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, June 30, 2010

Ready, set - GO!!!

Tomorrow we start a most imaginative project - one I've been planning and dreaming of for the better part of a year. I've been working on the designs for quite some time. Now, we've worked out the logistics with the owner, the contractor has done the preliminary work and the interior designer has worked with us to finalize the colors and finishes throughout the project. At last it is time to do the most fun part... BUILD IT!
The project is a new office, tech center and showroom for MultiCam Western Canada. In the next series of posts I'll be sharing some of the plans and concepts, then take you through the building of the files and then the cutting and assembly process in the next weeks...
One of the areas which will get the full treatment is the board room. My mandate was to show the type of imaginative things that could be done with the various CNC machines MultiCam builds including plasma cutters, routers, lasers and water jets. I'll be stretching EnRoute to the max in the process as well of course. The fun starts outside the door. This will be cut from 30lb Precision Board and embellished with a little sculpting using epoxies.
The room is going to be themed in a nautical/underwater theme. LED lighting, eye candy galore and exquisite detailing will show what these wonderful machines are capable of. We'll use EnRoute software to create the files and a variety of materials including plenty of Precision Board to do the work.
The heavy duty board room table will be thirteen feet long and feature laser engraving in the plexiglas centerpiece with LED indirect lighting to show the detail off it its maximum effect.
The walls will feature wainscoting using the new EnRoute Rapid Texture software. I'll document that process here of course. We'll route some very interesting ceiling tiles, trim, corner blocks and detail pieces - all with a nautical bent of course. Some very cool eye candy will also continue the theme for this room. Even the large LED TV will get the full treatment.
All this is but one room of the showpiece facility... just imagine what is to come!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Another successful Sign Magic Workshop

Precision Board has a long history of supporting educational workshops and meets of sign professionals. It was at a long ago Letterhead meet I first earned of their great products and incorporated them into our signs and dimensional features. Since we got our router we have used them in a BIG way! Coastal Enterprises has helped sponsor our Sign Magic Workshops since we began hosting them almost three years ago.
Six folks travelled from far and wide to attend our eighth Sign Magic Workshop. The ball got rolling fast late Thursday afternoon when they gathered for an informal meet and greet. We went for supper at a local diner and the talk quickly turned to routers, dimensional signs and the materials we used and how to make them. This crew was eager to learn all they could. After supper we walked back to the shop and the learning commenced - before the workshop officially began Friday morning. We didn't break up until 11:00 pm that first day. And so it would go all weekend long.
The days were long and the learning intense... we had a lot of ground to cover in three short days. We talked of design, how to build three dimensional routing files using EnRoute and of course we fired up the MultiCam to show how our creations would look in real life. Our MultiCam router got a good workout. After our lessons were complete each student created a dimensional sample for the first time and every one looked great. These folks obviously were paying attention!
We also spent long hours each evening learning how to finish the many samples. The skill level of this group was high. They demonstrated a passion to learn and took things as far as they possibly could. We laughed, we talked, we learned and shared 'secrets' of how to do the things we do until the time was up. Some great projects were completed through the weekend.
I look forward to seeing some cool projects from these folks in the future!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sign Magic Workshop project

