DIY Hot Cocoa Sign for a Hot Chocolate Bar: A Tutorial

A couple of days ago I shared a Hot Cocoa bar I created out on my screened porch. The bar area included a sign I made that was inspired by a sign I had seen floating around blogland a few years back.
Hot Chocolate Bar
After not having any success locating a similar sign, I decided it was time to head downstairs to my basement workshop and make my own. (Inspiration sign and detail views of the Hot Cocoa Bar can be seen in yesterday’s post here: Create a Hot Cocoa Bar for Fall & Winter Entertaining)



A few years back I made a flag to hang on the porch for patriotic holidays, but this was my first attempt at sign-making.

Pottery Barn Inspired Wood Flag Tutorial


One of the great things about making signs is you need very few supplies. I started with 1/4 inch plywood. You may remember when I made this Cubby Organizer. The back of the organizer was cut from plywood.

Cubby Organizer Knock-off, Pottery Barn Inspired


After cutting out the back, I still had a some left over. You can see it leaning against the wall in this photo from the organizer tutorial.

So the only other items needed to make the Hot Cocoa sign were: paint, dark brown furniture wax, paint brushes (medium size for sign and small for letters), sander or sandpaper, screwdriver, screws, letter templates-found online, cup hooks and an exacto knife.

I also used a jigsaw to cut the plywood down to the size needed, but you could use a circular saw or have the good folks at the hardware store cut your plywood to the size needed when you purchase it.

Back of Cubby Organizer


One of the most time-consuming parts of any project for me is the planning. My hutch is 40 inches wide and I wanted the sign to be a little smaller. In the end the sign came out to be around 39-1/4 inches wide…just right for the hutch.


Sign: For reference, the sign is 39-3/4 inches wide and 16 inches tall.

Large Letters: The large letters that spell out “Hot Cocoa” were around 5 inches tall and 4 inches wide, but after tracing and painting them, they averaged out around 5-1/4 inches tall and 4-1/2 to 5 inches wide on the sign itself. The reason the letters came out a bit bigger on the sign after painting is because I slightly painted over my tracing lines to hide those.

Small Letters: I already had some template cards for the small letters, bought years ago. They are 2 inch letters and measure around 1/4 inches wide. Again, they came out slightly bigger after painting.

Moose Hooks: Moose hooks were found in Hobby Lobby and measure 6 inches tall by 4 inches wide. Approximately 5 inches of each hook is on the board with about an inch hanging below it.

Mug: I free-handed the mug onto a very thick piece of cardboard and it measures, 8-1/4 inches tall including the steam. The mug itself is 5-1/4 inches tall by 4-1/2 inches wide, which includes the handle. The steam that trails up and off the board is 3 inches tall.

The mug turned out fine but if I were making this sign again, I’d probably make it a little fatter. The size you make your mug will depend on how much room you have between the “T” and the “C” and how much you don’t mind covering up the letters.

Make a Sign for a Hot Cocoa Bar


Before getting started, I cut the mug out of some super thick cardboard using scissors and an exacto knife. The exacto knife was definitely needed for the inside part of the handle and for getting down into the corners around where the steam billows up from the mug.

Mug for Hot Cocoa Bar Cut From Heavy Cardboard


This mug went through several transitions. I wanted the mug to look metallic and rusty like it had in the inspiration sign, shown below.

Inspiration sign

Sign as seen at

I purchased a couple of these wax metallic products. They come in gold, brass and a bunch of other colors, but no rust. I guess there’s not a big demand for making something look like it has rusted. Ha! I tried the copper one and it was just too coppery. The more you work with this product, the duller it looks. So trying to mix in another color with it wasn’t working either.

Hot Cocoa Sign for Cocoa Bar 08


Then I tried adding another brownish color called “Iced Expresso” on top of it, thinking they might sort of blend together to look rusty. Nope.

