How, and why, to make a wooden trail sign.

Grab your favorite beverage, sit back, and get introduced to a whole new way to enjoy home!

 This was a long post to write, but fun to research. Less fun, was the fact that the Blogger site randomly deleted my masterpiece 3/4 of the way through. Fuck! Pardon my French. But Fuck! Fortunately I still had a few notes left on my hard drive, so this is take 2, partly from memory.

Official State trails have trail signs at the beginning, and sometimes the end. The signs basically have the trail's name on it. Some unofficial trails have wooden signs made by hikers—possibly someone in the Hawaii Trail and Mountain Club's volunteer trail clearing crew, I suspect. There are many unofficial trails however, that do not have signs. In this post I'll discuss how you can make a sign for your favorite trail(s).

I do not think that all trails require signs, and I do not think that it is appropriate for all trails to have signs. There is something to be said for preserving the wilderness experience where one can go to test and enjoy your hard-earned skills and enjoy the solitude of nature with few people around. Despite this, I think that the greatest use for trail signs are along the remote Ko'olau Summit Trail (KST) and it's tributaries that run from Kipapa to Pupukea. In this northern part of the Ko'olau range, the mountain is broad, overgrown, and filled with dangerous or confusing side trails (often made by wild pigs). If this trail was maintained and often hiked,as it was in its early years, I wouldn't advocate for signs on it. However, it fell into neglect many many decades ago, and the trail is in danger of being erased by nature in many areas. In contrast to the KST, in the south of the Ko'olau range, the summit (known as the KSRT, R=ridge) is narrow enough that you can't get lost, and the geography straightforward enough that you can identify ridges leading up to the summit fairly easily from memory. In the north, you want your signs to be bright and highly visible in misty conditions, while if you were to put something up in the south, you might want it more subdued and blended into the landscape. 

Below, I'll give you a shortcut method that is basically a set of instructions for buying supplies and constructing trail signs. You'd think that it is easy to make a wooden trail sign, but it's really not. There is a lot you can get wrong. Just look at the photos in this post to see how quickly existing signs have deteriorated! Initially, I had a supplemental discussion that explained the reason for choosing certain types of wood, options for chemical treatments, types of paint-on coats, what'll work and what won't, etc. However, after the site deleted my post, I didn't feel like rewriting all of it. If you stick to what I tell you, your sign will have a good chance of lasting many years in the harsh environment of the mountains.

On to sign-making! Enjoy making your sign on the days when the Vog is thick or your bruised body just needs a break from hiking :) .


[--July 2015--]

Shortcut Instructions: 

A few introductory comments:

  • If you don't have a work surface to paint/saw on, never fear. Be creative. For example, you can buy 1 or 2 of the $2 large plastic pail/buckets that all hardware stores have prominently on display inside and use it to make a surface to cut pvc pipe or wood, or even paint on. Here is a good example of how to do it. Also, Vintage Wine Cellar in the basement of Makiki shopping center (Sure Shot Cafe is on the same block) often have wooden wine boxes for $3 each. These make good little tables to work/paint on. For about the same price you can also buy a 2x4 piece of lumber at a hardware store, have them cut it up, and make a work surface to put onto the ground or another table. Newspaper is ofcourse also useful; save the midweeks that get delivered for free every week or buy one or two normal ones.
  • The ideal sign will be constructed from the most durable materials, and be lightweight and compact for carrying in your backpack.
  • While it is possible to construct a wooden sign of which I estimate the combined components could last for maybe 10-20 years outdoors, your biggest problem will be mildew/mold. This stuff can grow on almost everything under the right conditions. In the frequently wet and humid conditions of some Hawaii mountain areas, I estimate that mold can obscure the lettering on your sign within 4-8 years. This effectively limits the lifetime of your sign. Your best defense against mold is to buy a high quality, semi-gloss, outdoor, 100% acrylic latex paint that contains mildewcide. Light paint colors are said to have the best fade resistance in sunlight, and also possibly resist mildew better. Most companies talk about 3 years of mildew-resistant paint, based on how long their mildewcide takes to diffuse out of the paint. Zinsser Perma-White (it is tintable up to medium shades) is guaranteed mildew-proof for 5 years, and might be your best bet to fight mildew. Mildew is cleanable, so in theory you, or the HTMC trail clearing crew, can take a surface-mildew-cleaning solution like "JoMax" and lightly wipe off the sign every few years to greatly extend its lifetime.
  • If you carve out your letters in the wood, in addition to painting them on, they will remain visible for longer, because dirt and subsequently mold, will catch in them and contrast them with the background color of the sign. This will probably only yield an advantage after many years (10-15?) when the paint starts failing. On the negative side, it does provide a good foothold for mold and algae to prematurely spread on the paint via captured dirt. I leave the choice to you. I don't know if this will work: you can try using an inexpensive Dremel look-a-like with a grip extension. sells it for $25 here. I think it can accept Dremel "high speed cutter" bits, and you could try one or two of #134, 144, 114, 115, or 124...they look like the largest cutting heads. They cost about $7 each.