Our next Sign Magic Workshop is to start in only four days. No matter how much I try to get done ahead of time, inevitably the last few days there always seems to be a lot left to do. This time is no exception although we are in pretty good shape.
One of the projects we will be doing for this workshop is a new sign for our driveway.the drive is a long one and everyone (especially me) tends to race down it to the shop way out back. We had al old sign asking people to slow down but it was time for something new - something that would grab folks attention. I did up a quick sketch, then set to work making it happen. Most of the work will happen in our workshop with coming weekend but I needed to do some prefabrication ahead of time for the workshop only lasts three days.
The chicken was sculpted with Abracabra Sculpt over a welded steel armature. A ball of tinfoil was pressed into the middle if the armature to bulk it out a little before I started sculpting. Over a couple of days I spent bits of time to build up the form of the bird, then add feathers, one at a time. It looks like a lot of work but it actually went pretty fast.
The next step was to create the routing file for the sign in EnRoute. I used a custom cartoon font which I had created. The woodgrain bitmap was also from my personal collection. The back panel for the sign was simply a flip of the front but without the lettering. The front and back of the sign were routed from 1.5" thick 30 lb Precision Board. They look pretty sweet without even being trimmed or painted.
The center piece of the sign was done with a piece of 1" thick material. I also routed a 'T' shaped hole in this piece to accommodate the steel structure I would weld for this purpose.
I drilled two holes from the top and pushed the extra long chicken leg armature through it, then welded them to the steel 'T'. Two heavy steel rods in turn were pushed through holes in the back panel and then welded to the 'T' with the back panel in place. This structure was then welded to a larger armature which would form the basis for the 'tree' that would hold up the sign with the chicken perched on it.
The sign still has plenty of work to be done before it is finished but it is now ready for the workshop. Although some steps are complete (like the routing and welding) I'll be describing these steps using the piece as reference. Then we'll do the balance as a demonstration piece with help from my students. Hopefully by the weekend it will be pretty much done. Stay tunes for more pictures...

It looks like GOLD because it is!

Yesterday was productive with lots of progress on all fronts on the doctor's sign. I painted the rocks with the blended base coats to color the rocks and then using a cheapy, undercoat gun with low air pressure to create a granite looking speckle. Once the paint was dry I then painted in the grout lines between the rocks.
While I was waiting for the various coats of paint to dry on the rocks I painted on the gold size which looks a lot like varnish. I used a slow size this time. It took 12 hours to set up enough to apply the gold.
This morning I came in and spent a leisurely hour carefully applying the 23K gold leaf... and it was instant BLING! The dark greens of the sign make the gold feel really rich. The sign sparkles even in the artificial light of the shop. It should look spectacular out in the sunlight! Delivery day isn't for another 10 days but we will enjoy it here until then. The sign will also be a great demonstration piece for our workshop next weekend.

Friday, June 18, 2010

More progress

Progress on the doctor's sign has been somewhat sporadic as I've been busy with outside projects in the nice weather. With the approaching Sign Magic Workshop it's time to get it out of the way. It will be great eye candy for our guests. The doctor popped by today for a progress report and was delighted with the sign - even in its unfinished state.
I had worked last week to apply the primer and then the base coats of color. The dark green color was exactly matched to his building. I painted the woodgrain area a lighter, custom mixed shade of the green. Over this I would add two layers of glaze to highlight the grain to its best effect.
While the layers of paint cured I sculpted the rock work from fiberglass-reinforced-concrete. This will dry for three days before I paint it to look like real rock.
While the concrete cured I painted the pinstripes and ornaments using the light green color I had mixed for the base color of the woodgrain. For those with real sharp eyes you will see a slight modification in the sign. I had mistakenly routed an early version of the design. We had changed the bottom line from 'Inc.' to 'Since 1986' but I had grabbed the wrong vector file when I was creating the router file in EnRoute. The fix was simple and the file only took a few minutes to create... I used the die grinder to take off the incorrect lettering and then glued on a freshly routed Precision Board panel in its place. The router makes such revisions relatively painless and very quick.
Next up is the GOLD!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Another win for Precision Board!

We were pleased to hear that two of our recent projects have been honored with National Awards recently. Both projects were designed to showcase the types of things we could do using Precision Board, EnRoute software and our MultiCam router. The submarine sign files were created using EnRoute software and routed from 30 lb Precision Board high density urethane.
The sextant was a project that was designed to stretch my capabilities using EnRoute software. It was the first project I did on my Mac from start to finish. It was a crash course to learn all the shortcuts on the unfamiliar platform. I pulled out all the stops and used every trick I could muster. The many bits and pieces took 49 hours of machine time on the router and about 50 hours of handwork to assemble and finish the piece. While the 49 hours of router time sound may sound like a lot it would in fact have taken many, many weeks to do the project all by hand.
Both projects are chronicled in the archived pages of this journal.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Carving up the Precision Board like crazy!

