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, November 28, 2011

A few more pictures

The electrician is coming to power up the new router tomorrow at last. Wednesday morning, early, I am off to Atlantic City for the presentation of my seminars there. All this means I won't be doing any routing this week. Hopefully by early next week we will have finished setting up the mew machine and then we'll get to routing once more. The work is certainly stacking up for the new router!

But in the meantime we are keeping very busy! We continue to work on the painting at the Fox & Hounds pub with only the ceiling to go now. The electrician and contractor are doing their best to stay ahead of us. My friend Donna stopped by on Friday with her hot rod camera to take a few pictures. She captured a few areas I had not yet got good pictures of. One of those areas was of the rusty steel bathroom dividers we created some time ago. Notice the crowns on top of the posts.

Donna aslo got a great shot of the pub fireplace area. Unfortunately there is still one sign missing...  almost done in the studio!

She caught me as I was sculpting the vine around the brick arch entrance to the pub. I finished the sculpt on Friday and Bec did the painting today, finishing off this area. I'll post more pictures soon.

In the shop there are lots of signs in progress. All are down to the paint stage and I will get more work done in the next couple of days.

Stay tuned for more pictures soon...


Saturday, November 26, 2011

USSC Seminars

Wednesday morning I jump on  plane and head out to Atlantic City for the United States Sign Council  International Conference and trade show. I was invited last year to give three presentations. I must have had decent reviews for I was invited back this year to present three more seminars.

This year I decided to address three statements I often hear that irk me. The three statements are...  'I could never designs signs like that.' 'I could never build signs like that.' and the final being 'I could never sell signs like that in my town.' In my talks I hope to show just how I have managed to do these three things. I want to peel back the mystery of just how it is done. 

The design talk will show how I find my unique ideas, how I puts the designs together from the first basic scribble through to the finished concepts, and how I has developed proven techniques for not only clever designs, but also how to present and sell these ideas to a prospective customer.

The marketing presentation will deal with how we get the word out about the unique product we create. I'll deal with how to pick a business name, develop an image, design and build a storefront, why to fill the store with samples, how we do our web marketing and how to build a name and reputation of doing work that grabs attention for our customers.

It is one thing to dream up a three-dimensional sign like the ones we are known for, but quite another to actually build them. In the last presentation I will show what is behind and underneath the three dimensional skin of our projects using step-by-step pictures as well as detailed descriptions of how a series of various sized projects came together - from the inside out.

I'm looking forward to the sessions and meeting with many of my friends from the east coast. If you are going to be at the USSC conference I hope to meet you there too! Look for me at the Seminars or around the MultiCam or EnRoute booths.


Friday, November 25, 2011

here and there.

As the final painting is done we jump from project to project finishing various bits as the contractor and electrician signs off on each area. The progress continues to be a bit haphazard but definite progress is made on a daily basis.

Today I painted the lettering on the beam in the kitchen. Before the restaurant opened I jumped up on the counter and did the work while the cooks were busy behind me. By the time the lettering was done I was starting to get more than a little hungry after enjoying the aromas of the wonderful things being cooked behind me.

Across the hall way the owners and their staff were busy arranging the furniture in the new dining room. Although now done it will remain closed to the public until a final occupancy permit is granted - a formality at this point.

Many of the current guests, who have not frequented the pub since renovations were begun are now coming back once more. They are amazed at the imaginative work that has been done. It is heart warming to hear the many favorable comments from the patrons. 

We also finished sculpting the grape vine that winds around the brick archway onto the pub. I'll be posting pictures of he finished project very soon. Stay tuned...


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Christmas came early!

It was with great anticipation and delight I directed the big semi up our long driveway to where we would unload the new MultiCam. While I chased down and printed out the necessary papers to send off the old router the driver unchained and untarped the load. The machine was shrink wrapped in white plastic as I knew it would be. I quickly checked for physical damage and then signaled the unload to begin.

The rotary attachment was the first to come off the truck. It was squeezed into the router room doorway - a test for the big piece to come.

Next off was the HEAVY DUTY ROUTER. Weighing in at 4,000 plus pounds we were a bit worried the heavy rains of the last few days would give us trouble in the gravel drive. Our fears proved unfounded. The machine barely squeezed through the narrow drive up the back however, with mere inches to spare on each side. We slid one end into the doorway and then using floor jacks on one end and the forklift on the other we snaked it into the workshop. 

The new vacuum was the last piece to go in. Everything fit perfectly. The gantry still needs to be put into place and everything has to be bolted together and dialed in. Now we wait for the tech to come set it up for us.

The old machine was then loaded on the truck, chained into place and tarped securely for the drive back to Texas. I only missed it for a minute as I admired the shiny new replacement.

Now, the new adventure begins. Stay tuned...


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eye candy at last!

As we finish painting the sections of walls, one by one, we get to start hanging the eye candy that has been in progress in the studio since the beginning of the project. It is with great delight I work with the owners to hang each piece perfectly. New furniture is arranged, lighting aimed and adjusted, and sight lines checked. Then we tentatively hang the piece, look it over, adjust as necessary before we step back to admire, often with a chuckle. The story is coming together quickly.

