[--NEW--] I'll call this, the ULTRA sign: An Ultradurable, ultralight, ultracheap, and ultracool trail sign that's easy to make.

Just when I think I'm done coming up with ideas for durable trail signs, my brain evolves. Eureka! In this post, I show you how to quickly make several engraved aluminum signs with a beer can and a nail.

I previously posted how, and why, to make a durable wooden trail sign, and also a super-durable glass bottle trail sign where a short text trail name is needed. The requirements for a durable trail sign is that it must be strong but lightweight, resist mold growth, resist fading in UV sunlight, be highly visible in dark or misty conditions, and resist deterioration from water/wind/fungi/insects. My new aluminum sign is lighter and potentially more durable in all departments compared to wood and glass signs, and is also less of a hassle to make. While it is more satisfying to work with wood and create a nice wood sign, you can make several more beer can signs in the same amount of time.

The premise for using aluminum, is that it won't rust, rot, or grow mold. 

Having said that, all beverage cans have an invisibly thin plastic coating of some kind. Beer cans have the thinnest, apparently, because beers is less corrosive compared to Coke or energy drinks! Will this coating grow mildew/mold? I don't know. But even if these little signs only last a few years, they can easily be replaced with new ones on their existing poles in the field.

To make the pole for the sign, and mount it on the trail, follow my instructions from the previous two posts on trail signs, on using, optionally painting, and anchoring, a PVC pipe with reflectors. Use a 1/2 inch pipe.

To make the aluminum sign:

1) Cut open a beer can around its top and bottom perimeters (a pair of scissors or boxcutter will work. The initial cut will have rough edges but you can recut it later). Then cut the extracted cylinder lengthwise to open up the metal sheet.

2) Cut out the size you need for each sign and cut an arrow at one (or both) ends. The size should accommodate 1/2 to 3/4 inch text height plus a 1/4 inch drill hole in the middle. Because the thin aluminum is bendy from being in a round can, don't make the sign too long incase it bends in the wind....rather make it higher for wrapped text. Give it a rinse and a wipe to clean.

3) Gently bend or flex the cut out aluminum in the opposite direction to counter the original bend from the can. Also bend it legthwise along the middle a little to counter the original bend. You will write/engrave the shiny side, obviously.

4) Get a hard surface to work on—I used a kitchen cutting board, but you could just use a table. You'll also need a soft surface to put on top of the hard surface—this is so that the aluminum that you engrave has somewhere to flex into during the engraving process, because a hard surface will counteract the engraving process. I used Cedar wood shims from City Mill hardware store...they sell them in a packets for super cheap. Cedar is soft, and as you press on it, it will allow the aluminum to bend a little into it.

5) Put the aluminum onto the soft surface, and use a thick nail with a broad spike, or an empty ball-point pen, to do the engraving. Gently write out the trail name with your nail/pen, and then go over it a couple more times with increasing force until the text is deeply engraved (but not punctured). Remember to leave a space for one 1/4 inch
drill hole.

6) For connecting the aluminum to the pvc, use an aluminum machine screw and nut. If you use another type of metal, it will react with the aluminum and corrode it! It's called galvanic corrosion. Hardware Hawaii sells individual 1.5 inch long, 1/4 inch thick, aluminum machine screws—they are hard to locate, so ask someone for help. You could also use aluminum wire; this is usually used in craft hobby bead work. Amazon.com sells some. I haven't found any on Oahu.

7) Drill a 1/4 inch drill hole through the aluminum, if you are using a machine screw. Drill a hole in the pvc pipe too.

8) Now go put up your sign!


[--September 2015--]

Above photo: You need a good beer can, and it doesn't get mo' betta than a chicken can! Actually I just realized it might be a pidgeon. Great wit!. That's funny! Beer cans have thinner plastic liners covering the inside aluminum, compared to energy drink and soda cans. The plastic may or may not be a food source for mold/mildew, and I hope that the thinner the liner the better the mold resistance. At any rate, the aluminum shouldn't rust.

Above photo:  The nail is used for engraving the aluminum--a thick, broad point works well. But don't puncture the metal. Work on a soft wood, like a cedar shim to help create depth of impression. I used a small shim on a bigger cutting board for support.

Above photos: This is more or less what your sign should look like. I was planning to put it up on the trail, but the weather thwarted my planned trip. So it's in the garden now. 
  I used leftover materials, so there are a few less-than-ideal shortcuts that will shorten its lifespan. I used Zn-steel bolts instead of stainless steel through the connection between the two PVC pipes (the bolts are too long); instead of Al bolts through the aluminum signs, I used UV resistant zip ties (and I should have fed the zip ties through the holes parralell ot the aluminum signs); the top section of the pole is too short.
 Nonetheless, the sign will probably last several years, and illustrates the principle I describe in the text, nicely.

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