As the next Sign Magic Workshop quickly approaches I'm keeping the MutliCam very, very busy and creating plenty id PRecision Board dust in the router room. I've been busy creating some cool sample files in EnRoute which are being routed from Precision Board. The small dimensional pieces which the students will work on are now all ready and laid out. The six name plaques are almost finished being painted. Other projects which we will be doing in the workshop are currently being routed as I type.
It's hard to believe that in a little more than a week we'll be busy learning to create similar routing files, we be priming, painting, glazing and gilding. Metal will be welded, Precision Board carved... cement will be sculpted and a whole lot more fun will be had.
I have to keep busy for there is much to do yet... a few more samples to prepare... shop to be tidied, tables set up... grass to be cut... notes to review one more time...
The countdown has begun in Yarrow.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Real progress... at last

Progress has been somewhat sporadic as I jump to other projects on the go in the shop. The weather is finally nice locally allowing us to work on outside projects which have been waiting. I've also been spending some time to get ready for the Sign Magic Workshop which happens next week. Since this sign is not due for two more weeks there is no rush to finish... yet. I hope to finish it in the next couple of days so it can be on display during our workshop.
To create a solid base for the cement to follow I use galvanized diamond lath. It is cut roughly to size and then wired on with tie wire. The tools are simple - as is the task but as always it looks easy until you try it for the first time. If you look close at the picture I have bent a loop in the wire. This is poked through the mesh and then looped around the welded pencil rod, then pulled tight with the nippers, twisted and cut off in a smooth quick motion. With practice it becomes easy. Keep the bandaids handy as the wire is sharp and will cut if you aren't careful. Ask me how I know... :)
If you need more than one sheet to cover the frame overlap by at least a couple of inches. Tie the mesh securely but not too much. Basically the mesh needs to be stable. If it wiggles it needs more tying.
Then it was on to the mud. I like to use a flexible tool trowel to apply the mud. I also wear rubber gloves. Through experience I know how painful concrete burns can be. This mix is caustic. Wear some safety glasses when you are mixing too. The mix I use is pretty simple... one part sand - one part cement powder. I use a paddle mixer in a half inch drill in a five gallon pail
You need to press hard enough to squeeze a little mud through but soft enough to not push it all the way through and waste it in the process. I like to work from the top down literally hanging the cement as I go. I scoop the cement out of the bucket with my left hand and apply it with the trowel in my right. I'm sure a professional plasterer might cringe at my method but it works for me.
I let things set up about an hour before I came back with a folded piece of mesh and scratch a rough patter into the wet cement. This would provide for a mechanical bond when I cement the rock work on after the sign is painted.
The sign is now starting to look like it will when it is finished. The base is a bit tall visually in comparison to the sign but the sign needs to be higher than the rail fence in front of it. Hopefully the owner will mound up the planter which will eventually be under the sign so it looks in proportion.
Stay tuned for the next steps...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Drifting in to the finish line...

Ryan is coming to the workshop from a little closer to home. He lives in beautiful Sydney, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. I've visited there many times. The beautiful, quaint seaside town has one of the best bookstores around. I've bought many a book there to inspire me. Ryan's plaque would be created to resemble the abundant driftwood found on the shores nearby his home. I typeset his name in a jagged 'pirate' style font. I surrounded the lettering with a small flat shoulder to separate it from the woodgrain that would follow. The lettering border was a simple flat relief to which I added the beveled lettering. Then I imported the driftwood bitmap from my collection and drew a rough and jagged outline by tracing a vector around the bitmap.
I used this vector to create a relief but used the doming tool with a 7 degree angle to dome it up nicely. Then the bitmap was applied to this relief with a value of 0.3" This made for a fairly knarly and deep grain on this size of panel.I then drew an oval about the same size and modified the lettering relief to ark the lettering at the same instance over the 'wood' panel.
Here's a side view screen capture to show how the lettering and the panel ark together nicely.
Then it was time to make magic using one of EnRoute's very cool tools which was new to version 4... It is the freehand sculpting tool. I used it to sculpt (virtually) some deeper creases into the panel. The red arrows show the areas and direction I applied the sculpting strokes. It only took a few seconds to modify the panel to my satisfaction.
In this final screen capture we can see how dramatically those few freehand sculpting strokes have affected this panel. Instead of a flat hunk of Precision Board with a woodgrain we have a believable piece of driftwood.
In about ten minutes I created a pretty cool piece of work which would take a long time to pull off by hand. The MultiCam would only take about half an hour to take the file from the virtual world into a physical reality...

