Story and Photos by Joe David Rice
In my travels, I’ve occasionally encountered those whimsical signposts that point out the directions and distances to prominent places. Considered by many to be classic photo ops, they’re often spotted on the beach at tourist destinations such as Key West and islands of the Caribbean.
I don’t know how many can be found in Arkansas, but I know of at least one directional signpost in the Ozarks of the Natural State. It stands proudly in our front yard in Compton. It was the second of my “pandemic projects” (the first was a dry-stack stone fence or wall, featured in the September issue of AY), and I really enjoyed putting it together. Figuring that some of AY’s homebound readers might jump at the challenge to produce something similar for their yards, cabins or lake houses, I’m sharing my thoughts and observations on this fine DIY undertaking. Think about involving your children or grandchildren to make it a family project.
First, assemble a list of destinations to include on your signpost: hometowns, favorite vacation spots, college campuses, bucket-list cities and so on. You can then use the internet to determine the distance in miles (either straight-line or by road) to each of your selections. Search for “distance between two points,” and you’ll be amazed at the number of websites at your service.
Next, collect enough boards to take care of all the locations on your list. I used scrap pieces of 1” x 4” and 1” x 6” lumber. Avoid plywood; it won’t weather well. I cut my boards to the desired lengths and tried to jazz them up by trimming them to resemble arrows of one sort or another. I then painted the boards with a primer, applying several coats. I left some white, but painted the rest with various pastels, thinking a vibrant look would be a nice effect.
Before beginning work on the individual signs, I spent some time thinking how they’d be oriented on the pole. This is more important than it sounds because you need to make darn sure your arrows point in the right direction. I actually sketched out each sign, noting its predetermined location on the post, to make certain the arrow was aimed correctly.
I’d seen a couple of stenciling options available online but decided to hand-letter my signs. Should you decide to do likewise, let me emphasize that it’s a good idea to practice your technique for a while before getting serious and applying paint to board. I tried to vary my lettering style — some all caps, others mixed, some fat, some skinny, etc. And remember to pay careful attention to your spacing. “Frenchmans Bayou,” for instance, will require more room than “Fox.” And don’t forget to leave room for the mileage.
When the lettering on the signs was dry, I spray- painted them with a protective coat of clear, non-yellowing exterior-grade sealer. Once the initial coat had fully dried, I applied another. Arkansas weather can wreak havoc on exposed wood.
And now for a word or two about the sign pole. Pressure-treated 4” x 4” posts are a good option, and most lumberyards offer several lengths: 8 feet, 10 feet, 12 feet and 16 feet. I opted for the 12-foot version, thinking I could sink it a couple of feet into the ground and still have plenty of room to arrange my assortment of 17 signs. A 4” x 4” post obviously offers four sides for hanging signs: north, south, east and west. But the world is not that uniform. So, I set my circular saw to cut a 45-degree angle and ran it down the four edges of the post, trimming an inch or so each time. The result was an eight-sided post, allowing me to more precisely orient my signs with these important additions: northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest. But don’t install the signs at this time; wait until your pole is firmly in place.
Using a post-hole digger, I put my back and shoulder muscles to the test, but eventually excavated a more or less circular hole about two feet deep. I dropped the post in place and, with temporary braces, made sure it was plumb and properly situated on a north-south, east-west basis. I then mixed a bag of concrete and poured the lumpy mixture around the base of the post, tamping it down to ensure a solid foundation.
After waiting a few days for the concrete to cure, I climbed a stepladder and hung my signs one at a time, again double-checking to make sure they were each pointing in the correct direction. I also installed north-south and east-west indicators at the top of the post. And for good measure, I even added an elevation sign. Should you be interested, you can find the elevation of your site when you open the compass setting of your smartphone.
The total tab for my little directional signpost project in Newton County came in a shade under $50. I’ll close by bragging that it has already become a favorite for family photo ops.