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

Monday, October 31, 2011

I've seen the future!

Today I am in transit to Orlando for the Sign Magic Workshop to begin in a couple of days. I flew via Dallas and had a four hour layover there. Normally I don't care much for layovers but this one was special. MultiCam's head office and manufacturing facilities are located within a stone's throw and John Harris, kindly offered me a tour. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.

I knew the MultiCam facility was big, 100,000 square feet under one roof and another 40,000 square feet close by. That is a big space! We toured the office portion and then went through a door into the manufacturing portion. Cavernous best describes the space.

We walked up and down each long, long isle, poking in to each department. Our walk started in the massive, bulk steel department, through cutting, welding, finishing, painting, electrical, assembly and packing. It was truly impressive seeing machines in all stages of completion. Everything, every machine was oversize - make that huge. The CNC's were of every size shape and configuration. Along the sides of the large space were (relatively) smaller areas lines with racks of pieces, ready for when they were needed. Everything was in it's place, neat and organized. 

As we came to the end of our tour we came to a machine that was nearing it's final stages of assembly. I knew immediately whose machine this was for it was the only one like it I saw on the tour. This machine had my name on it. It was a 3000 series router, with a raised and extended gantry. The fourth axis bed was to the left side, pieces of the workings ready to be bolted together. The electronics were largely in place. It reminded me of the first time I saw one a MultiCam at a trade show six years ago.  I sat in front of the machine and watched it work but was really not seeing what it was doing. Instead I imagined what I might be able to make it do. Today, as I stood in front of the dream machine, I again had visions of it working in my shop. Higher gantry clearance and a fourth axis will give me unimagined capabilities. 

It is going to be fun! A large order of Precision BOard is also on the way, including some large blocks glued up especially for the fourth axis. The folks at EnRoute are working on ways we will employ this new technology. And as I start back from this trip in fourteen days the new MultiCam will also be in transit as well. The future is closer than ever!


Saturday, October 29, 2011

One major stage done

The Fox & Hounds project has reached milestone as of today. Late this afternoon we mixed, troweled and carved the last of the concrete we will do onsite (at least on this phase of the project) . The last section was the back wall of the small stage.

To celebrate this milestone we are going to do a tour of the project. Each day I walk through the pub it makes me smile. The outside of the pub is the first thing we see as we drive up. t\The brick and wood work gives the first clue as to what is inside.

Inside the entry the 'woodwork' is like none you have ever seen. It is all sculpted concrete of course. The plaster areas have all been painted since this photo was taken but the hallways is so full of stuff I haven't been able to take a picture since then.

Looking back towards the door is the entrance to the new restaurant. On the left side a brand new kitchen and food service area are now in use.

The restaurant is finished and awaiting the new furniture which arrives in the coming week. I can hardly wait to see how guests react the first time they set foot in this unique space.

As we venture towards the pub a 3D Fox and Hounds Pub logo greets us.  On the corner of every door and window casing is a dimensional logo of a fox head. Small animals and birds perch up in the trees. A number of foxes hide from the hounds.

As we press on we see the new bar on the right. Dark rich woodwork and sculpted features are the order of the day.

A twisted grapevine wraps the brick arch that serves as the entrance to the pub. We still have to do the final paint from this point on in most sections.

 Once through the arch we twist back to see the other side of the arch.

Inside the pub the old fireplace has been refaced to suit the new character of the pub. The family crest is the centerpiece of the display. Overhead a London rooftop dominates the scene.

The large primary TV stand also got the treatment. A Union Jack is chiseled into the brickwork on the bottom.

 There is much to come of course. I'm keeping the MultiCam busy and still building some of the signs that will hang in the facility. We have lots of paint to apply and plenty more details to yet add. But the onsite concrete work is now finished. The finishing stage is now underway at last!


