It is hard to believe that it was only seven 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 - but I just knew it could do fantastic stuff.

Through extensive research I quickly found out that with the relative simplicity of EnRoute, CNC routers were capable of just about anything imaginable. This journal will chronicle that journey to date and continue each week with two or three entries as we continue to explore just what is possible with this wonderful software... -dan

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Creative on a budget

Most projects in our shop involve CNC router work in some form. Often it is just little bits... if the router is the best tool I fire it up in an instant. One of the projects I am working on this week is a parade float for our second business Giggle Ridge Adventure Golf. Since the parade float will only be used for one parade this year the budget and time invested were of course limited. But that didn't mean it was to be less creative.
I've been working on a train project for our yard for more than five years. Every grampa should have an electric train for the grandkids. Mine just happens to be a little bigger than most. There is still lots of track to be laid and the engine still lacks the electronics and motor, but it is looking pretty good already. The train engine has employed a little dimensional router work including the name plates and the numbers on the side of the engine, With the forced deadline of the parade it was the perfect excuse to put in a little time on the project making it ready to use as this year's parade float. That involved doing some metal fabrication work on the hitches which went quickly. I also decided the signs we would use for promoting Giggle Ridge should be dimensional. It's the way we do things in our shop. I had built the EnRoute files and done the routing for two copies of the signs more than a year ago. One was for up at the golf - the other as a sample piece for the wall here at the studio. Only one copy had been completed, while the other had gathered dust in the time since I had begun the project. Yesterday I dusted the pieces off and set to work once more. I know there are some who are curious how we combine our sculpting work with the routered stuff we do. This project will answer that question.
The routing file was done in four layers. The bottom layer was the log background. This file was created by using one of my bitmap textures. The grey scale artwork instantly was transformed into dimensional artwork by using EnRoute. The next two layers of the sign were simple routing offsets of the letter shapes. The top layer of the sign lamination was the name Giggle Ridge. It features a custom font I call Spaz and more textures created using one of my bitmaps. I had done some priming and painting of the pieces back when they were routed but they were also marked with the dirt, dust and paint splashes from hanging around too long in the shop. No harm however for we would soon fix that.
To start the sculpture I cut some bear shaped blocks from scrap Precision Board. These would save a bunch of epoxy sculpting material and speed up the process.
I screwed the pieces to the base layers and then used the die grinder to quickly add some rough shape to the head and shoulders. In short order we were ready to begin the sculpting process. The epoxy is made from two components... a resin and an activator. They are mixed in equal proportions and the end result is a sticky, clay like medium. I compare it to plasticene - the stuff we all played with as kids. Only this gets rock hard in about 3-4 hours. I quickly shmooshed it on the blocks I had cut to shape.
Once the entire shape of the bear head was done it was time to start in on the detail work.

I'll be continuing the story the next time I post...