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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wagon wheel sign glued

The wagon wheel sign pieces have gathered dust for almost a month as we were so busy with other things. Today the shop was quiet and I finally got the chance to do some assembling. First I had to create a file and cut the center layer to accommodate the steel frame. This frame would be welded up segments of 5/8" steel rod and a piece of horizontal 1.5" square tubing. The slots for the 5/8" tubing would be cut into the material. The square tubing slot was to be cut as part of the offset outline milling.

Here's the shot of the tool paths ready to be sent to the MultiCam.

Once I had cut the piece from 30 lb Precision Board it was ready to assemble with the rest. I cut and laid the steel into the slots and then tacked it in place using the actual wheel as a jig. The pieces were then removed and welded solid.

I then used PB Bond 240 glue, a one part adhesive made by Coastal Enterprises to fasten the components. I also used plenty of screws to clamp things together and keep them in line. These screws will stay in place.

The project had six layers in all which makes for a pretty beefy sign!

Once the glue has set up I'll start in on the hand work and then we'll sculpt the prairie dog that will be perched on top. Stay tuned for more progress...


Monday, December 23, 2013

Painting faux granite or concrete

For the big 3D globe logo the client asked to it to look like concrete or granite. There are plenty of ways to do this but the easiest is with paint. The fellow who is making the globe will most likely have the globe hard coated with a bed liner type spray. This will leave a slightly bumpy texture. The piece can then be painted a solid or blended solid color with as many coats as necessary. In our shop we would most likely use a top quality 100% acrylic house paint and brush it on too. For the rocks on a recent project we painted it just this way. Then came the quick magic step.

To get the different colored dots or speckles we use an undercoat gun with only twenty-five pounds of pressure. Higher pressure will give you smaller dots or speckles. Undercoat guns are very inexpensive and available at any auto parts store. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some with special pots. We buy the cheapest ones with just a pipe, trigger and handle. They are easy to use and easy to clean.

The dark color (brown in this case) was done first. The key is to take it easy and do multiple passes. It is far too easy to put on too many and then you would have to start over. I like to spray from at least there feet away to get an even pattern. Have a helper keep the hose you are dragging around from rubbing across the finished work.

 I stick the intake pipe into my bucket and spray away.... rinse after the first color and then go on to the next color. Masking takes a whole lot longer than the spraying by far.

Once the spraying of the dots is finished you have to wait for the paint to dry before taking off the masking. 

Then we brush on the grout color between the rocks... and as quick as that you are done.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Double sign tree complete

The double sign tree took a while to do because the sculpting and painting were fit around the many other projects underway in the shop. Jenessa did the sculpting and painting on the balloon sign and did a great job too! Amazingly, this was only the second sculpture she has done.

Hailey called first dibs on painting the carousel horse. Every color got three coats - all hand painted. That's a lot of skilled cutting! The horse turned out great!

Once the signs and tree were all painted up they looked pretty cool!

The piece will go outside next week, ready for delivery and installation right after New Years. I can hardly wait to see it on site!


Friday, December 13, 2013

Slicing and dicing (Creating a 3D logo PART TWO)

With the relief creed and sliced it was time to hollow out each section. It's not hard but it does have to be done in a particular order. First I created an oval inside each section, making sure the border width took into account the slope of the side of the piece. I did this by selecting the new oval vector and then hitting render what I could see the slopes as they related to the size of the oval. I then selected all of the oval vectors and made them into zero height reliefs. They were then dropped to the bottom of the plate to match the sliced sections.

I then zoomed in on the first relief and opened the MERGE function. We would MERGE LOWEST for this operation.  I followed the command prompts selecting the base relief first. then hit the blue arrow...

Then select the relief you wish to merge... the center oval. Hit the green check mark...  This drops the center portion to zero height.

Then I used the slice tool to cut away the zero height portion of the relief.

The end result is the hollow slice of the big logo.

I repeated these steps on each of the slices except for the top there which were too small to save any material by making them hollow.

Then it was time to cut the reliefs to make them more efficient to nest. I first drew a vector rectangle around the larges one. I drew a vertical line through it and centered it. I moved the relief out of the way.

I then used the jigsaw tool on each half to form new vectors. I deleted the original rectangle and vertical line.

I then made these two rectangles into zero height reliefs. I duplicated them as many times as I needed to slice all of the oval reliefs

Then I positioned the oval relief inside and opened the MERGE command. This time I would use MERGE HIGHEST.

Then I used the slice command to take away the zero height part.

These operations were duplicated for each relief I wanted sliced. The slices are now ready to be nested and then tool path and send off to the router. Keep in mind that this makes HALF of the 3D logo.

