sign, but if you want to know about the process of sandblasting signs, this article will be very informative in that regard.I’m sure this is a fascinating article, but I just wanted a Quick Quote!
In about 1870, Benjamin C. Tilghman invented and patented a method that used high-pressured air to powerfully drive an abrasive substance against wood or other surfaces to remove paint, moss, dirt, or, in the case of sandblasting signs, wood particles. We’re not precisely sure how long it took sign makers to adopt this method to created the first wood sandblast sign, but because carved wooden signs had been in existence for thousands of years, it was not long before an enterprising sign maker figured out that this process could, with a “blast mask,” be adapted to sandblasting signs.
In approximately 1932, Wheelabrator patented a new method of sand blasting using the centrifugal force of a wheel to impel sandblasting abrasives against a target, such as a sandblast sign. This method is typically known today as “airless” sandblasting. This system of making wood sandblasted signs uses recyclable steel or grit particles to blast the item at hand. These machines vary in size, depending on the type of work the sandblast company performs. The larger machines aren’t typically necessary for sandblasting signs.
Materials Used in Sandblasting Signs – Should You Choose Wood or Something Else for Your Sandblast Sign?
There are two major materials used in the 21st Century in making sandblasted signs, and a third material that is making inroads. Wood, logically, was the first material used to create a sandblasted sign, and is still widely used for making sandblasted wooden signs. In sandblasting wood signs, typically we prime the wood, then apply a “blast mask,” then blast the sign with an abrasive. The soft part of the grain is blasted away with an abrasive as described above.
The two main types of woods used in making custom sandblasted signs are Western Red Cedar and Redwood. These are both beautiful softwoods that are at their most attractive when their natural beauty is allowed to show through. The sign to the right is an example of a hand-painted and natural wood-grained sign made of Western Red Cedar, indigenous to the region where this sign is placed near the Idaho border in NE Washington State. Incidentally, your’s truly painted the centerpiece.
The drawbacks of wooden sandblasted signs are several. High maintenance is the main complaint, particularly if a sign has natural wood grain as the sign above has. Because wood expands and contracts seasonally, it tends to wick moisture through any paint or stain or sealant when micro-fracturing occurs in the paint due to this expansion and contraction. Once moisture gets behind the paint, it will tend to work paint loose along these micro-fractures, and the sign will begin to shed paint over a 3 to 10 year period, depending on the severity of the climate, sunlight, and other weather factors.
In the past couple of decades, a new material began to be used increasingly for making custom sandblasted signs. High Density Urethane, or HDU, is a synthetic product that mills easily, is unyielding to inclement weather, more dimensionally stable, bug-proof, and can be textured using a wire frame to look like wood. One drawback is that if you want a natural wood look, you cannot use HDU. Another is that an HDU sandblasted sign does dent somewhat easily, especially with a faux wood grain. Most of the time this is not a significant issue.
A friend of mine makes wholesale sandblasted signs and introduced me to a new material a while back called Extira™. You need to know, for starters, that I make no direct commission from this material, and the margins are pretty much the same as the previous two items. We’ve just been impressed with the durability of this dense man-made wood and resin product for sandblasting signs.
Extira™ has the advantages of HDU such as rot and bug resistance due to the zinc borate treatment in the manufacturing process, and is dimensionally stable like the urethane panels. It is also very heavy, which is an advantage in that it is a denser, stronger material than HDU or wood sandblast signs. The only semi-negative is that it comes in a 1.25″ thickness, so appears to be less solid than 2″ thick HDU or 1.5″ thick sandblasted wooden signs.
Extira™ also scores well in the “green” department. It is made from sustainable materials, but no old growth wood, which is one of the negatives for some clients with redwood and cedar. It is manufactured without the use of added urea formaldehyde as HDU is. HDU is also an oil-based product, so it’s not what we’d consider an environmentally friendly product. And a sandblast sign made from Extira™ has a Class C fire rating, along with a five year warranty. As for sandblasted sign pricing, it’s about the same as the other options. HDU and Extira™ are both less costly than redwood or cedar now, and are roughly the same price.
Now that you know how to sandblast wood signs or similar, and you know what materials to use for a sandblast sign, you can get online and find a good company with a good BBB rating and order a sandblasted sign. Or, if you’re really adventurous and want to go into sandblasting signs, you’ve at least got some of the basics for a sandblast sign right here. Good luck!
For more information regarding signs that are sandblasted, visit here.
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