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

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Many techniques and materials

While we love to use our MultiCam CNC plasma cutter and router as much as we possibly can, there are still a lot of things we need to do the old fashioned way - by hand. The large sculptures are created by welding up a structural frame and then a sub frame (armature) of pencil rod. We'll hand tie lath to this subframe and then trowel on the concrete and carve it by hand too. The globe for the Bug Whirled sign is a good example of these procedures. We bent the steel on our shop built hydraulic bender and then welded it securely together. This in turn was welded to a supporting structure which was welded onto the heavy CNC plasma cut steel base.

A more complex example of this same procedure is the tree structure for the Flutterbye ride control booth. It has many hundreds of feet of welded steel. The base plate was plasma cut. Many components of the mechanical fluttery were also CNC plasma cut as well. This afternoon I designed the dimensional sign this which will be routed from 30 lb Precision Board.

Monday, February 27, 2017

One level done and starting the next

The concrete was cured enough this week to begin the painting process. The crew dug right in and first applied a primer coat. Once that had dried they started in on the first of two base coats. The last base coat will be blended. Then a series of glazes will make it come alive in a hurry.

While the painting crew did their magic to the sculpted portion we began work on the next section of the sculpture. We measured up our model to determine the size of the globe.

Then, using these measurements we bent up some square tubing and began building the frame for the globe.

This was lifted over the steam base plate with the chain fall and then a heavy duty armature for the bugs was welded onto place. This will be welded back into the structure of the globe. Once the structure is done we'll weld up the pencil rod armature and then begin applying the galvanized mesh which will reinforce the sculpted concrete. It is coming together quickly. Stay tuned for more...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Mechanical wonder

I wonder how we ever managed without our MultiCam CNC machines in the past. We use them a lot these days and the mechanical wonders allow us to do things we previously could never have achieved.

In the last couple of days I've been working on the flutterbye - a mechanical bug for the ride sign. The customer specified that the metal components be powder coated. This meant the various assemblies needed to disassemble easily for the coating. The bug also needed to come off of the branch for shipping as it made the feature too high.

This is where the software and CNC come in handy. I designed the parts in EnRoute and then sent them off to the MultiCam for cutting. The feet are made from sections of pipe and plasma cut pieces. These were welded together as sub assemblies, ground up nice and then welded into larger assemblies. The bottom section will be welded into the tree branch and then sculpted up to. This will allow the feet to easily bolt on. We'll sculpt the bug body around the square tubing. I have yet to weld up the pencil rod frame for that.

Today it was time to design, cut and mount the wings. As we test fit Peter came up with the idea of mounting faux hydraulic cylinders to the top of the wings. it would add to the mechanical look and they would also act as additional braces, making the assembly far stronger in the process. None of this would have been possible without the CNC machines!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Since my last report on the large stump/base we've made great progress. We first applied the galvanized mesh, carefully tied into place so there was no wiggle.

Then over a period of two days the crew applied the fibreglass reinforced concrete and skillfully sculpted it. The large drum perched on the top is made with 'wood' panels with big 'steel' bands holding it all together. Underneath is an enormous stump. We tried sculpting a new bark technique with great success. It will be allowed to cure until next week and then the painting process will begin.

Tomorrow we'll pull the giant steel plate off the top and begin building the frame of the next section. Because it was accurately plasma cut on our MultiCam CNC we know it will fit perfectly with all the other pieces when we are done. It will not be assembled until it gets to the final site.

Another load down the road

We loaded twelve large arches along with two large pallets of smaller pieces into the trailers on Monday and sent them on their way to NEBs Fun World in Ontario. We have more pieces finished and waiting until a few more are done before we send along another truckload.

We've completed two of the ten side arches. That leaves only eight more large pieces (of thirty-eight total) to go on this project. The side arches are a little different than the ones over the lanes as the bottom section is filled in. They also have oversize pennies instead of the number plates. The crew did an awesome job sculpting and painting the pieces!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Deadline met - thanks to a hard working crew!

Our meeting in Florida went great. While we were away the crew kept exceptionally busy. They did a fabulous job Too.

All the pieces for the front of NEBs bowling lanes are now finished. There are fifty-two lanes in all which makes for a lot of pieces! The details look superb!