Hot Cocoa Sign for Cocoa Bar 09


Finally, I decided to just spray the mug portion with Rust-Oleum black metallic paint and paint/scrape in the design I had seen on the inspiration sign. The reason I finally decided on the metallic black paint for the mug was because I realized my moose hooks were more black in color than rust-colored. The rusty-brown mug on the inspiration sign worked because the hooks they used were also rust-colored. But I think the black actually works better on my sign than rust would have. Sometimes things just work out for the best, no matter how I try to screw them up! Ha!

zz DIY Hot Cocoa Sign


Before cutting the plywood, I placed the letter templates on the wood to get an idea what size the sign would need to be. The green paint is left over from where I repaired and made over a frog fountain a while back. (See that makeover here: Frog Fountain Makeover)

At first I was going to use the same phrase that had been on the original sign: Come on in and warm up! (I didn’t have enough of some letters so I substituted an “x” to hold the place of the missing letters.) I ultimately went with a different phrase all together, one from a favorite song.

Planning Steps for Making Hot Cocoa Sign for Hot Cocoa Bar


Next I cut my plywood down to the size I had determined it needed to be. Both ends of the plywood I used were warped, so I cut the sign out of the center of the plywood.

Cutting Plywood to make a Hot Cocoa sign for Hot Chocolate Bar


On one of the edges I planned to cut off, I tested the paint I had purchased for the sign. I couldn’t decide between two shades of the gray and ended up getting some of both. I ultimately decided to go with the darker of the two colors shown below. Before beginning the painting process, I lightly sanded over the surface of the plywood for a smoother finish.

Hot Cocoa Sign for Cocoa Bar 04


I knew at some point I would be distressing/aging my sign. Since I didn’t want blond-colored plywood showing through, I painted the plywood with two layers of the lighter gray color that I wasn’t planning on using on the surface. It had primer already in it, so there was no need to prime the wood first.

Next I applied two coats of red paint. The picture below was taken while the paint was drying in front of a fan.

Painting Plywood to Make Hot Cocoa Sign


Next I painted the lower part of the sign with the dark gray paint. There was a tremendous amount of measuring, plotting and angst that went into deciding exactly where to start the dark gray color on the sign. I wanted the red color to be the dominant color over most of the sign, just as it had been on the inspiration sign.

Painting base colors onto Hot Cocoa Sign for Hot Cocoa Station


But the hooks they had used on the inspiration sign were much smaller than those I ultimately chose for my sign. I looked for small rusty hooks like those on the inspiration sign, but the only ones I found that were similar were brass-colored and too ornate.

Notice how the smaller phrase, Come on in and warm up! is on the gray part of the sign in the inspiration photo below. I really liked that but if had painted the gray paint up high enough on my sign to place both the phrase I had chosen AND my moose hooks atop the gray section of the sign, my sign would have ended up with as much gray coloring as red, maybe more. Not what I wanted.

Inspiration sign


So to keep from having too much gray, I had to put my phrase, Weather Outside Is Frightful, atop the red part of the sign. Depending on what hooks you choose and how prominent you want the red paint to be, you may need to adjust where the gray paint starts and where you place your phrase. It’s the little things like this that can bog you down on a project and zap your time. Hopefully seeing how I handled it will help speed the process up for you.

Make a Sign for a Hot Cocoa Bar


After finishing the painting, it was time to move on to plotting out the lettering. First I traced around my template letters and hand-painted the letters with latex paint purchased at the same time as the red and gray paint. I tried using some acrylic paint I already had, but after testing it on a letter, I could see it was going to take 3-4 coats to fully cover. The off white latex paint had primer built in and it only took two coats to fully cover.

Painting Hot Cocoa Lettering onto Sign


Once that was in place, I begin tracing out and painting on the phrase below. Can you see the faint lines of where I had traced on the lettering? It took two coats of the white paint to fully cover.

Hot Cocoa Sign, Hand-Painting On Lettering


Here’s how it looked when the lettering was all done. I went back and touched up the red in a few places.

Hot Cocoa Sign for Cocoa Bar 23


I hadn’t planned on painting a border around my sign at this point, so I was ready to get busy installing the moose hooks. Before adding those to the sign, I went ahead and screwed on the D-Ring Hangers I chose for hanging the sign.

D Ring Hangers for hanging Hot Cocoa Sign


Let’s back up a bit. When I was plotting out the sign in the very beginning, I considered a couple of different hooks. I kind of liked these horseshoe/star hooks.

Deciding which mug hooks to use on Hot Cocoa Sign


Ultimately, I decided the horseshoe/star was too western-themed and went with the moose hooks instead. The hooks were normally $4.99 each but I lucked out because they were on sale at 50% off making them just $2.50 each.