A) Shopping list:

Total cost= about $120 excluding drill, saw, and pliers. With leftover supplies, you can make several more signs for about $15 extra each. While you could take some shortcuts and make a sign for less $ by using cheaper wood and skipping some of the chemical layers, the point is really to make a long-lasting sign that will stand up to Hawaii's extreme UV, trade winds, high humidity, summit rain, ants, and mischievious Menehune. Otherwise you're putting in a lot of effort to make something that will fail in a year or three and then just be an eyesore. Make a good sign. Maybe pool some money with your hiking buddies?!

A note about fasteners: You will need to buy fasteners of some kind to put the sign pole up. In order to choose specific materials to do this, you will need to know exactly what the location on the trail looks like where the sign is going up. Or else you will need to buy a few different supplies to have options. It's good to have options on the don't want hike to 6 hours and then realize you have to compromise on how/where you install the sign! Spend the extra $10 and get everything I list below.

In Honolulu, Lowes, Home Depot, and City Mill are literally around the corner from each other, close to Costco, so my list is optimized for them. However, Ace and Hardware Hawaii carry some things you can't find elsewhere or of superior quality, so if you don't mind driving, then don't rule them out. Hardware Hawaii has several branches, but I've only been to the Kailua one (It's a really good store!)

--To buy at Oreilly's auto parts:
  • 2 reflectors with screw holes ($4). They're labeled as "Stick-on" reflectors, but if you read the back, it'll tell you if it also has screw holes (the holes can be hidden from your view by the packaging). The 1 x 4" rectangular "Optronics" ones will work well with your pole. If you can't find these, then I guess the chunky ugly ones at Lowes would work (in the truck accessories isle or the signs and mailbox numbering isles).
--To buy at any hardware store:
  • Optional: Klean Strip Green Odorless Mineral Spirits ($9). For cleaning oil primer spill and paint brushes.
  • Disposable Respirator Masks. You want some for painting and sanding. I use a 3M #8577, P95 that has a little breathing valve. These can be hard to find in the "white-facemask-type" disposable forms, so you might have to look at different stores, although currently Lowes has them for $11. The "P" stands for protection against oil particulates, but this is more relevant for spray painting, so there might be others you can use. However, it does protect you from the saw/sanding dust particulates too.
  • If you don't have an old cotton T-shirt, buy some cotton rags in the paint isle. This is for cleaning the paint brushes/sponges with mineral spirits and wiping up paint spills.
  • 3-6, 1 inch wide sponge brushes ($3-6) or 3 cheap paint brushes ($6). Small sponge brushes can be surprisingly hard to find. I found them at Ace Hardware and City Mill.
--To buy at Lowes:
  • A long (6-10 ft), 1" x 4", 1" x 3", 1 x 2, or 2" x 4" piece of Douglis Fir or heartwood Redwood for about $5-15. There are two types of wood in a tree: heartwood and sapwood. Heartwood Redwood is more durable than Douglis Fir. Make sure you don't buy Borate or HiBor treated wood. And don't buy Hemlock Fir, plain "Fir", pine, or any kind of plywood.
  My shortcut instructions are for 5/8" thick wood. Note that in the store the numbers are often rounded up, for example, from 5/8 to 1". At Lowes they often list both numbers as "actual" and "common". If you buy a different thickness wood from 5/8 (1"), you have to buy longer machine screws than what I specify further below. 
  If you want to make a sign like the yellow one in the photo below, a 1x2 (5/8 x 1&3/8) will require the minimum amount of sawing on your part.  
 The wood will be inside the building, in 2 places. In the construction lumber isle at the left end of the store, probably in the front half of the store, and in the same side of the building but in the back half of the store where the project wood and interior finishing wood is (isle 47 currently).
  The wood in the front might be labeled as "Con Hrt Redwood S4S" on the little stapled paper on one end of the wood, or the price sign. 
  In the back it might be described as "Redwood Board" and labeled something like "Clear S4S KD"--if it's labeled this, then just make sure all the wood in your piece is red-brown heartwood and that there is NO white/beige sapwood in the mix. And make sure there are no glued seams in the piece! Sometimes they'll glue the boards smoothly together.
  Try to choose a piece of wood where the 2 ends have quartersawn grain lines. Google "quartersawn" to see what it looks like. It's basically vertical or near-vertical grain wood. It's ok though if you can't find a piece like that, but if you see one buried in the pile, dig it out!
  Have the store cut your piece into whatever lengths you want. They won't split it lengthwise though (aka "a rip cut"), because it is unsafe to do so with a power tool apparently. Ripping your own wood with a saw at home might be possible, depending on how thick the wood is and what your home setup is, but it remains difficult. So try to buy the width of face that you think you'll need.
  When you get home, don't leave your wood in sunlight! Even a few days of sunlight will damage the fibers of the wood so that paint won't stick properly and will peel prematurely! Store your wood in a dry and dark place. I know, I know, it's easier to see the Menehune than find a dry, dark place in Hawaii. Unless you live in a house with AC (this is why hardware stores keep their wood inside!). But try your best or it'll mess up your sign. Just cover the wood with something, even in indirect sunlight, and keep it out of the rain or basement to avoid mildew/mold. Use it soon after you buy it.
