Review By Dean Bielanowski  Milescraft -

Milescraft SignCrafter


By Dean Bielanowski

One of the best aspects of woodworking is that it allows you to produce items that are one of a kind or cannot be bought anywhere else. You can craft items for friends, relatives, or even just for yourself! You can increase the value of a gift tenfold when it has that handcrafted touch. One thing I have always liked are wooden signs. Whether they be displayed on a shop front, at the entrance of a property or on a bedroom wall, the warmth and unique characteristics of wooden signs are simply more impressive than their plastic or metal counterparts. The trouble is, making them by hand can be a difficult process, particularly if you are not into carving, or do not have the patience for it! So, today I thought we would take a look at a sign making set from Milescraft. Designed to be used with a router, the SignCrafter allows sign creation to be a much simpler affair...

As you can see from the image above, and the images to the right, the SignCrafter comprises two main components - the letter holding assembly, and the individual sets of letters, numbers and symbols. The SignCrafter ships unassembled so some basic assembly of the components is required.

Assembly took me roughly 15 minutes, although I was watching a baseball game on TV at the same time. The instructions provide an assembly diagram. I must admit that it wasn't the best set of instructions I have ever seen (diagram only - no text) although I managed to assemble all parts without too much frustration. Just take your time, sort out the various nuts and bolts and other components before you begin and you should not have too many dramas. There are 4 boxes of templates (the letters, numbers symbols etc), 2 which contain the smaller templates and the other 2 containing the larger templates. There are 2 of each letter/number in each size in case your words require the same letter twice. Included in the kit are 2 template guides to attach to your router. The documentation mentions these will fit most Skil and Craftsman brand routers. Unfortunately they didn't fit mine, but if you have a router with a set of guide bushings, you can use those instead. A 7/16" and 5/8" bushing is what is required, preferably with at least a 1/2" bushing depth. The router and router bit are the only other two additional items you need to get going. It should be noted that you can buy special sign making router bits for your router, however, these would need to be correctly sized to be able to plunge through the bushings with adequate clearance.

How it works...
Firstly, find a suitable piece of timber or MDF to make a sign with. The aluminum rails are a fixed length, so your timber must also be of a similar length to work easily.
The rails are intended to work on boards as long as 30” and as wide as 4” to 12”. You can use it on longer boards if needed by simply sliding the whole Signcrafter jig over as you go, although you might have to do some measuring to ensure even spacing between letters. While I'm on that subject, the templates are designed as such to provide even spacing between letters when your words are set up within the rails. This eliminates most tedious measuring requirements in the majority of signs you will make. Shorter signs can be made my working on a longer piece of material to begin with, then cutting it down to size later, or you can do them by disassembling the Signcrafter and using the rails themselves held in place by other forms of clamps. It's a little involved, but if you have a need, once you have used the Signcrafter the first time, its not too difficult to figure out how you could use it for shorter lengths of material.

Once you have your blank piece ready, you clamp one end of the Signcrafter to the piece (bear in mind the following was how I set things up). The clamps provided are not large, and look a little flimsy at first, however, once they are applied they hold really well, especially after you tighten the end brackets to the clamp rod. With one side clamped, you can slide your letters into the rails, in order, from the other end. You can use other templates to act as spacers if needed at both ends, and smaller, thinner spacer templates are included if you are making more than one word in a line, allowing you to nicely space between words. You can use a combination of large letters and small letters, all large, all small, and mix in either large or small number templates as well. The larger templates will produce 2 1/2" sized letters/numbers, while the smaller templates produce letters/numbers of 1 1/2" in size. You are provided with the full alphabet of letters A through Z and 0 to 9 in numbers. There are 2 of each letter and number in each size. Essentially, you can create signs with any word/number known to man, or woman... It is very flexible in this regard. All letters are the same font.

The font is block type, and it is quite nice actually. I have seen and used other letter templates before and the font used with those templates is rather unappealing, sometimes quite ugly!

With your letters/numbers now arranged to make your word, slide on the 2 black supports and attach the other end bracket and secure it down. An adjustable clamp on this end helps keep letters snug up against each other so they wont move during the routing process.

With everything clamped down, you are pretty much ready to go. Hook up your router to a power supply, ensure you have the right bushing installed for the letter size - 5/8" for larger letters, 7/16" for smaller letters. You can use straight bits, ball nose, v-bits etc equally as well.

