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

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Assembling all those pieces

The contractor and his team of carpenters are making great progress on the new house. Our crew has been busy assembling all the pieces we cut so they could install them on the house. Today they started building our cut and laminated pieces into the dormer walls and then hand cut rafters to form the curved roofs. I bought it might be a good idea to post it here so everyone could see how things are fitting together. 

We cut the six layers of 3/4" plywood to form the header over the window. The eyebrow facia is formed with two layers of 3/4 plywood. 

The back dormer is similar but with a much more spectacular view!

Tomorrow the balance of the framing should be done and the window assembly should be sheeted as well.

Stay tuned for more pictures as we finish,


Sunday, June 24, 2012

creating woodgrain form liners

I received an email this morning from Jim in Minnesota. While I could easily create and sell a file to him that would work I think it makes for a great tutorial and learning piece.

'Currently, we are restoring a 1941 English Country stone house for my wife Pat and me.  The garage will be Spancrete with a workshop below.  I want to pour the walls with a pattern.  I want to make form liners on my CNC machine... unless you have a better idea??

I want distressed, aged, barn siding as the look for the form liners.  Probably random V Grooved planks, so that I can make the vertical seams between form liners blend in on V-Grooves.

Can I buy this type of pattern from you?  I just don't have the Enroute experience to create some all on my own.

I have some old sheets of 1/4" acrylic that I think might make great form liners... but also looking for ideas as to another material... just in case the 1/4" is too thin or I don't have enough.  I'm an old wood guy, but your blogs speak of foam products... possibly a 3/8" or 1/2" something??'

1/4" acrylic might be a little thin to create textured panels. They would certainly be very fragile to handle as they would be 1/8" thick and possible thinner in places when you were done. The textures you ended up with would be very shallow as well and perhaps not what you are looking for.  HDU would most likely be a little too rich for this project.  If you could keep the forms dry during construction or put the liners on at the very last moment MDF might work. It would certainly be reasonable. They would only be good for one use however. Creating one pattern and then creating molds by casting might be another alternative but in my experience molding rubbers are pricey as well.

Anyway here's a tutorial of how I would tackle this project.  

I first created a rectangular vector. Mine measures 48" wide by 96" tall. If you were routing the panels from 4' x 8' stock you might want to make the file slightly oversize so the pattern went all the way to the edges.

I then created a flat relief that was 0.25" (1/4") thick.

I imported the bitmap from my TEXTURE MAGIC collection. This bitmap was created by modifying and tweaking a photograph of a laminated and sandblasted redwood panel. The bitmap file is 12" x 8.5" at 300 DPI which allows it to be enlarged many times to get a good routing file of woodgrain. EnRoute opens the file to the width of the bounding box by default.

I then stretched it vertically to cover my 4' x 8' panel.

I then selected both the relief and bitmap which allows me to open the apply textures tab. I selected the ADD TO function and then put in a value of 0.2" This means that the white areas of the bitmap will rise 0.2"  The black will do nothing and the greys will do something in-between depending on their color value.

When I hit apply the program generates the texture automatically. This is a pretty good sized file and it may take a while depending on the age and speed of your computer.

To create the V-grooves I created four narrow (0.3" wide) rectangle vectors and positioned them on top of the joints in the board patterns,

Then I used the V-goove tool to carve then into the relief by subtracting them from the base relief. This keeps the woodgrain pattern in the grooves.

In the front view you can see the grooves more clearly.

I would tool path the file using a 1/8" ball nose bit with a 75 - 80 % overlap. You could use a larger bit but you would loose some detail in the process.Being this large it certainly wouldn't be a quick file to run, most likely in the 12 - 16 hour range on my MultiCam which I have tuned to run pretty quick on this kind of file. Turning out enough panels to create molds for an entire workshop would keep the machine busy for quite some time. The good news is that you could be elsewhere doing something else in that time.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Cut, cut, cut

It isn't often in our shop that we use our router as a jigsaw or cut plywood rather than Precision Board, but when we do it churns out a mountain of parts in a hurry. Today we were cutting curved headers, eyebrows and beams. We whipped through a pallet of 3/4 plywood in no time. Now comes the arduous task of putting the many pieces together! The router room is in desperate need of cleaning too when we get a spare minute.

After a day of building cut files I'm eager to do some 3D work once more!


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dimensional contractor signs

Six dimensional signs are now up in front of the new house. These signs proudly advertise our contractor's and supplier's involvement in our house project. Typical flat coroplast signs simply aren't allowed.and more signs are being made all the time. The sign that went up today was for the great folks that are doing the spray foam in the ceiling. I posted a how to a few days ago.

Our electrician asked for a sign yesterday. As with most of the signs we have made, he had an existing logo to work with. We will translate this flat design into a three dimensional sign. This one will be a fun one!

I first recreated the vectors in Illustrator and then imported them into EnRoute. The electrical cords would be created in EnRoute with the ends of the cords being hand sculpted and coming away from the sign.

I first manipulated the cord vetoers to give them the right curves.

Using the offset tool I created a second parallel line.

The parallel lines were then joined. The rectangular relief was created first.

I added a texture to the whole surface using a bitmap called splotches from the TEXTURE MAGIC collection.

The letter outlines ampersand were created as separate flat reliefs of different heights. I then nudged them into position vertically in the front view and merged highest with the background relief. The electrical cords were created as separate reliefs using the dome tool.

