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, October 30, 2014

Everyone loves tools!

Cookie's tool set was a whole lot of fun to create. Since the last post on the project we've hand brushed three coats of base colors on (all acrylic house paints). Then the glazes went on the wood, starting with the lightest and working towards the darkest. After the piece is covered the glaze is gently wiped off leaving excess in the crevices and deeper portions of the texture. The tools themselves also got the same treatment.  After all the glazes were on and dry I used a dry brush technique to 'shiny up' the edges and surfaces that would be shiny from daily use. The end result is pretty cool.

The two signs make for a great pair, the first identifying the establishment and providing humor and character. The second sign which will be located inside provides the punchline.

Dreaming up and creating this kind of fun signage makes me laugh trough every workday. It sure beats working!


Pieces of Eight mounting

The three pieces of the Pieces of 8 sign that were routed from 30lb Precision Board were laminated over a welded steel frame sandwiching the structure inside. The two protruding steel legs were then welded to the steel structure of the post. Once the glue had set (overnight) I used our air powered die grinder to quickly add some woodgrain texture to the sides of the sign.

I then welded the sculpture of Tupper in the crow's nest to the top. A pencil rod frame was then welded around the structural steel in preparation for the galvanized lath that will follow. The sculpted concrete will form the final skin of the post.

Because we are shipping this piece all the way to Trinidad it has to fit inside a shipping container. While we could have laid it down safe packaging would have been bulky and difficult. Instead we cut the piece in half vertically and welded a sleeve to ensure easy reassembly. The mast guide ropes will ensure it doesn't wobble when we are done. The frame we use to hold it upright as we build will simply be bolted to a footing and then buried in a planter to make for a simple and instant installation. 

There will be six of these kinds of signs through the park. All will be fun to build without a doubt. Stay tuned...


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Combining hand and machine work

Creating files in EnRoute and routing them on the MultiCam is a huge timesaver. By using bitmaps I can create wonderful textures to add dimension to our projects. But the fact is that after the parts are machines we are only about half way to finish on most of our dimensional projects. Cookie's utensil rack is a good example. I designed the concept freehand in my sketchbook and then imported the drawing into PhotoShop to create the final rendering. I then used this concept to create the vectors by tracing the outline and letter shapes.

Once the file was done the MultiCam made short work of routing the many pieces and did the job in a small fraction of the time I could have done it by hand. I like to think I'm fast but the router can do the same task about five times faster. It's far more accurate than I am too resulting in much more precise work.

I then glued up the pieces using Coastal Enterprises one part glue PB Bond 240which is activated by a spritz of water. This hue expands as it cures leaving a little squished out on the seams. No matter though for I used an air-powered die grinder to take this off at the same time I added the woodgrain texture to the tops and sides. It only took a few minutes to do a piece this size.

The two halves of each arm attachment base were also glued together and then shaped with the die grinder. Rather than try and make them perfectly smooth I purposely left texture behind as I used the die grinder. This will make the attachments more 'authentically used' as we add the paint and glazes - all in the interest of telling our story. I then drilled holes in the top of each piece and inserted a shaped and welded armature for each utensil. I would use Abracadabra Sculpting Epoxy to sculpt the utensils over these steel armatures. If you look close in the pictures you can still see the welded steel frames. I do a rough sculpt first, allow it to cure and then do a final sculpt over that. It makes things a whole lot easier as the sculpting epoxy is soft and and can sag a little as you work if it isn't properly supported.

I also used the epoxy to fill the screw holes in the woodwork. The piece is now ready for paint. For scale reference, the shelf is about 30" long.

Stay tuned for more fun...


Saturday, October 25, 2014

French cleat

We use many creative ways to hang our signs and projects. If it's heavy we'll resort to steel brackets or lag bolting it to a structure. But sometimes the sign isn't too large or heavy. In those cases we often use what we refer to as a french cleat. Most often we use 3/4 plywood to make our cleats. It's ripped on the table saw at 45 degrees.

We often fasten the cleat to the back of our work to purposely space it off the wall (by the thickness of the cleat) to provide an extra shadow line. In this case I wanted the work to be flush with the wall. This meant I had to route a space in the back of the bottom layer of the sign to accommodate the wall fastener. I routed it 1.5" deep (for two thicknesses of 3/4" plywood) The first was screwed and glued into place. The top hanging cleat was then screwed to this plywood.

The second cleat was screwed to our easel. This will eventually be fastened to the wall when we install the sign.

 The Cookie shelf is now ready to attach the utensils and finish.

The rest of the pieces were routed from 30 lb Precision Board as well. The arm attachment pieces were routed in two halves and then glued together. The rest of the pieces will be hand sculpted.

It's going to be a fun piece to do! Stay tuned for the next installment.


Cookie's Galley done

With a large crew to keep busy and big projects in planning it's not too often I get to spend time with a paint brush in my hand these days. But Cookie has been a pet project from design, sculpt, creating the routing file and through the paint process. Other members of the crew did work on the project a little but the bulk of it has been mine. I decided that I would personally finish the paint job on the lettering portion as well as the the highlights and touchups on.

The Cookie character, lettering style and colour choices are pretty much over the top for sure. Since this is a theme park project we could go a little out there (make that a whole bunch out there!) In the context of the landscape, building and activities the park will offer it really fits in perfectly.

I hope the sign makes people smile and adds to the experience they will enjoy at Skallywag Bay Adventure Park.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sign Paint underway

We are now beginning to assemble and finish the signs for the Trinidad project, starting with Cookie's Galley sign. In the last few days we've done the finishing and laid on the base coats of paint. We use premium exterior house paint for all of our finishes and glazes with good results. Today it was time for the first glaze to bring out the woodgrain textures.