This is getting more fun every day!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Safety first

I used hemp rope through an antique pulley to hang the barrel sign. I frayed and knotted the rope appropriately. While the sign was plenty secure I decided it needed a little more - just to be on the safe side. The eye bolt on the barrel was welded to a steel frame imbedded into the sign. It would go nowhere. I bought some braided steel cable with matching hardware to act as a safety. I threaded it along the rope, through the pulley and looped it over the beam before fastening it back to itself. It looked pretty good but the wire was bright silver and needed toning down to disappear. I used a small brush to dab a little dark brown paint on it. That did the trick with little effort. In the dim light it is all but is invisible.

The lighting is right for the mood we are creating but lousy for taking picutres. I used additional light to snap these.

Stay tuned for more around the pub soon...


Trying a new paint

We are always on the lookout for new materials and new ways of doing things. We discovered the Modern Masters metallic paints a while ago and use them a lot in our work with good success. Recently I was on their website and discovered they also offer a line of theme paints. These paints are rich and pure in color and promise to be light fast for many years. As I perused their gallery of projects I saw many I had admired for years. Some very reputable companies use the paint with good success. I decided to give them a try.

A selection of colors arrived to my studio while I was in Florida. I found them just inside my studio door and I couldn't wait to give them a try. The barrel for the pub project would be the perfect project. The acrylic paint colors were rich and creamy, no noticeable odor when I opened it. This was no ordinary paint. 

I mixed up a light tan and put a base coat on the barrel. It covered well in one coat. I did two to make sure of longevity. Once dry it was time for some glazing. Where normally I mix the gazes 50/50, with the scenic colors it only took a tablespoon of brown to create the consistency of glaze I needed. It brushed on smooth and wiped off cleanly to reveal the texture beautifully. I then used some of the Modern Masters metallic silver to paint the barrel hoops. I allowed this to dry and then mixed up and applied one last glaze over the entire barrel. 

As it dried I prepared a transparency of the lettering. I projected it onto the side of the barrel and used some Modern Masters white scenic paint to brush on the lettering. I was looking for an aged look so I simply dry brushed on one quick coat. It looked beautiful in an instant - just the effect I was looking for.

The paint has passed the first test (of many). I liked how it goes on with a brush. It covers well and seems to go a long ways. It makes great glazes that work well. Stay tuned for further results...


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Moving day

Moving day is always exciting. Today was just such a day.

Our new four axis MultiCam 3000 router is now in transit to our shop. It was time at last to disconnect the old machine and move it out of the way. It will be loaded on the truck as soon as we unload the new one. It is going back to MultiCam in Texas and eventually on to a new home. The old router has served me well for better than six years. With it we have created all manner of wonderful projects. It has run with virtually no problems. Our local tech center has done periodical maintenance, and tweaked the machine from time to time to keep it running smoothly. The old machine still works well and should run for someone else for many years yet.

It was with a tinge of sadness we emptied the room in readiness for the new machine.

My good neighbor Gord brought over his trusty forklift to slide the old mahine out of the router room and then bring it around to the main shop. I finish readying it for shipment there.

The new MultiCam is also a 3000 series 4' x 8' router equipped almost identically to the old one. There are two important changes. This spindle is water cooled this time so we can confidently run our long duration files without fear of overloading our air compressor. And along side the new machine will be the large fourth axis. An extended gantry allows the spindle to slide over to it.

The new machine is loaded on a flatbed truck and is somewhere between Texas and our shop as I type. Monday, or Tuesday at the latest it will be unloaded and carefully placed in it's new home. I can hardly wait! Stay tuned for progress reports...


Thursday, November 17, 2011

One more piece of the story.

The barrel received the last of the sculpting epoxy today. I formed the woodgrain on each stave and added the faux metal bands to 'hold' it together. It is now ready for the painting and aging process.

I'll be posting more shots in a day or two of the progress. Stay tuned...


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Playing musical chairs

The pub project is at a most challenging stage. So much is happening at once it seems. We are forced to constantly jump from area to area in order to stay out of other's way. As the carpenters put up trim we go behind them adding final texture to the wall panels, then painting and glazing. Below us the carpet layers are doing the floor. Above us the electrician is removing old lighting fixtures and fans and putting in pot lights. Around us the customers are enjoying all the action, business as usual.

The Pub's new entry is now open. Tables are temporarily set up here. No final glazes are being done here quite yet.

In the pub fireplace area we are busy with the final finishes, until the carpet layers force us to move on. The pressure is on to finish things before the built in seating arrives later this week. There is still a little woodwork to come as well forcing us to wait a little while longer before the final glazes go on. In the main pub ceiling the electrician still needs to remove old lighting fixtures and fans and also install some new pot lights before we can do final painting there.

In the stage area the brickwork is now finished and painted. As fast as the woodwork is done we follow behind with texturing, paint and glazing. Things are almost done here.

The brickwork and concrete beam is also painted and glazed near the patio windows.  The last of the woodwork was done there today. I was close behind with the texturing of the plaster. The painting will start in this area tomorrow.

Big Ben is now in his final place. The wall behind got the texture treatment today as well. This section of wall is now ready for paint.

