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, June 30, 2010

Dream project!

Tomorrow we start a most imaginative project - one I've been planning and dreaming of for the better part of a year. I've been working on the designs in concert with the owner for quite some time. Now, we've worked out the logistics, the contractor has done the preliminary work and the interior designer has worked with us to finalize the colors and finishes throughout the project. At last it is time to do the most fun part... BUILD IT!
The project is a new office, tech center and showroom for MultiCam Western Canada. In the next series of posts I'll be sharing some of the plans and concepts, then take you through the building of the files and then the cutting and assembly process in the next weeks...
One of the areas which will get the full treatment is the board room. My mandate was to show the type of imaginative things that could be done with the various CNC machines MultiCam builds including plasma cutters, routers, lasers and water jets. I'll be stretching EnRoute to the max in the process as well of course. The fun starts outside the door. This will be cut from 30lb Precision Board and embellished with a little sculpting using epoxies.
The room is going to be themed in a nautical/underwater theme. LED lighting, eye candy galore and exquisite detailing will show what these wonderful machines are capable of. We'll use EnRoute software to create the files and a variety of materials including plenty of Precision Board to do the work.
The heavy duty board room table will be thirteen feet long and feature laser engraving in the plexiglas centerpiece with LED indirect lighting to show the detail off it its maximum effect.
The walls will feature wainscoting using the new EnRoute Rapid Texture software. I'll document that process here of course. We'll route some very interesting ceiling tiles, trim, corner blocks and detail pieces - all with a nautical bent of course. Some very cool eye candy will also continue the theme for this room. Even the large LED TV will get the full treatment.
All this is but one room of the showpiece facility... just imagine what is to come!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sign Magic Workshop - Starring EnRoute!

Six folks travelled from far and wide to attend our eighth Sign Magic Workshop. The ball got rolling fast late Thursday afternoon when they gathered for an informal meet and greet. We went for supper at a local diner and talk quickly turned to routers, dimensional signs and how to make them. This crew was eager to learn all they could. After supper we walked back to the shop and the learning commenced - before the workshop officially began Friday morning. We didn't break up until 11:00 pm that first day. And so it would go all weekend long.

The days were long and the learning intense... we had a lot of ground to cover in three short days. We talked of design, how to build three dimensional routing files using EnRoute and of course we fired up the MultiCam to show how our creations would look in real life. Our MultiCam router got a good workout. After our lessons were complete each student created a dimensional sample for the first time and every one looked great. These folks obviously were paying attention!
We also spent long hours each evening learning how to finish the many samples. The skill level of this group was high. They demonstrated a passion to learn and took things as far as they possibly could. We laughed, we talked, we learned and shared 'secrets' of how to do the things we do until the time was up. Some great projects were completed through the weekend.

I look forward to seeing some cool projects from these folks in the future!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

One sign using a big box of tricks

Our next Sign Magic Workshop is to start in only four days. It seems that no matter how much I try to get done ahead of time, the last few days there still always seems to be a lot left to do. This time is no exception although we are in pretty good shape.

One of the projects we will be doing for this workshop is a new sign for our driveway.the drive is a long one and everyone (especially me) tends to race down it to the shop way out back. We had al old sign asking people to slow down but it was time for something new - something that would grab folks attention. I did up a quick sketch, then set to work making it happen. Most of the work will happen in our workshop with coming weekend but I needed to do some prefabrication ahead of time for the workshop only lasts three days.
The chicken was sculpted with Abracabra Sculpt over a welded steel armature. A ball of tinfoil was pressed into the middle if the armature to bulk it out a little before I started sculpting. Over a couple of days I spent bits of time to build up the form of the bird, then add feathers, one at a time. It looks like a lot of work but it actually went pretty fast.
The next step was to create the routing file for the sign in EnRoute. This file used a while bunch of steps and tools including creating reliefs, applying bitmaps, and uses the sculpting tool. The lettering is raised and beveled too. I'll go over the creating of this file in our workshop to show how it was done in detail. I used a custom cartoon font which I had created a while back. The woodgrain bitmap was also from my personal collection. The back panel for the sign was simply a flip of the front but without the lettering. The front and back of the sign were routed from 1.5" thick 30 lb Precision Board.

The center piece of the sign was done with a piece of 1" thick material. I also routed a 'T' shaped hole in this piece to accommodate the steel structure I would weld for this purpose. The sign, including the face will be glued together during the workshop. I'll be demonstrating how I add grain to the edges with the air powered die grinder.