Rustic Moose and Horseshoe Star Hooks


Before installing the moose hooks, I distressed the sign and the lettering in various places with my electric sander. You can do this by hand but I found it faster and easier to do with my electric sander set on a very low speed with “fine” grit sanding paper.

Next, I installed all the moose hooks spreading them out at an equal distance across the bottom of the sign. The hooks were another major decision point. I couldn’t decide if I wanted four hooks like on the inspiration sign (which I think is a smaller sign), five hooks which is an odd number and normally looks better in design, or six hooks which is the number of mugs I had. I ultimately went with what looked best to me and installed 5 hooks across the lower part of the sign. In the photo below, the cup wasn’t attached yet.

Moose Hooks for Rustic Hot Cocoa Sign


It wasn’t long after installing the hooks that I decided to add a border to my sign. I had thought about cutting a scalloped edge aroundthe sign similar to the one seen on the inspiration sign, but when I tested doing that on a scrap piece of plywood, I realized my jigsaw wouldn’t be able to curve in and out as steeply as I would have needed. So the border seemed like a good way to go.

Note: If you want to add a border to your sign, it’s easier to do that before adding on the hooks. It actually wasn’t that big a deal to add the border around the hooks but it would go a bit faster if you do that first. You can see in the picture below where I tested out adding a border down the left side of the sign, distressing/antiquing it to see how it would look.

Painting a border on Hot Cocoa Sign


You can see in the photo above and below where I was beginning to test out the antiquing/aging process on the “H” letter. That’s another good thing to do before installing the hooks. This was my first sign making attempt so it was definitely a learning process. I first tried a light brown furniture wax but it looked reddish on the white lettering. So I ultimately went with a dark brown color.

Make a Hot Cocoa Sign for Hot Chocolate Bar



I really don’t like this part of sign making at all! It’s so hard for me to distress and antique lettering I just spent hours meticulously painting! The sign just wouldn’t have looked right all pristine and shiny new. It was the look of the inspiration sign I was going for, so I gritted my teeth and did it!

You can also see in the photo below where I attempted to draw on shadow lines like I had seen on the inspiration piece to give the letters  more depth and more of that 3-D effect. I was noticing today that the lines aren’t near as visible now that I’ve antiqued the sign. I think I need to draw them back in again on the finished sign.

Testing Dark Brown Distressing Stain for Hot Cocoa Sign


After painting on the border and distressing/aging my sign (and me a little in the process…ha!), it was time to add the mug to the sign. Since I wanted it to have the same 3-D look as the one on the inspiration sign, I used double-sided, adhesive foam pieces to attach it. Even though they were pretty thick, (I bought the thickest ones I could find) instead of using just one, I doubled them up.

Since they are sticky on both sides, I took two of the foam circles and peeled off the protective covering and stuck them to each other. That gave them double the thickness. Then I stuck them on the back of the mug I had made and stuck it on to the board.Foam Adhesive Dots for 3-D Effect in Crafts


That’s how I got the 3-D effect of the mug projecting out from the board.

Use Foam Adhesive for 3-D Effect of Mug on Sign


Hope you enjoyed this post and found this tutorial helpful. This sign would be great to have up all fall and winter, not just at Christmastime. If  you end up making this sign, I would love to see it!

See more of this Hot Cocoa Bar in this post where I share lots of closeup photos: Create a Hot Cocoa Bar for Winter Entertaining




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  1. Just the project I am going to do to beat the after the holiday let down. Thanks for the great detail instructions. Happy New Year Susan!

  2. Susan, I am truly amazed at your stamina, patience and fortitude, because you must have all these to accomplish this project, (including an arsenal of tools). It’s a challenging task but with your incredible talent and vision you did a fantastic job! My hopes are to still find that elusive chocolate sign somewhere out there in retail land, (only because I’m not as gifted when it involves carpentry skills). Thank you for being an inspiration to so many of your readers. Hope your Christmas was memorable and your New Year is fabulous!

  3. Cyndi Raines says

    Awesome job Susan! Merry Christmas!!

  4. Susan, YOU are so very talented and inspirational…. Love the sign!!! I can’t wait to see what you’re up to in 2016!! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! 🙂

  5. love it! thank you for sharing!