Progress is rapid now although it isn't in any one area. Because we have to jump around so much it is a little here, a little there all over the work site. But each day a bit more gets crossed off the to do list.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Holiday is OVER!

On the way home from the airport I stopped in at the Fox & Hounds Pub to see how things were progressing. The ladies made good progress. The carpet goes in starting tomorrow morning.  We'll be back in the morning to kick things into high gear!

Once home it was time to start things back up in the shop. The main sign for over the outside doorway is now carved and ready for the final sculpting and paint. It will come along quickly now, ready for installation next week.

After two weeks of being away from the shop I was ready to do a little painting. I laid on the base coats, readying the horse sign for final glazes tomorrow. He's looking really good! By tomorrow night he will be ready to hang in the pub.

In the next week we'll work a bunch of overtime to finish the bulk of the project. It will come together in a hurry now and I can hardly wait to see it all in place!

Stay tuned...


Inspiration adventure

Yesterday we stopped in at Universal's Islands of Adventure. We wanted to check out the new Harry Potter section of the park.  We were not disappointed as it instantly transported us from the everyday world to Hogwarts and beyond. But in that section of the park there was little dimensional or routed signs. I hd hoped for more.

Once we had checked out Harry Potter I headed back out to my favorite and most imaginative part of the park - the entry portal. The signs and buildings there captured my imagination and fueled my head with new ideas and ways of doing things.

There was no way to know who had designed and fabricated the signs but I sure did admire them. Many parts looked to be routed. The signs used a variety of materials and methods and it was fun to try and figure it all out. You can bet I was taking notes!

Now I sit in the airport, exhausted but ready to go home once more!


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gathering inspiration

One of the things I like to do as I travel is to look at things I see and imagine how I might make similar items using EnRoute software, Precision Board and my MultiCam router. The disney parks are chock full of simply amazing work. We we wait in the lines or walk around my mind is always racing...

The first example is a relatively simple file to create for the most part. The hardest part is the triceratops but with a little thought it is entirely possible to create this file using EnRoute alone. The rest is relatively easy.

In Epcot I found this emblem on many of the garbage cans. It was most likely cast but the original could easily have been routed. This would be a great piece to practice with if you were beginning in 3D file building.

The hanging cuckoo clock sign was found at the Germany showcase. The file to create this would be a little more complex but still a TON of fun!  I may just have to do one of these for my studio. The steel bracket would also be a lot of fun to be d up and weld.

In the few day we have toured the Disney parks here in Florida I have gathered hundreds of photos and sketches of some pretty cool ideas. My brain is overflowing once more with creative ideas and I'm starting to get itchy to start work. Tomorrow we go back to the Magic Kingdom... then a couple of days off before we visit a new park... Harry Potter's land at Universal Studios. Just imagine the wonderful things...


Monday, November 7, 2011

Creative intake

We've extended our time here in central Florida to become a working vacation as we often do when we are down this way or anywhere far from home on business. While some like to lay on the beach or some other fun activity we like to do theme parks. As it relates so close to what we do for a living we even call it work and our accountant agrees. It is a time for creative input, and to see how 'the other guy' does it so very well. Down here the quality is high and the attention to detail nothing short of amazing! It is a great chance to learn from some of the very best in the industry. I also catch up on my reading while I relax. I'm well into my third book.

The first couple of days are time to decompress. Often we don't realize how hard we have been working until we stop. But it isn't long until I get itchy to get moving and as time goes on and as we go from park to park so I can soak up everything possible. I fill up the image banks in my head. Inspiration is everywhere. Pretty soon the sketchbook I always carry is vital to scribble down new ideas. Creative problems of my own unfinished projects are suddenly easily solved. In quiet moments I find solutions and ideas pop into my head. I scribble them down into my sketchbook.

My camera, always carried in a small pouch on my belt, is always out and catching images of everything I see. The images I grab are creative fodder for future projects.

For me, this is relaxation and input at it's very best.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Still having even more fun!

The Orlando workshop group is still having lots of fun learning lots about creating dimensional files in EnRoute, sculpting 3D additions to their signs, learning hands-on painting and glazing techniques and plenty more.

Gotta go do more. Stay tuned...


Thursday, November 3, 2011


We are now through our first day of the Orlando Sign Magic Workshop. While the class size may be small, the enthusiasm for learning is high. Each student is getting plenty of one on one time and getting all their questions answered. EJ Nordurft, the product rep from EnRoute is aptly handling the technical side of the lessons while I handle the artistic side. We've covered lots of EnRoute territory and also done some hands-on parts of the workshops. The entire group is experienced in EnRoute and eager to learn more. It is going well!

Tomorrow I'll be gathering more pictures of the projects as we proceed. Stay tuned...


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ready in Florida!

We won't be having a large group in Orlando for the Sign Magic Workshop this time around. The economy is still recovering here, a few have had to cancel but we have a small, eager group interested in learning all they can to create imaginative, dimensional signs in the future. The material we cover will be the same as always with even more one on one time for our students. It promises to be another great workshop!

The tables and chairs are set up. The supplies are all laid out. Everything is tested and ready to go.

We are ready for learning!