Once the separate reliefs were merged with the background I modified the relief by adding the domed letters.

Lastly I created the bottom lettering as separate reliefs, nudged them into place vertically and then merged them highest with the background relief. 

The sign was ready for tool pathing and then to be sent to the MultiCam. It like all the others will be routed from 30 lb Precision Board. This one is a little different however as I will have the armature for the electrical cord welded back into the sign support structure. It is going to be fun! 

Stay tuned to see how it comes together...

-grampa dan

Monday, June 18, 2012

Easy to do - just as easy to fix

One of the great things about using a program like EnRoute with a CNC router is how fast we can produce something and then modify it if necessary. Changes are simple and quick. Today I designed the first sample eyebrow for over the house windows. Thee process was relatively easy. Routing was a simple offset cut using a 3/8" cutter.

I started with a window file I had created some weeks ago when we were creating the window bucks or forms. I used a rectangle as a point of reference to get the curves right. The first step was to create a segmented vector line that would become the curve of the facia board.

I used the point editing tool to curve the vectors to the shape I wanted. I would create one half of the eyebrow and then duplicate and flip it to make the other side.

The offset tool created a second line eight inches from the first. I then joined the ends to complete one half of the facia board.

The facia board half was then duplicated, flipped and aligned.

The two halves of the facia were then joined making them ready for the next step.

I created a new rectangle that was ninety-five inches wide. I positioned it over the facia board and then used the jigsaw tool to cut the facia in pieces so it could be routed from a 4'x8' sheet of 3/4" plywood.

I created enough pieces for two layers with staggered joints so they could be laminated together to form a strong facia board.

It took almost as long to warm up the MultiCam as it did to cut all the pieces. As always everything fir perfectly.

I could hardly wait to see how they looked up on the roof. We fastened them into position to see how it looked.

After some discussion it was decided that the eyebrows needed to be a little wider with a slightly shallower curve. It was back to the drawing board with EnRoute. It was a simple matter to recreate the vector curve and then stretch it out as needed. I went through the same steps to create a new routing file.

Tomorrow I'll route the new version of the eyebrow facia and fasten it into place, confident we get it right this time. Practice makes perfect and a router makes it EASY!


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lift day

As part of the beam project I thought folks might find the lifting process interesting - its an important and critical part of the process. Including this part will help readers se just how everything fits together.

We hauled the pieces from the shop at the back of the property to the front on our flat deck trailer. It took many hands to lift them on and off for they were heavy! When the crane truck arrived the real fun began.

One of the beam/trusses was for the back patio. It looks very high from the ground (where I took this shot but I still have to add five feet of gravel fill to this part of the project. With the old house in the way access is limited.

The front section of the house instantly looks much better with the beam/truss in place. The welded steel tree root structure is visible on the lower right side of the picture. We'll be adding a similarly sized tree to the left side as well.

The house as a whole is shaping up nicely with the rest of the roof coming together. In the next days I'll be designing and routing the eyebrows for over the windows.

And finally here's a shot from inside the house to the patio outside. We can see a peek of the truss at the top of the window. We wanted to keep the roof high enough to not block the view to the mountains. the posts here will also be sculpted into knarly trees as well.

The fun and creative work is really just starting on this project. Stay tuned to watch...


Concept to reality - part two

The beam project was far from finished. While we had a great cake, it desperately needed to be iced and decorated before it was done. We like to do as much work as we can while our projects are still on the ground and handy. Once something like the beam is lifted into position things get a LOT harder and take a lot longer!

Once the welding was done it was time to box things out with some treated plywood. We would staple our expanded lath to the plywood and then trowel on and carve the fiberglass reinforced concrete before painting. This work would be done up on the scaffold. Before the mesh went on we had to decide just how the trim and details would work into the picture. These pieces would be designed in EnRoute and then routed from 30 lb Precision Board on our MultiCam. The cement will go around these pieces.

A quick scribble was the first step - just to make sure Janis & I were in agreement on the rough concept. No problem there. The owl was an idea I threw in for the end of the beams. It was decided things were busy enough without adding another element to the mix.

Once the idea was solidified it was time to begin sketching on the actual piece to determine sizes and locations for the fancy routed trim. These too were quick and dirty, reflecting lots of thinking and discussion, weighing every creative possibility.

I took a few measurements and notes from our drawings on the piece and then went to my computer to work things out and work up a routing file. The vectors were simple. The beam blocks were square, tipped to diamond shape with a heart in the middle/ A flat relief with a square depression in the middle was the basic relief. It would be routed from 1" thick 30 lb Precision Board.

The heart was added to the diamond relief using the dome tool and the constant height command. This makes it a little flatter than the usual tool.

I wanted the outside border to have a raised woodgrain and the sandblasted wood from the TEXTURE MAGIC collection was just the ticket. I imported the bitmap and the resized it until the diamond fit into the section I liked best for this project. You can see just how big I made the bitmap file in relation to the panel we were creating.

 I added another vector rectangle around the ones we were using to build our file. This meant we could add texture to the outside border rather than just the middle square. The new outside rectangle reverses the selection to make it a container rather than a hole.

As quick as that this simple file was done.

I duplicated the files six times to create al we needed at once. Three of them were flipped to add variety.

And here's he file right off the router. A little bit of handwork will finish things off in a jiffy.

Stay tuned to see how it will all fit together...