  6. Jane Franks says

    Very interesting! You are definitely multi-talented! I enjoy “watching” you create! Great job on the sign!! I LOVE it!! This winter it is anything but frightful out there! Ha!! 60 degrees here today! And I need to be reminded that it IS winter! This does it!! Thanks!!

    • Thanks so much, Jane! This weather is amazing. We went for 2 hour walk today outside because it was so nice! I keep thinking this is how Christmas in Australia must feel.

  7. It’s barely Christmas and you manage this!!!!!! Just amazing! Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    • lol I just barely got it finished and the post written before Christmas arrived. I think it will be fun to enjoy this winter. Thanks, Patricia! Merry Christmas and have a wonderful New Year!

  8. I love your sign and your back porch! Oh how I miss Georgia. Thank you for your ideas and how to instructions. Where did you find the plaid bag with two thermos’s? Merry Christmas!

  9. Wonderful sign and a great tutorial. I love that you added your failures and how you corrected them. Thanks for the inspiration.

  10. Linda Byrnes says

    Susan, I actually like yours better than the inspiration piece! Good work girl! Do you cut the plywood yourself? On a bench or table saw? If so, you are braver than me! I always seek the help of my hubby when something requires power tool. They intimidate me!
    Merry Christmas,
    Linda, your Tartan friend!

    • Thanks, Linda! In the past I used my circular saw but I like using a jigsaw a lot more (feel like I have more control) so that’s what I used this time. Power tools scare me a little too because I have been known to be accident prone. I just try to make sure that I know EXACTLY where all my fingers/limbs are at every moment and try to not get distracted or lose focus when using them.

  11. What a smile inducing great sign! Excellent job on the tutorial and sign! Happy New Year from a reader since the beginning. Yours is one of the only blogs I have followed for so long! Always inspiring to see what you’re up to and to read your posts that are flavored with a kind and generous spirit.

  12. Cyndi Raines says

    Hi Susan, Happy “Merry – Day After!” We’re still basking in the afterglow of Christmas. I LOVE just looking at the lights, with soft music on, reflecting on all of our blessings and I wanted you to know I made your Squash casserole yesterday and it was the bomb! EVERYONE had seconds and just raved about it. The only ingredient I left out was the garlic because my mom doesn’t care for it anymore, but it still was WONDERFUL. I will be making this again – a four star “keeper” for sure. Thanks! Looking forward to more of your awesome blog in 2016! Happy New Year!

    • Cyndi, I was just looking at this post again and want to say that I’m so glad the squash casserole was a big hit. I love that recipe, too! 🙂

  13. Machee Whitesides says

    Love your hot chocolate sign. I keep a hot chocolate bar up all winter and a lemonade bar up all spring and summer, at our lake house, and would like to make some cute signs for them. Can you provide a link for the letter template you found online? I haven’t been able to find the large one you used for your sign. You always have such cute ideas. Thanks, Machee

    • Thanks, Machee, appreciate that! I have the site bookmarked on my desktop computer, so when I have access to that computer again, I’ll get that link for you. I had planned to link to it in this post but when I stopped by the site again to get the link, it was showing the site was not longer working. I’m not sure why but hopefully it will be back up when I try it again.

    • Machee, I’m back at my desktop and I just checked and the site is back up now. Here’s the site where I printed off the large letters:
      You may want to print them off asap in case it goes down again…hopefully it won’t.

  14. bobbi duncan says

    Your tenacity really paid off; the sign is terrific. Sorry I said that I love the reindeer…in these close-ups, I can see they clearly are moose heads (duh!). Thanks for this great tutorial, Susan. I’m being very lazy today, after the whirlwind of activities this past month…think age is catching up with me.

  15. Susan, I love, love your sign! I went to spend Christmas in OH with my babies so just read this post today when we returned, the day after Christmas.
    I have made the painful decision to let my parents’ piano go that has been in our sunroom. I am having a big hutch built with cabinets below to store – guess what? Dishes! I am filing away this post for next year when I have my new hutch. I won’t have hooks below for hanging mugs, alas, but will make it to fit on the bottom shelf of my hutch top and have all the chocolate makings in front of it. I think it will look fabulous! You do such a good job; I hope mine will turn out half as good as yours. Hope you had a blessed Christmas!

