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, May 29, 2013

25 dimensional signs in a hurry!

The MultiCam has been kept running plenty of hours as the fronts and backs (and middles too) of the hole markers and rules signs have been cut.  The files were very large with all of the woodgrain detail and were cut overnight while I slept.

While the rule signs were being cut I laminated the hole markers. Each had a piece of 3/4" plywood laminated into the center to ad strength and also provide a secure attachment for the screws.

The next task is to laminate the fronts and backs of the rule signs. They too will have 3/4" plywood glued into the center. 

The next task is to use the die grinder to add woodgrain detail to the edges. Even with 30 lb Precision Board this job goes quickly. And then it is off to paint. Stay tuned for that process.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Hole number markers

May has been one of my most frantic months I can remember in some years. At long last I seem to be getting my feet under me once more. After a week of having no time to build files I have at last got back to my desk once more.

The WhistlePunk Adventure Golf signs are the next thing to be done. It is not often we do batch work where multiples of similar signs need doing but a project like the golf needs just that. EnRoute and our MultiCam are good at that sort of thing. With a reliable machine I set the machine in motion and then only check it once in a while to make sure things are going as they should. Best of all the files are large which means once I made the files the router will churn away for many hours. I'll then throw on another sheet of Precision Board and hit the go button one more time.

The hole markers were today's first task. The signs I am routing today are the fronts and backs. The middle layer which has a hole in the center for the plywood for mounting.

The signs are woodgrain with raised lettering.

As always it started with the vectors. I used my own font called 'quickdraw'. For those interested it is available at letterheadfonts.com

I created three different wood backgrounds. I then duplicated, rotated and flipped these backgrounds until I had 17 different plates to start with. I then duplicated and flipped them one more time to create the backs of the signs. I then spaced them out on my board and centered the numbers on the reliefs.


 I created the number outlines as flat reliefs. These reliefs were then positioned vertically to clear the woodgrain backgrounds.

The number outlines were then merged highest with the base relief. This had to be done one relief at a time as it can't yet be batched in EnRoute.

Lastly the numbers were added to the reliefs using the dome tool They have an upright edge (base) of 0.15".

Then it was time to send the file to the MultiCam to be routed from 30 lb Precision Board. The file will be routed using two passes. The rough pass was with a 3/8" ball nose bit at a 50% overlap. The final pass was using a 1/8" ball nose bit with an 80% overlap. Here's a pic of the rough pass in progress.

Tomorrow I'll be gluing all these signs up and setting the next batch in progress. Stay tuned...


Friday, May 17, 2013

Woodgrain bitmaps in the works

I often get asked if photographs will work to create textures. The answer is yes but the routed results will often be something quite different than you might imagine or expected and often not at all what you want.

EnRoute translates the values of the photographs into height coordinates. Black does nothing, white is raised by the value of the measurement entered. Gray does something in-between.

Today I spent a good part of my day on a beach on Vancouver Island photographing driftwood. I took more than 400 pictures of all kinds of wood. I will carefully go through the pictures, editing and tweaking them extensively to create a new series of woodgrain bitmaps. Each of these will be imported into EnRoute to create a routing file and then tested on the router to see how effective they are. The best of these will make it to the new texture DVD now in the works. I'll also be creating a special second pass bitmap for many of these files to really make the woodgrains jump to true 3D. I'm looking forward to the task and can hardly wait for the results!

As a sneak peek here's a few of the photos before the tweaking and adjusting gets serious....

Stay tuned for the results...

-grampa dan

Thursday, May 16, 2013

More textures

This past year has been one of the busiest in my entire career. That is saying a lot! We've been busy with the construction of our new house (which has seemed all consuming at times) as well as a large project in the shop plus our regular work. Add in the recent workshops, plus the traveling to put on other workshops and attend trade shows and it has added up to being very busy.

The house is now almost finished on the inside. I have a few more files to run and we have a bit more painting and ceramic tile flooring to lay, but the bulk of the work is now done ay last. The large WhistlePunk Hollow Adventure Golf Project is about four weeks to completion. A few other deadlines are still pressing as well, but for the first time in well over a year I am starting to think about what is beyond that.

While I have no doubt there will be steady work I am also starting to think once more about the many projects that have simmered on the back burner for a long time. There are four e-books in various stages of completion. At least one of these books will focus on our CNC routing projects. I have a good sized list of sample projects in the design stage as well. Those of course will be covered here in the blog in coming months.

One other project I have begun work on is a second DVD of routing bitmap textures. Some are done and tested. Others are in the process of being created. This week Janis and I snuck away for a few days of rest and relaxation. When I have time to do a little sketching I am jotting down ideas for new textures.This is but one page of many in my sketchbook.

There will be some great new woodgrains of course as well as a few new versions of the textures I use most often. I have some great many new ideas as well. If there is something you would like to see in the new collection drop me an email and let me know. My email address is found in my profile (to the right side of this page)

Stay tuned for more information as this next collection is assembled.

