You Otter Slow Down

Way back at the end of April, I was up on the roof patching a leak when our resident river otter waddled through the side yard and across the road to Hood Canal. Not sure what it does in our backyard, but it's pretty boggy back there so it's not too surprising and we saw them come through at least three times this spring.

The posted speed limit at this bend in North Shore Road is 20 mph but I see people routinely doing double that, so I vowed to make an OTTER XING sign to hopefully improve their chances of reaching the other side.

I thought it would be quick and easy, but the scrap plywood I used was pretty rough, so I used a whole container of wood filler to smooth it out. It took a couple of passes--fill, sand, repeat. I was hoping to find reflective paint, but this off-the-shelf oil-based yellow enamel seemed close enough. I bought gloss sunburst yellow and flat black to enhance the contrast.

Enamel is sticky and it took a while to get even coverage, applied with a foam brush to avoid bristle marks. I masked off the border lines just by eyeballing and they came out pretty tight!

Sarah researched online for the right otter profile and convincing road sign font (Highway Gothic) and laid out the design, which I then projected onto the sign surface, tracing the shape and letters with a Sharpie. Sharp-eyed viewers will discern a slight bit of distortion in the bottom sign lettering because my setup was pretty improvised and I had to shoot on an angle to avoid tripod shadow. But, since our motto around here is "good enough," I was OK with that.

I don't have great paint brushes, so when it came to fine work of lettering and edging, I used cotton swabs. These worked pretty well but after a point would start to shed fibers, but even so I only used about half a dozen total (and even after being clogged with paint I found other uses for them as applicators after the paint dried).

I decided not  to paint the back side but I gave it a couple of coats of Kilz Klear primer, which I've found to be very durable as final finish for exterior use.

I tried to pick a location for the spot that would conform with road safety norms, so between existing mailboxes and street sign seemed perfect--good approach visibility and unlikely to rankle the authorities as it would be nestled between existing "street furniture."

I purchased a pressure-treated 4x4x10 and set it 24 inches deep in rocky soil that was hard to dig in. I used Secure Set, a two-part foam compound, left over from Sarah's Water Spirit art installations in 2021. That stuff is very convenient and sets up solid, but it's only as stable as the soil surrounding it. In this case, the compacted dirt around it was ideal. The only trick with using it is that you have to have your post set just where you want it, because once you pour the goo into the hole, you absolutely can't adjust it--unlike concrete, where it's possible to fine tune your placement with a nudge and wiggle, any movement of the post after adding the foam might create gaps resulting in unwelcome looseness. So we were sure to first plumb and brace the post with scrap 2x4s before mixing the Secure Set foam.

We let the foam cure and then used black 3" exterior T25 screws to hang the sign, placed in the black paint to camouflage them. Concerned about theft of the bespoke sign I'd put 8-10 hours of work into, I mixed up some epoxy, which luckily is also pretty much black in color, and filled the screw heads to make them harder to remove. The dried enamel of used cotton swab made for a perfect applicator!

I'd discussed my plan with a couple of neighbors, who endorsed the project, but I was still a little concerned about the community reaction. One strange couple I've never seen before seemed slightly bemused, but other than that the response has been overwhelmingly positive and it's become an instant landmark, with smiling passersby pausing to photograph it.

The ultimate compliment came from a neighbor who asked me where I'd had the sign made.

Now when I give people directions to our place, I just tell them to bear right at the otter sign.


Popular posts from this blog

Catio Build Day One: Peeling It Back

What's It Tahuya?