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, August 29, 2013

Almost the last of the trim

One of the MultiCam's strong suits is production routing. It can churn out identical parts all day long with little work from me. The thing is I don't often produce copies of anything we make. But as with anything there is the odd exception - even for us.

The trim for the new house is fancy without a doubt but with only slight modifications (mostly length of pieces) I was able to create files that could be repeated scores of time. EnRoute made short work of that task. By hand painting and glazing each piece we were able to introduce the randomness I was seeking. Even after many weeks of routing, painting and glazing the shop is still littered with routed pieces of trim from one end to the other. On the router more is in production with one more 4'x8' sheet of trim pieces yet to come. All are routed from 30 lb Precision Board , except those around high traffic doors which were made from 40 lb board for extra durability.But after all these months of work the end is now in sight at last. Here Kendra holds one of the joining blocks in place

Production anything has never been one of my strong suits and I am more than ready to move onto the next custom one-off project. Thankfully there will be an endless amount of that in coming months!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

BUSY, now and as far as we can see.

For the last week or so the MultiCam has run twenty-four/seven, churning out the many pieces of trim for the new house. I've shown the process of building those files previously as well as the many stages of painting so I'll leave that be here. As soon as the trim is routed, painted and glazed it is going up on the house and looking very fine at that. Here's one shot of the back patio area.

For the last four seeks I've been busy at the design table churning out concept after concept for two major projects that promise to keep us busy for the next two years. The first project is due to start construction in only two short weeks. I've posted some of those sign concepts previously but there is a whole lot more fun things planned as well.

The second project is just as large (maybe larger) and due to start NEXT summer. It's a cool one and will feature an elaborate and playful pirate theme. Here's a few of the many dozens of concepts I've been working on...

You can bet as the construction begins you will get a glimpse of the progress as it unfolds. Stay tuned...


Mechanical fish is COMPLETE!

As soon as my regular work was done I rewarded myself by packing the heavy mechanical fish sign into my office and placed it in it's permanent home on the bookshelf next to my desk. A few minutes with a small brush polished off the last of the painted details and I declared the fish officially DONE.

It's been almost three months since I did the first sketches on the plane home from Indiana. I worked on the mechanical fish between other projects, seldom more than an hour or two at most in any sitting and instead of having my helpers assist did everything with my own hands - a rarity.  Although I am sure I might do some things a little differently the next time I am very pleased with the piece.

The result is a spectacular sample piece for my studio. Clients and visitors to my studio shop were always taken with the piece as I worked on it and I believe it has already helped as a marketing piece and will continue to for years to come.

This piece, along with the many other samples on display in my shop and studio are extremely valuable sales tools for me. One look around the place and my clients instantly understand that there isn't much we can't imagine and build. This customer confidence allows us to get the exactly the kind of work we desire. Samples work!


Sunday, August 25, 2013

All done - except for...

With the sculpting now all done it was down to paint and small details. It wouldn't take long. I spent about an hour putting on the rest of the base coats on the rocks. Then it was down to the final glazes. I did the dock first as it was very manageable with areas separated by the barnacles. The submarine, however, had to be done in one go as join lines would be visible afterwards if I stopped. It took about twenty minutes to polish off the submarine, quickly slopping on the glaze and then carefully wiping it off and keeping a wet line for the next area.

The submarine is now permanently glued into place, leaving some small bits to paint like the chains and hoists. The top wires will be positioned and fed through the dock to look like supply hoses. With that the piece will be done. It should't take longer than half an hour to wrap this project up. 

Stay tuned...


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Saturday morning fishing time

This morning I spent some relaxing time doing the last of the sculpting on the mechanical fish. I also did some more painting of the base coats. The fish is looking pretty good now. Two or three more hours should pretty much tidy this little fellow up.

I'll be also readying the display space in my studio for this piece. It will be on a long, low bookcase adjacent to my desk. The lighting is subdued and directional in that location - perfect for this piece. It is almost like it was designed to go exactly there.  :)


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lock it up

One of the early signs I did just after getting my router was a giant padlock for the lockers at a mini golf at Mall of America.The sign was to mount to a wall.  I decided to weld the bracket right into the interior structure. The padlock shackle was a 2" pipe bent into a 'U'. It would be plenty strong to be sure. The sign faces were routed in layers from 30 lb Precision Board. I then glued them up with the steel frame in the middle using .

Once the layers were all glued up it was time for paint.

I added a little extra texture with the heavy bodied primer from Coastal Enterprises. Once the base coats were done I added a layer of glaze to age it down a little. I decided I liked it so much I made a second one as a display piece in my studio.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

LOTS of signs (and other stuff) in our future!

In the last few weeks I have run the MultiCam only a little for I have instead been busy at the design table working up the ideas for a large project that will keep us busy into next summer. It's a small theme park called Cultus Lake Adventure Park. I'll be showing lots of progress here of course in the next months but for now I'd love to show some of the sign designs I am working on. Everything will be dimensional of course and our role will be to create all of the signs and the surrounding environments as well.