The pieces for the bowling alley fronts are made up of a number of materials and building processes. The MultiCam plasma cutter got a good workout for this project with many hundreds of pieces cut from sheet stock. These were welded into larger assemblies which were then welded to square tubular steel frames. We screwed 3/4" plywood to much of the surface and then stapled expanded metal mesh to these areas. They all were covered in Fiberglass reinforced concrete and then hand sculpted to look like brick and plaster or wooden beams.

Detailed pieces like the number plates or carved 'wood' inserts were routed on our MultiCam. There were hundreds of these pieces. Everything was skillfully hand painted and then carefully aged with glazes. When the pieces are all joined together they will form more than 400 feet of wall!

In the next days we will fill the second semi trailer bound for Oshawa, Ontario. I can hardly wait to see it all together!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A bit of a rush

 Generally we don't fight deadlines in our shop. We like to plan our jobs carefully so we can finish ahead of schedule on most occasions. But every once in a while the world seems to conspire against us.

We looked over the things we needed to do prior to our next shipment to NEBs in Ontario. We consulted with our client and then scheduled a truck for the delivery. All was good. Then we had a three day snow and ice storm. That cut last week's schedule a little short as we lost staff for those days. This week is a short one as Monday was a holiday in British Columbia. At this point our relaxed schedule is no more. The truck leaves next Monday in the early afternoon.

It meant that the whole crew has been painting and will continue to paint for the next couple of days. We cranked up the heat in the shop and broke out all of the large fans to move the ir around in a big way to help dry the paint.

With everyone helping with the painting it is going quick and looking good. Some of the pieces are already finished, some nearly so and the rest need their final coat of paint plus the glazes. It's going to be close but I'll bet they will finish on Friday afternoon with five or ten minutes to spare.  :)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Paint, more paint and then more paint yet!

Our MultiCam is good at creating part after part when it needs to. We just throw a sheet of 30 lb Precision Board onto the table, turn on the vacuum hold down and set the machine in motion. It faithfully cranks out part after part. I only need to check on the machine once in a while. When a whole sheet of Precision Board is routed I take off the pieces, blow off the point board and then repeat the process.

In the case of NEB's Fun World we created more than a hundred dimensional signs. The routing was easy as the machine did the bulk of the work. Then we have to assemble and finish them.
Routing plywood backer plates was again easy. Because if the tight tolerances of the machine all the pieces came out perfectly and fit together easily. Because there were so many of each it did take some time. There were 52 number plates, 35 name shields and ten giant pennies plus the pub signs. More than a hundred signs in all.

Painting all these pieces took the time - or I rather should say is taking the time. We use it as a filler job, tucked in between other time sensitive tasks.

The pub signs are done. The fifty-two number plates are also finished. Half of the pennies are complete with the balance down to final detail paint and glazes. Nineteen name shields are finished with five to receive final paint. Eleven are yet to be started. Much has been accomplished with a fair amount yet to be done.

While most of the crew have helped out with the painting it fell to Jenessa to do the bulk of the final steps. I suspect she'll be glad when they are ll done!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Flutterbye - part one

It is always an exciting day when we can start a new project. Today was such a day. We began the second feature/sign/operator's booth for a new ride at Playland at the Pacific National Exhibition.

The concept was done previous to our receiving the technical information for the ride, especially in regard to the orientation of the booth and the sizes required. We'll be adjusting things a little from the concept as we go but it will be substantially like the drawing.

I started by creating the cut files for the half inch plate steel. The MultiCam plasma cutter made short work of the cuts. The plate is much thicker than normal because the feature will be moved a number of times through it's life. Over the next ten years the entire park will be transformed and the rides rearranged as necessary. Initially the tree will be placed on tarmac without being bolted down. Because the upper portion is cantilevered a fair amount we needed to compensate with a broad base. The heavy steel will help as well.

The hollowed out inner portion of the tree will serve as an operator's booth. The dimensions were mandated by the ride manufacturer and are quite large. To ensure the bottom portion of the concrete survives all of the moves we built a three trusses which span the three closed sides. More braces fro out to the portions of the roots which will extend from the center. Heavy steel uprights and cross members were welded into place. A fourth truss forms the large trunk of the tree which extends out.

