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

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

With the throne rooms for the Fox & Hounds Pub pretty much designed it was time to route up the first mirror frame, as a sample to assist the carpenters and also the folks who were to cut the glass. I started with the sketch as a reference.

With light fixtures over each mirror they couldn't be too tall. I designed the lettering file in Illustrator. and then imported it and a basic oval into EnRoute. In this screen shot I had already added the rectangle and stretched out the bottom of the oval. I would use the jigsaw tool to create the actual frame vector and then build the file from there.

I'm not going to go into the entire build of the reliefs in this entry, but I will show a few things. Here's the complete vectors for the mirror frame. The crown still has to be aded to the top.

The crown vectors were fairly simple, designed to make the crown as tough as possible with no small bits to be broken off. The mirror frame will be routed from 40 lb Precision Board and backed with 3/4" plywood for extra strength.

One thing I want to show is how to make a faceted edge to a relief or rather one of the ways to accomplish this task in EnRoute.  The relief is a simple square vector. Then I opened the create relief menu.  Look close at the options I have selected...  add to relief, bevelled relief, LIMIT TO HEIGHT. since the material I am routing the diamonds from is 1 inch thick I selected this number to enter. The base  height ( distance of the vertical side of the relief) is set at 0.3"  the angle of the bevel is set to 40 degrees. When I hit enter it creates the perfect diamond shape with bevelled edges.

Heres a 3/4 angle shot to show what happened with these settings. This is a handy tool I like to sometimes use.

And here's a screen shot of the finished routing file. The yellow bits will be routed in two passes, first with a 3/8" ball nose bit and a final pass with a 1/8" ball nose bit and an 80% overlap. The thin black vector is our guide for an offset, cutout pass using a 3/8" mill tool.

And here's the picture of the piece as it runs on the MultiCam as I type up this entry. I'll run out to the shop in a few minutes to shut down the machine as soon as the file is finished. Tomorrow morning I'll take it to the job site for final approval and fitting.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Throne room

The owners of the Fox and Hounds pub asked me to come up with something creative for the washrooms. But as always there are limitations. Somehow, the more I am limited, the more I need to be creative. I was up for the challenge.

Washrooms, no matter how nice seem to not get the respect they deserve. What I came up with needed to be tough and serviceable. The tile work on the walls goes right to the ceiling and features a diamond pattern. The wall tiles are laid square to the walls but have small feature tiles set as diamonds. We were building the washroom partitions and the owners didn't want ordinary. We had decided on bare steel with a rust patina. If they get marked up it is simply a matter of grinding them down and encouraging some new rust.

The design had been on my mind for a while now, but I still hadn't come up with a clever idea yesterday and we were going into production this morning...  

As I stared at my blank sketchbook page last night, just before I went to bed, it suddenly dawned on me. I've often heard of a bathroom called a 'throne room'. This is a British Pub. It works!  Then the ideas flowed. I'll route the mirror frames for over the sinks. They would have diamonds on the corners to mirror the pattern on the walls and the floor. I'll create the routing file in EnRoute and then route it from 40 lb Precision Board. It has to be even more durable than our typical sign.

On the outside of the washroom doors I want to keep it simple. We've all been to restaurants where there is a little doubt as to which is the men's or ladies' room on account of unclear signs. I'll use the internationally accepted symbols, but with an addition of the crowns. Underneath we'll label them 'THRONE ROOM' just for fun.

The bathroom stalls are welded, heavy duty steel. I'll apply a light coat of mild acid to hurry along the rust patina. Then we'll polish them up to eliminate the chance of anyone getting dirty. But we wanted to ad some welded steel detail, without making things unsafe. On the corner post I decided to add a crown. I scrounged through my scrap bin and parts shelf and found some cool pieces to weld up a crown. It is truly bullet proof and yet looks great!

I'll weld up some small scepters tomorrow for the door handles.  It is all about the details.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pieces for the puzzle

Most every project has many steps and pieces, all to be done in a logical order in order for things to work. Our Fox and Hounds Pub project is no different. But compared to our smaller projects this one has many more players involved. In the restaurant and entry portions of the project we are down to the details and paint. And as the paint and glazes go on it is looking pretty cool!

