obDisclaimer: Executing the following is almost definitely illegal, no matter where you live.

Essential materials:
  • One street sign. This can be anything from a speed limit sign to a "Men Working" sign to a "DARE drug-free school zone" sign.
  • One person [you], preferably 6 feet or taller
  • Large monkey wrench
  • Can of WD-40
Helpful materials:
  1. Case the target

    Pick a street sign. Signs in residential areas work best, since they are in low-traffic areas. You'd have to be totally insane or very brazen to attempt to steal the "Speed Limit 65" from your local interstate highway. Metal signs attached to the permanent metal "U" posts are easier to remove than signs attached to wooden posts or to metal pipe posts or to temporary construction sign stands (unless the sign is just set in the stand, in which case removal is trivial), and wooden signs are a real pain to remove.

    Pass by the target a few times. Observe where it is, what cover is near it, lines of sight, traffic patterns at various times of the day. Make sure you know what kind of bolts are holding it on, how many there are, and where on the sign they are. The backs are always standard hex nuts, but the bolts differ. Some are smooth rounded, some are hex bolts, and some and rounded with a flathead slot. If this sign has one of the latter two, bring the appropriate tool for the front side; it will make the sign easier to remove.

    Most importantly, notice how big it is and how far off the ground it is. Street signs are big; take the size you think it is and then multiply each dimension by 1.5 to get a more realistic estimate. They are also high off the ground (average 6 to 8 feet); this is why it's best to have a tall person do the removal.

  2. Planning

    Pick a time. Do it when the traffic flow is at its lowest, which almost always means very early in the morning on a weekend (4am on a Sunday works well in most cases). Plan everything you will do with the sign in advance. Estimate that it will take about 30 seconds to remove each bolt. If you are doing this without a car, what will you do with it when you get it down? Will you stash it nearby and come back for it later, or will you put it in a bag and attempt to walk away with it (remeber these things are big)? If you're doing it with a friend and a car, make sure s/he knows the timing as well.

  3. The hit (part one)

    Approach the sign and quickly douse the hex nuts with WD-40. Leave. Rumor has it that the nuts and bolts that hold street signs onto the posts are designed to rust the instant they are attached, so even if the sign is new, the nut is probably attached to the bolt and post by a good layer of iron oxide.

    Wait at least five minutes so that the WD-40 can do its magic. During this time, set up the primary monkey wrench so that the opening is about 1/2" wide. If you'll be using a second monkey wrench or screwdriver, get that ready as well.

  4. The hit (part two)

    Return to the sign, which should now be ready for removal. Put the monkey wrench(es) in place -- always remove the bolts from bottom to top. If the sign has smooth round bolt heads, hold onto the head with your unused hand. Standing behind the sign, turn the wrench counter-clockwise to loosen the nut. If they don't start to loosen immediately, don't fight them. Re-apply WD-40 and wait another five minutes. The nuts should come off in about 8-10 turns. If there are more than 2 bolts and it looks like you may not have time to get all of the nuts off, take one off, and leave. Come back for the rest later.

    Once you've gotten the nuts off the bolts, resist the temptation to remove the bolts from the holes as well. You need something to keep the sign from falling. Once you've gotten all the nuts off (don't just drop them; put them in your pocket or something), pull the entire sign off the front of the post. The bolts will come with it. Be very careful. Just as the signs are bigger than they look, they are also much heavier than they look. You will need two hands, and gloves may also help to keep the narrow, heavy edge from biting into your hands too much.

  5. The getaway

    If you are lucky enough to have a waiting car, get the sign into the trunk and get the hell out of Dodge. Don't forget to remove the sign from your trunk soon. I had a friend who got pulled over, and when the cops searched his car, not only did they find the half kilo of pot he had stashed in the back, but they also found the 30-odd signs he had sitting in his trunk. Even without the pot, this was still a stupid mistake.

    If you're stashing the sign for retrival later, get it out of your possession ASAP. Hide it well (a difficult thing to do with such a big, flashy object) in your previously-chosen location. Come back for it in a few days, preferably after the DoT has already replaced the sign. Finding a suitable carrying case for the sign is left as an exercise for the reader. Plastic trash bags are far too flimsy; the large canvas sack I once used on a paper route has worked fairly well in the past.