I drilled two holes from the top of the center piece and pushed the extra long chicken leg armature through it, then welded them to the steel 'T'. This chicken won't be flying away any time soon! Two heavy steel rods in turn were pushed through holes in the back panel and then welded to the 'T' with the back panel in place. This structure was then welded to a larger armature which would form the basis for the 'tree' that would hold up the sign with the chicken perched on it.
The sign still has plenty of work to be done before it is finished but it is now ready for the workshop. Although some steps are complete (like the routing and welding) I'll be describing these steps using the piece as reference. Then we'll do the balance as a demonstration piece with help from my students. Hopefully by the weekend it will be pretty much done. Stay tunes for more pictures...

Finishing touches

Yesterday was productive with lots of progress on all fronts on the doctor's sign. I painted the rocks with the blended base coats to color the stones and then using a cheapy, undercoat gun with low air pressure (30 lbs or so) to create a granite looking speckle. Once the paint was dry I then painted in the grout lines between the rocks with a small brush.
While I was waiting for the various coats of paint to dry on the rocks I painted on the gold size which is clear like varnish. I used a slow size this time. It took 12 hours to set up enough to apply the gold.
This morning I came in and spent a leisurely hour carefully applying the 23K gold leaf... and it was instant BLING! The dark greens of the sign make the gold feel really rich. The sign sparkles even in the artificial light of the shop. It should look spectacular out in the sunlight! Delivery day isn't for another 10 days but we will enjoy it here until then. The sign will also be a great demonstration piece for our workshop next weekend.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Progress and fixes

Progress on the doctor's sign has been somewhat sporadic as I've been busy with outside projects in the nice weather. With the approaching Sign Magic Workshop it's time to get it out of the way. It will be great eye candy for our guests. The doctor popped by today for a progress report and was delighted with the sign - even in its unfinished state.
I had worked last week to apply the primer and then the base coats of color. The dark green color was exactly matched to his building. I painted the woodgrain area a lighter, custom mixed shade of the green. Over this I would add two layers of glaze to highlight the grain to its best effect.
While the layers of paint cured I sculpted the rock work from fiberglass-reinforced-concrete. This will dry for three days before I paint it to look like real rock.
While the concrete cured I painted the pinstripes and ornaments using the light green color I had mixed for the base color of the woodgrain. For those with real sharp eyes you will see a slight modification in the sign. I had mistakenly routed an early version of the design. We had changed the bottom line from 'Inc.' to 'Since 1986' but I had grabbed the wrong vector file when I was creating the router file in EnRoute. The fix was simple and the file only took a few minutes to create... I used the die grinder to take off the incorrect lettering and then glued on a freshly routed panel in its place. The router makes such revisions relatively painless and very quick.
Next up is the GOLD!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

EnRoute makes winning easy!

We were pleased to hear that two of our recent projects have been honored with National Awards recently. Both projects were designed to showcase the types of things we could do using our MultiCam router. The submarine sign files were created using EnRoute software and routed from 30 lb Precision Board high density urethane.
The sextant was a project that was designed to stretch my capabilities using EnRoute software. It was the first project I did on my Mac from start to finish. It was a crash course to learn all the shortcuts on the unfamiliar platform. I pulled out all the stops and used every trick I could muster. The many bits and pieces took 49 hours of machine time on the router and about 50 hours of handwork to assemble and finish the piece. While the 49 hours of router time sound may sound like a lot it would in fact have taken many, many weeks to do the project all by hand.
Both projects are chronicled in the archived pages of this journal.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Counting down the days and lists of things to do...

As the next Sign Magic Workshop quickly approaches I'm keeping the MutliCam very, very busy. I've been busy creating some cool sample files in EnRoute. The small dimensional pieces which the students will work on are now all ready and laid out. The six name plaques are almost finished being painted. Other projects for the workshop are currently being routed as I type.
It's hard to believe that in a little more than a week we'll be busy learning to create similar routing files, we be priming, painting, glazing and gilding. Metal will be welded, Precision Board carved... cement will be sculpted and a whole lot more fun will be had.
I have to keep busy for there is much to do yet... a few more samples to prepare... shop to be tidied, tables set up... grass to be cut... notes to review one more time...
The countdown has begun in Yarrow.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A little more done...