But my work is not nearly done. Today I helped select the ceiling tile and designed how it would be arranged, helped lay out tile work, consulted with the finish carpenters doing trim, and many other details. Others will do this work, under my watchful eye. All of it is important, and together with the things we created  the new details will complete the picture.

Tomorrow we take a break from the worksite ad spend some time in the shop. You can count on the router being kept busy. Stay tuned...


Saturday, July 23, 2011


Every once in a while I seem to outsmart myself. The Golden Guppy sign was looking pretty fine... at least I thought so until I showed it to the owners of the Fox and Hounds Pub. They reminded me it was supposed to say 'Gilded Guppy' , So what to do.  I considered scrapping the sign and starting over, but I had done a fair amount of work. It would be easier to simply grind out the top section and insert a new piece with the correct wording.

Fortunately I had saved the vector files from the incorrect version. It was simply a matter of typing in the correct letters. I then kerned the letters and created them to outlines. This work was done in Illustrator. The file was then imported to EnRoute. I whipped up a shape through the center points, moved the letters out of the way and then used the jigsaw tool to create the needed shape. 

The letters were then brought back into position and an outline of 0.2" added. Not shown below, I used the vector modification tool to round out the ends to make them round. This would ensure no weird folds as I created a domed relief in the next step.

The 0.15" tall letter outlines were added to the relief.

The last step was to create the prism letters. It was then ready to tool path and send to the MultiCam. The first pass was with a 3/8" ball nose bit. The final pass was with a 1/8" ball nose bit with an eighty percent overlap.

 The patch was routed from a scrap of 1" thick piece of 30 lb Precision Board.

 I cut the ends square, marked the sign using it as a pattern, then used my die grinder to quickly take off the necessary material to make room for the new wording. It only took a few minutes. A little epoxy glue fastened things in place in a hurry.

 In the next few days I'll trim things even and add a little texture with my die grinder to match the original sign. There will be a little patching necessary which I'll do with some magic sculpt. Once the primer and paint goes on there will be no sign of the change. No one will be the wiser - except for the owners and I - and anyone who reads this blog.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cool water jet cut inlays!

I posted last week about the cool toys I get to play with on occasion. For the new bar at the Fox and Hounds Pub we want to inlay a brass and stainless version of the logo into the cast countertop. I got the call  from our MultiCam dealer that the pieces were cut this morning. I rushed right over!

I've seen the MultiCam water jet in action before. The cut quality and accuracy was nothing short of amazing. The pieces were absolutely perfect! Now I can hardly wait to see them cast into the concrete and polished up. It is an extremely classy detail for the project!


Polar bear distraction.

I had to break off regular work this afternoon because a long time customer of ours was moving this week and this necessitated a special request. His polar bear needed to make the three block move as well. But exactly how do you lift and move a giant polar bear, complete with an ice burg stand. The answer is simple. We had built a lifting point into his back. I simply had to use a chaser die to clean out the rusty threads, insert a new lifting eye bolt and then hook up the chain.

Anytime we move one of our creations it is like an instant parade. Traffic stops, people gawk and wave, with a giant smile on their faces. Today was no exception.

The move went off without a hitch, thanks to a smooth crane operator. I'll be carving up a new calved ice burg on the front to hold the new address and the owner will be adding some nice landscaping around the base.

Tomorrow we'll get back to our regular schedule and job.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Color makes it come alive!

Using the same techniques as our smaller projects we are now layering on the glazes to add color to the features of the Fox and Hounds Pub project. It does not matter whether the pieces are made from routered Precision Board or hand sculpted concrete the technique is the same. The purpose of the glazes is to make the texture and dimension jump out.

Today we started in on the colored glazes today and the effect was immediate and dramatic. The first in a series of glazes was applied today - three on the trees, two on the upper moldings of the sculpted 'woodwork'. 

 By the time we went hoe things had changed considerably!

Tomorrow we'll put on the last of the glazes on the trees and moldings as well as the boar's head, We'll finish off the plaster background round the boar on Friday and perhaps the brickwork and stones as well. At the other end of the room the entrance wall is also coming along nicely with the glazes in much the same state of progress. I'm sure loving the color at long last!

Meanwhile I am keeping the MultiCam busy and squeezing in every minute I can designing new files as well.


Workshops approaching fast!