California gold rush

I had some difficulty coming up with an idea for the panel for Gary. He is traveling from central California and after some thought and scribbling of endless ideas in my book I decided on a period 'gold rush' feel to the panel. David Butler Gold vector collection of classic ornaments was used as a starting point in the decorative border in the vector design. The lettering has that same gold rush feel. and is a font from www.letterheadfonts.com
The letting would be deeply bevelled with some 'sandblasted' woodgrain behind. I used a woodgrain bitmap from my collection to achieve that look. The file was much larger than I needed (as often happens). The area in the dotted red lines was the tiny portion used for this project.
The panel looks complex and difficult but is actually pretty simple. Once I had all the relief elements created and then positioned vertically to my satisfaction I then merged everything together to make the final relief.
This was tool pathed using a 3/8" ball nose bit with a 1/8" ball nose for the final pass. Then it was sent to the MultiCam to make my imagined piece real in well under an hour from start to finish from a piece of 1.5" 30 lb Precision Board. I have one more panel to go before I break out the primer and paint...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Anything but Precision :)

Dave's name plaque was fun to create. I was stumped for a little while to come up with a witty idea. But then I thought about what Dave does for a living and why he is taking our workshop. Dave owns a MultiCam router - bigger than mine! He uses it to create fine cabinets and doors. I visualized Dave creating perfectly square doors and cabinets all day long - day in and day out. Then I thought about how he would learn that these machines are good for much more than that. They can make wiggly lines too! To prove it I would make him a door panel that was anything but straight! I didn't use a font to type his name. I instead quick drew it out in a cartoon style, then vectorized it in Illustrator.
I then imported the AI file into EnRoute and also imported a cartoon woodgrain bitmap (from my TEXTURE MAGIC collection of course). I used the drawing tool in EnRoute to trace each board to make the door.
The hinge vectors were made using these tools as well. After creating the reliefs for each board I added the textures. Each component was created separately then merged as a last step.
The MultiCam made quick work of creating an exact copy of the file I had just created in EnRoute.
There's two more name plaques to go...

Fancy rope borders!

The next name plaque I tackled was for Jonathan. He owns a company that builds quality custom homes. Jonathan is excited about ways he can possibly use a router (and textures) in these homes. I suspect he'll fall in love with Precision Board too before the workshop is over. Each time I do a workshop at least one name plaque simply has to use the 'rope trick'. I never get tired of it. EnRoute makes it so simple! This is a simple extrude function with unlimited possibilities... one being a cool rope. The vectors were simple... some type with a series of oval around the lettering. The rope would follow the center oval.
Once I imported the AI vector file into EnRoute I added an outline around the lettering. I also added another oval offset slightly from the inside one to form the dome in the center. The small weird shape at the bottom is the cross section of the rope. A weave bitmap from my 'TEXTURE MAGIC' collection was used to create the texture. If you look close at the picture below you can see the vectors underneath the bitmap. I sized an positioned it so the weave was even on all sides.
The oval was extruded at a mesh, then positioned on the file before being merged to the relief. The mesh is red in the screen capture.
I created the border around the lettering as a separate file, then modified that relief using an oval to make it domed like the plaque itself. I could then position it using the different views to make sure it rose above the other parts perfectly. Once I was satisfied I then merged it all together. Tool pathing was done with a 3/8 ball nose to rough it out followed by a final pass with a 1/8" bit and an 80" overlap.
Then I sent it to the MultiCam for the magic treatment. In less than an hour the file was done. While the machine worked I was busy once more making another file for the next plaque...

Friday, June 4, 2010

I love Precision Board!

