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I've made a few signs over the years for a local sign company.
They typically need recessed wording... A problem without a CNC in my shop.
There are limitations that you should be aware of. For instance, your router bit needs to be at least 1/16" thinner than the cut at its thinnest point.
You should be mindful of the depth of cut. The deeper you go the worse it gets.
More time consuming - (Double the depth is double the time)
More dust to collect and clean up
More painting to do to paint the letters afterwards (if you're hand painting)
Don't use a small router for this job, you need the weight to stabilize the cut.
I find that my Craftsman, fixed base router is perfect for this job.
In the above example, I had to go as far as a 1/8" diameter straight bit to get into the narrow parts.
If I'm experiencing surface tear out a down cut bit at a slower router speed will fix that.
A down cut bit forces the cut material down as it cuts to protect the surface.
You'll find that finesse is much easier with a larger diameter router bit. They can scrape the sides of a cut without plunging into it much easier than a smaller bit.
I use the largest diameter bit I can get into the space I have to work with.
The technique is pretty intuative.
1. Plunge into the middle of the cut.
2. Circle round to enlarge your hole.
3. Don't hold on too tight, let the router move and get a feel for the precision it will allow if you let it.
You'll find that you can shave off a few thousandths of an inch at a time.
Take your time, relax.
I cut both ways when the grain looks like it'll tear out if I push cut.
I'll only do that when shaving the surface.
Not advisable for a deep cut because I don't want the router to take off on me.
I was able to cut most of the wording you see in the above image within a day.
Once you're satisfied, soften the edges with sandpaper to remove imperfections.
The results will surprise you
Stencilling - My client provides a stencil that I use to define the wording and font. It's paper thin and fragile tape so it tears.
I've found it's a good idea to wax the surface and the router base before I start and throughout the job.
Use the fastest router speed (RPM) and make sure your router bits are sharp. You'll thank me for that one.
When you're done, sharpen your router bits, they'll need it. Softwood takes it's tole on a sharp edge.
For a few dollars, I found these diamond card sharpeners to be worth their weight in gold.
You can sharpen your own router bits in minutes and I do my own before this type of work. It'll improve the quality of the cut, save you lots of time and it's pretty satisfying too.
One last tip - Fill any imperfections with epoxy (not wood filler or CA glue and sawdust) before you start. If you hit a knot, you'll find the bit weaving into the stencil before you know what hit you. The material needs to be solid as you cut into a knot. Wood filler is soft and tends to tear so I don't recommend it.
Enjoy and let me know how it goes.
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That's how we keep the lights on around here... Sometimes...