Progress has been somewhat sporadic as I jump to other projects on the go in the shop. The weather is finally nice locally allowing us to work on outside projects which have been waiting. I've also been spending some time to get ready for the Sign Magic WOrkshop which happens next week. Since this sign is not due for two more weeks there is no rush to finish... yet. I hope to finish it in the next couple of days so it can be on display during our workshop.
To create a solid base for the cement to follow I use galvanized diamond lath. It is cut roughly to size and then wired on with tie wire. The tools are simple - as is the task but as always it looks easy until you try it for the first time. If you look close at the picture I have bent a loop in the wire. This is poked through the mesh and then looped around the welded pencil rod, then pulled tight with the nippers, twisted and cut off in a smooth quick motion. With practice it becomes easy. Keep the bandaids handy as the wire is sharp and will cut if you aren't careful. Ask me how I know... :)
If you need more than one sheet to cover the frame overlap by at least a couple of inches. Tie the mesh securely but not too much. Basically the mesh needs to be stable. If it wiggles it needs more tying.
Then it was on to the mud. I like to use a flexible tool trowel to apply the mud. I also wear rubber gloves. Through experience I know how painful concrete burns can be. This mix is caustic. Wear some safety glasses when you are mixing too. The mix I use is pretty simple... one part sand - one part cement powder. I use a paddle mixer in a half inch drill in a five gallon pail
You need to press hard enough to squeeze a little mud through but soft enough to not push it all the way through and waste it in the process. I like to work from the top down literally hanging the cement as I go. I scoop the cement out of the bucket with my left hand and apply it with the trowel in my right. I'm sure a professional plasterer might cringe at my method but it works for me.
I let things set up about an hour before I came back with a folded piece of mesh and scratch a rough patter into the wet cement. This would provide for a mechanical bond when I cement the rock work on after the sign is painted.
The sign is now starting to look like it will when it is finished. The base is a bit tall visually in comparison to the sign but the sign needs to be higher than the rail fence in front of it. Hopefully the owner will mound up the planter which will eventually be under the sign so it looks in proportion.
Stay tuned for the next steps...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Drifting along...

Ryan is coming to the workshop from a little closer to home. He lives in beautiful Sydney, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. I've visited there many times. The beautiful, quaint seaside town has one of the best bookstores around. Ryan's plaque would be crated to resemble the driftwood found on the shores nearby. I typeset his name in a jagged 'pirate' style font. I surrounded the lettering with a small flat shoulder to separate it from the woodgrain that would follow. The lettering border was a simple flat relief to which I added the beveled lettering. Then I imported the driftwood bitmap from my collection and drew a rough and jagged outline by tracing a vector around the bitmap.
I used this vector to create a relief but used the doming tool with a 7 degree angle to dome it up nicely. Then the bitmap was applied to this relief with a value of 0.3" This made for a fairly knarly and deep grain on this size of panel.I then drew an oval about the same size and modified the lettering relief to ark the lettering at the same instance over the 'wood' panel.
Here's a side view screen capture to show how the lettering and the panel ark together nicely.
Then it was time to make magic using one of EnRoute's very cool tools which was new to version 4... It is the freehand sculpting tool. I used it to sculpt (virtually) some deeper creases into the panel. The red arrows show the areas and direction I applied the sculpting strokes. It only took a few seconds to modify the panel to my satisfaction.
In this final screen capture we can see how dramatically those few freehand sculpting strokes have affected this panel. Instead of a flat hunk of Precision Board with a woodgrain we have a believable piece of driftwood.
In about ten minutes I created a pretty cool piece of work which would take a long time to pull off by hand. The MultiCam would only take about half an hour to take the file from the virtual world into a physical reality...

Period design for California dude...

Gary's panel for the Sign Magic Workshop stumped me for a bit. He is traveling from central California. I tried a bunch of ideas in my sketch book before deciding on a classic 'gold rush' feel for the panel. I dug out a decorative element from my David Butler Gold collection and used parts of that in the vector design. The lettering has that same gold rush feel. The font comes from www.letterheadfonts.com
The letting would be deeply bevelled with some 'sandblasted' woodgrain as a background. I used a woodgrain bitmap from my collection to achieve that look. This image was created using an actual sandblasted sign from more than two decades ago as a starting point. It has been tweaked and modified to work as a routing file. The file was much larger than I needed (as often happens. The area in the dotted red lines was the tiny portion used for this project.
The panel looks complex and difficult but is actually really simple. Once I had all the relief elements created and then positioned vertically to my satisfaction I then merged everything together to make the final relief.
The relief was tool pathed using a 3/8" ball nose bit with a 1/8" ball nose for the final pass. Then it was sent to the MultiCam to make my imagined piece real in well under an hour from start to finish. I have one more panel to go before I break out the primer and paint...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Crooked little door...

Dave's name plaque was fun to create. I was stumped for a while to come up with a witty idea. But then I thought about what Dave does for a living and why he is taking our workshop. Dave owns a MultiCam router. I hear he uses it to create cabinets and doors. I visualized Dave creating perfectly square doors and cabinets all day long - day in and day out. Then I thought about how he would learn that these machines are good for much more than that at our workshop. They can make wiggly lines too! To prove it I would make him a door panel that was anything but straight! I didn't use a font to type his name. I instead quickly drew it out in a cartoon style, then vectorized it in Illustrator.

