Creating an Architectural Gable with Precision Board HDU

When Shane Durnford created an architectural gable for a home, he used Precision Board HDU and hand-carved the incredible detail into it. For him it was a return to sign work & he couldn’t be happier about it. Shane talks about bringing this work of art to life through craftsmanship, skill and the use of Precision Board HDU.


Durnford was a sign writer in the 80s doing lettering and specialized in handcrafted signs. He taught himself how to carve in 1989 and it took on a life of its own from there.  Over the next 20 years Shane created thousands of premium carved and crafted signs for commercial, municipal and residential commissions.  After taking a break from carving and sign work, Shane recently had the opportunity to create an architectural gable from some PBLT-18 Precision Board HDU and jumped at the chance.

“This was my return to sign work and hand carving. It never left me. As soon as I picked up the tools, it came back to me,” Shane says. “It’s fun. I missed the craft.”

It took him about 100 hours altogether for the design and carving of the gable. He started with a flat piece that had the general shapes in it and then worked from there to carve dimension into the substrate.  “The 18 lb. Precision Board sheet was only about four inches thick, so I used shadow to give it a bigger look,” Shane says. “I start with a low point and high point for reference and then bring the picture into focus by shading with light and undercutting to give the substrate dimension,” he added.

Almost all of Shane’s work has birds in it. “They are poetically beautiful creatures.” he says.  “Almost everything I do is nature oriented and organic in shape and line. I think living in the beautiful countryside where I had my studio for years had a great influence on my work. It’s the place where my muses live.”

Because the bird’s wing on the right side of the gable was only about an inch thick, he drilled a ¼” brass rod through the bird and into the wing to give it strong support.  Durnford then used Benjamin Moore primer and latex paint with an eggshell finish.  He says, “I thought about painting the apples red, but it would visually clutter the sign and be a distraction to the entire architectural nature of the sign. More of a gable architectural feature instead of a sign.”

Pro Tip: “When carving, take it one section at a time. Pick your highest and lowest depths and establish those areas and then carve the remaining elements in relation to those two points. The detail comes at the very end, like a picture coming into focus.  Design and carve by feel and intuition and try not to over think the process. It’s like sketching. Rough it out and establish the over all composition, and then refine the detail. The learning curve is always steep and never ending. That’s what I love about it.”

Shane likes the feeling he gets when hand-carving high-density urethane.  “It’s a meditative and natural process. When I carve, I try to work intuitively. The carving pulls you inside the work and time passes effortlessly. You forget yourself and let the design find you.”

We asked him how he knows when a particular carving is finished.  “It depends on the piece. For exterior pieces I limited the detail, since it will be viewed at a distance. For more interior pieces the extra refinement adds to the intimacy and expression of the piece.”


Shane prefers to work with Precision Board HDU because there’s no grain or knots and has a nice consistent density.  He says, “no matter where you are on the material, it’s all the same consistency. It helps the carving, so you don’t have to adjust your work for the material.  I’ve used other sign materials and they don’t hold the edge like Precision Board does. The tools get along well with it.”   He adds, “I like the natural color too.  It’s a little thing, but it affects the mindset when carving.”

Durnford elaborates a bit more on his style.  “I approach the work as a designer rather than just a carver. The sign design criteria easily translates to interior architectural pieces like entranceways,  newel posts, mantels.  I think the key is to feel it when designing and carving. It makes for an authentic and honest piece that engages and connects with people.”

A great selling point for commercial signage.


Shane graduated from Toronto’s George Brown Signwriting program in 1981. With lettering quill in hand and a box of paint, he started from a humble shop in Creemore, Ontario and, within a few short years, had become a highly sought after Signcrafter. As a Registered Graphic Designer, Shane quickly became known for not only his superb hand crafting skills but also for his novel image consulting and design services, across various mediums: logos, websites, promotional/advertising material, illustration, corporate branding, and showpiece signage. His unique brand is sensory storytelling thru maximum impact, multifaceted visual imagery.

Shane’s work and articles have appeared in international trade publications. National exposure in major Canadian magazines and television. His work, as well as articles, are well respected within the industry. He has hosted design workshops, participants from as far away as Australia. He is retained as key note speaker for branding strategies by municipalities.  Shane Durnford Studios can be found on a variety of platforms, including his new Instagram account.  For more information and other social platforms, check out his website.  Design & Carving workshops are being organized for Summer 2018, more information to come. Email Shane to receive more info and pricing when it becomes available.

Coastal Enterprises offers free samples of Precision Board HDU.  You can also sign up for our monthly blog roundup, which is jam-packed with helpful blogs on people like Shane doing creative and interesting things with Precision Board.  You can also give us a call with your questions at 800-845-0745.  We’d love to hear from you!