Now... I have read other reviews of this particular product and one of them mentioned really bad flexing of the rails when routing out the letters due to the weight of the router. I am not sure whether this was an issue with earlier models, or this person just wasn't using the supporting bridges supplied. These fit onto the rails and can slide along them either way. Because the rails sit up above your workpiece, they are prone to flex if you DO NOT use these bridges. Position the bridges fairly close to your router placed over the letter you are going to rout out. You must ensure there is adequate clearance for the base plate of the router on both sides of the letter, as you could hit the support brackets first, thinking this was the edge of the letter template and ruin the letter. I was guilty of this on my first run. The brackets extend down to touch your workpiece so they provide full support to the rails when positioned appropriately. As you can see from the photo of the letter "J" I routed out in the right column, even with a heavy 3HP router riding on the rails, there is no evidence of rail bending/flex, producing a nice smooth-bottomed cut. As you rout out each letter more your support brackets along the rail for maximum benefit.

Speaking of large routers, ideally you want a smaller router for this type of work, and one that slides smoothly across the rails. I found adding a little wax to the rails helped here. To get good, clean letters you need to be able to keep the bushing riding around the outside of the templates religiously. The Triton was not ideal for this task. It is heavy and bulky and more suited for table use rather than freehand use (table use is what it was primarily designed for). Saying that, you can get perfectly fine results with any router with a little practice. There is no fault in the Signcrafter itself in this regard, just user error. After a few runs, you will iron out the bugs in your technique and become more accustomed to using a router with the jig. I found pulling the router toward you gave more control than pushing it, although it's a personal thing. The router does ride on the aluminum rails, so the letter templates do not flex at all, although just be careful when inserting the bushing into the templates, and make sure it is in the template before you switch on and plunge down for the cut. The last thing you want to do is ruin your new letter templates! Replacements are available from Milescraft (for a small charge) in case you do accidentally damage one. If you find you are making words that repeat the same letter more than twice, you can also order extra sets of letters/numbers to solve this issue.

Basically, you just start on one end and move to the next, routing out letters and adjusting your support brackets as you go. It doesn't take long to make a sign once the initial setup is finished. I found sorting out and finding the actual letters I needed from the bunch to be the most time-consuming task. You can make multiple line signs by simply adjusting and moving the clamp downwards on your workpiece, and the same process begins again. There is no real brain-power involved with the task, just a few simple steps to remember as you go along. You may only need to change bushings half way through if your sign uses a combination of larger and smaller letters/numbers.

Ideally, for best accuracy, a router with a see-through base plate or a router that allows you to see your bushing riding around the template would ensure optimum results, because you can anticipate all the the turns in direction needed for specific letters, and not risk moving the router away from the template edge and spoiling the letter.

I have made four signs so far with the Signcrafter. The first two were practice runs and had a few errors... I just finished one out of wood the other day for a rushed birthday present. Hopefully I can get it back soon for a brief period to take some photos to add here. A natural wood grain sign looks really nice. What you can do to get a nice finish is paint the whole sign once lettering has completed in black, let it dry, then belt sand or plane the face away removing the paint on the surface (not in the lettered depressions). What this does is give you nice clean paint lines around the letters further enhancing their shape and borders. You can then apply your favorite wood finish, taking care around the painted letters, or even cover them with a clear protective finish.

Are their any major problems with the Signcrafter? Not many. Most problems you may encounter are likely to be a result of user error. It would be good if Milescraft offered shorter rails as an accessory to work with shorter material lengths. The product is by no means foolproof, no product really is, but for US$39.99 it is one of the cheapest sign making sets going around that does give good results with a little practice.

With Christmas coming up or just for family or relative's birthdays, wooden signs certainly make a very unique gift that will not be forgotten in a hurry. They can also be decorative or serve a practical purpose around the house or workshop. Every workshop should have a nice wooden sign don't you think? :-)

Available to Order Online through these companies...
Click graphic to go to their direct product page for this item

In the USA
TurnLock™ Router SignCrafter™ System
TurnLock™ Router SignCrafter™ System

In Australia

SignCrafter Photos
All photos copyright Use without prior written permission prohibited

We got through assembly of the rails and clamps to hold the letters ok...

The clamps that hold the signcrafter to your workpiece. Despite their small size, they work well once everything is locked down.

Half the battle is finding all the letters you need from the pile!

Once your letters are inserted and arranged, you can attach the second clamp/rail holder and tighten it up...

This adjustable clamp pushes, and keeps letter templates snug against each other.

I am making a sign for my 2 year old's bedroom.

These support bridges slide along the rails and help to eliminate flexing/bending of the aluminum rails when the weight of the router is added.

The supplied bushings and adaptor will fit most Skil and Craftsman routers, and some other models...

They didn't fit my smaller router, but I do have a bushing set for my big Triton router that works fine.

Note the position of the support brackets, helping take the weight of the 3HP Triton router.

Note the "O" in the left. This is what happens when you forget to slide those same support brackets out of the way of the base!

A nice clean depth is achieved. The generic block font of the letters in the Signcrafter package should appeal to many.

Practice makes perfect... I still need a little more practice :-)

After a few practice runs, you will
be making signs the same quality
as this one!

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