  • Buying paint: Here is what I would 1 quart can of paint at Lowes, and another at Hardware Hawaii. I'd buy darker paint for the lettering at Lowes, and lighter paint for the background at Hardware Hawaii. At Lowes I'd buy Valspar Duramax ($15-20), and at Hardware Hawaii I'd buy Zinsser Perma-White Exterior ($13; is unfortunately only tintable up to medium tones, so no bright colors :/ ). The reason for buying two different paints, is that the Zinsser paint is the only one with a 5 year guarantee mildew/mold-free. Other paints have 3 year resistance. Is there a working difference in reality? I don't know, but anything you can do to delay mold growth is worth a try! But it's up to you--you could buy two cans of paint at Lowes. Whatever you do, you must buy an exterior, semi-gloss, house/wall/trim/siding paint. In Lowes, the exterior paints are lined on one side of the isle and the interior paints on the opposite side (unimportant fact: at Home Depot it's mixed, for extra chaos). Don't take your paint off the shelf...go choose your color(s) on the color walls for that brand; then tell the paint dude what color you want in which paint, and he will mix it all up for you at the paint counter.
Note: Before you shell out money for the paint, first try to get lucky: Go to the paint section and look next to the paint counter for the "mistints". Ask the paint dude where it is. In Hardware Hawaii Kailua, the mistints are at one of the back entrances. Mistints are paints of which the color wasn't mixed accurately to the customer's specification, and is now sold at a discounted "damaged" rate. You can score some really expensive top-of-the-line paints for 1/4 their normal price. The only down-side is that the color selection tends to be limited and you have to buy whatever size the container is (e.g., they can't decant it into a quart if it is a gallon). But given how much effort you are putting into your sign, don't make do with a color that want to feel good about your hard work! And don't buy a low-budget paint brand...your sign will need good protection.
  • Remember to ask for free paint mixing sticks at the paint counter (I always insist on 5 per can) when you buy paint.
  • Buy a quart can of Zinsser Cover Stain oil-based paint primer ($12). It will go underneath the paint. (Don't rely on the paint's included acrylic latex primer, if you bought a paint+primer combination paint.). And FYI, Cover Stain is optionally color-tintable, so also look in the "Mistints".
  • Paint Gloves. "3M tekk Nitrile Solvent Resistant Gloves" ($5).
  • Buy a 10 ft long, 1/2" thick PVC pipe ($5). You'll use this for the sign's pole. It's easier to hike with in your backpack if you have the store cut it into 2 ft or 2.5 ft sections. The guys at Lowes can sometimes be full of shit, so if they won't cut it for you, go to City Mill--they'll do it. Then you can customize the length of your pole in the field by joining sections with bolts.
  • Two #8-32 (or 8-24) size, 1.5" or longer, stainless steel, "machine screws" and nuts ($3). If you can find them, "wing nuts" are easier to fasten by hand. The screws are actually like bolts with screwdriver heads. They sell them in small packets, or individual bolts. If you buy individual ones, be sure to double check the individual bolts' size against a packet, or a bolt measuring device hanging from the wall, because often the drawers contain several or all of the wrong size bolts!
The screw (aka fasterner) section is overwhelming because of all the different types, so be patient. The different types tend to be color coded along the shelves. Individual ones are kept in little drawers. If you can't find stainless steel ones, go to another hardware store. Get stainless steel! If you got different reflectors than the ones I recommended, you'll have to make sure these bolts fit them. You'll use this to attach the reflectors to the PVC pole.
  • Five #10-32 (or 10-24), 2" or longer, stainless steel machine screws, washers, and nuts. You'll use this to join and fasten together shorter pvc sections of the pole, and to fasten the wood to the pole.
  If you want to delay rust and extend the lifetime of the screws even further, you could buy 1/4 inch machine screws. 
  • a set of "hobby brushes" to paint the lettering with ($4).
  • A packet of cable ties (aka zip ties) labeled for "outdoor" use and "UV" protected ($5-10). Look for 24" or longer; you can use this to tie your sign's pole to a tree or something. You'll find them in the electrical wiring isle, strangely enough.
--To buy at Home Depot:
  • 60 grit and 120 grit sandpaper ($10). You'll use this to prepare the wood surface before painting.
  • Multipurpose "Dand-O-Line" ($8). This is green vinyl-covered galvanized wire (I estimate 14 or 15 gauge). Comes in a 100ft roll. Hillman brand, but not labeled as such. You'll use this to tie the PVC pole to something on the trail, if you have to, and to secure large signs from rotating on their bolts.
  • One 16 inch Orange plastic ground stake ($4). "Peak" brand. Last I looked they were in the back of the store to the left, in an isle with doors or security screens or something, close to the lumber. You can hammer these stakes into the ground and tie the PVC pole to it when putting up your sign, if there's a need for it.
  • One or two 12 inch "hot dipped galvanized spikes" (70 cents each). These are in a box in the fastener/bolt/screw isle the last time I checked. They look like big nails. You can use these to hammer into hard ground to tie the PVC pole to on the trail, if you have to.
B) Assembly Instructions: 

