The maker’s maker–Peter Moir of The Sign Depot

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I was super-fortunate to get an invite to tour The Sign Depot today and brought along three of my maker pals, James Bastow (with camera), Ben Brown (with beard), and Mark Pitcher (at right).  Our guide was none other than owner and head sign guru Peter Moir (with pirate).  We asked for, and got, a kick-ass, around-the-whole-shop tour, asking questions about everything from material science, to construction techniques, to the TOOLS!

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I’d better back up a bit to thank Lisa McDonald, tireless Sign Depot promoter, networker, and blogger extraordinaire.  I met Lisa through #cinqasept (thanks H!) and after talking about stuff I was working on with my CNC mill, she suggested that I would love the kind of stuff they were doing at The Sign Depot and connected this opportunity for a tour.  Thanks Lisa!

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We started off in the showroom, diving right in to construction techniques.  These sample letter A’s in relief with white background were achieved by masking the wood with a rubber (or plastic?) compound and then sandblasting away the unprotected wood.  You get different effects depending on the wood: looser-grain wood like cedar reveals a really dramatic ripple texture, while closer-grain wood like this mahogany gives an almost stone-like effect.  The anchor at upper left is coated with gold leaf.  Peter said that provides a lustre you can’t achieve with paint and it provides the best resistance to weather.

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Love this distressed G: I think they hit this with a stick welder to achieve this effect.

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We arrived about 15 minutes early, so chatted a bit while waiting for Mark.

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Meanwhile work continued in the background.

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Peter launched The Sign Depot 18 years ago.  Growing up in New Dundee, just south of Kitchener, he worked in a sign shop as a student.  He went on to complete a Fine Art degree at my alma mater: The University of Guelph (ah, Zavitz Hall).  It turns out that we had a number of the same instructors in the Fine Art department including the fabulous Walter Bachinski, Margaret Priest, and Tony Sherman.  (That took me back.)  Starting a sign business was “a good way for an artist to make a living.”

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I should have asked about those cool LED backlit signs in the upper left.

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There’s a funny story about this fantastic Sign Depot-made toboggan and a Christmas party, but you’ll have to dig into their blog to find it.

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Loved the firehose incorporated into this sign as a hanging bracket.  This is typical of the really cool designs we saw all over the shop.  Really unique stuff.  If you’ve seen the cool signs at CuteGecko, The Bauer Kitchen, Wildcraft, and Sole, you’ve already seen some of The Sign Depot’s work.

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Design in progress.

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This is a 2-part compound that can be sprayed on to a foam core to form a hard exterior shell.

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Here’s a giant teapot sign in progress for a lucky King Street business.  Check out Lisa’s write-up on its construction that shows the internal structure and assembly.

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This rough surface is going to get a different layer applied over it to give a very smooth finished surface.  Sculpture Supply Canada over by the 427 in Toronto was noted as a source for materials.

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This faux steam rising from the teapot is plastic that was cut, then heated, then hammered to give this beautiful texture.

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Wait for it…

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Yes!  An 8’ x 4’ CNC table with 6” of Z travel.  Built like a tank.

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Envious looks all around.

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Even the consumable work surface…

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features serendipitously cool designs.

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Lots o’ materials on hand.

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Word jumble, anyone?  Well, I actually won that contest and Lisa told me I could pick up my prize today.

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Awesome pile of the thickest EPS/XPS I’ve ever seen.

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Peter pointed us at the local PlastiFab on Union St. for foam in any size imaginable.

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This piece is a denser foam with different properties including closed-cell makeup.  Get your wallet out, James, $468 for a 4’x8’x2” sheet.

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A gigantic bottle cap in progress.  This is why you need a 6000 sqft shop (which is also useful for awesome art shows, right David Hoover?)

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The bottle cap has a plywood base with these giant (1”?) anchors out the bottom and a foam top covered in fiberglass.

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Varnishing in progress.

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Large-scale projects require a roll-up door so you can get these pieces to their new owners.

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Cut metal on the left, wood on the right.

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Biggest belt sander ever.

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That’s gotta be almost a 4-foot working surface.

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Oh wait, maybe this is the biggest belt sander.

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You know in your shop at home when you don’t have enough clamps for a project?

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They don’t have that problem here.

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Adhesive heaven.

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This is what proper electrical service looks like.

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The sand-blasting booth!

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counter-weighted blast curtain that protects the operator while allowing up, down, and side to side movement of the tool.

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Negative air pressure created by the exhaust at the top of this booth ensures air is drawn into the booth, containing the abrasive and material dust.

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Interesting design challenge here: how to separate the silica abrasive from the wood particles with a low-cost method that allows recycling of the abrasive?

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The mother of all compressors up top.  1. This is why you need a towmotor in your shop, and 2. Yes, that is a 30hp motor driving this thing.

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Sort of looks like a pipe organ from this angle.

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These maquettes are cool in their own right.  The pirate was a scaled down test run of an STL file created by 3D scanning a smaller toy pirate.  The life-sized pirate is now part of an amazing sign down by Niagara Falls.

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Great resolution of complex curves on this foam fish.

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Confession: I have a fastener fetish.  I stock #4,6,8,10 machine screws in various lengths + washers and nuts as well as 1/4” and now 3/8” in my lab.  This is table stakes for serious makers.

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Planer (grey) and a great dust-collection system.

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One serious table saw.

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For the ultimate maker shop: a paint booth with…

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some serious ventilation.

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Got the D, need the W.

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From the I-see-art-everywhere dept: there’s a real Jackson Pollock thing happening here.

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Lots of metal stock over here by the welding gear.

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Ben!  Mark!  Look out!

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Mark is interested in prop making possibilities for his movies.

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My prize!

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But of course the real prize was to connect with Peter Moir and The Sign Depot, and see cool tools and interesting projects in progress.  Massive makebright thanks to Peter for giving us his time today, answering a million questions, and letting us snap photos to our hearts’ content.  That’s some serious goodwill to open your doors like that.

If you have shop/factory/lab, and are interested in connecting with local makers, shoot me an email.

Happy making,


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6 Responses to The maker’s maker–Peter Moir of The Sign Depot

  1. Peter Moir says:

    Nice to meet with you guys yesterday. My pleasure to show you around – your welcome to stop by and see what we’re up to any time.

    Nice blog


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  3. Julia Rosien says:

    Great post, Darin! You did an amazing job with the pictures.

    We visited The Sign Depot yesterday to showcase them as a manufacturing doing amazing work with emerging technologies. We’d love to chat with you about collaborating for the MIN – in awe of your work!

    You can see our video here:


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