Building Sandwich Boards for Fun and Not-for-Profits

About a month ago, my wife told me that someone had stolen the sandwich boards for the Wallingford Senior Center. (Sandwich boards are the signs that many companies and realtors put out on the streetcorners to attract attention.) The Wallingford Senior Center, or WSC, had been using the same sandwich boards for as long as I’ve lived here. They use them to attract folks to the Sunday pancake breakfast and the Tuesday spaghetti dinner. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out who would steal them unless it was just vandals out to have a good time. You have to stoop pretty low to steal from a not-for-profit advertising carbohydrates twice a week for seniors.

Setting my distaste for certain elements of humanity aside, my wife asked me if I could make sandwich boards. Given that this involves attaching two pieces of plywood together with a hinge, I allowed as to how my building skills were probably up to the challenge. Then came the engineering requirements. First off, she wanted them lighter — the old ones were built from MDF or plywood and must have weighed 50 pounds. That’s pretty hard for a 70-year-old to haul around. Second, I realized that any wood I put out in Seattle’s persistent floating moisture (I won’t call it rain because it’s really more like an omnipresent high humidity that stretches from October to March) would quickly rot or degrade. Third, I wanted them to be flexible — to be able to advertise different events easily, for example. Finally, I wanted them to cost very little.

I went to Home Depot to receive a dose of creative juice. I started picking up sheets of MDF and plywood and pricing hinges. So that they could lock open, I wanted the same kind of spreaders that a stepladder has. To get around the weight issue, I decided to attach wheels that could flip out of the way. To get around the wood-rot problem, I looked at epoxy resins and strong sealers. I’d loaded up my cart with $150 worth of stuff when I happened by a couple of Stanley plastic sawhorses for about $25. At that point, I had an epiphany. Stanley had build the basic infrastructure for me and made it lightweight (each sawhorse weighs maybe 10lb) and plastic (so it wouldn’t rot). After that, I bought a couple of pieces of clear acrylic ($11/sheet) and some RustOleum white plastic paint. I painted the acrylic, bolted it to the sides of the sawhorse, added a strap on the top of the sawhorse made from an old nylon tie-down and presto, I had lightweight, weather-impervious sandwich boards. Total cost for each one was about $50 — probably a bit more than if I’d made them from MDF, but these met more of the design considerations.

Unfortunately, the only power tool I got to use was my electric drill/screwdriver.

Comments (6)

  1. Sam says:

    Hey, so maybe whoever took the old heavy sandwich-board away did the 70-year old a favour, getting a new lighter sandwich-board in the end?

    And maybe it was not vandalism but instead someone who’d seen him hauling the heavy thing and wanted to help in a very direct way?

    You see, if all ends well I always tend to see the possibility that someone meant no harm but to help.

    Funny me, always wanting to see the good in people…


  2. Tim Ambler says:

    Good job on reducing the weight, but one thing that you might need to think about is how to keep the wind from blowing them away. 50 pound sanwich boards do have some advantages….

  3. I thought about the weight issue and came to the conclusion that it was easier to add weight (e.g. lead flashing) to this configuration than to remove weight from the heavier sandwich boards. It’ll be interesting to see how well they stand up as well — in some informal testing I did, they weren’t very easy to knock over even weighing as little as they do.

  4. we need pictures of the signs!

    seems like a good opportunity to reuse MLM signs for the sign-material (to be even cheaper). As seen on!

  5. Gary Owen says:

    Was the "informal testing" you standing outside kicking the sandwich board? Also makes me wonder what the test cases for formal sandwich board testing look like. 😉

    This is a fascinating read for me as I’m involved with a non-profit tea bar called <a href="">the living:room</a> that’s based in Fremont. We have a couple of those 100+ pound sandwich boards. I’m definitely going to be passing this around. Great Idea!

    If you want some tea, come on over to Fremont and I’ll buy you cup (or 2 or 3).

  6. Happy to meet for tea, though I tend to drink coffee. By the gallon (I’m on my second pot this morning). I’ve also been studying other designs. I think I can cut costs further, but only at the expense of increasing weight.