Tomorrow the painters will do the letter borders and the copper bands. Next week the lettering will get it's final paint to finish things off. Stay tuned...


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pieces of eight - redo

Sometimes, after I complete a design I just know I could have done better. There's only one thing to do. DELETE. Then start over. The Pieces of Eight design I did yesterday was just such a piece.

Yesterday's design was far too ordinary. So today I started over with a brand new sketch. This one would be more fun and suited to the park.

The sketch was translated into some quick vectors - all freehand of course. The top board was just a placeholder for I would trace a bitmap to create the final version.

The new vector was used to create a flat relief and then I modified this relief by adding the cartoon woodgrain.

The other two smaller boards were created in the same fashion. Because the bitmaps can't be rotated in EnRoute we had to rotate the vectors.

Once I had all of the reliefs (with textures created I rotated them back and positioned them the way that suited my fancy. Before I went further I duplicated them as I needed similar boards for the back - without the lettering.

Next up were the flat reliefs of the letter outlines. These were built independent of the board reliefs.

I positioned them properly with repeat to the boards underneath (in the front view) and then merged them highest with the boards. Once I was done that task I combined the three board vectors (of both the front and back)

Last up was the addition of the bevelled letters.

The center layer of the sign will be cut from 1" thick Precision Board. The centre shape will be cut out to allow for the metal framework to be laminated inside.

Tomorrow I'll send the file to the MultiCam and we'll get this show on the road.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Phil's Pholly

A while back I posted a how-to on the Treasure Quest sign. In the last installment the sign had been laminated over the framework. The rest of the twisted tree had been lathed and was ready for the concrete. Since then we sculpted the concrete 'wood and bark' and allowed the tee to cure before it was ready to drag back in the shop to finish up. I asked one of our workshop attendees, Phil to sculpt the parrot. It was Phil's fourth visit with us and I knew he could easily handle the task. Phil didn't disappoint. I did up the gold coins and pearls that were draped over the top of the sign and did a little art direction for Phil to make sure his style blended seamlessly with the rest of the pieces.

Once the sculpting was done it was time for the crew to lay on the base colors on the tee and treasure.

Phil also put on the first coats of base colors. Our painting crew did the last coat and then went at Pholly with the glazes. The result was fantastic!

Then the crew tackled the tee with the various shades of glaze required to bring the whole thing to life.

The sign and tree is a wonderful mix of various mediums including welded steel, routed Precision Board, sculpted fiberglass reinforced concrete, sculpted Abracadabra Sculpting Epoxy and many coats of paint and glaze. It will be ready to roll out of the shop on Monday, making room for the next batch of features that still need paint.

Stay tuned for more...


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Piece of eight

Designing and building a theme park is a lot of fun, especially if you get to control all aspects of the design. The rides are being manufactured by a company in Italy but they allowed me to help with the design to help the ride fit into the theme of the park. Unless we want to spend a great deal of our customer's money the changes are limited to cosmetic items alone. In this case we went a little further. 

To make the ride(s) more exciting and to maximize the space available we tucked two rides together. The concern was the safety ride envelope of each ride. This meant we had to have one end of the figure eight ride (spinning coater) enlarged slightly. Our theme in the park is Pirates so we added some theme work to the rides as well. For the spinning drop ride tower we added a crow's nest and a mast at the top- an easy addition. I also specified the colours we wanted.

The spinning coaster we went a little further. We asked the ride manufacturer to redesign the ride cars to look like the bottom portion of a barrel. Stock seats will fit inside.

After I sent off the artwork I got back a proof from the factory to confirm our choices.

We'll also build a small mountain peak inside the second loop to further bring the theme into this area. The ride will be raised substantially to add excitement and also to make it more visible as you approach the park. The very tall rock structure to the right will be Monkey Skull Rock, a world class climbing wall with a fifty foot jump out of the mouth. It will offer a cable controlled descent for those brave enough to try it.
Today's task was to design the gold medallion that will be mounted to the side of each car on the spinning coaster which is name Pieces of Eight. It features the pirate emblem we are using extensively through the park. The design is simple and is to be routed as a simple cutout - with a cool texture of course. We'll route it from 30 lb Precision Board. After it is routed we'll do a little hand sculpting on the skull to make it even more 3D. 

We started with a flat relief 1.5" thick.

I then dropped the centre portion of the coin around the skull 0.2"

I then added a texture using our blotches bitmap. Notice how far it was enlarged. I wanted the coin to have a subtle texture and not just look pitted.

As quick as that it was ready for tool pathing. I used a 1/8" ball nose bit with an 80% overlap. 

We'll make two copies of the piece. One will be sent to Italy to be a master for the mold they will make to cast the eight pieces they will need for the ride. The other piece we make will be painted up real nice and then mounted to our display wall in the shop.

It's always an exciting day to see the giant rides pulled out of the containers and set into position. Then comes the first test rides by our crew! Stay tuned to see how it turns out...


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

2014 Sign Magic Workshop a success!

We had a high energy group assembled for our 2014 Sign Magic Workshop. Our guests were from all over including Nevis - Alberta, Newark - California, Hickory - North Carolina, Jackson - Wyoming, Prior Lake - Minnesota, Invermere - Roberts Creek - Vernon - British Columbia, and Aitkenvale - Australia. Jeff Hartman, one of the creators of EnRoute came from Denver - Colorado to help with the technical side of things.

This eager group soaked up everything we shared, took tons of photos and notes and did up some pretty spectacular projects during the hands-on workshop time. We took the time to tour the group through three of our recent projects and included some hands-on time on the bumper boats and Bucking Bronco rides just for fun.

Each participant learned our painting techniques and discovered how we create the magic in our studio each and every day.

This coming weekend we will be hosting the Sculpture Magic Workshop with a full class signed up and eager to go. It's going to be fun!