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

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What's in a Sign Magic Workshop? Part one.

I often get asked what we teach at one of our Sign Magic Workshops. In short it is very hard to describe... but let me give it a try. The pictures will help a lot I'm sure.

The purpose of the Sign Magic Workshops is to share not only our routing 'secrets' but also the many other tools and methods we use to finish our signs. We seek to teach as much of the things I have learned and discovered in more than 40 years in this business. The hard part is to do all that in three days.

We generally have a guest instructor from EnRoute come and give us a hand with the technical stuff. This time it was none other than Jeff Hartman, one of the authors of the program. Jeff knows more about EnRoute than almost anybody and is a great teacher too! Jeff also is available in any non-classroom time for one on one instruction, making sure everyone gets their questions answered. In this picture he is showing Mark some of the intricacies of of EnRoute. Mark is a power user of the program and brought some pretty tough questions to the workshop. Jeff is working on the solutions.

Through each day of the workshop Jeff and I gave a series of lectures showing various aspects of sign creation from design through the creation of files. My jog was to inspire and challenge folks, while Jeff took it on himself to provide the answers.

A good portion of the workshop time is done out in the shop in a hands-on fashion. One of the topics is on the basics of welding, plasma cutting and the creation of structural frameworks with metal. For those who haven't ever tried welding or plasma cutting we encourage to try it to prove it is not such a scary thing. 

As outlined in this blog we often use a variety of material on our projects. Sculpted concrete over a welded steel frame is one of those methods. So on Thursday evening we add mesh to a framework and then put on some fiber-glass-reinforced concrete. In this shot I am describing the process while a couple of students do the task behind me.

In this shot Roger is completing the last of the tie wires to firmly fashion the expanded lath to the frame we had previously welded.

We discuss the various formulas of concrete that can be mixed, where they might be used and then it is time to get our hands dirty by actually doing the task. As always it looks easy but takes practice.

The concrete covered stump was set aside while we did other things. We had a lot to cover over the next three long days. But when it was ready everyone gathered around to give the next phase of the project a try... and that was carving the concrete. The rough bark textures, wood rings and knot holes were all painstakingly carved in. These folks would never look at a theme park in the way they had previously. And all were thinking of ways to incorporate this marvelous technique into future projects.

Later in the workshop a base coat of paint was applied as well as a series of glaze coats to make the stump look very natural. The purpose of the exercise was to show how even with the seemingly most complicated things, by breaking it down into simple small steps they could actually do the project.

Most of this project happened Thursday night. The workshop didn't officially begin until Friday morning. Stay tuned for more...