I then imported the AI file into EnRoute and also imported a cartoon woodgrain bitmap (from my TEXTURE MAGIC collection of course). I used the drawing tool in EnRoute to trace each board to make the door.
The hinge vectors were made using these drawing tools as well. After creating the reliefs for each board I added the textures. Each component was created separately then merged as a last step.
The MultiCam made quick work of creating an exact copy of the file I had just created in EnRoute.

There's two more name plaques to go...

Magical rope trick

The next name plaque I tackled was for Jonathan. He owns a company that builds quality custom homes. Jonathan is excited about ways he can possible use a router (and textures) in these homes. Each time I do a workshop at least one name plaque has to use the 'rope trick'. I never get tired of it. This is a simple extrude function with unlimited possibilities... one being a cool rope. The vectors were simple... some type with a series of oval around the lettering. The rope would follow the center oval.
Once I imported the AI vector file into EnRoute I added an outline around the lettering. I also added another oval offset slightly from the inside one to form the dome in the center. The small weird shape at the bottom is the cross section of the rope. A weave bitmap from my 'TEXTURE MAGIC' collection was used to create the texture. If you look close at the picture below you can see the vectors underneath the bitmap. I sized an positioned it so the weave was even on all sides.
The oval was extruded at a mesh, then positioned on the file before being merged to the relief. The mesh is red in the screen capture.

I created the border around the lettering as a separate file, then modified that relief using an oval to make it domed like the plaque itself. I could then position it using the different views to make sure it rose above the other parts perfectly. Once I was satisfied I then merged it all together. Tool pathing was done with a 3/8 ball nose to rough it out followed by a final pass with a 1/8" bit and an 80" overlap.
Then I sent it to the MultiCam for the magic treatment. In less than an hour the file was done. While the machine worked I was busy once more making another file for the next plaque...

Friday, June 4, 2010

No sanding here!

For the next stage of the project I used my favorite carving tool... an air powered die grinder. I have a variety of bits for the powerful little tool. For this project I chucked up the biggest one in my toolbox.
It didn't take long to go over the edges of the sign, removing the glue lines, evening things out and adding a simple texture at the same time. As always the bottom edge was the most tedious so I got that out of the way first. I timed the back just for fun and it only tool a few seconds over seven minutes to pull off. I know if I had wanted it perfectly flat I would have spent a lot longer sanding endlessly on the project! Even then there's always seems to be a small imperfection or ding that drives me crazy. In my opinion the sign looks even more massive because it appears to be hand hewn from a solid piece of wood. The textures set our work apart from the norm.
The screws were countersunk a little more and then I filled the holes with a bit of sculpting epoxy... no sanding necessary on this project because of the texture. Then it was time to break out the welder once more to form up the structure for the base. I used 1/4" pencil rod. A simple grid was welded up. We use this same technique to form all manners of wild creations. In this case it was a simple box, slightly tapered to be wider at the bottom. It's pretty simple stuff.
Next time I'll show how I get the base ready for the rock work... stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Laminating over a welded steel frame... one TOUGH sign!

The MultiCam ran through most of the night and this morning when I came into the shop the routed sign was waiting for me. It looked great too! I then cut six more sheets of 1" thick 30 lb Precision Board for the laminations that would back up the face of the sign to make it more than 7" thick. These were simple cutouts of the sign shape - except for the three center pieces which would wrap around the structural frame. I would build the steel structure using a cut out center piece as a template. This speeded up the process and saved a lot of measuring. I simply plopped the cut steel into the routed holes and then tacked it up. A piece of 1" square tubing was welded to the top of the frame. I had previously welded a 5/8" nut to the top of this steel. And eye bolt would screw in for secure lifting and transport, then be removed when delivery was complete.
I then lifted the steel off and finished all the welds making for one tough frame. Anchor plates were welded to the bottom cross pieces. These will bolt to the concrete footing my client is putting in place before we deliver the signs. The stand will also make it easy to work on the sign without worry about damage.
I glued up three layers of Precision Board on the bench using Coastal Enterprises PB Bond-240. This is a one part glue that uses water as a catalyst. This assembly was lifted onto the frame and then further layers were glued and screwed into place - one at a time.
I was able to complete laminating the sign layers over the steel fame by myself in less than an hour. I'll let it dry overnight and then tomorrow the next phases of the project will begin.
The obvious question is why did I use seven Layers of Precision Board to make this sign? The answer will be apparent as I get into fabricating the base. I wanted the sign to be substantial - not flimsy or lightweight looking. While I would have made the sign hollow, my time is ultimately worth more than materials and from experience I have found the savings in material gained by making the sign hollow aren't that great. I used 1" Precision Board mainly because that is what I have an abundance of in the shop. The end result will be spectacular I promise!
Stay tuned...
-grampa dan