It is important to note that this is not a weekend project. It'll likely take you much longer. The multiple layers of various paints etc. must dry properly between coats or else they will fail when exposed to weather. It's best to work a little bit every day and give things time to dry properly. Don't wait several days between coats however, or you'll have to sand them before the next coat. Should you need to do a slight sanding, whether per instructions or because you waited too long, 120 grit sandpaper is what you should use. Read the instructions on your products (I wish they would make the fonts bigger!), and take into account that we have high humidity in Hawaii, which means longer drying (aka curing) times. Where I live, the humidity is around 55-65% on most days; if you live next to the ocean it'll be higher and in a rainy valley it can be a 100%.

  1. If you bought wood from inside Lowes, it is unlikely that there will be mold on it. However, if you see a black or green or grey discoloration on the wood, it's probably mold. Ace in Kaneohe for example, has a nice selection of redwood, but it is all kept in a musty warehouse attached to the store. There are cobwebs in there that look like authentic Halloween decorations! Much of the wood has a layer of mold on it. So if you have mold, you have to kill it before doing anything else. You'll use a bleach-based solution. While there are many general ones you can look up on the internet, it might be best to get a solution of JoMax or something similar from the paint section in the hardware store; it usually combines with bleach. Whatever you do, make sure it is appropriate for bare/unfinished wood. Some of the internet ones might not be appropriate, because it is said that some solutions leave alkalis behind in the wood that interferes with adequate adhesion of the paint! If you mess this up, everything to come will fail prematurely.
  2. Saw the wood down to size if need be, and saw the arrow(s) in. Don't saw an arrow on each end that point in the same direction, like the green signs in the photos below. That exposes more end grain and absorbs more moisture in the field that leads to wood rot. Just do one arrow, like in the yellow sign in the photos below, or if the sign is valid for two directions, then cut two opposing arrows if you must.
  3. Drill a hole with a 13/64" diameter bit through the center of the face where the lettering is going to be. The hole will be bigger than your #10 bolt, because you will paint the inside wood surface inside the hole and the paint will take up some space. It'll also allow the wood some space to expand with moisture changes without cracking against the bolt.
If the sign has a wide vertical face (say, 4 inches or more), drill two 3/16" holes through which the wire must fit, under the previous hole, near the bottom of the woodface, spaced on either side of the previous hole at a distance the diameter of the pole. (All the holes will form a triangle).
  1. If you have a Dremel or router, now is the time to carve out your letters in the wood. If you want to be fancy, you can add your initials or the date to a corner on the back of the sign.
  2. Put on the facemask and lightly sand all the faces and edges of the wood with 120 grit sandpaper until the surface has uniformly experienced a few (say 5) strokes. This is to remove millglaze. Sand with the grain—not across it! Brush off the sawdust and then wipe lightly with a damp (not wet) rag/paper towel. Then switch to a 60 grit sand paper, sanding with light pressure. Hard sanding or too many passes will erod the soft wood between the harder grain lines and leave a hollowed-out grooved surface. Sand efficiently so that the the surfaces will be uniformly roughed up with the fewest number of passes possible to avoid grain raising. Clean again and let dry thoroughly.
  3. Now comes the primer and paint: It is useful to have a roll of paper towels, a rag or two, and a small bucket of water handy. Now is also the time to get a little bit of mineral spirits out into a glass bottle or disposable plastic cup if you need to clean up primer spill or the primer brush. A disposable cup or two filled with water to clean the paint brushes between paint layers is also a must.
  4. Apply 2 layers of primer to the sign per instructions, and do an extra layer over the two end cuts (straight side + arrow side).  And make sure to paint the inside of the drill holes (a hobby brush will work; I also use a toothpick or something to work it around into the wood in the holes, and also to keep the holes clear from paint blobs). I'm not an expert at applying this stuff, but I usually work the first layer into the wood by pressing firmly and doing several back and forth motions; then I'll be more gentle with the second coat and do a slightly thicker application brushing in just one direction and letting the brush dictate to me when it's time to apply more. Be sure to let it dry properly if called for; don't be impatient or you'll waste your efforts. You can paint over the coverstain in 4 hours, but I usually wait 24 hours with a light breeze stirring the air and no rain. Apply paint over the primer before 14 days, preferably before 10, after priming, or else the paint will peel prematurely form the primer.
