A custom wooden medal with seashell, made for Whitianga Marathon.

Being an event organiser has never been more exciting. There's a broader range of medal types available today than ever before, meaning there's a medal for every budget, style, and occasion. 

However, this variety can be a double-edged sword: There will likely be types you've never heard of, complicating your quest for the perfect medal.

If wooden medals are among these newer options that have caught your eye but left you wondering, then you’re in the right place. 

Here at Badges And Medals, our speciality is custom wooden medals. We've been creating them since the early 2010s before a global push towards sustainability made them as popular as they are today. In this article, we will share our expertise, addressing questions such as:

By the end, you'll have a clearer idea of whether wooden medals are the award for your event.

What is a wooden medal?

As the name suggests, a wooden medal is a medal made from wood with a custom design burned or carved onto one side. They're most often used at sports events to commemorate people's achievements.

What is the history of wooden medals?

The short answer is no one knows.

The longer, more interesting answer is that wood was used by several cultures throughout history to mark achievements. For example, the ancient Greeks and Romans used olive branches to crown victors. However, their invention cannot be pinned to a specific place, date or person - they seem to have just cropped up. 

It's possible wooden medals were around before metal medals, or cropped up as their easier-to-make alternative. After all, wood has always been cheaper and easier to find.

There's written evidence of them as far back as 1875: the Boston Numismatic Society noted that two "wooden medals" were shown to members that year, though these weren't like the medals we know today, because they weren't designed to be worn. The medals were made to celebrate the 100th anniversary since the Declaration of Independence was signed and had the head of George Washington, the first president of the United States, on them. After the celebration, wooden medals were quite popular in the United States, though this later died down.

Regardless of where they came from, wooden medals have gone on to become a popular medal type due to their natural look and eco-friendliness.

Untitled design-3

An example of a wooden George Washington "medal". CREDIT: The Ephemera Society Of America

How are wooden medals made?

Firstly, the journey begins with selecting the correct wood. But not just any piece makes the cut. Suppliers choose timbers known for their 'softness', which makes them easier to cut, and their sap levels - the more sap there is in the wood, the darker the wood will burn when lasered, meaning the more your design will stand out against the grain.

From there, a laser cuts the wood into your desired medal shape.

After the medals are cut, your design is either etched onto the medal using a laser or printed on using a printer. Printed designs can come in any colour, while laser designs range from light brown to black, depending on the amount of sap in the wood. Laser designs look more three-dimensional than printed designs, as the laser is literally burning away a layer of wood. This can add a tactile layer to your medal. 

The medals are then given a clear coat to bring out the natural grain and protect them from elements which could damage them over time, such as moisture or prolonged sunlight. Sometimes, this step is switched out for a stain or a coloured dye to give the wooden medal a pop of colour, to match your theme or brand.

Do wooden medals come with ribbons?

Manufacturers often pair wooden medals with a custom ribbon since it takes about the same time to whip them up as it takes to make the medals. Custom ribbons can have any colours, text or design features, making them a great way to communicate the theme or brand of your event.

What do you need to create a wooden medal?

Absolutely nothing! However, it does help the medal designer if you have a design in mind for the medal or, failing that, a high-resolution version of your logo, plus samples of its colours.

If you'd like to research designs, but don't know where to start, read out article, 'Top 5 Places To Find Medal Design Ideas.'

How long does it take to make a wooden medal?

Getting its design just right usually takes around one to two days. Once that's signed off, it takes just over two weeks for the medals to be made. Larger orders may take longer.

A diagram showing that custom wooden medals take longer to make than traditional custom metal medals.Wooden medals have a shorter turnaround time than traditional metal medals.

How much does a wooden medal cost?

There are a few factors that play into the cost of a wooden medal:

  • The number of medals you order
    Big orders have a lower cost-per-medal than smaller orders. This is because bigger orders allow medal manufacturer's to use their resources more efficiently and reduce overhead costs such as rent and salaries. The manufacturers, in turn, pass these savings onto you. Think of it like buying in bulk at the grocery store!

  • The size of the medal
    Typically, wooden medals range between 85mm and 100mm in size. An 85mm wide insert medal costs less than its 100mm sister because it's made from less materials.

  • The type of wood the medal is made from
    The most popular types of timber are softwoods, such as basswood, because they're easy to cut. However, the team at Badges And Medals can make your medals from wood native to your region if you want an extra special touch!

  • The level of customisation
    A lot of customisation is included in the medal design process. Going beyond that costs more.

Let's say, for example, you want to buy 100 wooden medals with a custom ribbon and no add-ons.

This would set you back $500, or $5 a medal if you wanted 100mm medals made from basswood. If you prefer the medals made from wood native to your country but still the same size, this would cost you $1000 or $10 a medal. This is before adding on the fee that medal manufacturers usually charge to cover their machine setup.

