Well, as it turns out, a lot of people have been asking that question for years.
Let’s start with a simple fact: For any real work that needs to be done, wood is a superior material to many of the substitutes that come close to it. You should read this.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you have to make an exterior sign. The most common species of wood with which you’re likely to encounter outdoor signs to begin with? Maple. Maple is widely used around the world for that very purpose, it’s a pretty sturdy, beautiful wood (there you go!), and you can make a sign out of almost any variety that you like, though the ones that you want to build in the winter have more limited use. There is a variety of maple options in various sizes; I prefer big boards (usually 4-6″ tall by 8-10″ wide) but anything in the 20-24″ size can do.
Where does maple come from?
The earliest wood for outdoor signs actually is not maple. It comes from the birch tree — one of the largest trees on Earth — and in the early days of agriculture tree sap was often used to make rope (hence the name rope wood). This tree (in Europe it’s known as “Sikara”) was used by the Egyptians as a binding agent, with which they could make rope that could be pulled through narrow spaces. However when the Greeks began collecting this wood from the woodlands of Europe in the 4th century BC, they found that it was much easier to use than the wood they were getting from the native woods, which didn’t have the thick fibers that wood had when it first came from the trees. This, of course, led to the creation of the first large-scale woodworking techniques during the Middle Ages.
From then on, trees like birch became commonly used for all sorts of things. Today we have birch-bark paper, “chipsaws,” and a whole host of new designs and colors. It’s really no surprise that maple became common in the mid-19th century, as it’s a very beautiful and durable hardwood.
I mentioned that the earliest wood for outdoor signs actually is not maple. It comes from the birch tree — one of the largest trees on Earth — and in the early days of agriculture tree sap was often used to make rope (hence the name rope wood). This tree (in Europe it’s