I won't be routing this piece as it was created only to show here but I look forward to seeing what my friend in California does as he recreates these steps for his project there.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Creating a 3D sphere logo with a banner wrap (PART ONE)

I often get asked to create routing files for other shops. It's not a job I want to do. But from time to time the project offered is something that intrigues me. In these rare cases I offer to create the file and then do a step by step on the blog. I don't sell or give the person my work but rather show them how to do it. In the process it is my hope they follow along and perhaps know how to do this kind of job by themselves next time. By posting it to the blog other readers can also hopefully learn or be inspired to do creative things with this amazing software, router and modern materials like Precision Board.

The file I was asked to help out with this time was challenging. Their client had asked for a giant six foot, elongated globe with a banner draped around it. The banner would sport their logo. The globe needed to be lightweight and portable for trade shows. I talked with the sign shop owner for a while and we batted around various options. In the end they decided they would route the file in layers out of low density Precision Board and then hard coat it before painting on the details. With that process in mind here's how I would create this file. I'll deal with the project in two posts, the first creating and slicing the file and then in the second modifying the slices to make the ball hollow. If you aren't familiar with the program I suggest you look up the terms and processes in your manual to understand the steps I'm taking.  Here we go...

I first imported the logo into EnRoute to trace the rough shape. The banner in the logo was stylized and would work to wrap around the globe so I instead approximated the shape, making sure each end line up as the two halves of the globe would be joined back to back to assemble the project after it had been cut.

I then used the offset tool to create a line around the oval that was two inches larger. This is how high the banner would be spaced off the surface of the the elongated globe/

Then I selected the original oval and used the dome tool to make the globe.

The to create the banner vectors I moved the globe relief out of the way, then used the jigsaw tool to create the vector shape between the bottom and top banner shape and the two inch offset oval. I then made a two inch thick flat relief. It's hard to see in the screen capture but I also created a scone offset oval just a tad bigger than the original. I uses this vector to modify the flat banner relief using the dome tool with the same input numbers as the original globe. This spaced the surface of the banner two inches off the surface of the globe.

Here's the front view.

Then I selected the slice tool and added sliced until they were less than 2" thick. Make sure you ask the program to create all slices. Hit enter. Instantly you get your slices. Here's a few views of the result.

I then spaced them out and positioned them all on the same plane. As 'EASY' as that we've created the files for half a a 3D logo. These files will need to be duplicated and flipped to make sure they fit onto the back half.

Next time I'll show how I modified these files to create a (mostly) hollow sphere. Stay tuned...


Monday, December 9, 2013

Putting a skin on the tree

With the routed signs securely mounted to the tree and the armature all prepared, today was the time to begin the application of the fiberglass reinforced concrete. It was carefully layered on and then allowed to set until it was perfect for carving. Then our skilled carvers began their work of transforming it into a gnarly and twisted tree. They began at the top and worked their way down in the same way they had applied the mud a short time before. It took just over two hours for Matt and Jenessa to carve the tree.

The concrete will be allowed to cure a few days before it gets it's final paint and glazes.

Stay tuned to see this project come together...


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mounting the signs to the tree

In a previous post I showed how I added the steel structure into the routed horse. Two 5/8" thick steel rods protruded out of the back. These would then be welded into the sculpted tree structure making for a very strong but almost invisible mount for the signs. Here's the concept drawing used to sell the idea to the client. It's a very quick sketch.

The first picture is from the front of the balloon adventure sign. The mounting rids are already welded to the steel structure of the tee but not yet trimmed. They protrude past the frame of the tree.

Here's a second shot of the same sign from the back after the rods were trimmed and the tree armature built and meshed.

The horse sign is also mounted in similar fashion with the two protruding rods welded securely to the tree framework.

Here's a shot of the entire tree (from the back side) with both signs mounted.

The hand sculpting on the tree and balloon will complete our work save for final paint. Stay tuned...


Creating the Balloon Adventure sign file

The Balloon Adventure sign looks simple but there were a bunch of steps to create the routing file. The bottom section of the song was pretty standard. As always I started with the lettering vectors. I created these in Illustrator and then imported them into EnRoute where the rest of the file creation would take place.

I used the offset tool to create a lettering double border, then created a flat relief using the outside line.

I then modified this relief by selecting both it and the next inner vector. I added to the first relief and in the process raised the next border.

The letters were then created by modifying the original relief one more time using the letters as my mask. I used the bevel tool this time with a base of 0.2"  I also used the constant height function as the letters had thick and this portions. This altered the angle to create all the same height on the top point of the bevels.

Then we were on to the balloon portion of the sign. I created the vectors in EnRoute and then used the revolve tool to create a mesh.

I then created a zero height relief in a rectangle surrounding the ballon. I selected both the balloon and mesh to allow me to merge them together. I used the merge highest command.

I then used the slice tool to create all the slices of the ballon. This would allow me to cut them from a piece of 30 lb 1.5" thick Precision Board.

I then tool pathed the file before sending it off to the MultiCam router.