By David Lee

Issue #144 • November/December, 2013

The reflected image in the mirrored letters give a “see-through” illusion
to the sign and the tree. Stained glass nuggets add flashes of color.

Need a sign? Do you want people to find your residence, your mailbox, your veggie stand, your yard sale, your business, or anything else you want to be discovered?

If that’s a yes, then you need to give them a sign.

It should be a sign that draws attention. It would be most effective if it stands out from the array of signage already out there. It would be outstanding if it used some special effects. It would be most functional if the information on it could be changed when necessary. It would be convenient if made with easily acquired, inexpensive materials. It should be very practical and economical if you build it yourself.

Let’s cut right to the chase and reveal the special effects we’re talking about: mirrors.

You can find old mirrors free or for low cost at yard sales, secondhand stores, or perhaps even right in your home. I’ve often found very high-quality mirrors for little or no money just by keeping an eye open for them. Broken mirror pieces work well, too. New mirrors are not very expensive. A 16×48-inch piece is about $12 at my favorite hardware store and can be used to make several small signs or a big one. Some mirrors are tinted in nice colors.

Mirrors are made of glass and are delicate, so it’s important to mount the mirror in a sturdy framework that will not warp, will protect the edges, and can withstand an outside environment.

After 12 years, this sign has weathered to natural shades.
The mirror, though cracked, is still attractive and attention-getting.


First, make a backing panel of plywood or pine board that is about a quarter inch larger than your mirror in height and width. Next, build a four-sided frame around the panel that turns it into a shallow box. I usually make the top frame piece wider than the sides and bottom to shed rain from the sign. I also make the top piece longer in order to provide a place to attach hanging hardware or to attach the sign to ground posts. You can make this simple casing or create something more elaborate. I avoid using paint on the wooden parts of my signs, preferring natural weathering as a finish.

How you attach the glass mirror to the wood panel is important. Wood expands and contracts with the weather. Glass, not so much. Lay the mirror in the shallow box on the backing panel and use a bead of silicone glue around the edge of the glass and into the space where the framework meets the backing panel. This provides a flexible connection between the wood and glass.

Do not use any glue to bond the back of a mirror to anything. Eventually it will ruin the reflective coating and makes removing the mirror intact nearly impossible. Silicone glue around the edges is durable, elastic, and holds the mirror in place just right. Silicone is available in a variety of colors, so its exposed application can coordinate nicely with the rest of the decoration on your sign. If the mirror ever needs to be replaced, the silicone can be easily sliced away with a sharp blade.

Okay, you have your special effects sign ready to be mounted on posts, screwed to a tree, hung from a limb, attached to a wall, or perhaps even fastened to the tailgate of your truck or the side of a van.

A sign with a mirror behind the hand-carved, cut-out letters
gives great texture and depth while pointing the way.


Now you have a place to put your message. If the message needs to be changed often, use materials that can be easily removed from the glass. Magic markers or paints work very well because they can be wiped off or scraped clean from the glass and will tolerate short periods of time outdoors. Longer lasting, more impressive lettering or artwork can be done with silicone glue. Use it right from the tube to write your message, just like decorating a cake with frosting from a tube. It stands up to considerable weather abuse, yet is easily scraped off with a razor.

Stick-on and glue-on letters available from craft and hardware stores work okay, but I think these make the sign look too ordinary (plus, they are expensive). Consider cutting out your own letters from wood with a saber or band saw. Color them with wood stain or leather dye and attach them with good old silicone glue.

You can be really creative and make the letters or artwork on your special sign out of clay. I like sculpting the type of clay that you shape, bake, and paint. This will give your sign a deep, textured effect that is doubled by the mirror. Use silicone to secure them in place. If the clay or wood letters need to be removed, a thin wire drawn between the glass and the pieces will slice them off.

I prefer wood signs with the letters cut out to expose the mirror in the background. There is a good reason for this. At night when car headlights sweep across a sign, the lettering stands out in the reflected light to make the message conspicuous and very easy to read. It’s as good as artificially lighting the sign. Better in fact; it uses no electricity.

This house number sign, angled just right, reflects the sky and
gives the effect of numbers and nuggets suspended in space.

Other considerations

If your sign needs to be seen from opposite directions, build it with back-to-back mirrors and put the message on both sides. Put some scientific thought into your sign placement. Just above the eye level of car drivers is the best height. A slight angle to your mirror will affect what the observer sees. Your sign can have a straight-back reflection or you can tilt the mirror to reflect the sky.

I’ve seen signs made from various items like horse collars and tire swings. Anything with a big enough opening would work even better by adding mirrors. Over the years, I’ve built several dozen signs using mirrors. Sign making has been a profitable part-time business. All my sign-making commissions have been from people who first noticed the ones I use for our gallery and our home.

Making signs that are swanky and attention-getting for your home or occupation is entertaining and could get you started on a home business.

Even small directional hints work well with mirrors.


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