Periodically we will add posts to our site that focus on the history of sign making.
Thirty years ago if you needed a sign you had to find a sign painter. And there were lots of sign painters to choose from. Now there are very few true sign painters left but I have the privilege to work with a man who started painting signs back in the 1970s. And he has shared some interesting stories about the industry during the time we have worked together.
Sign making was very different nearly 40 years ago when Frank started his business. The smell of silk screen ink and paint filled the shop and sign makers had brushes and rulers of various sizes and easels and many other tools that are no longer needed. But there is one tool that was very common in those days that is not well known outside of the industry: the sign painter’s box.
Sign Painter’s Box
The sign painter’s box allowed the painter to make incremental adjustments to their seating height. The key to good sign making was to get your body positioned correctly to make the lines, curves, circles, squares, etc. that were needed. Positioning your body at the correct height provided a great foundation for the work and the sign painter’s box allowed the painter to make incremental adjustments to their seating height. This allowed them to position their arms and hands at the right position for the job.
You can see the sign painter’s box in the top photograph on the right near Frank’s feet. The box allowed the painter to sit at the following heights: 6”, 12”, 20”, 22”, 24”, 26”, 28”, 30” and 32”. Besides the three dimensions of the box (6” deep, 12” wide, 20” tall) it had a
mechanism that allowed it to increase the height (the ‘tall’ dimension) in increments of 2 inches. This allowed the sign painter to always be at the perfect height for maximum control of their brush. Some sign painters got so good at making the boxes that they went into business making the boxes for other painters.
Though we no longer offer to paint new signs for people we did repaint an old sign for a customer in late 2014. I was able to watch Frank and his wife, Debby, use the sign painter’s box. It was nice to see skilled craftsmen produce a high quality sign just like they did decades ago.