Montana Lettering Inc, formerly Montana Wooden Lettering Inc., began business in 1999, earning the dubious title of being one of the first companies on the internet to produce and sell wooden letters for sign makers and crafter's.
With no formal training in woodworking or the sign business, we actually got our start after creating from scrap wood, a wooden sign for the gateway at our modest Montana ranch, which we hoped would earn us a few dollars doing computer repairs. Folk would stop by and compliment us on the sign we made and asking us to make signs for their homesteads. We did so by cutting up the old abandoned homestead next to our property, turning all the usable wood into sign letters.
From humble beginnings ..
After launching our first domain, www.woodenletters.com, orders for our goods trickled in at a slow but steady pace and pretty soon, having exhausted all the usable wood on the property next door, we were forced to buy wood.
In March of 2001, Nick Harder, reporter for the Orange County Register, Ca., came across our website and ran an article on us, without our knowledge, permission or input and making up everything he didn't know about us, all the while "quoting us", and characterizing us as "just a guy cranking them out for reasonable prices". The article was syndicated across the nation, picked up by the NY Times, The Chicago Tribune and a host of other newspapers, the phones started ringing off the hook.
Orders came in from every state in the union and even overseas, and it wasn't just homemakers and crafter's. We got orders from Conoco, mahogany letters for their boardroom, the Hard Rock Cafe and even Disney Studio's.
The US Military were a large purchaser of our letters, and we made signs for all branches. To our knowledge, our wooden letters are still in service worldwide, from the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium to the US Air Force Academy in Colorado, Ramstein AFB in Germany, and Osaka AFB in Japan. We provided letters to the Royal Air Force, a few US Navy ships at sea, and just about every major Army and Air Force base in the United States.
Competitors were quick to pick up on our lead, and our biggest competitor Woodland Manufacturing in Idaho, soon outgrew us and became the go to place for wooden letters. We had started from nothing, and could not keep up, which prompted us to sell our wooden letters manufacturing business in 2003 to Applied Router Services in Pennsylvania.
We stayed in the business though, becoming a distributor for Gemini Inc, the largest manufacturer of sign letters in the world, based in Minnesota. Our sales continued to grow and in 2005-6, having met my husband Robert during a trip to Texas, we decided to go back into manufacturing. He was a highly skilled CNC machinist having worked for Boeing as a lead R&D Specialist machinist. He knew his trade and together we purchased machinery and started cutting Aluminum, Brass, Bronze, Copper and Stainless steel, along with some plastics as well.
When the management of Gemini heard that we would be making products that competed with theirs, they tried to force us into bankruptcy. They almost succeeded, but we were not going to roll over and die. We made a decision to move back to Montana where I still owned property, the place we had began. It paid off.
We outlasted their attempt to cut off our access to their products, and 2 years later they invited us back into their fold. Today, back in Montana, The Last Best Place, headquartered on our own land, operating from a state of the art production facility we built ourselves from the ground up (you can still do that in Montana), we are operating a thriving small business, utilizing high tech CNC and Laser cutting equipment to produce some of the finest flat cut Metal, Plastic and hybrid Sign Letters to be found.
When I first started in this business with my best friend and business partner Debbie, we made a promise to ourselves that we would make the best products available, or not do it at all. This year we are going back to our roots, offering wooden letters again. We will grow on that part of the business in coming months offering fully finished letters in many types of wood, just as we had almost 10 years ago. We still distribute for Gemini, but we are no longer dependent on them. We also distribute for 2 other small manufacturer's and will in coming months start offering our metal products wholesale. Our facilities and staff, whilst modest in comparison to our competitor's, regularly produce high quality products with many features not offered by our competition. We can cut Aluminum and Steel so precise that the edges are virtually polished right from the machine.
Please refer to the video's below.
Stainless Steel Edges almost polished
Manufacturing the Keaton's Crest Aluminum Sign Letters
Cutting Stainless Steel on our CNC Hurco Mill
From above video, White baked enamel sign in Service.
Today, we are doing so much more than just cutting letters. Below is a 36" diameter plaque, cut from 1" thick solid aluminum. To reduce weight we removed pie shaped chunks from the back, leaving ribs to add strength. The entire plaque was then painted in 2 colors, then highly polished on the raised portions.
At right, the finished plaque after painting and polishing
Solid bronze plaque made from 3/8" material. See description below
Above, a solid Bronze plaque, cut from 3/8" solid bronze. All the material is removed to a depth of 1/8" leaving all the letters and borders raised. A pebble finish coating is applied into the recessed areas and the raised areas are polished to a high sheen.
Below (left), we are cutting solid 1/4" copper letters that will be polished and clear coated for a customer. Below (right), probably one of our most ambitious projects to date, these are solid bronze prismatic letters cut on the hurco mill using true 3D ball mill cutting. These letters are 7" and 3", polished like real gold. A very, VERY expensive project to complete, the milling time spanned over 2 days.
Cutting solid copper on our Multicam 3000.
True 3D cutting, prismatic solid bronze letters cut with
a ball mill doing multiple passes. Description above.
Thank you for taking the time to find out more about our company. We are not a huge concern, pretty much mom and pop most would say. As we move into our 12th year of doing business, we want to thank all of you that have supported us year after year. We may not be the movers and shakers in the industry, we may not be able to offer the lowest prices or even the most diversified product lines, but we are still here and still making the ordinary, extraordinary. We came from humble beginnings, survived the largest competitor in the industry trying to put us out of business, continued to prosper through the recession of the past few years, and doggedly hung on when others fell. We must be doing something right....
We thank you, and the residents of the great State of Montana thank you.