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Monday, April 15, 2024

A Handcrafted Adirondack Icon: Jim Thomson of Adirondack Jim’s Rustic Signs

After some trial and error, Thomson began making Adirondack signs in 2009 and has not had a slow season since.

The Adirondack Park was established in 1892. It is comprised of six million acres and includes both public and private land. Those of us who live in upstate New York understand full well just how blessed we are having the Adirondacks as our own personal backyard. All that the Adirondacks offers; hiking, camping, kayaking, sailing, etc., suggests a longing for a simpler time that many people, even city slickers crave. The Adirondack region attracts 7-10 million people every year.

We know we have arrived at the Adirondack Park region when we see those distinctive brown and yellow signs. They have become the definitive symbol of New York States “forever wild” Adirondack Park. The iconic signs are a source of pride and comfort to tourists and locals alike. The significance of the Adirondack brown color of the signs is to compliment the natural beauty of the region, and the yellow is easily visible out on the trail.

Jim Thomson of Adirondack Jim’s Rustic Signs first hiked in the Adirondacks while he was in graduate school in 1989. That hike left an indelible mark on his soul. He knew then that he wanted to call the Adirondack region his home. “The Adirondacks are part of me; it’s a place where I feel alive and at peace. It’s kind of a haven and a spiritual place. I would see those trail signs, and I would get goosebumps.” That was the inspiration to begin making the hand-carved Adirondack signs.

Thomson lives in Saratoga County but is originally from Rochester. He started carving just for fun and educated himself on all things related to woodworking. He read books and watched videos and spent many hours in his garage. After some trial and error, he began making Adirondack signs in 2009 and has not had a slow season since. “Nobody else does hand-carved work anymore,” said Thomson. He used to make Adirondack furniture and is completely self-taught. Jim uses a combination of tools for the signs. His main carving tool is a hand-held electric router which is normally used for cabinetry. He uses hand tools mainly for layout and design. Pencil, straight edge, T-square, as everything is hand scribed. “Because I also mill, shape and laminate, I have a complete woodshop of power tools.”

Visitors love to buy Adirondack themed merchandise to remember their visit. “Most people who come to me, do so because they want a handcrafted look,” said Jim. There is a huge market for these nostalgic signs.

“People who live and work here [Capital Region] are loyal to the Adirondacks,” said Thomson. Many hikers who have climbed all 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks have a sign made to commemorate their achievement. The Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Mountain Club maintain the trails in the Adirondacks. They both have incredibly informative and detailed websites.

Thomson has furnished signs for Hollywood movie productions and most recently a sign for the Adirondack Welcome Center at the rest area on the Northbound side of the Northway just before exit 18. He has been asked to do signs for weddings, farms, restaurants, boats, and other businesses. He also does custom home signage. Thomson has also done more major projects such as signs for clothier Aeropostale, post-production work for the movie Wild based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. “It’s such a niche market. When people want something that looks rustic, I’m the go-to guy.”

Jim primarily uses cedar and pine for his signs which are softwoods appropriate for carving. “Cedar is resistant to rot and decay. It will turn silvery gray,” said Thomson. “Pine signs are not really meant for outdoors. He also uses white oak, walnut, poplar plywood, and Douglas fir. If properly cared for, the signs will last indefinitely. Direct sunlight and water will shorten the life of the signs. Thomson offers free touch ups on all of his signs, but he hasn’t had any requests for those yet. The craftsmanship of the signs is beautiful and immensely popular. It is not unusual for people to bring Thomson various slabs of wood for carving. “So long as it can be carved, I can do it.” Thomson currently has an eight-week waiting list.

Thomson also works full-time as a social-worker for New York State. “I will do this [make signs] full-time when I retire.” In the meantime, he happily fills orders for his signs in his time-off and on weekends. Thomson does all of his work from his home workshop. Jim has a heavy social media presence on both Facebook and Instagram. “Everything is social media.”

The “Please Register” signs are perfect for Adirondack themed weddings, which are becoming increasingly popular. Guests love signing in at the register box. They are also appropriate for family cabins. “Every Lake has a cabin, and every cabin needs a sign.” quips Thomson.

Contact information: NYS Department of Conservation, dec.ny.gov Adirondack Mountain Club, adk.org Adirondack Jim, 518.207.6205; adirondackjims.com Instagram at adirondackjim Facebook as Adirondack Jim’s Rustic Signs

Fun facts about the Adirondacks:
• Mount Marcy is the highest point in all of New York State at 5,344 ft.
• The Adirondack Park is larger than Yellow Stone Park, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Yosemite park combined
• There are 3,000 lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks
• The park boasts 200,000 seasonal residents and 130,000 year-round residents
• The elevation of the Adirondacks rises each year by 3 millimeters
• There is no fee to enter the park
• Mud Season is April-May (sometimes June)
• 7-10 million people visit the Adirondacks every year
• The Adirondack Park was created in 1892 by the State of New York

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