Nine coloured custom wooden medals, made for the New Zealand Ocean Swim Series, in a row.Wooden medals can be customised with a coloured stain. CREDIT: Xander James Photography/NZ Ocean Swim Series

Can you customise a wooden medal?

Every wooden medal can be considered "custom", as the choices you make during the design process will always result in a one-of-a-kind product. These choices include the medals:

  • Size. Do you want an 85mm medal, a 100mm medal, or something completely different?
  • Shape. Circles are the most popular medal shape, followed by squares, then rectangles.
  • Wood type. Are the medals made of local timber? Or do you want something more exotic?
  • Medal design. What design best represents your event? What text or shapes do you pick?
  • Ribbon design. How many colours do you want on your ribbon? What colour/s should they be?

There are four additional ways to customise your wooden medals but these aren't included in the standard design process, so check with your medal manufacturer to see if they're available for you:

 

What is it?

How long does it take?

What does it cost?

Personalised engraving

Words can be engraved onto the back of a medal using a laser. This creates a unique connection between the recipient and their medal. You can engrave whatever you fancy, with the most common choice being the recipient's name or their event.

Engraving each medal will push your order's finish date out by 1 to 2 days.

Some manufacturer's will charge a setup fee to cover the cost of preparing their laser engraver. At Badges And Medals, however, we don't charge for the engraving of wooden medals, as long as we're told before the medals are made. This is because we engrave wooden medals using the same laser that cuts out their medal design. Because the machine is already set up, we don't charge you twice for its services.

Incorporate unique materials

One of the most visually striking ways to customise wooden medals is to add unique materials, such as paua shell or plastic "metal" sheets, because they add a sense of luxury.

Attaching unique materials has to be done by hand, adding up to 2 to 3 days to your wooden medal order.

The cost of customising your medals in this way depends on what unique material you choose. At Badges And Medals, for example, we charge US$0.40 more for medals with seashells on them.

Cut outs

A medal cut out is a design feature where parts of the medal are removed to create negative space. It's often used to add depth or highlight certain elements of the medal's design.

Adding cut outs will push your order back by 2 to 3 days, because it's finicky work.

 

 

Adding cut outs to your medal will increase its cost, but by how much depends on the amount of wood you want removed. The reason medal suppliers charge for this service is because it's technical work and the wood cut from the medal can't be reused.

Coloured stains

A wooden medal stain is a type of finish applied to the wood to add a pop of colour. You can use it to make a medal more striking or to better match it to your event.

Staining medals adds about 2 to 3 days to your order.

Stained medals cost about US$0.20 to US$0.30 more than medals that aren't stained.

 

Are wooden medals sustainable?

Yes! Wooden medals are sustainable because they come from a renewable resource - trees - which not only absorb carbon dioxide as they grow but can be replanted and regrown.

Some suppliers even source their wood from a business with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which proves the wood has been harvested sustainably, adding to the medal's eco-friendliness.

Once a person has finished with the medal, it can be reused around the house - perhaps as a coaster! - or composted in their garden. The wood will eventually decompose, returning its nutrients to the soil. Wooden medals can also be recycled, provided they haven't been painted or stained.

A diagram showing the origins of Badges And Medals' sustainable timber.All of Badges And Medals’ wooden product are made from sustainable wood.

What are the advantages of wooden medals?

  • They're durable.
  • They have a warm, rustic aesthetic.
  • They have a nice wooden texture and smell.
  • They're often lighter than metal or insert medals.
  • They're sustainable to make and can often be composted or recycled.
  • They're quicker than other medals to make (after a certain point). Medal manufacturers can pump out insert medals faster than metal or wooden medals, up until the 150-medal mark. Beyond that point, wooden medals are the fastest to make.

What are the disadvantages of wooden medals?

  • They're less durable than metal medals long-term.
  • They're not the fastest or cheapest option for orders of less than 150 medals.
  • They're not as customisable as metal medals.
  • They sometimes smell strongly of wood, which some people might not like.
  • They're often larger and thicker than metal or insert medals which means they're harder to post.
  • They're lighter than metal or insert medals, which to recipients might translate as less high-quality.

How do wooden medals compare to other medal types?

At Badges And Medals, we believe in the power of 'the right medal'.

With fifty years in the awards industry and more than a million medals under our belt, we've seen first-hand how different medals change an event's success. Now that you understand what wooden medals are and why they're so popular, you're in a better position to decide if they're the right choice for you.

If you're still uncertain, or if you want to see how wooden medals stack up against other popular favourites, read 'Which Medal Is Best? Metal Medals Vs Wooden Medals Vs Insert Medals'. In it, we make the world's most popular medals go toe-to-toe so you can see which emerges victorious for your event.

Read: Metal Medals Vs Wooden Medals Vs Insert Medals