New profits: Design in Metal

by Fred Showker

... continued from the previous page.

The Aluminum Letters Arrive

When the lettering arrives you un-crate the package and behold superb letters, installation studs, mastic and a paper pattern. The pattern is one reason I really like the vendors I use -- you'll see why in a moment.

The suupplied drilling pattern is taped to the wall for exact positioning of the letteringI truck out to the site, and with a tape measure align the pattern on the wall -- using duct tape to tack it into position. Thank goodness we have a neatly drawn pattern for each letter in a pattern providing drill marks. You measure from a reliable line, in this case the bottom row of bricks, to the type base line and tape the pattern securely. In the case of brick, I like to see if I can match up drilling with mortar joints. Drilling brick in this job would use probably three masonry drill bits. Drilling into mortar usually doesn't hurt the bits at all. I brought along a few extras, just in case.

I feel along the letters and drill marks finding where the holes would fall on the edge of a brick. This is bad and should be avoided. In the case of a few of the letters we had to jog the letter left or right to get the drill hole away from the edge of a brick. A quarter inch usually does the trick, and that's not visible in the finished job.

Metal lettering drilling positions all done

Now we drilled all the holes according to the drill pattern. Some of the letters had at least one stud that would fall on the edge of a brick. Those studs were not used. Each letter has at least four studs, and while not recommended, you can get away using only three.

Threaded studs thread into the backs of the metal letters Once drilled, we pulled down the pattern and inserted the threaded studs (included) into their pre-threaded female holes, and checked the studs for positioning in the drilled holes. Once checked it's a simple matter to install each letter, injecting the mastic -- a silicon glue included -- into each letter's drilled hole using a standard calk gun. The letter studs are then squeezed into the holes -- and voila, you're done.

Some people like stand-off letters, which stand out from the wall -- and you can do that -- but in this case, the client agreed it would be better if the letters were cemented tight against the brick. You can control stand-off by using a depth gauge on the drill bit and block sleeves over the studs during installation. (Always ask if the letters will be subject to vandalism. Tight to the wall offers less chance they'll be stolen.)

Carefully install each letter using silicon mastic Note that bits of the mastic squeezed out around the letters can be easily removed later with a knife. It doesn't show at all from the road so I usually don't bother unless the client complains.

The finished project always looks nice, and after that mastic sets up you will not be able to remove the letters without a crow-bar. This sign will be here long after I'm gone, and probably long after my children are gone.

here's the finished lettering Jop profile: half hour photograph the site, half hour prepare the art, 1.5 hours install -- or roughly $215 per hour -- without any charges for photograph or art. Not bad. The best part is, it's really pretty enjoyable -- let your vendor do the dirty work, and you get to go outside for a couple of hours. Plus, the finished product really looks good! Obviously I could easily add on for the art, design and photography. And the install took less time than it took me to write this article.

If you pick up a project like this and need help, don't hesitate to contact me. But, please, I'll only help if you promise to send in your photos of the finished job!

Tips: Make sure you have the vendor's catalog of lettering. You'll want to use their standard letters unless the client is willing to pay for custom. I've done custom lettering and the price goes from $15 to $27 per letter to $110 - $175 per letter depending on style, finish and size. For custom lettering jobs I'll usually cut the letters out of plate steel, brass or aluminum rather than casting. Custom logos or symbols are the same, and the manufacturers have a good selection of various symbols and stock artistic devices. When installing, make sure to do it early in the day in nice weather. It takes at least four hours for the mastic to set up, and it cures in two days.

When marketing this service, don't overlook your local churches, organizations, and above all, municipal offices. Your city is probably planning hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of metal signage right now. One municipality I know recently spent nearly a quarter-million for forty-thousand dollars worth of lettering. Do the math! Check your local paper for building permits, and business licenses. It's a gold mine out there. If you're handy with a ladder, drill and measuring tape -- and you enjoy working with real materials, jump on board. And if you need a little inspiration ... just look at the video I've posted below.

thanks for reading

Fred Showker

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