While we keep busy on our projects locally I am reminded of the coming workshops fast approaching. The materials are ordered, files prepared, notes written, reviewed and waiting. Those hosting the workshops are busy making preparations, even though the events are still weeks away. Our plane tickets are bought, reservations made for our accommodations, plans are being made... 

It is not too late to join in on the learning in a location near you.

Sign Magic Workshop - Toronto, Ontario, Canada
August 18 - 20, 2011
MultiCam Canada Technology Center
15-701 Millway Avenue, Concord, Ontario
(905) 738-7954

Sign Magic Workshop - Kiev, Ukraine
September 5-7, 2011
Kiev, Ukraine
tel    +380 (44) 453-65-20 #704
cell  +380 (67) 467-47-79

Sign Magic Workshop - Yarrow, British Columbia
September 30 - October 2, 2001
Yarrow (Chilliwack), British Columbia, Canada
(604) 823-2216

Sign Magic Workshop - Orlando, Florida, USA
November 3-5, 2011
MultiCam Florida Technology Center
Orlando, Florida, USA
Amy Johnson  (972) 929-4070  EXT 2013

Hopefully I will see you soon!


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Small bits in tight areas

Back on the 27th of June I posted the building of the routing file for Harold Fine Wines, a sign for the Fox & Hounds Pub. There's been a traffic jam on the MultiCam as many good sized files were ready to be routed. With only one router operator (me) and only one machine the need for pieces onsite determines the order I would get to them. Yesterday I finally put the job on the MultiCam and set it in motion.

As always I couldn't resist mocking up the pieces to see how they would look assembled. I will glue the pieces together later, and then after everything is cured the hand work and painting will begin.

But this was not the end of the project. The sign is a tribute to the general contractor, Harold Esau of Harold's Contracting. A second smaller copy would also be produced which will be presented to him at the grand opening in October. I've always found it easier to do similar things at the same time. I knew if I put the second copy off it would have to be done in a rush at the last minute. 

With EnRoute a second smaller sized copy was no big deal. I simply scaled it down. The smaller copy would route from a 36" square sheet of 1.5" Precision Board. The original was done on a piece of 2" thick board and measured about 1/3 bigger.

The smaller scale presented a challenge however. The 1/8" ballnose bit would not fit into the thin lettering. The rest of the sign was fine. So what to do?  The answer is easy. I would use a smaller bit but only route the lettering areas of the sign. But I had inadvertently created a dilemma for I had already deleted the lettering vectors.

The solution was to create some new vectors than encompassed the areas I wanted to route. Then I created a number of zero height reliefs, aligned them with the bottom of the plate, and merged (highest) each of the reliefs to the larger pieces.

I then deleted the large, original reliefs. These small areas of the sign were tool pathed with a 1/16" ballnose bit. I know from experience that the letters will now be routed perfectly as the 1/16" bit fits into the letters easily. The rest will blend into the parts already routed with the larger bit.

Then the job was sent to the MultiCam. The first pass was with the 3/8" ball nose bit to rough things out and remove material in a hurry. The 1/8" ball nose bit will then go over the entire area. Lastly the 1/16" ball nose bit will route the letters and the immediate area around them. 

The end result is a perfectly scaled, smaller copy of the original sign.

Now it is on to the sculpting and a little bit of hand carving... then on to the paint department.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Paint magic

First the long gun received a coat of thick bodied Coastal Enterprises primer using a small bush. This introduced a fine texture over the entire gun. This will make The glazing and aging easier after the color coats are on. Once the primer was dry the gun received a base coat  over the entire gun. This would provide a base color for the darker woodgrain color that was the next step.

To do the woodgrain I purchased a wood graining tool. It has combs on each side and curved ridges over the surface. I mixed up a glaze using acrylic paint mixed equally with a clear base. This was brushed on and the plastic wood grain comb is then dragged through the glaze.

I had to work quickly applying the glaze as it tends to set up quickly. I worked the gun in quarters, making sure the grain lined up with the sections beside it. The curved surfaces proved to be tricky.

Then the gold and bronze colors were applied, taking care to cut the colors in neatly. Aging glazes and patinas will be the next step.