  5. Now begins the painting. Don't paint in wind or full sun, because the faster the paint dries, the more porous it will be, and the more it'll be prone to moisture damage and mold growth.
  6. Paint a layer of lettering. Let it dry. Then paint a background layer over the face AND lettering. QUICKLY wipe off this wet paint from the lettering. Let it dry. Then do another background layer in the same way. Then finish with a layer of lettering. If the sign is going up in a location on, or close to, the summit of the mountain (where there is probably constant strong wind that drives rain and dust that is micro-abrasive), then apply another (3rd) layer of paint. Don't apply more though, because in theory if you apply too much paint, the primer might fail from the "weight" and the paint will peel. Paint inside the drill holes too, but keep in mind that the machine screws still need to fit.
  7. Clean up the paint equipment etc.
  8. Drill a hole through the PVC pipe with a 3/16" bit, about 2 inches from the top, for the machine screw to attach the sign through. Use the mask/goggles when working with PVC. It has a low melting point, and any sort of friction you put on it produces fumes you don't want in your lungs.
  9. Drill holes through the PVC pipe with an 11/64" bit, to attach the reflectors vertically. Drill the top hole three to four inches below the bottom of the wood. The reflectors should obviously face the trail and junctions. If appropriate, you can mount them back-to-back on either side of the pole with the same set of holes/machine screws
  10. Take another section of PVC pipe and cut the bottom off from one side, at an angle, to make a sharp stake.
  11. Decide how tall you want your sign and pole to be (taking into account that a part of the pole might be hammered into the ground), and figure out how many PVC sections you will need to join in the field. Drill two holes in each pipe, with a 3/16 bit, making sure the top of one and the bottom of another overlap perfectly, so that you can bolt the final pole together via 2 overlapping pole sections at a time. I had my segments overlap about 3 inches. Two holes/bolts are needed to prevent the pole segments from rotating on the axis of 1 bolt.
  12. Sand the PVC pipe with 120 grit sandpaper. Sand it in multiple directions to scuff it up as much as possible. Then wipe properly with a damp rag/paper towel, and let dry. Then paint either bright or camouflaged color depending on if you're in the north or south part of the Koolau range. If you bought a paint with primer included, just use that; if not, go back to the store and buy a latex primer; oil apparently does not work well on PVC, although the Cover Stain you bought does say it's OK for you might give it a go. You could also rub a brown color stain, for wood, onto the PVC over the primer. The paint/stain will provide long term UV protection which assures the PVC retains it's impact resistance.
  13. Decide if you want to keep your face mask. Mine's manual say that it is good for 40 hours accumulated use, or 30 days storage, whichever comes first. The reason is that the chemicals absorbed by the mask will diffuse through the mask in that time, and be unsafe to use.
  14. No go put up your pole on the trail, using the zip ties and wire, or hammering/staking it into the ground. It is perhaps a good strategy to use multiple materials to create redundancy, for example, a steel spike will rust and a plastic one will deteriorate in UV, so by using both you keep your sign fastened as long as possible. Use both wire and zip ties to tie things. And try to hammer the bottom pole section into the ground if it's not too hard. Then attach the rest of the poles to that one with bolts. Then attach the wood and reflectors.
    •  Make sure your sign is in a visible spot and is securely anchored...the wind on the summit has been known to lift steel fencing lying flat on the ground! Take a small rubber hammer. And take a pair of pliers with a wire cutter in it to trim the wire and zip ties. 
    • If you drilled extra holes on your wood for wire, remember to loop some wire through the two holes you made for it, and secure the sign to the pole with that too (in addition to the bolt). The wire will keep the wood from spinning on the bolt and pointing at an odd/wrong angle. 

