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RE-PAINTING an old sign help & tips please


New Member
I am going to repaint several old signs and need some tips. I tried desperately to get them to buy a new sign, but they won't go for it. The old paint is oxidized and has some mold ( the wood has rot too) - the sign has raised wood letters on a plywood background. There's no hose or water access at the location, so I can't power wash it. My biggest question is WHAT TYPE OF PAINTS & PRIMER would be best? I'd like to stick with latex if possible. If it was just some lettering I'd get ONE SHOT, but the signs are 4x8's. I'd like to spray the the whole thing with a primer, then spray color on the wood letters and come back and paint the background with a small roller & brush. The colors - BRIGHT RED background, TAN & CREAM for the lettering. Please take a peek at the attachment and let me know what you think, thank you!


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Graphic Artist
can you remove the sign and do it in shop? that might be the easiest
other than that i would use mathews paint


New Member
No, unfortunately I have to do all the work on location. Is the Mathews paint a LATEX? I'd like to do latex because it dries so much faster & easy cleanup. Thank you for the help!!!

studio 440

New Member
No, unfortunately I have to do all the work on location. Is the Mathews paint a LATEX? I'd like to do latex because it dries so much faster & easy cleanup. Thank you for the help!!!
sand and prep just like regular house painting clean after with TSP rinse it off and let dry .Use a good primer sealer first then two coats of finish colors. you can use a small hudson sprayer for remote locations with no water . The better the prep the better the finish


Active Member
IMO I wouldn't do the job. No telling how far the rot has gone into the sign or what other problems are lurking.
Another issue with those type of clients is once you touch it you own it. Meaning the least little thing goes wrong you won't hear the end of it.


Active Member
I will forgo the bah blah blah about the quality of that sign and what should be done. Like Studio 440 said, treat it like any other outdoor wood repaint job. The garden sprayer is a good idea for washing and rinsing. I'd throw some wood restorer/hardener on the rotted spots. Finding a good red latex that will hold up is tough. I'd use an industrial enamel from a good commercial paint brand. Not sure if I'd do the background first, then the letters or the other way. The problem with adding the background after is getting a good even smooth coat, any thin spots will fade quickly. So I would spray the primer, then spray the red, and go in and finish the letters & border by hand, it's take two coats but should look good.


New Member
it's a county owned sign and I bid it appropriately to cover all the labor & materials. I can replace the border as needed (I think I'll just replace the whole border trim so it matches) the small 2x8 sign on the bottom has plastic letters that are in good shape. I'm going to mask those off and spray the primer & paint on that one, shouldn't be too hard. I like the idea of the industrial enamel, seems like it should hold up well to our weather. Thank you for all the tips and things to watch out for!


Active Member
I wouldn't use industrial enamel for the red either, it will be pink in 6 months. We always use a good 2k polyurethane for red, orange and bright yellows or it starts fading, even in a mid level poly we start seeing it in 2yrs or less.

Jean Shimp

New Member
The amount of time it's going to take to repaint these signs will far outweigh the cost of replacing with new aluminum composite signs, depending of course on your labor rate. Like was mentioned before, there's no telling how bad that wood rot is until you start working on the signs. I suspect it may be more than it appears. If you do decide to repaint make sure all the oxidation is removed or the top paint won't stick. I would use a good quality acrylic latex house paint. I've had good luck with Sherwin Williams colors not fading, high quality line.


New Member
You cannot do this job properly and have it be done properly.

Day 1: Clean sign the best you can. Prime with latex primer. Go to lunch. Spray the entire sign with background color.
Day 2: Spray sign again with background color.
Day 3: With a roller/brush paint the raised sections.

That's 3 trips out for the sign.

As for brand of paint. Frankly, latex paints all perform pretty well as far as keeping their color. Even the cheap ones say they are good for 20+ years. I'd be more concerned with dry time than anything else. If you can use something like PPG Breakthrough paint, you could probably cut one trip out because it dries much faster than typical latex paints.


New Member
IMO I wouldn't do the job. No telling how far the rot has gone into the sign or what other problems are lurking.
Another issue with those type of clients is once you touch it you own it. Meaning the least little thing goes wrong you won't hear the end of it.

I think rjs raises two valid points.

First, part of the life of this wood is gone forever. The wood can never be like new again. With metal, you can sandblast the surface, re-etch and refinish, and expect a life for the finish that is as good or better than the original finish and should last as long or longer. This is not really possible with wood that has been outside in the weather, generally speaking. I would never expect a refinished exterior wood surface to last as long as the original. There are exceptions, of course. There are always exceptions. But it is important to tell the client that a refinish will have a shorter life. This way you cover yourself. I've also learned the hard way to not make a claim for a finish based on what a paint store employee tells me. Experience is the best teacher here. Better to not make a claim for longevity unless you know for sure.
If a client asks for a guarantee, the only guarantee I would give in this case is that the repaint will not last as long as the original. In other words, no guarantee at all. Ideally, this "non-guarantee" should be in writing.
This job is a good argument for the "don't throw good money after bad" line of reasoning. But, of course, clients sometimes do not reason well.
There are many high quality, long-lasting latex finishes on the market for wood. They have fungicides, mildewcides, etc., not commonly found in oil-based enamels. The technology is better than ever. But a good job starts with a sound substrate. This substrate is surely not as sound as when new.
Declining this job is an attractive option.

Secondly, the last person to touch a job like this is the one who is blamed when it fails. How many of us have got a car back from a mechanic with a new problem that it didn't have before the mechanic touched it? It may be pure coincidence, but to whom do we assign blame? There's a certain simple logic in our head that convinces us that the mechanic is the culprit. All auto mechanics, including the good ones, run into this situation, and it's a game they can't win, because they can't see into the future. They simply lose the customer and move on.

