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

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Big pieces on a small router - no problem

Back when I was looking to purchase my MultiCam one of the debates was the size of machine I would buy. Gantry height, standard at 6" was the first concern. In the end I stayed with the 6" clearance, assured by my dealer that it was sufficient. As I began routing I quickly discovered the limitations of the router was not in the gantry, but rather in the 'CONE OF DEATH'. This cone is defined by the length of the bit and the size of the collet. When I push those parameters I found I was breaking bits and rubbing collets, both with costly results. I also found that thicker material meant longer route times and more waste. It was much more feasible to route my thicker objects in layers and glue it up later. EnRoute makes slicing and dicing of larger projects a snap! Even after five years of routing, when it came time to upgrade to a new router I stayed with 6" of gantry height and a 4' x 8' surface area.

The second debate at the time we were buying our machine was the size of table. I surmised at the time that the bulk of my material I would be routing would come in 4' x 8' sheets. Since we get our Precision Board from California freight costs are definitely a concern. 4' x 8' pieces load into a trailer very efficiently. 5' x 10' sheets do not and therefore cost a LOT more to ship. I can't think of a time in the last five years where it has proved otherwise.

Today I have two projects on the router that need to be twelve feet long. The textures go the entire length of the pieces. The solution was to build the files in one piece and once everything was complete I cut them to fit on a 4'x8' sheet. With Precision Board we have found the glue lines to be invisible when we are done. The three sides of the 'beams' have to be routed in three pieces in any event and glued up in place.

The straight beam is outside on the porch. One side will greet the guests with 'welcome' the other thank them as they leave. I created two files, one for the front and one for the bottom. The top side (unseen) will remain smooth so it sheds any dirt that may accumulate out of sight. The pieces were created as simple, flat reliefs. Then I imported the sandblasted wood grain from my TEXTURE MAGIC collection and stretched it out to a whopping twelve feet. It still looked great! I applied it with a value of 0.2". Then I built the letter outline reliefs, nudged them into position vertically using the up/down arrows in the front view in EnRoute.  These were merged highest (to the base relief) and then the bevelled lettering was added to that. The pieces are to be routed from 1" 30 lb Precision Board.

The pieces of the beam looked great - but they were twelve feet long! Because the lettering is in the middle of the beam on both sides I did two cut lines leaving an eight foot piece of beam in the middle. These were created as zero height flat reliefs lined up perfectly and then merged highest with the original files. This effectively cut the boards into three neat pieces.

The second beam was curved and will divide the kitchen from the food service area. On one side is a message for the guests - on the other one for the kitchen staff.

It was built exactly as the previous files, as flat reliefs, adding texture and then the lettering outline. Lastly came the bevelled lettering.

This time I found I could cut between the words to form an 8' and four foot section. This would make assembly a little easier later. The process to cut the pieces was the same as above.

All that was left was to arrange the pieces onto three sheets of Precision Board, tool path the files and set the MultiCam in motion. Below are two of the three files I created.

The first sheet is well on the way to being done. Another will be on the machine overnight and the third will run will we work onsite tomorrow. By Thursday they should be glued in place and ready for paint.