Training to the Limits

Three new sandblasted city signs with a railroad tie-in.
Creative Blast (Cincinnati) fabricated three train-themed entrance signs to The City of Ludlow, KY.

As the saying goes, “out with the old, in with the new.” So it went for a recent project we did for the City of Ludlow, KY. To highlight a railroad exhibit under construction, the administration wanted new entrance signs into the city. Two local designers, Jeff and John Winkle, designed the art that was to be used on the sign. They originally drew the artwork on their own – to sell in their studio – until one day they met the mayor in a local restaurant and showed him their work. The mayor was instantly interested and wanted to take the next step, so, he had his Public Works Project Manager Patrick Walkenhorst, contact Creative Blast (Cincinnati) to carry out the details on the signs.


After my initial meeting with Walkenhorst, we decided that there would be three new sandblasted signs installed at entrances to the city. When he showed me the design, I suggested we make all three signs with a mixed-media, sandblasted format. We would use clear, all-heart redwood for the main body of each sign and then a 15-lb. high-density urethane (HDU) for the train accent pieces. The different background textures would add a touch of separation to the elements, but the overall design would hold the pieces together.

We would also need to make 1-sq.-in. frames for the backs of these signs for everything to fit properly and stay together. The frames would also be used for mounting the signs to metal, 4 x 4-in. posts.

We began by ordering all the materials. For three sheets of HDU, I contacted my local supplier, Lenny Diaspro of GSG Cincinnati. He got in touch with the manufacturer, DUNA-USA, to arrange a drop-off of their new CORAFOAM HDU U150 in a 15-lb. density. We had received samples of this material before this project and really liked the way it blasted, as well as its ease of finishing. We also ordered all the redwood we needed from our local lumber yard, Falls City Lumber. Once the raw materials arrived, we were ready to start manufacturing the sign blanks.

We glued the redwood blanks together using straight-edge cutting and applied TiteBond II Premium Wood Glue, then let that set with clamps for a day. After the blanks were glued up, we put them on our CamTech Spacemaker CNC router to create the shapes for the main body of the signs. The Corafoam panels were primed with 1 Shot Chromatic Fast Dry Blockout, sanded and then painted with 1 Shot Lettering Enamel paint. (You must take care when painting HDU, making sure to use the proper foam-roller covers to avoid leaving streaks.)

The blasted sign blank awaits final priming and paint.
The blasted sign blank awaits final priming and paint.

When the paint dried, we routed the panels. The next item to cut, using our GRAPHTEC FC7000-100 plotter, was Hartco SandMask stencil 425-S and 930-S, so we could apply the cut stencil to the signs. Though a time-consuming task due to the intricate sign design, slowing down the cutting speed of the plotter proved to be invaluable because that made it very accurate when we went to lay the stencil down on the pre-painted blanks. We always cover stencil with pre-mask in order to prevent the copy from falling off the sheet when lifted onto the blank.


Once all the stencil was laid down and weeded, we duct-taped the edges of the blanks to protect the painted outside portions and sent the signs into the sandblast room. With our LeROI 375 CFM compressor set at 95 psi, we blasted the wood signs, then turned the pressure down to 75 psi to blast the HDU accent pieces. Reducing the pressure allowed us more control over the blasting process and made for fewer – or no – mistakes. After the blasting was complete, we blew the dust off and primed the backgrounds with the 1 Shot Blockout and let them sit for a day, making sure the primer was completely set up. Then we painted the backgrounds with 1 Shot Lettering Enamels using regular oil-based paint brushes, making sure that the paint was pushed well into the background of the Corafoam.

After drying for another day, we started to remove the SandMask stencil, making sure to peel it back 180° to the face to prevent the paint from peeling. As usual, some minor touch-up was required before the signs were complete. With the signs completely dry and touched up, it was time to assemble them to the aluminum frames. Once clearance holes were drilled in the frames, the signs were assembled facedown so we could mount the frames to the backs of the signs with no hardware showing on the faces. We used 5/16 x 1 ¾-in.-stainless steel lag bolts to attach the frames to the signs. We were all ready to install on site, but wait! A grueling four-week delay in getting approval from the Dept. of Transportation set back our final task about a month. But then, after granting approval, the City of Ludlow removed the existing signs for us, so all we had to do was dig our customary 32-in.-deep holes, set our steel posts in the ground, pour in our concrete and attach the frames to the posts. 

When finally completed, the signs looked fantastic and the community voiced their approval by liking the City of Ludlow’s Facebook post 95 times in the first week! The community is getting back to their roots and we are moving on to our next great sign project.

Materials and Supplies

SOFTWARE: SAi FlexiSIGN-PRO 10,; VinylMaster Pro,; Adobe Illustrator 7,
SUBSTRATE: Duna-USA Corafoam U150 15-lb.,
PLOTTER: Graphtec FC7000-100 plotter,
STENCIL: Hartco SandMask stencil 425-S (wood) and 930-S (HDU),
AIR COMPRESSOR: LeRoi 375 CFM compressor,
COATINGS: 1 Shot Chromatic Fast Dry Blockout and Bulletin Enamels,


Signs of the Times May 2019

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