It is hard to believe that it was almost ten years ago I witnessed a CNC router in action for the very first time. I was fascinated and simply had to have one! Although I had been in the creative end of the three dimensional sign business for most of my life I didn't really know what I would do with one of these machines - but I just knew it could do fantastic stuff.

Along with the CNC router I discovered the wonderful material called Precision Board and the glues, primers and other companion products they offer. Since then we have gone through many tons of the material using it in most signs and projects we tackle. This journal will chronicle our many adventures both past, present and future. I'll talk from the perspective of someone who pushes these products to the creative limit on a daily basis. I'll be adding to the stories two or three times each week. -dan

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Building a mechanical circus train model

We all seem to collect tons of small pieces of Precision Board when we do lots of routing. The perfect use of these small pieces is display samples. 

We are in the process of designing a very fun project for one of our theme park customers. We were asked to design up some small kiosks to be used for face painting, food carts and a character meet and greet. Since the theme is mechanical circus we decided the perfect theme for the kiosks was a circus train. Once I got started on the designs the ideas came thick and fast. There was no limit to the possibilities as there are an endless variety of animals to choose from.

We chose three of our favourites to model in about 1/12 scale. The elephant engine was a must and the giraffe and hippopotamus called my name. To build the scaled models we would use a variety of tools and materials. The wheels, undercarriages and basic shapes begged to be routed. The files would be easy and quick to model in EnRoute. The bulk of the rest would be faster to hand sculpt. More fun too!

The first one was the elephant engine - with the monkey on top.

I designed the vectors in EnRoute. The first task was to create the domed top. 

I then clipped the bottom using a zero height relief by merging lowest. I then used the slice tool to get rid of the remaining zero height bottom piece.

I then created the lower relief and combined it with the top domed piece. The front and rear bumpers, steam cylinder supports, and fenders were created as separate reliefs. The bumpers and fenders were combined with the big relief.

The steam cylinder supports were merged highest with the base relief.

Once the basics were dome it was time to move on to the details like the wheels. I did this by modifying the base relief. First was the wheel flanges, then the wheel tire. The centres were depressed in a series of steps to create the sidewalls on the steel rims. 

The spokes were created as separate domed reliefs before merging (highest) with the base relief.

Next u came the wheel centers, counterweights and connecting rod supports. These were all built as separate reliefs. 

Raised stars were then added to the wheel centers.

The separate reliefs were then merged highest with the base relief.

The smokestack and monkey drum were built as meshes using the revolve tool. These were then combined with a zero height relief. The zero height relief was also modified with the egg shipped relief and the dome tool. Two of these would form the basis for the elephant's head.

I then duplicated and flipped the various pieces to create the front and back of the train engine. Everything was then ready to tool path and send off to the router. I machined all the pieces from scraps of 2" thick 30 lb Precision Board. Between the engine and the two cars and various bits and pieces we used up a big pile of scraps.

As soon as the pieces were off the router it was an easy task to screw them together. There was a front and back as well as two layers of 2" thick cutout for the centre. The next step was a bunch of hand sculpting.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Posts with a theme

We used a heart motif as a theme on our house. Little hearts are routed into all of the outside trim. We created hundreds of files and then machined even more pieces. These were all painted up and gazed to form a one of a kind house which we really enjoy.

This same theme extends out to the fence posts as well. The panels were all designed in EnRoute and then cut from 30 lb Precision Board on our MultiCam. Amazingly we went through more than a hundred sheets of 1" thick board to do the inside and outside of the house.

The east side of the house has no windows as it is closest to our neighbours. It's a big wall and the ground is lowest in this area. The rock 'wainscot' is the same height as the rest of the house but is about six feet tall in this area. To dress it up we built pillars about every eight feet. Into Each pillar we set a panel featuring the hearts motif. We painted it up to match the rock work and to look like it was carved in stone

When we located Becke's modular home on the property regulations and a sloping property again mandated a tall wall on one side of the trailer. Like the house we brought the ground up about three feet on this side but there is still a lot of wall showing. The blue siding will be brought down over the skirting with rock work covering the concrete foundation. The pillars will extend from the ground to the top of the skirting. We will again locate the pillars approximately eight feet apart to match the house.

The forms for the pillars were built from pressure treated 3/4" thick plywood. The area below the plywood will be extended with welded steel pencil rod. Galvanized lath will be fastened on before we do our hand sculpting of the rocks.

Becke got to pick the theme for her house and because she is an avid birder she picked birds of course. Peter designed two different sized panels. It is a simple silhouette of birds on a branch. He laid a woodgrain texture over the entire panel. I'll post more pictures of the progress as we proceed.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A long time coming!

Four years ago we started an exciting project. It's a theme park in Trinidad called Skallywag Bay Adventure Park. Three of the rides in the park were to be built in Italy. They are off the shelf rides which we mildly customized to fit the theme of the park.