Friday, October 28, 2011

Priming our pieces

We prime almost all of our routed and sculpted work for a number of reasons. The first is to introduce subtle texture. We use FSC-88 WB. The WB stands for water based. It is a Coastal Enterprises product. FSC-88 WB is a sandable, thick bodied primer. We generally brush it on our projects with a small brush, most often a 1" fitch and purposely leave our random brush strokes behind as we work. We do not sand them out later. The brush strokes along with all the other texture we purposely create in the manufacture of our projects makes everything look hand made - even if we used our CNC router to do the bulk of the work.

The primer also evens out the surface texture of different substrates. We often use sculpting epoxy to create elements of our projects and mount them to other parts made from 30 lb Precision Board. The heavy weight HDU is not nearly as porous as the lighter weights most shops use but it is different in texture than the sculpted epoxy. The heavy bodied primer takes care of that in only one coat.

The brilliant white primer also makes the subsequent applications of paint easier to apply and the colors appear more intense with less coats of paint. Making our projects unique is a series of little steps that add up. 


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fancy sculpting tools

The high tech and fancy tools like EnRoute software and a CNC router are very nice. I simply couldn't manage without them for they allow me to do some pretty cool projects. But I love my other simpler tools too and often we can do marvelous things with a very basic approach.

For the wood grain on the barrel I used the simplest tool imaginable. I squeezed the sculpting epoxy on with my fingers, whetted it down with water and then broke out one of my favorite less technical tools - a stir stick from the paint store. Sometimes I use a razor knife to trim the end a little or shape or sharpen it. This time I used it stock without any adjustments.

The key to using it properly was the angle of attack. For the joints between the staves I sculpted with the stick held up at 45 degrees to the surface. For the woodgrain it was held flatter and dragged along to form ridges. I created the ridges so they threw a shadow and in the process became more prominent - especially in directed  or controlled light.

I've been sculpting two boards per session in order to not muck things up. Once the epoxy hardens I'll do the next sections.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Roll out the barrel - part two

I routed the barrel pieces from Precision Board on the MultiCam. Since I would be sculpting all the detail by hand I used a large (3/8") ball nose bit with a relatively low overlap (60%) . I blew the dust off each side and then hollowed out a slot for a welded steel frame with welded eye bolts. Then I used PB BOND 240 one part glue to join the pieces together. I screwed and clamped the pieces to make sure everything stayed put permanently.

After the glue was dry I hung the sign and evened out the glue joints with the die grinder. Then I pressed on a thin coat of Abracadabra Sculpting epoxy onto the ends and sculpted in the boards for the top and bottom of the barrel. It only took a few minutes. I had considered figuring out a way to deconstruct the barrel and build the files for each board in EnRoute before routing them and then reassembling them physically but decided this would be quicker. When the new four axis MultiCam arrives I would do it all on the router in an instant.

When the two sculpted ends were set up it was time to begin the individual barrel staves. I will be doing them as I find the time in the next while. On the first go I managed two staves

I'll be showing more pictures as we progress. Stay tuned


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Roll out the barrel!

For the upper area of the pub (London roofline) we needed a barrel of spirits. It would be addressed to the Fox & Hounds and act as a sign, suspended by some ropes strung through some old wooden pulleys.  It would measure about 24" long and be flattened out some to become oval shaped.

The barrel file for the MultiCam was easy to create in EnRoute. Vectors of a simple arc and vertical line was the first order of business. Then I used the revolve contours command to create a mesh object.

 This mesh object was then positioned on a zero height relief and merged together with it.

I then deleted the mesh and resized the relief vertically to be 6" tall in he front view. This would give me the oval shaped barrel I wanted (when looked at the end view).

Once I had everything sized I used the slice command to slice the barrel into four 1.5" thick slices. 

 Then I positioned the slices to make one routing file. I would duplicate these pieces to create two halves of a barrel.

In the next installment I'll show how things glued up and we started in on creating the barrel staves. Stay tuned...


Still room for more!

