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, September 28, 2016

Lots of colour!

Becke brushed two base coats of cream colours on the signs and then it was time for the third and fourth coats which would be blended. She picked out no less than ten buckets of acrylic paint. She used a small fitch to do the painting. Becke worked quickly to allow her to do the blends wet into wet. The signs will be allowed to dry overnight before she starts into the glazes. When we did our workshops we often see students rush into wild colours with varying success. The key is to pick colours that go well together and make the blends subtle.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

First prototype for NEB's project

This week we began work on a project that will fully utilize the capabilities of EnRoute, our MultiCam CNC plasma cutter as well as our MultiCam router. We'll combine a variety of materials including steel, plywood, and 30 lb Precision Board. Along with all of the computer generated surfaces we will also do a lot of hand sculpting of fibreglass reinforced concrete. All of it will be hand painted.

EnRoute was used to create the carefully scaled plans. We then cut the steel pieces on the CNC plasma cutter from 1/8" thick plate. These pieces were formed and welded up, plenty strong to withstand the occasional stray bowling ball. The 3/4" thick plywood pieces were a simple offset cut and were fastened to the welded steel frame with self tapping screws. The first beam work armatures will be created tomorrow. Then we'll staple the expanded, galvanized mesh onto the armatures. The number plates and joining shields will be routed from 30 lb Precision Board. Once they are made we will begin the sculpting process. These prototypes will serve as models and style guides for the rest of the project.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Forest lady - step by step

Peter's second sign of this series is a classic. The elf maiden on each side will be hand sculpted using sculpting epoxy. The main board will be routed from 30 lb Precision Board.

Forest Lady

Import the design and draw the shapes you will need.
Once you have your shapes drawn you can begin to create the reliefs.
Begin by creating a round relief for the inner shield shape.

 Modify your shield relief by raising the woman silhouette. 
 Modify the shield relief again by lowering the leaf shape.
 Add wood grain texture to the shield by applying a bitmap.
Create a new zero height relief for the ‘Forest  Lady’ text outline.
Then modify outline relief with the middle shield shape.
Next cut the outline into the shield by merging the outline relief with the shield relief.

 Now create a new zero height relief with the larger text outline.
  Merge the first outline relief with the second outline relief.
Modify your relief with the ‘Forest Lady’ text.

Combine the shield relief with the text relief.
Now create a zero height relief for the main section of the scroll.

Modify the scroll relief with the largest shield shape.
Modify the scroll relief with the ‘spirits of the sprites’ text.

Create two round reliefs for the scroll tails. 
Combine the shield and scroll reliefs.
The Forest Lady sign is now ready to toolpath.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Coat of arms

Peter Sawatzky, my partner (and son) also works with EnRoute and our MultiCam CNC router and plasma cutter. He does some pretty amazing projects. From time to time he'll be posting them here. It is our hope that with one more voice describing his techniques and methods, hopefully there will be one more source of learning and inspiration. His first post if a little family crest he did for his lovely wife, Hailey's recent birthday.
  • Import your design into Enroute.

I start the project with a loose sketch of a coat of arms featuring a zebra head and three bumblebees.

  • Draw your shapes in Enroute.

Using my sketch as a guide, I carefully draw each of the shapes I will use to create my reliefs.

  • Create your reliefs.

Each of the reliefs is created separately - they will be merged together just before toolpathing.

The majority of the reliefs are made with the flat and round "create relief" tools. However the bee's wings are made with the "smooth relief edit" tool.

Using the "smooth relief edit" tool, I slowly build up the ends of the wings so that they emerge from the bee's body.

  • Apply bitmaps to your reliefs.

The ribbon appears to wind over and under itself -  this is done by applying a custom bitmap to the ribbon relief.

I use a black and white image - when I apply the bitmap to the relief the black areas do not change my relief but the white areas raise my relief 0.25". Basically, the lighter the shade of grey the higher it raises my relief.

The stripes on the zebra are applied using the same technique. However, I set the white areas to raise the zebra relief a tenth of an inch.

  • Merge your reliefs and add your toolpaths

Once each of the pieces has been finished I align and merge them to create a single relief ready for toolpathing.

Once routed, the coat of arms is ready for paint.

Pub sign number two - part two

With the Troll's Bitter Ale sign routed and ready for assembly it was time to make things real sturdy and built to last. I had routed a cavity into the centre section the the sign into which I placed a welded steel 1"x1" square tubing frame. The mounting posts protruded from the top and one side. I used one part Coastal Enterprises PB Bond 240 glue to hold things tight. I also use some coarse wood screws which I will leave in place.

While the sign glue was curing I fired up the MultiCam plasma cutter and cut our the decorative bracket filigree. It took longer to design than to cut by far.

I fashioned the bracket from 3/8" flat bar and a piece of schedule 40 10" pipe, then welded the fancy filigree to the top. A few minutes with the air poured die grinder shaped the edges of the banner, and added texture to it's surface. Then I used the die grinder to create the woodgrain texture to the edges, top, and bottom of the wood boards. As quick as that I was ready to have some real fun sculpting the characters onto the sign.

I decided the two back to back trolls would be similar but not identical. That meant I could have twice the fun with no worry about making them exactly the same. Those who take the time to look at both sides of the sign will get their reward. It took me about three and a half hours to mix the sculpting epoxy and sculpt the characters - a very fun afternoon's work!

Pub sign step by step - part five

A little work with the hand die grinder made the sign ready to begin the sculpting - or so I thought. When I did my last post here the spellcheck let me know I had made a mistake and spelled 'ELIXER' incorrectly. It should instead be spelled 'ELIXIR' There was only one thing to do and that was to fix it.

Thankfully with Precision Board, once I fixed my mistake the repair would be seamless. First I broke out the power plane and sander. In a few minutes I had removed the ribbon panel and made the sign flat once more.

Then I designed a new panel in EnRoute and had the MultiCam whip up some new pieces. These were glued into place and once again we were ready for my favourite part - hand sculpting.

The figure on the sign was to be double sided - just like the sign. It took me about three hours to sculpt the two figures. They aren't identical, but no worries for you can only see one side at a time.  :)

Now with the sculpting done and everything spelled right we are ready to head off to the painting department. Stay tuned...

Friday, September 16, 2016

Pub sign number two - part one

The second sign I'll be using as an example for my teaching at the Denver Summit is the Troll's Bitter Ale, one of the signs for NEB's Pub. I did the sketch freehand on my iPad using the digital pencil. 

With the exception of the 'BITTER ALE' lettering the sign was then designed in EnRoute using the drawing tools. I drew only half the banner and then flipped it before merging the two halves together. The thin vertical rectangles will be the grooves between the boards. The trolls lettering was done freehand.

I duplicated the file and then merged the pieces together to create a 1" thick middle section. The welded steel 1" x 1" tube frame will be inserted into this section. After I created the reliefs I duplicated the file and flipped it. This would allow me to glue the back to the front and have them align perfectly.

The sign faces were routed from 1.5" thick 30lb Precision Board.

The centre section was a simple offset cut from 1" thick Precision Board.

The curly bracket was plasma cut from 1/4" steel plate in just a few second using the MultiCam plasma cutter.

Here's the sign mocked up and ready for assembly. I'll be doing that tomorrow. Stay tuned...