Jumping the Shark: Hand-Carved Precision Board HDU

Are you wondering if Precision Board HDU can be hand-carved? Absolutely! We talked to Jim McKay who recently created a dimensional sign out of Precision Board PBLT-18 using only hand-carving tools and a dremel. Read on to see how he created the detail and depth on this 3D Mako Fin shark sign and get some tips on hand carving HDU.

Jim was asked to make a sign for the private shore house of a client who loved fishing. McKay decided to get creative with PBLT-18 that he had in stock. He did research on sharks and after finding the image he wanted, created a 3D outline in Adobe Illustrator, using it for reference as he hand-carved the HDU.

In order to create a sign that was 6″ thick, Jim stacked 3 pieces of 2″ foam together, drilled holes, inserted a wooden dowel and used PB Fast Set to hold the pieces in place.

McKay then used a high speed dremel for the detail work on the eye and teeth, using a variety of bits to achieve the dimensional look of the shark.

“To create depth from the front of the shark to the back, I started sculpting with rasps and a dremel to get down to the shape that I wanted.” He added, “from there I went back in with finer rasps and carving tools to get the exact details of where I wanted things.”

Once he was done carving, Jim put a base coat of primer/sealer on it and colored the shark with spray cans of grey and blue, silvery color paint. The eye itself was a piece of black stained glass to give an effect of a shiny pitch black pupil.

To give the illusion of the shark bursting out of the wall, he mounted it to a piece of exterior plywood and cut the edges to make it look like it was broken wood. He then put the finishing touches on the sign by hand painting his customer’s name on it.

For those thinking about trying their hand at carving Precision Board HDU, Jim has some advice.

“Since there are no knots or grain like in wood, HDU cuts real easy, so you need to be careful and not put too much pressure on it,” said McKay. “You want to try different tools on a sample piece to see how it carves. Take your time and do the work to quality finish with attention to detail, coloring, etc.”

Jim McKay is a trained illustrator who does a variety of work, including carved signs, painting and logo design. You can check out the Artwork by JTM website or contact him here to inquire about getting your own hand carved sign.

You can request samples of Precision Board to try for yourself and read more tips on working with HDU here.

HDU Vs. Wood Signs

Why are HDU signs more popular than wood signs? Wooden signs often fall victim to moisture intrusion, which will then cause the sign to swell and the paint to crack. A wooden sign requires much more maintenance, commonly requiring yearly repainting to keep it looking fresh. HDU is also much more readily available, and being a certified green material, it is also an eco-friendly choice.

HDU signs last so much longer because high density urethane is made up of millions of tiny cells, which are not interconnected, which means moisture can never get in. This is the reason why Coastal Enterprises offers a “Life of the Sign” warranty, against your sign warping, cracking rotting or splitting. When your HDU sign is painted, it will look just like wood and last much longer.

We often hear from people that they’ll never forget the first time they tried hand-carving with HDU, and how it was immediately clear that it was the perfect hand carving material. The consistency and various densities allow you to truly fine tune your hand-carved project specifically to your individual needs.

As mentioned in our FAQ section, any woodworking tool can cut Precision Board Plus. Rasps, dremels, and craft drills are all great tools to use for shaping. Standard wood carving tools work great, and in cases where extreme detail is desired, dental tools also work well. You can find a nice selection of carving tools here.

An interesting article in Sign Builder Illustrated, written by Mark Roberts, details the process he used to incorporate some hand carved Precision Board Plus HDU into an aluminum sign for a park. Check out the full article on page 18 here, and learn what his “secret weapons” are for hand-carving Precision Board Plus HDU!

If you have any questions, we offer free technical support and samples and can be reached at: (800) 845-0745.



Hand Carving HDU – Quality & Elegance

Curt Stenz from Curt Stenz Graphics, in Marathon, WI sent us a picture of a recent hand-carved sign he made for a customer.

Hand carving is considered by some sign makers to be the epitome of craftsmanship in the industry. The hours of patience and the amount of skill involved in finishing a hand-carved sign is tremendous. We were very impressed at the quality and elegance with which Curt finished this sign.

He started out with a 2″ 4′ x 8′ sheet of PBLT-15. Using a latex paint for the background and 1-shot enamel for the lettering and pictorial, he ended up with this beautiful sign! If you would like to get in touch with Curt, he can be reached at:

Have some questions about hand-carving HDU? Call us at: (800) 845-0745! We offer free technical support 8:00AM – 5:00PM Monday through Friday, PST.

Thank you Curt for sending this in!