-grampa dan

Monday, May 13, 2013

Why 30 lb Precision Board HDU ?

The most often question I get asked is why we use exclusively 30 lb (or higher) density Precision Board in our shop. The answer is simple. Our decision was based on real world experience. It's all we keep in stock.

30 lb Density HDU is not common. Many suppliers are reluctant to stock it for that reason. But I believe it well worth the effort to get it in. It is so much stronger than lighter weight HDU's. It is much more resistant to dents, hail, birds pecking it, flying rocks or golf balls and just about anything else that might harm our signs and dimensional projects. There is nothing more frustrating than working on a project for hours and hours only to bump it accidentally, making a repair instantly necessary. Repairs take time and cost money. That's profits! To much to take a chance in my view.

Heavier density HDU boards hold detail well - much better than lower density boards. And I LOVE detail in our work. Textures route beautifully in 30 lb Precision Board and I can run our router just as quickly as the lighter weight boards. Working it by hand does require a little more effort. I would argue that the extra investment of the heavier weight board more than offsets the cost of labor saved when it comes to priming and painting the signs.

Heavier density Precision Board can actually save you money. The lighter boards take time to apply multiple coats of primer. Many folks spend a lot of time sanding to get things smooth as well. This Takes time and we all know time equals money. With the higher density we need only one coat of primer at most to make things very smooth. That saves time and we all know time equals money.

It's easy to sell too. REAL EASY. I keep samples of 15, 18 and 20 lb Precision Board handy in my sales area. When a customer is talking about a sign I'll grab one of the lighter weight samples and run my finger nail into it leaving a nasty groove. Then I'll hand my customer a sample of the 30 or 40 lb board which I also keep handy and ask them to do the same. They can't make a mark. I explain that this material certainly costs more but is worth the investment for obvious reasons. It's always an instant sale.

The samples in the picture below say a lot. The 30 lb board sample is a very old one, yellowed with age. It has a few welding burns but is otherwise unmarked. because it is so tough. The 40 lb sample underneath is also pristine. The two lighter weight samples (15 and 20 lb) have plenty of grooves from my fingernail tests in front of customers.

Most of all I love the peace of mind 30 lb Precision Board offers.


Why a MultiCam with EnRoute Pro software?

During our recent Router Magic Workshop a number of people asked me the same question. It's one I often hear from people looking to purchase a new router. Why did I choose MultiCam and EnRoute Pro software?

Seven years ago when I first saw a CNC router in operation at the ISA show in Las Vegas I immediately knew we had to have one in our shop. The machines could be programmed to do amazing things without a doubt. But first I had to do some homework and educate myself all about routers. I spoke to a number of router manufactures at the sign trade show. Each and every one assured me they made the perfect machine for my needs even though it quickly became very clear that routers were not all the same nor created equal.

To this point we had never used computerized machines of any sort in our shop for we did everything by hand using highly skilled labor. A router would speed up production in our shop. When I returned home I started my research. First I went to the archived sign trade magazines on my shelf. I went through them one by one and each time I saw work produced on a router I would make note of the shops name and contact information and then make a long distance call. I made dozens of calls all across Canada and the USA. Each time my questions were the same.

What brand of router did they own? How was the machine equipped? What kind of problems had they encountered? How did their dealer handle these issues? What kind of support did they get? What software did they use? What were the limitations and learning curve of the software?

After a few dozen calls I began to see trends and I was much more knowledgeable about CNC routers. The answers I discovered were as follows...

Not all routers were created equal. Some required a lot of maintenance and tweaking to keep them operational. Very few brands offered exceptional service and support long after the sale was done and the warrantee expired. Most people spoke of how good a router mechanic they had become. Only a very few brands offered meaningful training. Some routers were truly faster than others, living up to their touted speeds - others were not. I also heard about the tough learning curves some software presented and of limitations with others.

Through months of research I boiled down the spec's I was looking for, based on the specific routing I intended to do with my machine.

Because we would be using our router to do primarily textured and dimensional pieces I needed certain things to make the machine efficient. Because of the types of files (high overlap) the machine we bought would be called on to run for many hours at a time and be constantly in motion in all three axis with rapid changes in direction. A stepper machine would be slow and could easily lose it's place if pushed hard. This meant we needed all servo drives. A heavy, all welded steel machine with a sturdy steel gantry would be necessary to provide the rigidity and speed we required - especially over the long term. A vacuum table was a must as it would make clamping unnecessary. An auto tool changer was also on my wish list because we use multiple bits with each job. Six inches of gantry clearance was ample for I discovered the limiting factor was the length of bit and what was termed the 'cone of death', an imaginary line formed from the tip of the bit through the collet.

One other factor in our decision about spindle size was the fact that we only have single phase power in our shop. This meant we would have to use an inverter which would effectively take away up to a third of our horsepower. We opted for an eleven horse spindle that would run continuously for long periods of time without problems.

Size of table was another big question. Two factors influenced my decision. The material we most often use comes in 4' x 8' sheets. The available space in our shop fits a machine of this size much better.