  16. An absolute beautiful job, Susan! Actually I far more prefer yours to the inspirational piece … ☺ and your tutorial is excellent. That said; on projects that I have done that require a ‘faux’ rust effect I have found using acrylic paint in a brown or red oxide (mixed with a little black) has worked out well plus for metallic waxes my favourite is Rub & Buff that comes in fourteen colours but also can be combined together to create more. Last but not least for tracing script; in lieu of using a lead pencil you might wish to try using a dress makers chalk pencil that comes in either blue or white. (It can be found in the notion section of most fabric stores and then there is always the fabric marker in a purple ink that fades/disappears which you might also find a purpose for.) In summary; hopefully these little tips will prove beneficial to you as the ones you always so willingly share with your readers. Warm Hugs -Brenda-

  17. Mary Johnston says

    Hi Susan,
    Love the hot cocoa sign! Such a lot of work and planning out, that is the part that gets me. I have several signs that I bought, and have always wanted to make one–maybe that will be a project for the new year.
    I made the flag from your tutorial (with hubby’s help) and still love it today. We never did do the antiquing–we liked it without. My only thing about ours is that it is heavy, since we used scraps from the hubs work shop.
    One other thing, I had to resign up to receive the blog updTe when you changed servers, getting it fine now, but don’t receive the post cards from the porch, don’t know if your are still doing that, missed some of the posting and then business of the holidays could not not read every day, trying to do catch up now.
    Thanks so much for all your work on your blog–love it. It is one of only three that I read on a regular basis. I am a Georgia girl and live south of the airport, so I especially love all the local things you share!
    God Bless all your endeavors in the new year!

  18. Hi Susan,
    I been away from bloglandia few weeks and months. My manageral studies took all my time and my energy, LoL*

    Anyway, I never forget your blogging ability and those tutorials and tips I got from your blog gave me a lot to ponder (one at a time project for me).

    Wishing you all the best and a peaceful new year to come 2016.

    Greetings from snowy Stockholm,

  19. You are too talented!! No wonder some of us didn’t get any talent, you stole it all!! I absolutely love it…would you make one for me?(heehee) I enjoy all of your blogs. Thanks!
    Envious from Texas….

  20. You have so much talent…especially when you try to create your own sign!! I love how you never give up when things go wrong but just keep trying to get it right…you are such an inspiration to me. I always give up too easily and throw my hands up in despair! Your sign looks so much better than the one you copied…

  21. Carol Liebst says

    What an awesome tutorial! I guess I missed this when it was first on your blog, and glad I saw I today. You are a such a gifted person and your blog never disappoints!

  22. Susan, you are so truly talented and I am totally addicted to your blog to see all of the wonderful ways you bring love and creativity into your home!! I am still making my way through the stores for my Christmas pillow purchasing mission and just came across this post on the Hot Chocolate sign this evening. Can you just say “I LOVE IT” and have already told most of my friends to check out your posts!!Honestly, your commitment, thorough instructions and great (tricks of your trade) really make it so nice to do a project knowing what to do and not to do. I love the moose hooks and see they are from Hobby Lobby, do you mind sharing where you purchased the mugs and that adorable buffalo check tote bag. I have been collecting the BH&G salad plates when they come out each year. Have you seen the new design this year? Our Walmarts already have them out. You never know when you will love to switch them out. We have a Pottery Barn Outlet (that has great deals on the holiday items) and next door a Williams Sonoma outlet here so it is so much fun to get the items for the hot chocolate bar. Again, I just love all of your wonderful ideas. Have a wonderful holiday season and I am sure I will be commenting and asking about other ideas I see. Happy Holidays 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Christina for your sweet and encouraging words, appreciate those so much and appreciate you sharing BNOTP! 🙂

      As you mentioned in the other comment, I did find the mugs in Dollar Tree. Sometimes Dollar Tree will carry glasses/mugs two years in a row so you may be able to find them there this year.

      I found the thermos tote on eBay. If you check on eBay and search for “plaid thermos” or “plaid thermos set,” you’ll find a ton of plaid thermos totes/sets on there. I just looked at mine and the brand is King Seely Thermos. I’ve seen this exact set on eBay since I purchased mine, so if you don’t find it, I’m sure it will eventually pop again on there.

      Be sure and read the descriptions before you purchase a set. Since these are vintage, I’ve noticed the condition can really vary. I searched for a while until one popped up that was in really good condition, so just be patient and one will come along that’s in great condition.

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