Above photo: The shortcut instructions will produce a sign that looks something like this. Ummm...only better :) .
  I made this sign for the Castle--Papali Uka junction, but the weather was too bad for me to make it all the way to the junction, so I found an alternative location (at the Waiahilahila split, on the so-called "saddle") to put it up. Behind the sign is a sheer cliff, which was shrouded in mist this day. Note all the faded trail tape on the tree to the left, stressing the importance of not taking the right fork or walking off the cliff! This location is thus an excellent place to put up a sign for direction and to improve safety.
  I had to turn the sign upside down to make the arrow point in the right direction. Because the direction it's facing is different from the original intention, the drill holes for the reflectors are also in the wrong place and I had to be creative to mount them--they were supposed to be side-by-side and facing in opposite directions. Adding multiple drill holes to your sign pole will give you some flexibility to avoid unexpected problems in the field.
  The wood is 1.5 x 11 inches.
  I used inexpensive Sherwin Williams color sample paint instead of "real" paint, because I wanted to experiment with it for cost savings. The dudes at Lowes assured me it was real paint+mildewcide in sample quart jars, but I have my doubts. Even if that is true, I realized too late that the eggshell sheen will quickly trap dirt and promote mold growth. I added a few semi-gloss spar urethane coats, but these did not cure properly in the 60% humidity at my house and was already peeling when I put the sign up. Thus I don't expect that the sample paint sign will last long. Fortunately, a replacement sign can easily be affixed to the pole with the current bolt.
  An extra sign can also be affixed to the current pole (where the top reflector is bolted) for the Waiahilahila trail (if it is still even hikeable) if someone decided they wanted to.