For us sign mechanics, working on a worn out exterior wood surface is a game we can win, because we can simply decline the job. Clients don't like it, but it tells them you're serious when you say that you think the repaint will not last. Tell them, with earnest face, that your very reputation is at stake and you can't risk it. Or just say, "I just can't bring myself to waste your money." Don't say you don't want to repaint upside down Ns. Be sincere. Then let somebody else bite on this job. If someone else does the job and it begins to fail prematurely, you may get the client back as a customer, anyway. They may view you as trustworthy, somebody they should have listened to.
On the other hand, if somebody else does the job and it lasts15 years, find out how they prepped and what the heck they used for paint and go get some for yourself!

What paint to use?

The best advice about repainting wood structures would come from commercial painting contractors rather than us sign people. Painting contractors, at least the good ones, tend to know the latest information on what finishes are best. And they work with wood structures all the time--houses.

Paint for exterior wood needs to be flexible
When I was young, a house painter in Arkansas told me that wood siding moves. The grain, the pores, expand and contract with changes in temperature and humidity. So he said the best paint for wood siding is one that is flexible, that would be able to move with the wood. Latex finishes, called emulsions in many parts of the world, are flexible, stretchy, especially the ones with a high percentage of acrylic resin. Oil-based enamels that dry hard are not very flexible. Sometimes they can be made flexible for certain applications. You can put a flex additive into Matthews Polyurethane paint, and into other automotive-type paints as well, that will allow you to spray it on flexible car bumpers or vinyl sheeting, for example. Krylon Fusion, by Sherwin-Williams, had a solvent system so aggressive it practically melted itself permanently into 3M vinyl. But even though paints like these may generally adhere well to wood, when the wood is exposed to weather and the grain opens and closes, the paint tends to crack. Another painting contractor told me to think of oil-based enamels as like a hard shell. He said it's great for metal, but not good for exterior wood.

Paint for wood should not trap moisture
The Arkansas painting contractor I mentioned also said latex paint is permeable. It allows moisture to move through it, like cheesecloth. He said that wood siding did not even need to be totally dry before painting with latex, that moisture could evaporate through the finish. With oil-based enamels, the wood needs to be bone dry. A finish that creates a hard shell traps moisture inside, but the moisture will force itself through the finish to exit, creating blisters. I've seen sign installers paint moisture-laden wood signposts with One Shot that had large blisters and bubbles the very next day.

One of the reasons MDO board holds up so well with oil paint is that the paint does not contact the wood except at the edges. The wood grain still opens and closes as with any other plywood product, but the paint is insulated from it by the MDO paper. So the paint film lasts longer by riding on top of the paper layer.

About spray-painting wood structures
I often ask painting contractors if spraying is better than brush & roller for wood structures. Many say that spray is more for "down and dirty" knock-it-out work. Jobs where the budget is of concern. They have said that the highest quality finish comes the old fashioned way with brush and roller. No one ever seems to explain why, though one guy said it had to do with a "bounce effect" from the high pressure of an airless sprayer. A commercial airless has so much pressure that part of the paint can't even adhere but just bounces off, although the pressure is enough to inject paint into your flesh. I've been told you can lose a finger that way.
Yet...no painting contractor these days seems to be without an airless rig. It may be the only way they can compete and make a living.
And maybe it's the only way to do a knock-out sign job outside that may not last that long anyway.:)

Brad in Kansas City


Active Member
I would not accept this job unless they got new signs....sometimes going new is the less expensive and time consuming way.

Johnny Best

Active Member
Just go to Home Depot and get the primer and paint latex combo of the color red you want. and a quart of beige in the same type of paint. Put the red on and then go and with a small nap roller and "tip" the raised copy. Don't make such a big deal out of a cheap sign with same kind of owners.
When in Home Depot buy a can of Off Deepwoods with deet so as not to get the blood sucked out of you by Noseeums when painting the sign.
Also, show, don't give it to them or email it, a new layout of what a new sign would look like.
BTW, Snook season in that area ends today, Aug. 31st.


Quit buggin' me
Looks like you have received some good advice so here is some (not so) good advice:

You wrote that is county owned and they have already accepted your bid.
You could come back at night with a jar of termites and sprinkle them on the sign.
Submit a change order based on 'infestation' and make them an all new sign.......
or not.


Premium Subscriber
It's just not right, that someone wants you to bring a horrid piece of sh!t back to life andf expect some sorta warranty.

That being said, if you really want the job, I see it's a 'V' shape sign, so everything is doubled from supplies, to time to moving ladders, tarps and whatnot. Hopefully, we're seeing the lousy side. The letters also look bad on the top sign, but not on the bottom. Perhaps, one is wood and one is plastic or something. It's not easy to see the condition of the edges of those letters, but Johnny Best has the best suggestion.

I'd hand wash the whole sign with soap and water, then spray it with clorox and rinse again a few times. Prime it, top coat once or twice and then the letters with a 3" roller.

This is a very good example of polishing a turd. :banghead:


Premium Subscriber
Someone else mentioned it. Usually, something like this will be asked somewhere along the process, so ya hafta be ready with a comeback, so you don't look like a deer in headlights.

Joe House

Sign Equipment Technician
What I don't get, is how you can bid the job knowing you have enough in it to cover materials and labor and then get on here and ask the best way to do it.


Premium Subscriber
What I don't get, is how you can bid the job knowing you have enough in it to cover materials and labor and then get on here and ask the best way to do it.

Good question.

Yes, very good question, but happens so frequently, it seems to be the norm.

I guess this is why there are so many threads on...... how do I price/quote this, where to get this cheap, that cheap, how do I do this or that and how would you do it ?? I don't wanna hear any bullsh!t, I just want answers I like.