Wooden Name Plate

Nameplates are de rigueur for offices and other formal applications. Some people even use them at weddings and other formal banquets, although that might just be for the bride and groom. While these name plates can be made from literally any material, by and large the most popular material for a quality name plate is wood. While metal and laminated plastic nameplates are also used, the richness of wood outclasses them both.

There are two basic profiles that these nameplates can take, depending on how they are used. Flat nameplates are generally designed to go on a wall, such as on the door of an office. While they can be used as desk nameplates when put in a stand, most desk nameplates have a triangular cross-section, allowing the visible face to be angled so that it can be more easily seen when someone is standing before the desk. Wall-mounted name plates can either be mounted directly to the wall, such as with double-backed adhesive tapes or hung with a cord or chain of some sort, depending on the particular design desired.

It’s when it comes to the outline of the nameplate that true creativity comes into play. While a triangular cross-section doesn’t leave a lot of room for modifying the outline, a flat nameplate offers infinite possibilities for those with an artistic flair. This includes a flat nameplate put at an angle on a base for use as a desktop name plate.

The wood name plate can be adorned in a variety of ways, especially by those who are wood carvers. Some of the nicest name plates are carved around the edges, leaving a flat area in the middle for the person’s name and title. pretty much any theme can be used for the carving, as long as it will fit on the name plate itself. Floral themes are popular, but for those in the military, a ship they served on, a representation of an artillery piece or a relief carving of that famous photo of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima might be used.

As with any wood project, the choice of wood is an important part of the design. Unless a rustic look is desired, it’s much better to make a name plate out of quality hardwood than softwood, as it will provide a much richer, more elegant look.

Cutting Out the Basic Name Plate

As with any other project, making a wooden name plate starts out at the drawing board, making the design. Considering that the design might affect the outline of the name plate, it only makes sense to decide on the design before cutting.

Cutting Out Flat Name Plates

A flat rectangular nameplate is the easiest of all to cut out. Depending on the tools available, it can be cut on a table saw or miter saw. However, most nameplates are much thinner than normal 4/4 boards, so either the nameplate will need to be resawn on a band saw or resawn material will need to be purchased. One-quarter inch thick and one-half inch thick wood stock is available from the local home-improvement center, as well as from some of the online wood suppliers.

For carved name plates or those which have an unusual outline, it would probably be best to cut the nameplate out with a scroll saw, as that allows for the greatest maneuverability in following a complex contour. Some name plates might require a combination of different saws to cut out, as some sides might be straight, while others are contoured.

Rectangular nameplates, on the other hand, often have beveled edges, which is best accomplished on a router table, as small parts like this are difficult to rout holding the router. If no router table is available, it is possible to rout these small parts using a rubber mat to hold them in place or to stick the name plate to the workbench top with double-sided masking tape.

Another option is to make a live-edge name plate. Live edge has become popular for countertops and tables. This is merely another application. The nice thing about making a live-edge name plate, besides having an attractive and unusual nameplate, is that the “slab” can be cut on the average band saw, as it is not all that big.

Regardless of how the name plate blank is cut, be sure to plane and/or sand it smooth, before doing the lettering.

Cutting Out Angled Name Plates

The tricky part of any desktop name plate that is going to be angled, is cutting the angled face. Before that is done, the wood blank should be cut to length and squared up. Cutting the angle can be done on either a table saw or band saw. Typically, the angle for this face is from 30 to 45 degrees. The steeper 45 degree angle is easier to read when standing, while the 30 degree angle is easier to read while seated in front of the desk.

Regardless of which type of saw is used to make the beveled cut, there will be blade marks that need to be cleaned up with a plane, so as to provide a totally smooth surface. Blade marks would be extremely obvious in this application, so extra care should be taken in ensuring that they are removed entirely.

Some people like to round the edges on this style of name plate. This works fine for the ends, but can be tricky for the top and bottom of the beveled face. To accommodate this difficulty, avoid rounding the bottom edge. It will be sitting on the desktop, so won’t be visible anyway. For the top edge, using a larger roundover bit to make the cut will bring it closer to the radius of the other edges. But that will leave an edge on the top of the name plate which will need to be sanded to blend the curve in to the top surface.

Lettering the Name Plate

Regardless of the style of the name plate, the main purpose of it is to show the owner’s name and perhaps their title. So it only makes sense that the most important part of it is how the name is applied. There are four basic ways this can be done.

Brass Plate

Many commercially manufactured wood name plates don’t actually have the name cut into the wood itself, but rather the wood acts as a base for a brass plaque, with the individual’s name and title engraved, etched or printed on the brass. This is an older style, pre-dating the availability of laser engraving, but is still popular due to the popularity of brass and the image of quality that it presents. Such a plate would have to be contracted out and then glued to the wooden name plate.

Laser engraving

Laser engraving has gained in popularity for a variety of applications, including wooden name plates. The great thing about laser engraving is the level of detail that can be attained in the design. Anything from simple block letters to elegant script can be made. Laser also allows the opportunity to engrave detailed logos or other diagrams into the wooden name plate.


For the carvers amongst us, carving the letters directly into a wooden name plate can provide a different sort of challenge. The neatness required when carving letters is much higher than when carving a picture, as any mistake is instantly visible. Since letters are “drawn” as a combination of curves and straight lines, one has to be extremely good at outlining the letters to make a fully-carved name plate. I won’t say it can’t be done; but I wouldn’t personally want to try it.

Of course, carving letters with a router is another option. That’s actually what was done before the laser engraver came long. The difficulty of carving the letters accurately was actually eliminated by using a template with a pantographic arm attached to the router. The stylus in the pantograph followed the template, guiding the router to make an extremely accurate cut.

Wood Letter Appliqué

Finally, the letters can be cut out of wood with a scroll saw and then glued to the name plate. This is especially popular with script lettering styles, where the individual’s name can be cut as one solid piece. Scrolled names can actually be used without a background, attaching them directly to a base.

wooden, desk name plate
Wooden desk name plate, Randy von Liski

Decorating the Name Plate

Generally speaking, any decoration that is to be applied to the name plate is applied after the lettering is. This allows the location and size of those decorations to be adjusted, based on how much room is available after the name is applied. Some people have rather long names, making it difficult to have much room available for additional decorations.

These decorations fall into two basic categories – carved and appliqué. Some of the most beautiful nameplates around are hand carved. For those woodworkers who have that ability, carving a personal name plate is a great way of showing off their ability.

Appliqué covers a rather broad range of possibilities. The obvious connotation is to cut out design elements on a scroll saw and glue them to the name plate. But other things can be applied as well. In the military, it is common to add rank insignia and the insignia for branch of service to an officer’s name plate. Similar devices can be used in other applications.

Before applying any additional decoration to the name plate, be sure to finish sand it and varnish it. Varnish and other finishes will affect the appearance of the appliqués and it can be difficult to finish around them.

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