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Bob Sauls’ Post-and-Panel Sign Shines for Historic Lighthouse

Cape St. George lighthouse, built in 1852, commemorated.

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Bob Sauls is proprietor of Sauls Signs (Tallahassee, FL).

Veteran signmakers realize being in this business is like wrestling an octopus. Our craft demands you know something about so many skills and trades: construction, woodworking, metalwork, welding, painting, design and many more. These overlapping skills, and the need to execute them creatively, mean you need to sometimes rely on networking and the expertise of others.

Seeing the light
Built in 1852, the Cape St. George Lighthouse stood on the southernmost tip of Little St. George Island and served as a beacon for vessels traveling along the Florida coast in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Wikipedia, Congress appropriated $8,000 in 1847 to build the lighthouse because ships headed into Apalachicola Bay – mostly to pick up cotton – had difficulty navigating the coastline’s craggy terrain. It stood for more than 150 years (the lighthouse was automated in 1949), until beach erosion and the gradual toll of perpetually pounding surf caused the lighthouse’s foundation to buckle, and it toppled into the gulf.
Working with state- and federal-government support, the St. George Lighthouse Assn. quickly mobilized, and a new lighthouse was rebuilt and relocated to the center of St. George Island in 2008, using many of the same materials as the original (a salvage mission unearthed 24,000 of the original bricks, and volunteers painstakingly cleaned them).
As interest in the refurbished lighthouse grew, a museum, gift shop and visitor center opened on the ground of the lighthouse’s new home. What does any property need to economically identify and promote itself? A sign, of course. The St. George Lighthouse Assn. raised funds for a new, post-and-panel sign, and I’m honored that representatives of the association and the Apalachicola Maritime Museum, which operates the St. George Island Visitors Center, located on the Lighthouse Grounds, selected me for the job.

A little help from my friends
Using old-growth cypress timber, Allen Boatright, owner of Boatright Timber Service, milled the support posts for the signs. I needed 14-ft.-tall posts for the sign; cypress logs had been drying in Boatwright’s timber yard. Using a high-powered band saw, Boatright milled the posts and additional support planks. A board member of the Florida Forestry Assn., he’s been a valuable resource for my shop.
David Watson and his staff at Iron Images Inc. have provided me with metal support structures for my signs for more than 25 years. He understands my ideas, and can create a strong support structure that enhances my project. His shop MIG-welded aluminum square tubing and aluminum plate, and applied a black, powdercoated finish to help it withstand Florida weather.
With the demands of running a small signshop, trying to handle all fabrication facets in-house can be overwhelming. It’s so important to align yourself with vendors who excel at their trade and can support your mission to create top-flight signage.

Pretty faces
For the base panels, I used 3/4-in.-thick MDO, to which I rolled on two coats of West System marine-grade epoxy to withstand the elements. For the headpiece sign and the complementary banner panels, I sandblasted 15-lb. Duna Corafoam® high-density urethane (HDU). I only use hardwood if it’s specifically requested by a customer; because it lacks a grain, HDU can be blasted much more quickly and is more durable. I subcontracted the sandblasting of the HDU panels.
To make the HDU more resilient, I applied two coats of fiberglass resin – a trick I learned from Brushwork Signs (Fairbault, MN) owner David Correll – with a disposable chip brush. In addition to creating a protective shell around the HDU, I’ve found that the resin smoothes the urethane’s texture, which makes it easier to finish. For the headpiece, I laminated layers together with epoxy.
I fashioned the banners by cutting out layers on a sabre saw. I rounded over the sandblasted areas with a rasp, and removed layers with Pfeil carving chisels. I carved away layers on the banners to allow it to flow from the upper level to below. To enhance the raised insets, I applied Magic Sculpt epoxy-modeling clay.
To create an additional accent, I fabricated ½-in.-depp panels that say “1852,” in reference to the year
the lighthouse was finished – from white pine using our CarveWright tabletop-sized, CNC machine. Using epoxy, I reinserted them into the posts. This wasn’t originally planned, but I thought they added character.
I painted the signfaces with Sherwin-Williams multi-purpose primer and acrylic paint. For metallic enhancements, I used Modern Masters artists’ acrylics.

In the ground
I pre-drilled holes through the MDO faces, and secured them to the frame with stainless-steel screws. Because the sign is less than 1,000 ft. from the gulf, the exposure to salty air requires steel’s durability.
With assistance from Iron Images, we used post-hole diggers to create footers 3 ft. deep and 18 in. wide, and set 4-in.-thick, concrete pavers in the holes to rest the posts on while we filled the holes with cement. Iron Images used a percussion drill to run the stainless-steel lag bolts through the mounting plate into the post.
I enjoyed the opportunity to challenge my design and carving skills, which yielded a sign that will be frequently photographed by Florida tourists. I’m grateful to Jim and Terry Kemp of the St. George Lighthouse Assn. and George Floyd from the Apalachicola Maritime Museum, as well as the Franklin County Tourism Development Council. St. George Island has changed dramatically in my lifetime, and I’m proud to have completed one of the most memorable projects of my career.

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EQUIPMENT AND MATERIALS
Adhesive: Marine-grade adhesive, from West System (Bay City, MI), (866) 937-8797 or www.westsystem.com
Carving: CarveWright tabletop CNC machine, from LHR Technologies (Pasadena, TX), (713) 473-6572 or www.carvewright.com; chisels and rasps, from Pfeil Tools (Langenthal, Switzerland), www.pfeiltools.com
Coatings: Fiberglass resin, from Bondo, a 3M Company (St. Paul, MN), (877) 666-2277 or www.bondo.com; acrylic primer and paint, from Sherwin-Williams (Cleveland), (800) 474-3794 or www.sherwin-williams.com; artists’ acrylics, from Modern Masters (Sun Valley, CA), (818) 683-0201 or www.modernmasters.com
Frame: Powdercoated-aluminum frame, from Iron Images (Tallahassee, FL), (850) 671-3629 or www.ironimagesinc.com
Posts: Milled cypress support posts, from Boatright Timber Service (Havana, FL), (850) 562-6383 or www.seantaylor.com/boatrighttimber
Substrates: Corafoam® 15-lb., high-density urethane, from Duna USA Inc. (Baytown, TX), (866) 383-3862 or www.dunagroup.com/usa; 0.75-in.-thick, medium-density-overlay plywood and white pine, from building- and wood-supply stores

 

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