One of the rides is a spinning coaster called "Pieces of Eight". The track is a figure eight which loops over itself. We picked custom colours and enlarged one of the loops so we could locate a spinning tower drop ride inside. We also designed some custom cars for the coaster. In order to keep costs in check we could not change the size of the car, change the seats nor the mechanics of the car. I did some concept art up to show them what we wanted.

We also routed up a master of the Piece of Eight medallion we wanted placed on the side of the coaster. This master was cut on our router from 30 lb Precision Board.

As they built the prototype of the car they sent us photos which we would mark up with notes. After some back and forth we signed off on the design and they built the coaster.  When they finished it the ride was assembled and tested before they packed it up into a shipping container and sent it on to Trinidad.

Construction of projects in Trinidad takes a little longer than we are used to in our part of the world and so the ride sat in the container for the better part of two years while the infrastructure f the park was built. This past week it was finally time to pull the ride from the containers and begin assembly.
It was with great delight I finally pulled off the wraps to get a first hand look at the ride we had designed so long ago.

The ride wasn't quite assembled when I left but things were coming along nicely. Soon I'll get my test ride!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Last load to NEB's

It has been well over a year since we did the first concept art for NEB's Fun World. The massive bowling alley was the first project to be green lighted for construction. We designed hundreds of  files using EnRoute.  Our MultiCam Plasma cutter got quite a workout as we cut scores of sheets of plate steel into pieces for the bases and tops of the posts as well as countless bolting plates, lifting lugs and braces. All of the steel was then jig welded together.

We then cut thousands of pieces from more than a hundred sheets of three quarter inch plywood on our MultiCam CNC router. These plywood pieces were bolted to welded steel frames.

The decorative inserts and signs were dimensionally routed from 30 lb Precision Board. They were mounted to the plywood. Galvanized lath was stapled to the plywood and then a thick coat of fibreglass reinforced concrete was troweled on and sculpted to look like wood, bricks, stone and plaster.

Then the painting crew worked their magic, first with three base coats of paint, followed by the glazing and dry brushing.

Today we welded up the last of the large steel pallets and fasted the giant posts to them in pairs. In the next couple of days we will load the last pieces for this phase of the project into the semi trailer and send them on their way.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Signs should be creative and fun!

As I look at the signs for developments it makes me wonder why there aren't more creative and fun ideas used. The sign industry is chock full of people who insist they are creative and yet most of the signs are far from it.

We take a far different tack as we design developments. Imagine of we could use creativity at every turn - literally. Why do trees signs have to be a boring rectangular flat piece of metal with some boring type stuck on them?

With the advent of modern software, high tech materials and CNC plasma cutters, lasers and routers this kind of sign is easier than ever to design and create.

We are currently working on a number of projects where we will be proposing some very different ideas. The first one, below, is from a project I designed about seven years ago. Sadly the project never went ahead for it would have been ground breaking. It was for a tourist development by the seaside. The street signs and direction signs were to have been very different.

A current project is smaller in scale but even more creative. Many details are still under wraps but I can share two signs which will be part of many in the series. The brackets and lettering on the signs would be made of plasma cut steel, welded together and then powder coated for longevity. The cute vehicles on the top will be routed from 30 lb Precision Board. We'll do them in halves and then glue them together. Smaller details will be added before the final paint.

With this approach even the smaller signs will be focal points. This project will gather a lot of attention and be truly memorable by all who visit. It will all be designed in from the start.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Making the replacement

When I went back to measure up the signs I also had to figure out how I built them. After seven years my memories of the project had gotten very fuzzy. The photos I had of the signs in the trailer provided some information but the colours were redder than I remembered. 

Once I got onsite I recalled things much more clearly. I had cut the signs from 1.5" thick 30 lb Precision Board. We had also applied a primer and three coats of paint plus the glazes. The gold leaf on the letters and symbols was in perfect shape. They had held up extremely well to years of construction, snow removal and the cutting of the grass by weedwackers, sun, rain, snow, and other abuse. 

One particular detail I had forgotten was that I had bevelled the edges of the signs.

Although I no longer had the routing files I did have the vectors for the Japanese symbols. The lettering was an easy match.

Using the measurements I had gathered onsite I quickly created the vectors. The outside border would be smooth for routing. I'd add the texture later with the hand held die grinder, as I had done on the original signs.

I started by selecting out outside vector of the sign. I used the bevel tool to create the edge but also used the limit to height. This provided the beveled edge I was looking for.

Next I dropped the centre of the sign by modifying the original relief using the subtract tool.

I then applied a bitmap texture called splotches to the centre area.

Next up I created a separate flat relief of the lettering outline. 

I then went to the front view to check the height of this new relief in relation to the inside area it would be placed. It seemed a little high to me so I nudged it down a little, until I was happy.

I then merged highest with the base layer of the sign.

I then modified this relief by adding the bevelled lettering and symbol.

The translation (PEACEFUL) was done next as a using the flat tool.

The sign was then ready to tool path and send to the MultiCam.
Once again I routed the sign from 1.5" thick 30 lb Precision Board.