So here's a sneak peek at some of the sign concept designs for the rides and attractions...

This is but a teeny bit the the entire project. We are going to have a great deal of creative fun over the next ten months! Stay tuned...


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Putting up outside trim

Late last summer I posted pictures and file creation blogs of the outside trim of the new house. As the summer weather waned we tucked all the pieces away and concentrated our efforts on finishing the inside of the house. That work took until recently to substantially finish to the point we could move in at last a few weeks ago. Then came the big job of emptying the old house and stripping it of usable items. Today it came down at last. In the next couple of days we'll haul in the last of the needed fill and then we can finish off the outside work at last. For the very first time we could at last look at the back of the new house, as the old one was so close we couldn't do the necessary work.

After the house came down this is what we saw...

While the big machines worked out back we started work on the front putting up the trim. With the vertical pieces now in place I will measure up the needed horizontal pieces and begin the work of routing those. 

It is all coming together at long last! Stay tuned...



The next letter for this sign were for the word 'SHOP'. The 'S' is a length of hose, bent into an 'S' shape. A round fitting on each end looks snazzy.  These were created using the dome tool To create the fittings on each end I created a longer vector, used the dome tool to create the relief and then overlaid a zero height smaller shape, By merging the longer shape to this I could effectively clip the ends square.

The 'H' is a combination of various shapes which were then MERGED HIGHEST to the base relief as a last step.

The 'O' and the 'P' were created at the same tile as the gears were similar. The 'O' gear then got a raised hub with a hole drilled into it by using the merge lowest tool and a zero height relief of that size.

The stroke of the P was created as a separate relief and then the center portion of the shape was dropped using the lettering vectors as a mask. leaving them the same height as the border.

That completed the lettering and I was happy with the result. Then it was on to the border - a simple domed and raised border. I built it as a separate file as well as the rivets, then merged highest.

The gear was the last relief I created. All of the reliefs were then merged highest onto a zero height relief. This made the file ready to tool path and route.

Give the file a try - it's great fun!


'WORK' should always be this much fun!

The workshop/tool file was fun to do - just the kind of complex file I love to do. The key to doing this kind of work is to first have a clear idea of what you intend to do and then think about the order in which you need to do it. Understanding what a program like EnRoute can do is important. A file like this can teach us a lot in a hurry. Since there were so many steps and pictures I'll be posting this in two steps. We'll start with the word 'WORK'.

The vectors were done last time. Now it is time to create reliefs and then combine the various shapes to get the tool forms I want. I started with a zero height relief. This panel will be thickened up eventually but the math is a lot easier if I build everything on to of a zero height platform.

The 'W' resembles the old metal folding measure sticks. Starting on the left the heights of each piece decreases by 0.1" I first did the plain pieces, then subtracted the center portions. Lastly the washers and bolts were added.

The 'O' is a simple gear but it meshes with the back of the 'r' - just for fun so these two gears needed to be the same height..

The center of the gear was dropped and then the hub was raised up. Lastly I drilled a hole through the center by merging lowest with a zero height relief. The body of the 'r' was created as a little higher relief than the gear rack. The rivets were added last. All the pieces were then merged highest to the background.

The vice grips 'K' were fun to create.I started with the main handle using the dome tool used to create a shallow round shape.

Then each element of the vice grips were created as individual reliefs in varying heights as appropriate. I then merges highest with the background. The last step was to add the rivets.

The next post will cover the creation of the 'SHOP' file. Stay tuned...


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Workshop gear lettering

The gear sign has lain dormant for a week while I was very busy with other things. Today I finally had time to work a little on it but in last week's business I must of stuck the file somewhere that I simply couldn't remember. So I had to build another.

Then it was on to the tool lettering. The first was the 'W'. I built one leg and then duplicated, rotated and flipped it.

The 'O' and the 'R' were pretty simple,using many of the same steps we used to make the gear for the background border. The vise grips look really complex but the reality is they are not. I first used the vector drawing tool to very quickly draw our the rough pieces we needed. The most important aspect of this is to get the right number of nodes. I then used the vector editing tool to tweak the placement of the nodes and also form the curves. In a few minutes I had everything I needed.

The 'S' was dead simple and then it was on to the 'H' Once more I simply thought about the shapes I wanted and then built up the shapes I needed. The create relief tools will do the rest. Once all the different shaped reliefs are built I'll combine them in a hurry.

For the 'P' I duplicated and resized the gear I had created for the 'O' The handle was built of smaller shapes which were then combined. Lettering was added as a last step.

 The lettering was then resized so they looked good together. The last step was to resize and place them onto the base plate vectors.

Next time I'll start in on creating the reliefs. Stay tuned...