Above photo: For this collage, and others below, I used my own pics + ones I got from other blogs (check out my "links" page for those blogs; thanks bloggers, this one's for the greater good). While I critique the weaknesses of these signs, I do so for the learning experience. I definitely respect that someone took on the tremendous effort to make and put up these signs. Hopefully my post can contribute to their future signs being more robust; it's a shame to see their efforts wasted!
 This is a 3 year timeline of the sign at the Pauao summit. Cool huh? After 1 year, the wood has already begun to fade (weather). By year 3, mold, algae, and perhaps tannin bleeding has greatly obscured the lettering. These are great enemies of wooden trail signs. Tannin-stain-blocking primer and outdoor paint that contains mildewcide will give the lettering a much longer lifetime and can be cleaned in the field.
 Note that because the wood (either cedar or maybe fir) is soft, grooves have eroded in the soft wood between the harder growth rings (grain). This forms an ideal way for windblown dirt to get trapped followed by subsequent algae and mold growth. Semi-gloss outdoor paint would provide a smooth surface that will prevent this from happening.
Also note, out of interest sake, that the pigment of the pink trail tape has lasted about 3 years before being completely white.
(This sign might be salvaged if someone tried using sandpaper and JoMax in the field to remove the mold).

Above photo:  A two year timeline shows how quickly mold has begun to cover this sign. Proper paint selection is important to fight mold. The end cut looks like it was not painted, and appears to be the first place where mold gained a foothold. The saw grooves on the face may have provided a foothold for dirt and mold. It might be possible to wash off the mold and give the sign an extended life, however, the unsealed endcuts will continue to accelerate internal rotting of the wood.
 Improvements to the sign should include mounting on a pole next to the trail so that it visible from both directions along the KST. Reflectors on the pole would also help in misty, or nighttime, conditions.

Above photo: A two year timeline shows how incredibly quickly this sign's wood rotted, and also became obscured by vegetation.
 It's hard to speculate from the photos alone why the wood failed. The most likely explanation is that the type of wood was not one naturally resistant to rot. Rot fungi or wood-boring insects deteriorated the wood. Or the type of wood may have been one that  experiences a large amount of swelling and crimping with moisture fluctuations, leading it to crack, which in turn opened a path for rot. Heartwood of either cedar or redwood is your best defense against these things, coupled with sealing the end cuts with oil-based primer and latex paint.
 The overgrown vegetation drives the point home that it might be preferable to make a PVC pole for your sign.
 Although the green paint is asthetically pleasing while fresh, a different color (maybe white, blue, or yellow) would have been a better choice here in the long run.

 Above photo:  This was the first sign I tried making. The pole was good, but the wood and paint were bad. 
This trail overgrows quickly, and is very seldom hiked; my intention was to get some foot traffic on it so it wouldn't disappear again. I eventually decided to take this sign down, because the hiker that was reopening this ridge, although he had done a lot, had not progressed as far as I initially thought. Less experienced hikers could have become stuck on a long, steep, precarious rope section where some of the ropes were failing.
  This sign stresses the importance of a pole. The pole on this sign allowed it to be placed at a junction between two trails. There was nowhere else for the sign to be put up near the split in a secure way. The ground was too rocky for the sign to be staked down, but I was able to tie it to tree roots. 
  This sign was in a dry area and would've maybe lasted 2 years. In a rainy place it would've lasted maybe 1 year. The clear spar-urethane coat would have allowed UV sunlight to weather/fade the wood, causing the fibers to loosen so that the urethane no longer had anything to stick to. It would have peeled quickly if left up. The paint was indoor house paint; it too is not suited for outdoor use in heavy UV and weather. The pine or fir wood is unsuitable for heavy outdoor use without maintenance every 6 months, and would have been prone to attack from wood-boring insects, rot fungi, and volume fluctuations due to moisture cycling. 

Above photo: This was the second sign I tried making. It won't last long, because I didn't use primer under the paint, and I used pine wood. I'm not sure how long the thick fishing line will last outside in UV sunlight, but given how much I find lying around on beaches, it might last many years in the shade of a tree.
 The sign does have some good features:  It is small; maybe 5 x 3/4 inch, and is therefore lightweight to carry several with you at once. The reflector makes all the difference to the sign's visibility at this spread-out, subtle, 4-way junction.  

Above photo: This is a schematic idea for a type of sign that you could put up at the beginning of a trail. It has two pole supports for extra stability, and a rope log (see my post on "rope logs").

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