So now you have your trophy. Clean it off and present it.
Today was a good day. I found a piece of braided rope on the sidewalk and made it into a bracelet. I found an "Arrow Security" security guard button-down shirt next to the highway to wear...

And I stole a Stop sign to decorate my room. Here's how:

To steal a traffic or a street sign you'll need, most importantly, a monkey wrench. Not a screwdriver- municipal signs (in New York State, at least) are affixed to a metal post via nuts and bolts. If these are rusted you'll want some "liquid wrench", a clear liquid you squirt into rusted bolts to eat away the rust- you can get some at any hardware store. If your target sign is still standing, as opposed to having already fallen over- you'll probably need a stepladder. Whereas, if the sign has already fallen you can feel less guilty- if you're predisposed to feeling guilty- because you aren't the one creating a potentially hazardous traffic situation. Then again, maybe the bourgeouis SUV drivers deserve to crash into each other (the subject of many other nodes I'm sure). And if it's nighttime, and the sign isn't close to a streetlamp, a flashlight will come in handy. If you live in a zealously civic minded neighborhood, one where the vigilantes may attack perceived deviants, i recommend stealing the sign at night. And maybe bringing pepper spray.
All of the above is good advice in stealing street signs. But what if this situation comes up? Say you are out on a mission to liberate as many street signs as possible with a couple of your buddies. Sooner or later, probably sooner if you are really dedicated you will encounter a sign where the top bolt is to high to reach without standing on something. At this point, unless you just happen to have a convient thing to step on or carry a ladder around with you when you go out stealing street signs there is no obvious way to get up there. You would be suprised how many signs are missing the bottom bolt and nut, but because the people trying to take the sign planned poorly they could not get up to the top bolt and so they choose to leave the sign there and find something less difficult to make off with.

Luckily for us, most signs that you encounter this problem with also have built into them a way to get up to the top bolt. And no additional tools will be needed other than the stuff you already have with you if you are stealing street signs.

The Method: After you take the bottom nut off the bolt, take the bottom bolt out. Insert the bolt lower down into the post, about 2 to 3 feet above the ground depending on how high you step up. Then use the bolt to stand on so you can reach the top bolt and nut and take those off as well.

Additional Advice: You may need a friend to help stablize you if you aren't comfortable or capable of standing and balancing on the bolt by yourself. A friend is also useful for making sure the sign doesn't fall on top of you because you have taken the bottom bolt out, and for some annoying reason signs tend to slip off the top bolt if the bottom one is out. Before you make off with your newly acquired sign make sure you take the bolt that you used as your ladder out of the post. No point in letting the authorities figure out how you got the top bolt and nut off.

Now you can go out and impress your friends with your clever knowledge of how to get those difficult street signs.
It would seem logical that any person thinking of stealing a traffic sign would consider the following first. But then again, having left my teens a few years behind, I already find myself wondering what the logic for stealing a traffic sign was in the first place.

From CNN.com:
TAMPA, Florida (CNN) -- Three defendants were sentenced to 15 years each in state prison Friday for uprooting a stop sign at an intersection where three teen-agers were killed in a crash a few hours later.

Nissa Baillie, 21, Thomas Miller, 20, and Christopher Cole, 20, each faced 27 to 46 years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter in the incident. It is believed to be the first U.S. case in which the removal of a traffic sign has led to a manslaughter conviction.

Cole, Baillie and Miller were each sentenced to 30 years in state prison, with a suspended sentence after 15 years, and five years of probation Friday on four counts of manslaughter. Under Florida law, convicts must serve at least 85 percent of a sentence, meaning at least 13 years in prison for the three.


That being said, I at one time had a fairly decent collection of bathroom signs, with their varying icons for men and women. Also, from various jobs where I had access to unposted signs I obtained numerous "Danger: Laser Radiation" signs, lock out/tag out notices, and others of that sort. And I'd also love to get my hands on a giant Yield Sign to add to my Pearl Jam memorabila collection. I understand the urge to collect signs, just think about it first. If you really want signs, try mcmaster.com or another industrial/ warehouse supply company, or perhaps ebay. Note that it is illegal in most cities to buy, sell, or trade a city or state traffic control device (like signs, stoplights, cones, etc), though I have heard of people getting them at governement surplus auctions, and in some towns I've known the local Traffic/Transportation Department to simply give away older, damaged or obsolete street signs when asked kindly.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.