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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Getting twisted

The next sign doesn't have any routed parts but features another of the gang of Gruffles. Like the other signs it will hang on a mast. The sign is for a ride called the Yardarm Twist. I welded up the armature and then tied on the lath. I used sculpting epoxy to create the character and the scroll.

It took a couple of days to finish the sculpting on the character and scroll. The lettering was hand done. Once the epoxy sculpting was done the mast and sail were sculpted from concrete. This is as far as we got before Peter and I left for our trip. The crew did the painting in our absence.

Like the rest of the signs we make it got the base coats and then a series of glazes to bring out the texture and add depth.

As always it was the last glaze that brought the sign to life. This sign is now ready to be loaded into the shipping container and make it's way down to Trinidad.

Stay tuned for many more...


Specs the lookout

The routed portion of the Crow's Nest sign was only the start. Specs would be perched in the crows nest on the top of the mast and support structure. Peter had great fun doing the sculpt.

The sculpted concrete will be the next step and then this sign will get it's coat of paint as well.

Stay tuned as this sign comes together...


All aboard!

This month has been crazy busy - as always it seems. We were out of the shop for ten days to attend a conference in Orlando, Florida and also do a site visit in Trinidad. The crew kept working in our absence and so lots got done.

Before we left we did the concrete work and sculpting on the base.

Once the base was done the two pieces of the sign were assembled in order the mud the base of the top half so it matched up to the bottom.

The next day we applied the fiberglass reinforced concrete to the top portion of the mast and sculpted in the wood grain.

At that point Peter and I left for our trip. The crew would take it from here. As usual they started with three coats of base colors and then overlaid the glazes.

The post, sails and the bulk of the sign are done with just the lettering left to go.

The Gruffle characters make the signs a lot of fun and help tell the story of the entire facility. The next sign is even more fun! Stay tuned...


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Combining methods and materials

Using EnRoute and a MultiCam we can do amazing things without a doubt. I know lots of people who can use other programs to build amazing sculptures virtually and then use the router to make the final piece. I'm just not that good with those advance programs or more correctly I am better at doing it for real with my hands. The fastest way to do those kinds of projects for me is the old fashioned way. I let the router do the hard stuff and then have fun with the rest.

As I showed in the last post on this sign it was routed in both 3D (for the faces) and as 2D cutouts for the center sections. A little work with a die grinder made the sign ready for the hand sculpting stage.

I built up the surfaces with crumpled up tin foil and a thin layer of Abracadabra Sculpting epoxy over. The detail was added to and sculpted into this last layer. 

The first day I only got partway through the sculpt but with sculpting epoxy it's easy to continue the sculpt where I left off the next day.

The end result is a sign that is over the top without a doubt. Combining what EnRoute and the MultiCam can easily and quickly do with what I can easily do makes it so. The materials used also follow this same approach. Thirty pound Precision Board is the best possible material for the bulk of the sign. A welded steel frame laminated inside makes it bullet proof and will provide a long lasting and safe install. The sculpted epoxy makes for a well detailed and strong figure.

Works for me.


Adding texture to the edges

I've shown how to make texture on our projects many times on this blog. What it possible is limited only by your imagination. When the texture runs all the way to the edge of your project it's time to do a little hand work.  In our shop we insist that the edges of our signs look as good as the front face. In our current project almost all of the signs can be viewed from all angles. Sculptural elements that are part of the sign take things over the top so all parts and sides of the signs need to be property finished with texture.

The Crow's Nest sign sports a heavy and deep cartoon woodgrain. This woodgrain is flipped on the back meaning the two sides line up nicely. I spent about twenty minutes with our air powered die grinder carving the heavy grain through the sides, bottom and top. Because the grain lines were so broad on this piece it was a lot less work than if it was fined grained. Even the 30 lb board works easily, especially with powerful air powered tools. Those few minutes with the die grinder really make a big difference.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

EnRoute workshop in California

For those wishing to get up to speed using EnRoute, there is a workshop coming in California in a few weeks. I've attended similar workshops and found they are a great way to learn what this wonderful program is capable of. For those considering the program its a great way to try it as the EnRoute people will set you up with a demo version. I heartily recommend this class to those wanting to learn EnRoute.


