Originally, signs gouged into wood required the hands of a fine craftsman and hours of labor. Power tools weren't around back then. Later, the router machine did the carving and used either a freehand pattern or template to produce the lettering. The final stage for sign making routers is the CNC router for the professional sign maker.
For those that have a small shop and make just a few signs, the router and template is the route to take. These often come with a double set of numbers to make address signs. The template kits have a holder and you simply insert the letters or numbers in the order that you choose, clamp them in tightly, attach the template to your stock and begin routing. There are various selections; some include TurnLock technology that lets you mount and dismount the router without additional tools. Some have clamping sidebars to attach it to the board. Regardless of the features that you select, this is the most cost efficient method for the amateur sign maker. Most of the sign making kits run under $100.
Go high tech with a CNC router sign making machine. The letters "CNC" stand for Computer Numerical Control. The look of the CNC router varies but all have one thing in common: a cutting edge raised above a large table. The big machines don't look like a router at all, but something out of science fiction. The smaller CNC routers look like a router trapped in a bar and suspended above a table. That's exactly what it is. Only, in this case the computer program directs the movement of the router to create perfect signs and creations.
Besides simply routing out letters, with the CNC router sign making machines you can make 3D cuts. These allow you to create great sculptures and raised letters on your sign. The results are always repeatable if you have a big order that requires you to duplicate the same pattern.
Decide whether a CNC sign making router is best for your purposes or design your own. Those on a budget might appreciate that they can create their own for under $2,000. There are plans available that allow you to integrate the latest electronics and your computer into the your woodworking. Don't forget to get a program to create the signs. The key to a successful sign is not only the router but also the software program you use.
If you like woodworking and the computer, then a CNC router is the method of sign making that you'll find enjoyable. This method requires that you understand the wood you work with and make adjustments for its uniqueness. You need basic understanding of the computer to not only install programs to operate your CNC router, but also to know how to use the program effectively. If you don't feel comfortable or if you want a hands-on approach, stick to the traditional power router and templates. You can always change directions later and be out a limited amount of money.