We made great progress on our first day of fabrication. This is going to be a fun project!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


We've routed many hundreds of pieces of plywood and plasma cut hundreds of pieces of steel. Then the frames were welded up, the plywood fitted and attached. Then we stapled on the mesh. We do these jobs in batches to be efficient and to also get ready for the next step - the sculpting.

Sculpting fiberglass reinforced concrete is a messy process. It too is best done in large batches. We carefully plan out what we want to accomplish each concrete day. Then we mix and apply the concrete like mad. The process of towelling on the specialty mud is relatively quick. Then we wait until it sets up just a little.

Our most skilled sculptures begin the carving process, laying out the work and beginning the carving on key areas. As the concrete begins t cure more crew members join in. At some point the call goes out for all hands which means every crew member drops what they are doing and comes to carve. The less experienced members team up with the pros and are coached through the process. In this manner everyone is trained and we accomplish a great deal of work each concrete day.

As we work towards completion some members drop off and begin the cleanup process with more of the team joining is as they complete the sections they were working on. The most experience members do some last minute touchups and checks to make sure it is all perfect. There's no going back tomorrow to make corrections for by then it will be rock hard.

With this teamwork we rarely need to work overtime and we accomplish a lot of detailed surface area. ALL HANDS make the process work flawlessly every time.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Sign Invitational Challenge 2017 - Part 13

With each project we do we love to raise the bar. This means figuring out new ways to do things with the intent to add new interesting details. With the Sign Invitational Challenge piece I've done this in spades. The primary purpose of the competition is to create a showpiece for our own studio.

Each time we do things in a new and more detailed way we congratulate ourselves - at least for the first few hours. After that the project seems to go on and on and after a while we begin to wonder what we've gotten ourselves into. But we press on and then, without fail we eventually come to the end. As we look at the final piece we congratulate ourselves once more, proud of the fine detail and finished result. We know that without fail the next project will again involve this process.

Today as I worked my way to the bottom of the trestle timbers and rock work it seemed to be taking forever. I pressed on and by quitting time the sculpting work on this section was finally complete and well worth the effort.

Now, I'll head back to the top of the sign to finish that section. Then the train will get detailed our before the painting process begins.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

It's a Bug Whirled

We've begun production on a series of imaginative dimensional signs for a new theme park client. They asked us to be a little out there and we happily complied. The first is for a small spinning coaster. The feature/sign will sit inside one of the loops of the ride and needed to be large so it didn't get lost. We drew up the design which was approved.

To better get a handle on the final design and also work out the construction details we decided to build a detailed massing model at the scale of one inch equals one foot. The model worked out to be twenty inches tall. This makes the finished piece twenty feet tall. The realities of the ride safety envelope meant we had to scale down the stump diameter a little. 

The structure will be built in three sections to facilitate shipping it legally on the road. The first break will happen between the drum top and the bug's feet. To make for a good and strong connection we cut two rings of half inch plate steel. The accuracy of the MultiCam CNC plasma cutter ensured things line up perfectly. These were bent slightly to match the model and then the rings were bolted together. We then welded the amateur below it. A stand (the a matching bend) was also fabricated to transport the top portion to the site.

The structural steel frame and bracing is all heavy square tubing. I then welded a sub frame using lighter one inch square tubing which was followed by a hand formed pencil rod grid to form the armature. By the time the upper portions of the armature are welded there will be more than a kilometre of steel in this piece.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Another milestone on the NEB's project

Both the MultiCam plasma cutter and router are being worked a lot these days as we move into the final stages of the aches for the NEB's Fun World bowling alley project. We've cut many hundreds of pieces and used more than a hundred and twenty sheets of 3/4" plywood and tons of plate steel. 

Today, the crew applied the fibreglass reinforced concrete and sculpted the last of the front arches for the bowling alley lanes. These pieces will fill a second semi trailer and get a good start on the third when we ship in a few weeks. 

With the bowling lane fronts done it is time to move onto the side walls. The design of these arches is a little different as the bottoms will be filled in. There are five arches for each side wall. The first two of ten pieces are now fully assembled and ready for the lath to be stapled on.