The Blue View - Carved Nameboards pt. 1

A touch of elegance

In my mind, there is nothing that adds more elegance to a boat than a carved name board. No matter whether it is a traditional schooner or a state of the art racer, the sun reflecting off the glossy varnish and gold leaf always looks beautiful. When we moved aboard Nine of Cups 15 years ago, I decided to make our own name boards, and after a lot of trial and error, ended up with our own touch of elegance. While it took a bit of time, it was easier than I thought it would be and we were quite pleased with the results.

It took the better part of a year to make our name boards. I worked on them in various ports as we cruised the east coast of the U.S., Maritime Canada and the Bahamas. It was a labor of love, and I wasn't in a hurry.

There were several steps required between visualizing what we wanted and actually mounting the finished name board:

Designing the lettering and graphics/logos. We looked at a lot of other name boards – what we liked and what we didn't. Some were too small and looked ludicrous, while others were too large and garish. For Nine of Cups, a 45' cutter, we chose to make each name board 44” long by 6” high, with 3.5” letters. The font we selected was Times New Roman in a bold typeface, and we added a stylized seahorse to the beginning and end  of the name.

name board design

Selecting the wood; Cutting, shaping and sanding the wood. When we were in Nova Scotia, we found an old time lumber yard that had a nice selection of rough cut hardwoods. We chose a couple of choice sections of mahogany, which the yard was happy to plane down to the thickness I wanted. I used my jig saw and sandpaper to cut and shape the wood to size. I also drilled and countersunk the two mounting holes I would be using later.

Transferring the pattern to the wood. Using my computer and MS Office, I increased the font size until each letter was 3.5” high, and used MS Paint to increase the size of the seahorses. Then I printed them, and taped everything together in a long banner. I taped the banner to the front of each piece of wood, slid sections of carbon paper under the banner and traced the outlines of the letters and seahorses. The carbon paper left a very visible image on the wood.

Carving the letters and graphics. It would have been quicker to use a Dremel tool and a pantograph to cut the lettering into the wood, but I don't think the end result is as good as hand carving the lettering. Some of the automated systems can cut lettering that is indistinguishable from hand carved work, but I didn't have access to any of these systems. I chose to hand carve the lettering and graphics. I got a book on the subject and learned on a scrap piece of wood. Part 2 of this blog will go into more detail about the technique I use.

hand carving

Finishing the wood. The first few times I finished the name boards, I used a base of clear West System epoxy (2 coats), covered with 12 coats of Epiphanes varnish. I lightly sanded it and added a couple coats of varnish every six months or so, and it typically lasted about 3 years before it needed to be stripped down and re-coated. The last two times, I used a New Zealand marine aliphatic urethane based finish called Uroxsys (now marketed by Awlgrip as  Awlwood MA). It seems to last closer to five years, requiring a maintenance coat only every two years or so.

Applying the gold leaf. Gilding the lettering and graphics with gold leaf was another skill I learned while making the name board. Like wood carving, I first practiced on a scrap piece of wood, and also like wood carving, it is a subject that deserves a blog of its own. Stay tuned for Part 3 of this blog.

gold leaf

Outlining the lettering. The final step is to outline the lettering and graphics with a contrasting color. Outlining provides a sharp edge to each letter, and makes it appear to come into focus. Any contrasting color will do, but since our sheer stripe is dark blue, I used the same color for outlining our name boards. I decant a small amount of paint in a disposable container (anything from a tuna can to a bottle cap will work), then use a fine artist's brush to outline each letter and seahorse. It takes a little practice, so, as before, I used a scrap piece of wood initially.

outlining the lettering

Mounting the finished name boards. Our name boards were to be mounted on our sheer stripe. I drilled slightly oversized holes through the bulwarks, and coated the insides of the holes with epoxy, using a Q-tip. I used spacers between the name boards and the topsides to allow air and water to pass behind the name boards. Then I mounted each name board with 1/4” flathead bolts.

mounting the nameboard

Enjoying the result. The end result was and is great. Seeing the glittering gold of the name boards reflecting in the sunlight as we dinghy back to Cups always brings a smile to my face.

final result

Stay tuned for Part 2: Hand Carved Lettering and Part 3: Gilding the Lily