In all of my research one brand of router was most consistently rated as the best with quality service and support to go along with it. MultiCam. It was not the least expensive router out there but I was looking for good value and not a cheap price. I wanted to think about what I was creating rather than the machine I was working with. I am not a mechanical person, nor did I wish to be - ever. I was in the routing game for the long term. Those I talked with that had purchased another brand of router often told me they would like to upgrade to a MultiCam some day. Upgrading later was false economy in my view.

As part of the routing package we also opted for EnRoute Pro software. From my research I found it was able to do the most while offering the easiest learning curve. From what I could see the software would have no limits going forward.

We selected the MultiCam 3000 with all servo drives. The machine has  6" of gantry clearance. It has an 11 HP motor and a six station linear tool changer (less moving parts than a rotary one). It came equipped with a vacuum table. While other manufacturers could have built me a similar machine it would be all custom. MultiCam had built many hundreds of similar machines. I would bet they had made improvements along the way, meaning this proven machine was well thought out.

That was seven years go. So, looking back, how did we do with our choice? The machine performed exceptionally well with only a few minor issues. One issue was poor quality electrical power to our shop. (not a MultiCam problem) Our dealer removed the fuse panel in our machine and replaced it with a breaker panel - at his expense. We also had an occasional problem with the machine pulling tools through the holders every twentieth (or so) tool change. It turned out to be a problem with our compressor (not supplied by MultiCam). My dealer didn't charge me for the service call and handed me some tool holders to replace the broken ones without charge. Our MultiCam dealer also provided us with extra training at no extra charge. Do I happily recommend them? You bet for it is a recommendation well earned!

After six years we decided to upgrade our MultiCam to a four axis machine. Although our six year old machine still gave us problem free service, it was less expensive to upgrade the entire machine rather than retrofit the old. I spec'd the new machine exactly the same as the old (save for the fourth axis) for it had proved to be the perfect machine for our needs.

The new machine has been in production in our shop for about a year and a half. I'm still more than pleased with both machine and software. Once again both have proven to be the right decision for our needs.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Small sign structure

With the big features now largely completed it is time to move to the next phase of the WhistlePunk Hollow Adventure Golf project. And that would be the signs, which are routed from Precision Board of course. During our recent workshop one of the re-occuring questions was in regard to the framework of structure in our signs. Precision Board is a wonderful material in so many respects but it needs a little boost as far as structural and mounting.

I'll be using two types of structure and internal support in this series of signs so I decided to share how we typically do this in our shop. The signs are relatively small so the structure will reflect that.

The signs were designed in EnRoute as always. Here's that process. I typed out the numbers and lettering in my own font called 'quick draw' (font is available at www.letterheadfonts.com ) I then drew out the sign shapes using the draw tool in EnRoute. For the small signs I only drew three shapes. I'll make six of each to get the 18 signs I need.

 I then created plain flat reliefs as a starting point.

I then imported the sandblasted wood grain bitmap from the TEXTURE MAGIC Collection This was enlarged and then I placed each sign relief on a section I liked and then applied the bitmaps to create the woodgrain texture.

Then I created copies of each relief and flipped them. These will be the backs of the signs.

The lettering and numbers received our usual border which was then was made into a flat relief This was merged highest with the backgrounds.

Lastly a slightly domed letter was added to the relief.

The sign face and back files were then tool pathed and sent off to the MultiCam. All were routed from 1" thick 30 lb Precision Board.

For the inside parts that would accept the sign structures and support I would use 3/4" Precision Board. I used the same vectors to create my cutting patterns but added a square shape to the small signs that would be cut out and replaced with 3/4" plywood. The 18th hole sign would get some 5/8" steel rod to allow it to be welded to the steam donkey.

After the signs were cut I inserted the 304" plywood as I glued up the signs. This meant our mounting screws would have sturdy material to bit into instead of the HDU which does not hold crews super well.

The 18th hole sign got a 5/8" steel rod welded structure laminated inside with two rods protruding allowing for secure, easy and quick mounting to the steam donkey. We used one part PB Bond 240 glue form Coastal Enterprises.

Once the glue was dried I used my die grinder to quickly add some detail to the edges of the sign. Then it was time for paint.

Stay tuned for more signs and mountings...


Friday, May 3, 2013

Logging truck sign

The Shay Steam train at WhistlePunk Hollow has a companion piece as well. For the seventh hole feature we sculpted a logging truck. Like the log car on the locomotive we fashioned the sign face on our MultiCam with 30 lb Precision Board. The file was created in EnRoute in the very same way as the logging railroad car. This time the wording was a little simpler (no adventure golf) as it is a secondary sign. The balance of the truck was created from welded steel and fiberglass reinforced concrete.

The golf green will go under the giant log and the ruck will also function as a photo opportunity. Who could resist climbing into the cab for a picture?

I'll be delivering this piece on the weekend. The shop parking lot is full of other pieces almost done as well. We still have a lot of routing to do for the project with another 29 secondary signs to come. Stay tuned...