EnRoute Training Anaheim, CA

Date and Location

Dec 4 & 5, Anaheim, CA @ Multicam West
4700 Bryson Street, Anaheim, CA 92807

“The EnRoute workshop was worth every cent. The instructors patiently relayed, in detail, every aspect of EnRoute’s 2.5D, 3D, Rapid Texture techniques and the many other functions of Enroute. I am now able to take advantage of the tremendous features provided in the software. Thanks Enroute!”
- Henry from H & S Marine Plastics, New York/New Jersey Workshop Attendee


Space is limited, so register early to guarantee your seat. Save $300 when you register 30 days before the class.
To register, contact Terri Wright
1800.229.9066 x114 or EnRouteSales@ThinkSAi.com


Bring your own computer and follow along on your PC with a demo version of EnRoute we’ll provide. No key required. Here is the 2-day class schedule:
Day 1, 8am - 5pm

Morning – It Never Hurts to Know the Basics
• EnRoute Concepts Review
• Toolpath Basics
• Nesting
• Output & Ordering
Afternoon – Advanced Toolpathing / Cutting
• Inlays
• 2-1/2 D
• Rough, Fine & Clean Tools
• Advanced Entry/Exit
• Day 1 Wrap-up and prepare for Day 2
Day 2, 8am - 5pm
Morning – Now for some Fun Surfaces
• 3D Surface Concepts
• Building a Relief
• Parametric Textures
Afternoon – EnRoute Rapid Texture
• Seed Contour, Objects as Seed Contours & 3D
Reliefs with Rapid Texture
• Rapid Picture (Photo Cutting)
• Noise and Distortion

Monday, November 3, 2014

Well hung

Once the pieces had all been routed it was time to the glue up. We used the routed slots in the center of the sign as a jig to tack up the steel frames, then pulled them out and did the final welding. Some steel eye bolts were also welded to the top of the frame. A 5/8" steel bar was welded to the post side of the sign as well. The sign was hung from the matching eye bolts on the structural steel post. Then we welded the 5/8" steel rod to the post on the bottom to keep the sign from swinging should there be a strong wind.

I then used an air powered die grinder to go over the edges to get rid of the glue lines and add a little texture. The faxes of the sign got a little of the treatment at the same time.

Tomorrow we'll begin my favorite part - the hand sculpting of Pike, the engineer. Stay tuned...


Sunday, November 2, 2014

All aboard!

One of the signs that I have been looking forward to building is the one for the Railroad. It features Pike, the Gruffle engineer in the cab of his engine. The sign will be about 44" tall nd will hang from a mast similar to the other signs.

I started with a quick hand trace of the main sign elements.

I then added the letting using the same font we are using on some of the other signs in the park. A few of the letters were modified and tweaked to make the sign read better. I also added the rivets around the panel.

I decided to route the sign in four layers, front and back as well as two layers for the center of the sign. The two center layers would have slots cut in them for the welded step frame. Each layer was also different as they incorporated different layers of the engineer and his arms. The two back layers were flipped so the two halves of the sign fit together. The center sections of the sign looked like this (except one was flipped so they for together and the step could be laminated into the center)

The two outside layers looked like this. On the show side of the sign I included a cutout of the engineer's arm which will sit on the window ledge.

I built the two sides at the same time, starting with a flat relief.

I then imported a bitmap and used it to modify the reliefs. It created a subtle texture.

I then added the rivets, modifying the base relief by using the dome tool.

The next step was to create the door inserts. I did this by building separate flat reliefs.

I then modified these reliefs by adding a woodgrain texture from my TEXTURE MAGIC bitmap collection.

I then used the replace tool to put this panel into place on the base relief. I could have used the MERGED LOWEST command to get the same result.

To check that things went as planned I looked at the front view. I've marked a red arrow to indicate how the panel looks in place.

The lettering outline was the next step, once again building them as separate reliefs.

These were MERGED HIGHEST with the base reliefs.

The bevelled lettering was the next step, achieved by using the ad too command with the bevel tool.

The two window sills and the engineer's arm were then built as separate reliefs the full thickness of the panels. I then selected the various components (of each panel) and combined them to create a single relief.

Here's the final screen capture of the files. 

The two sides of the sign were now ready for tool pathing and then were sent off to the MultiCam. They were machined from 2" thick Precision Board. The centers will be a simple offset cut from 1" thick stock.

In the next days I'll weld up the internal frame and then begin assembly. Once the glue is dried I'll use the die grinder to even out and texture the edges and quickly shape the figure. Then the hand sculpting will begin. Stay tuned...


Saturday, November 1, 2014

A peek at the bigger picture

We are now three months (of eleven) into the Skallywag Bay Adventure Park project. The shop is full of projects on the go and out in the parking lot there are enough finished pieces to fill three forty foot shipping containers with enough pieces still left to begin loading two more containers. Forty-one pieces are finished.  Eleven pieces are sculpted and ready for paint. Fourteen more armatures are welded and ready for sculpting.

I've been showing some of the routed work previously but here's a peek at a few of pieces completed thus far.

This is a very challenging project and the biggest single contract we have tackled in the twenty-two year history of our company. It is also the most fun we've ever had. Thankfully we have a wonderful and skillful team of young people to help us along the way. Stay tuned for more...