Humorous HDU

At Piccadilly Signs, the major tools are the hands. Walking into the shop, you’ll find scroll saws, band saws, hammers, and chisels—but you’d be hard pressed to find a router or an engraver.

Opened in 2010 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, the shop specializes in handcrafted, custom-carved dimensional signs. Owned and operated by husband and wife Paul and Kelsey Martin, the shop has found a niche with those looking for a more unique, handmade look. “Some people love the fact that there’s no CNC involved,” says Paul Martin.

One recent client that loved the look was The Laughing Loon, a gift shop located in the Lake Falcon area of Manitoba. The shop requested a hand-carved, outdoor identity sign from Piccadilly Signs.

Over the next few months, Piccadilly Signs and the client went back and forth on the overall vision. A graphic design house put together the design file, which Piccadilly Signs used to produce the sign. (Note: Although this project was an exception, Piccadilly Signs typically handles the design process for its clients by drawing up a sketch in Photoshop.)

The design file called for a double-sided, circular sign with copy reading “The Laughing Loon” and “Falcon Lake” running along the outer rim on the top and bottom of each side of the circle. In the center, the Laughing Loon icon is pictured on both sides.


To start, Piccadilly Signs cut two thirty-six-inch-diameter circles from one-inch-thick, eighteen-pound Coastal Enterprises HDU. The HDU is made from 25 percent recycled materials, which lends a green factor to the project.

Next, using the provided design, Piccadilly Signs created templates. “I printed it all out in sections, pasted it all together, and then literally cut it out by hand and made templates that way,” says Martin.

The letters were carved out with a scroll saw. Additional tools—such as band saws and hand routers—were used to cut out the other pieces. Wire brushes, hammers, and chisels provided the texturing effects. (Note: See page 30 for a list of commonly used tools.)

When painting the pieces, Piccadilly Signs used a variety of household exterior latex paints and high-quality artist acrylics to achieve the color matches they were looking for. The shop uses water-based rather than solvent paints.

The paint was applied with both regular paintbrushes and airbrushes, depending on the desired effect on certain pieces of the sign. For example, airbrushes were used on the Falcon Lake letters to achieve a gradient effect from dark blue to light blue. Airbrushes were also used on the center circle and outer bands to create a fade from orange to yellow for a sunset effect.


After the paint dried, four coats of exterior, water-based, UV clear-coat were applied for protection from the elements. The clear-coat protector was applied one coat a day over a four-day period. “The painting and the sealing is probably the most time-consuming part because of the drying process,” says Martin. “You have to let it cure, come back and seal it and let it cure, and then seal it again.”


When everything had finished drying, Piccadilly Signs began to assemble the sign pieces using metal pins and PL Premium Construction Adhesive from Loctite® (a urethane adhesive). The sign’s hanging hardware was epoxied into the two layers of the sign using a cross brace.

With the loon, the text, and the other pieces securely adhered to the sign, it measured four inches thick. “You can hit this thing with a sledgehammer and it’s not coming apart,” says Martin.

Production on the Laughing Loon sign took about two weeks, because the Martins were working on other projects in-between as well.

The shop also handled the install. They gave a drawing and dimensions for the sign’s custom metal bracket to a friend, who welded it. They then drove to the lake and installed the hanging sign onsite.

—Ashley Bray

All photos courtesy of Piccadilly Signs.

  • Paul Martin of Piccadilly Signs at work in his home studio.

  • Piccadilly Signs created the sunset effect using airbrushes.

  • The letters for the sign were carved out with a scroll saw.

  • Two 36-inch diameter circles were cut from 1-inch thick, 18-pound Coastal Enterprises HDU.




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