The Sign Magic Workshop in Florida is quickly approaching. I talked with the organizers this morning and preparations are well underway there. 

At the workshop we'll be covering a broad range of topics including design, building of 3 files,  pricing, marketing and a whole lot more. There will also be lots of opportunity to get your hands dirty as we demonstrate and then work on our painting techniques. Plus each student will get the opportunity to try their hand at sculpting a three dimensional project of their own. Bring an open mind for i will be three days of non-stop learning!

For anyone who is thinking about still coming, you are in luck for there is still some room available.

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


Sunday, October 23, 2011


Last week I posted a couple of segments about a horse sculpture/plaque we were doing for the Fox & Hounds Pub. I designed and routed a background with a ribbon and barrel head from Precision Board and then began the sculpt of a horse head. It was looking pretty cool but as I sculpted the horse's head it became clear in a hurry that the barrel was a little small. The owner of the pub read my post here and asked me to bring the piece in the next day so she could see it in person. I suggested routing an oval border to go behind the barrel end. But Debbie instead wanted both the ribbon and barrel to be larger. She suggested we could salvage the ribbon or barrel for another project. I decided to have a little fun with her request. I told her there was only one thing we could do and proceeded to smash it to the ground. It took three carefully placed hits and the ribbon and barrel were shattered in pieces on the floor. (The horse's head was intact and undamaged) I loved the look of shock on Debbie's face. We had a good laugh and I promised to redo the background. It was all in fun.

Back in my studio I designed a larger ribbon and enlarged the barrel lid appropriately. It was a simple matter in EnRoute. Then I threw another piece of 30 lb,  1.5"  thick Precision Board on the MultiCam and set things in motion once more. Once the pieces were off the router It was a simple matter to glue the barrel head to the background layer and then the horse's head to the new assembly. Then it was time to finish the sculpting process.

My grand daughter Phoebe decided to help me out by showing me what a horse really looked like...

We had decided the horse needed a little more detail to make him interesting. His lower lip needed to have a little more pout. And a bridle was also something we would add. I bought a couple of steel rings with eye bolts which I screwed into the corners of the horse's mouth. They would be plenty strong to handle the abuse they would have to endure.

With the sculpt complete is is now off to the paint department for the final finished and glazes. Big Ben is almost ready for his public debut.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Piece by piece

Each day more and more pieces of the Fox and Hounds Pub are put in place and crossed off our to-do list. It feels good! The work we are doing on the outside of the pub is now done with the exception of the signs being made in our shop. It is looking pretty welcoming.

Inside the pub the hording walls and tarps are largely down. You can see from one end to the other at long last. Onside we continue our sculpting and painting. Each completed element adds to the whole. It will be an unbelievable place when we are done, chock full of magic! The bar opened to patrons and staff today to great reviews. 

The routed work that has been completed and stored in our shop is now being brought, piece by piece to the job site as each area is readied. Not so amazingly, they fit like they were made for their permanent home. Suddenly it is coming together!

Stay tuned for more pics as it comes together in the coming weeks...


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Beer flows tomorrow

With the new bar of the Fox & Hounds Pub opening tomorrow it was a busy place today. With plumbers, electricians, carpenters, the beer dispenser guy and a tile setter busy around us I camped on top of the bar and began sculpting the grape vine from the top down. The beer tap stand was a top priority. It came together by just after lunch and looked pretty cool, complete with an owl hiding from the fox in the hollow end of the snag. 

Tomorrow we'll continue work on the grape vine and begin to hang bits of the eye candy, the dimensional, routed signs at long last. Stay tuned for pics tomorrow...


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Growing tall

The knarly grape vines that wind around the brick arch by the pub bar is now coated out in sculpting epoxy. It is just the rough coat but the vine is looking pretty cool. Tomorrow we begin the final, detailed coat.

On the bar the beer tap stand is now bulked out. It too will be a knarly tree, complete with a hidden owl in the hollow end.

Stay tuned for updates tomorrow...