Heavy Metal

There’s nothing plain about this weighty sign in Ohio’s Amish Country.
Synergy Sign & Graphics crafted this new monument sign for a Berlin, OH entertainment complex.

Hard rock and heavy metal in the heart of Amish country? Let’s just say the past few years have seen major hospitality and entertainment construction in Ohio’s Amish country. Longtime clients of my shop, Mike, Jeff and Braden Conn of Conn Holdings asked Synergy Sign to design and install the sign for their new luxury hotel, event center and Amish Country Theater complex.

The sign had to draw traffic from nearby State Route 39 and would be bigger than anything we had ever built before. The initial design sketches scaled out to 30 x 30 x 6 ft., but when the budgets were figured, we backed things down to 24 x 24 x 4 ft. 


On large projects like this, I play conductor for the early stages. We out-sourced the engineering for the steel framework, then Brian Lawless of Dover Tank & Plate Co. (Dover, OH), working from our CAD drawings and design-intent renderings, performed the heavy fabrication on the structural side. The completed structural steel was delivered to Metal Masters (Dover, OH), where Chris Troyer and his team handled most of the secondary steel framework buildout to be attached.

The three welded, multi-ton steel pieces in Synergy’s parking lot.
The three welded, multi-ton steel pieces in Synergy’s parking lot.

Metal Masters delivered the welded and complete steel to our shop in three pieces – two legs 16 ft. tall and 4 x 6 ft. at the base, each weighing in at 6,200 lbs. (and we hadn’t even started applying the concrete yet); and the archway to span the legs, weighing a more modest 3,000 lbs. We stood them up in our parking lot and welded in our blocking and ¼-in. pencil rod – over a mile of pencil rod in all. With that secured, we began wire tying the galvanized lath in preparation for the fiberglass-reinforced concrete. We tied lath on this job for a week straight, through rain, sleet and snow. Ohio’s winter stretching long into April didn’t do us any favors. 


Meanwhile, I took the anchor bolt templates and drawings to the onsite contractor handling the footings. After a little bit of rework onsite, he began pouring the engineered foundations so they could cure and be ready for us when our structure was complete. The final week of April, we began applying our first coat of concrete on the steel structure. We elected to scratch coat/finish coat this job, due to its size and vertical application, and spent extra time scarring the entire first layer to ensure we’d have good keying when the second-carve layer was applied. Scratch coating took roughly three days, and final coat/carving, another three. 

We worked in sections, using natural breaks in the design to avoid concrete curing on us faster than we could carve. All of our woodgrains were made deep and not too close together to ensure that the woodgrain design didn’t turn into a muddy mess. We even took some time to carve in woodpecker damage and weathering that are common to the area.


After completing the concrete application and carving, we allowed the structure to cure for a full week, which is critical when working with sculpted concrete. Paint application started the first week of May. Typically, we would paint the whole project by hand with brushes, but that would’ve taken weeks. Using an airless sprayer, we applied three base coats to all pieces over two days, then sprayed a contrast coat selectively to accentuate the grain. The first four coats dried for a day before we applied our custom mixed-glaze coat with the sprayer. We followed right behind with towels, wiping off most of the glaze, but allowing it to penetrate the grain and other carved features. We repeated the process for the stacked stone on the base, but with different colors.

Tensions eased once all three heavy pieces were lifted and set safely in place.
Tensions eased once all three heavy pieces were lifted and set safely in place.

Next, we called in the heavy lifters: Joe Gilkerson from C&G Erectors (Strasburg, OH), Joe Flickinger and the 40-ton crane from Flickinger Piping Co. (Dover, OH), and a flatbed from Berner Trucking Inc. (Dover, OH) were needed to move all of the pieces to the complex. The 20-mile trip went off without a hitch, despite my anxiety about lifting these pieces that we had invested so much time in. Something about lifting 10,000-lb. sculpted concrete gets the heart racing!

During the following two weeks, we fabricated the “tenant signs” for the Amish Country Theater (4 x 14 ft.), the Berlin Encore Hotel (4 x 14 ft.), and Tis the Season (3 x 14 ft.) from tubular steel running the length of the sign, and boxed them in with fabricated galvanized steel. Next we carved Coastal Enterprises’ 18-lb. Precision Board on our MultiCam 3000 router and fastened it to the frames. The signs were then painted, transported to the site and hung on the framework. We included 1-in.-thick Precision Board bands that had been textured to look like steel strapping around the wood, making them look even more amazing with 4-in. diameter, 4-in.-thick hand-faceted rivets to accent the straps.

The final piece was mounting and installing an 8 x 14-ft., 8mm, full-color LED message center that the customer had purchased locally. With the final result on display, we’re fielding calls from Berlin businesses wanting us to rework their signage.

Equipment and Supplies

SOFTWARE: Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, adobe.com; SAi EnRoute Pro 6, thinksai.com
SUBSTRATE: Coastal Enterprises Precision Board, precisionboard.com
ROUTER: MultiCam 3000 series, multicam.com
WELDER: Millermatic 212 Auto-Set MIG welder, millerwelds.com
COATINGS: Coastal Enterprises TSF-45 Texture finish, precisionboard.com; Sherwin-Williams Resilience Exterior Latex Paint, sherwin-williams.com; Kemiko Theme Paint, paintsupply.com/kemiko-coatings; Nova Color Artist Acrylic Paint, novacolorpaint.com
PAINT SPRAYERS: 3M Accuspray System HVLP Spray Gun, 3m.com; Graco 390 Electric Airless Sprayer, graco.com


Signs of the Times February 2020

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