The stand now looks to be cast from solid bronze and the gun of brass & wood. Everything is far too shiny and new at this point, but once the paint has hardened up some it will be time for the last step which will age them appropriately. 

The glaze for this project was a single color applied to small sections of the gun at a time and then dabbed off with an old terry towel. The texture of the cloth left a wonderful, textured patina in the crevices and on the edges of various bits. As I worked I thought about how handling the gun would polish certain parts. Other parts, like the inside of the flared barrel would be blackened by the shots of powder. As I worked I wondered just how powerful a kick a gun like this would render. 

A brass plaque on the sloped part of the stand will be the finishing touch. It too will receive a little patina to make it match the gun.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Ready... aim...

With the router work done it was time for a little hand work to finish off the blunderbuss.  Because the display piece is within arm's reach  I had to make sure nothing would break off as it was handled. A steel armature for the Abracadabra Sculpt epoxy. I wanted to point the gun towards the window to ensure the best photographic angle for the display. This meant the flintlock mechanism would be on the left side of the gun. So we'll declare this "a left handed gun, custom crafted for the rich, great white hunter." An armature for the trigger and finger guard were also formed from 1/4" pencil rod.

The Abracadabra Sculpt was then formed over the steel rods, forming a 'bulletproof' sculpture. 

I also filleted the joints of the stand, making it appear to be one giant casting. Finally I formed a cradle making the stand appear to be custom made for this particular weapon.

Now we get down to paint...


Instant gunrack

Today was shop day, away from the worksite. We had lots to do. I had a bunch of files ready to put on the MultiCam. I also had a couple small projects to design and sneak into the schedule as well. The ladies of my crew were kept busy painting the pieces already completed.

The blunderbuss barrel and stock had already been routed a few days ago. I had glued them up with a sturdy steel rod through the gun with two equally sturdy rods protruding down. This gun will be mounted to stay put. But I wasn't at all happy with the stand I had drawn in the concept. It was my intention to fix the problem when I got the chance.

I'm no gun man so I had no clear idea just how I would design a stand for a blunderbuss. I decided I needed some reference material. I googled gun stand and as an afterthought added victorian to the search. Who knows what might come up? To my surprise there were lots of images, mostly to hold steampunk weapons. I picked one I liked and used that as a starting point. The reference stand I liked was for a revolver but that was no problem. I laid the rifle on my welding bench and used some soapstone to scribble some lines on the work surface. I also measured up the structural rods on the gun and took some notes.

While learning to use EnRoute and operate a cnc router may at times seem impossibly complicated at the beginning, the reality is once you master the basics almost anything is possible. A project like this is so very easy and quick. Best of all it was largely done while I was busy  doing other projects. I would build the entire file in EnRoute. 

I first created three boxes. The boxes were only to establish scale. The join lines were where the rods protruded from the gun. Then I drew the basic shape of the gun holder. 

Using the vector edit tool I adjusted the nodes and routed the piece where it needed it. I just eyeballed the angles.

Then I drew in two ovals, making sure they didn't cut through where the steel rods came down. 

At this point we could lose the reference boxes. I drew in a line to determine the top flange of the stand. I also drew in the curlycues. I used the jigsaw tool to create the closed vectors for the top flange and the inside of he fancy ovals.

A coule more small circles and ovals completed the vectors.

The pieces were to be routed from 1" thick 40 lb Precision Board. I keep a few sheets of the denser HDU in stock for when I need something really durable. This stand needed to be strong to withstand some manhandling on occasion. I first created a 0.6" height flat relief. I added a 0.4" relief to form the top flange as well as the big circles. Then I created zero height reliefs of the fancy circles and the small circles. These would be merged lowest to effectively create the holes I needed. Then I created a second copy and flipped it for the back side of the stand.

After the two pieces came off the MultiCam I laid the gun with the protruding rods on top of the piece, traced the rods and used the air powered die grinder to cut the slots in each side. Then I glued it up and fastened them to the base. An angle cut block was also fastened in place. It strengthens the base, providing lateral support and also provided a place for the engraved brass plaque that will tell the story.

I used Abracadabra Sculpting epoxy to hand form the bell of the blunderbuss. It looks a little bent, well worn, and bears a few scars, telling of the ferociousness of the great white hunter's prey. Now we are on to the many details before we get down to paint.