Outdoor wood signs, and using old hardwood flooring

I need to make permanent exterior plant signage using wood (i.e. not considering slate or other materials, as wood is the aesthetic being sought) and need some advice. I’ve seen past posts on the topic suggesting cedar or similar, as it weathers well and engraves darkly. In the current world, however, cedar is super expensive and where I am now (London, UK) very hard to come by. The signs I made for a more temporary garden installation are what I’m looking to replicate, though dimensions could vary slightly. Those were in the range of 4x6 inches, 1/2 inch thick. Speed was of the essence with this project so the engrave isn’t as deep/dark as I’ll make it, and these were on some reclaimed drawer sides I had salvaged.

I’ve called some lumberyards who have suggested using Sapele, an African hardwood that is a more sustainable form of Mahogany (but I’m still researching just how sustainable it is, as that matters to me/for this project). Any experience with this wood?

I’m also considering a white oak of some sort (exact species may vary), as there are British hardwood oaks. And, I may see about sourcing from reclaimed oak flooring-- I’m wondering with such a hard material along with being old, if anyone has wisdom from what it’s like to engrave on?

I plan to use a spar (exterior marine-type) varnish to coat the wood and engraving as well, but want a wood that 1) I can actually get here, 2) will engrave well, and 3) will hold up well in the elements.

Please shower me with your experience and insights!


So anytime you wonder about a material a quick search goes a long way.


Lots of sapele mentions, you should take a minute and scan them. :slight_smile:

This in particular is relevant:

Then another quick search, if you haven’t seen them:

: Search results for 'Outdoor wood sign ' - Glowforge Owners Forum

There have been other discussions about this exact topic, they might be helpful.

Good luck!


I appreciate this advice. I did start by searching for outdoor wood signs and read the threads that popped up-- most recommend cedar which I can’t get easily now, which is why I decided to do a separate post and ask about people’s experience in oak and using older woods like reclaimed flooring. I did neglect to search the forums for Sapele-- I will do that search now. I’m not interested in cutting but on how well engraving will work on such a hard wood, and if people find it too dark (I’ve seen varying levels of darkness in image searches I’ve done of engraved Sapele).

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My experience with sapele engraving is that it’s really dark, which would be good for legibility. Engraved color fades when it’s exposed to weather so your idea to seal is a good one.

And yeah if you’re cutting your wood traditionally with a saw, I’d say you’ll have good luck with any of the woods you mention.


This may not be of any help, but cedar planks for grilling (salmon) are available through Amazon in the UK and the US. I have found these boards engrave quite nicely.


I love a good reclaimed project - I’d just be cautious using any such materials around plants that would be grown for food.

That’s a great suggestion! I was just looking at wood blanks people sell for making knives/guns/etc but they’re a bit too small, so was trying to think about the other forms people sell smaller pieces of wood like this in.

By background I’m an organic garden educator so I concur with being careful about material choice (and what kind of finished might have been previously used) as related to edibles!

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I have had some of those cedar grilling planks for several years that I have never used. Good idea to use them with my GF!!


I think they are available at Mark + Sparks

I bought a lovely piece of sapele only to find it is laser resistant. Very very hard to cut through without charring a half inch border around the cut. I don’t recommend it.

Well, if cost is a factor, shapeless is not that cheap. I’d go with flat or rift sawn white oak, mask it and then see about staining the engrave. Maybe coat first with the marine varnish first, mask and color. General finishes’ black or Java gel stain would look great. Then coat with marine varnish after it cures.

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I appreciate all of this insight, especially that Sapele could be pretty difficult to engrave. I think I’m going to go with the cedar grilling planks-- such a great idea of a way I can actually get cedar!–, since those are already almost the right size (I’ll cut a 14" long one in half), sanded, and I can get mailed to my house very quickly (I’m 8 months pregnant so getting places is difficult, using saws should be kept to a minimum etc). The ones I find seem to be about 1 cm thick. Any insights on whether that might warp too easily outside, since it’s on the thin side?

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