For the next stage of the project I used my favorite carving tool... an air powered die grinder. I have a variety of bits for the powerful little tool. For this project I chucked up the biggest one. Although 30 lb Precision Board is tough it grinds up in a hurry with the right tools.
It didn't take long to go over the edges of the sign, removing the glue lines, evening things out and adding texture at the same time. As always the bottom edge was the most tedious so I got that out of the way first. I timed the back just for fun and it only tool a few seconds over seven minutes to pull off the entire back face. I know if I had wanted it perfectly flat I would have spent a lot longer on the project! Even then there's always a small imperfection or ding that seems to drive me crazy. In my opinion the sign looks even more massive because it appears to be hand hewn from a solid piece of wood. The textures set our work apart from what everyone else does too.
I went over the screws to make sure they were countersunk a little more and then I filled the holes with a bit of sculpting epoxy... no sanding necessary on this project because of the texture. Then it was time to break out the welder once more to form up the structure for the base. I used 1/4" pencil rod. A simple grid was welded up. We use this same technique to form all manners of wild creations. In this case it was a simple box, slightly tapered to be wider at the bottom. It's pretty simple stuff.
Next time I'll show how I get the base ready for the rock work... stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

One layer at a time...

I started the doctor's sign file late in the afternoon yesterday. At quitting time I went into the house to make supper, then mowed the lawn and had a leisurely evening. I checked the machine once in a while to make sure all was right, the last time just before I signed off for the night. When I came into the shop this morning the sign was done... and it looked great!
I pulled it off the router and cut six more layers of Precision board which I would laminate up to form a sign more than seven inches thick. The three middle layers would be wrapped around the welded steel frame. I used the cut Precision Board as a jig to hold the 3" x 3" square tubing in place as I tacked it up. A piece of 1" square tubing with a 5/8" nut was welded up on top. An eye bolt would thread in this to be used for transport and lifting the sign into place. Once everything was tacked I pulled the frame out and welded everything nice and secure.
I then laminated up three layers of the cut Precision Board and slid it over the welded frame. It fit perfectly. I used PB Bond-240 glue for long lasting and secure joints. I added the other four layers (including the front) one at a time - gluing and screwing each panel into place. I could handle the task by myself without strain. It took about an hour to finish the job.
I used multiple layers of 1" thick 30 lb Precision Board because I had a lot of that in stock. Once I'm done the laminations won't show. In the past I've made the signs hollow, but I've found the extra labor outweighs any savings in materials. I've also had some troubles with de-lamination because the joints are so small in relation to the size of the sign.
I have found building a sign over a heavy welded steel frame serves a number of purposes which add up for me. The sign is mounted securely and is very stable while I work on it. I can work on and paint all sides of the sign without difficulty or delay. With the removable eye bolt on the top of the sign I can lift the sign up and then back my trailer under it to load it. The eye bolt also served as a top tie down point without any risk of damage to the sign. The sign will be mounted to a simple concrete footing/slab. My customer does this work. This means the sign installs in minutes with only four holes to drill and four anchor bolts to set. Leveling is easily accomplished. Best of all the sturdy framework is hidden inside the sign, meaning I don't even have to paint it. The sign has no chance of ever warping either.
In the next days I'll weld up the bottom framework for the rock work and begin adding the finishing touches to the sign.
Stay tuned...

What's up doc?

The latest project in the shop is a sign for a doctor. His clinic is in a historic farmhouse, now more than a hundred years old. The design for this sign needed to reflet that heritage and the profession of the doctor. We would use the logo of the Naturopathic doctors of British Columbia with permission.
I created the file in Enroute. It would be routed from multiple layers of 30 lb Precision Board. The face would be whittled from 1.5" board. The file was created in EnRoute in about an hour. The wood grain was created with a bitmap from my collection. The lettering was prismatic and the logo slightly domed for added effect. It was on the MultiCam about 14 hours.
I let the file run through the night and in the morning the completed sign was waiting for me. Next issue I'll show how I laminated the Precision Board over a welded steel frame for maximum strength...