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

Monday, April 30, 2012

Building a base

Todays project is most likely the simplest I have done on this blog, and yet it made me think, mainly because I don't do this kind of file very often. I know there are simpler ways to do this job, but I don't know how to do it. Rather than look it up in the manual I decided to just do it the way I knew it would work. (for me)

The job was to design and route twelve base plates with four holes in each plate. They had to be accurate as they would be the pattern for the bolts which we would place in the concrete. Columns for our new house will rest on these bolts.

The plates were 12 inches square with a 5/8" hole in each corner one inch from each edge on center. I first drew two squares, one measuring the 12" x 12" and the second one being 10 3/8" x 10 3/8" the outside edge of the four holes. Then I used the align tools to move the 5/8" circles to the edges of the smaller square. Once the holes were aligned to the smaller square I grouped them and then aligned them to the center of the larger square. 

Like I said previously I am sure there are easier ways to drill holes in EnRoute but this worked in a hurry. It proves once more that there are many ways to do just about everything. The only thing left was to addd the tool path and send the file to the MultiCam.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Picture this

One of Janis' concerns was just how big the front and rear windows of the house would be. She has some difficulty visualizing how things will look when done - especially when all we have is some drawings and the plans. Rather than just press on and risk a very costly redo later I find it a worthwhile exercise to take the time to mock up a project if it is possible. Since we are creating the window bucks, which are the same size as the final windows it was an easy matter to stand up the biggest windows of the house and space them out as they will appear in their final configuration. While we will do one more check after I weld up the structural steel and put all the pieces of the window assembly together, doing it now while we had just the plywood cutouts meant getting an approval at this stage would take away all expensive risk down the road. I had cut out two plywood pieces for each window. These were fastened together with two by fours in-between so they mimicked the actual windows in depth as well as all the other measurements. Here's a shot before the second sheet of plywood was screwed on. I won't glue these pieces so we can reuse the pieces that are large enough.

I measured things out and even drew a few lines on the bucks to show where the window frames would go. Then I called Janis into the shop so she could see for herself. These windows will be two feet off the floor so I provided Janis a clean place to kneel, giving a better feel of just how high and BIG this window set will actually be.

All fears of possible being too small vanished in an instant. We checked out the other windows as well and now we can go forward with no fear of changes down the road.

Stay tuned for more...


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Making the pieces puzzle shaped

This morning I fired up the MultiCam to cut the pieces for the window bucks. There were sixty-four pieces in all, cut from 25 sheets of half inch plywood. In spite of having other projects on the go that distracted me the task was done in less than two hours.

Now it is time to assemble the many pieces to create the forms or bucks for the windows.


Friday, April 27, 2012

First pieces of the puzzle arrive.

We've routed a lot of Precision Board into some pretty wild signs over the years. In the next days our MultiCam will be pressed into service once more. But instead of routing our normal three dimensional stuff the machine will be used to cut up a whole lot of plywood for the window bucks of our new house. 

The materials arrived today. 

I'll be posting pictures soon of how all the pieces go together.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mighty Moose

As well as the work we are doing on the house we are keeping busy in the shop on customer projects as well. A recent addition to the list of upcoming projects looks to be a fun one!

A friend of mine owns a small ice-cream parlor on a very busy street... actually less than a block from our place. The traffic is already there - all we had to do was stop it.the name of the business is Mighty Moose Ice Cream. The owner had designed their own logo but decided it was time to ramp things up a little. At first I thought of the sign we had done for the Moose Mountain Adventure Golf at Mall of America a number of years ago. We thought we might hang a double sided version of this sign on a post.

Then we had second thoughts. Why not build a traffic stopper. I started sketching and in a short time had just the idea.

The dramatic sign will use a wide variety of techniques including welded steel, sculpted concrete and epoxy and of course some routed Precision Board for the sign.

Stay tuned as this sign starts to come together in the next few weeks.


Jigsaw delight

It is not often I use our MultiCam to merely cut pieces. With the new house now in progress it will get pressed into service to cut shapes more often than it has in the past. The first task is to cut the window bucks or forms. Since we are using the insulated concrete forms we need to make wooden bucks or forms to keep the concrete out of the window and door areas. These stay in place after the pour to fasten the door and window frames in place. Normally these forms would be pretty straight forward - perfectly square and level. But in our house the simple ones merely have rounded tops. The more complex ones much more than that. I designed the openings in EnRoute and the MultiCam is the perfect tool to ensure everything fits perfectly when the windows arrive.

These kinds of exact and technical files hurt my head a whole lot more than the 3D ones. With the price of the windows I suspect it is mostly the pressure of getting everything perfect the first time. For the cutting of the window bucks which would be made from plywood I first simplified the drawings keeping only the outside border. The bottom of the window bucks needed to be cut away so we could pour concrete into the forms. To maximize material usage I fit the smaller windows inside the bigger ones. I also put some runs holes in the largest pieces to make them easier to handle.

The next task was to make everything fit onto sheets of plywood/ The tallest pieces were cut to size by laying over a rectangular vector and using the jigsaw tool. I nested everything by hand. Each file will be cut twice (except the last one which was already duplicated) meaning the window bucks will require twenty five sheets plywood.

It shouldn't take long to whittle the parts, much longer to fit them together. I'll post some pictures of the pieces as they go together. Stay tuned...


Monday, April 23, 2012

Open the big magic doors!

Today was a busy day in the shop. My winter students are now full time in the shop and our son Peter has joined us for the summer as well. This will ramp up production in a big way which is good for we have much to accomplish in the next months.

Today we completed a couple of signs and started a few others. The innotech sign was the first one completed. 

Then we opened the big magic doors real wide to roll out the Fox and Hounds Pub sign at long last. Since the day was warm and bright the final coat of blue could be done outside. Hailey worked on her suntan as she put on the last few strokes of paint.

Out in the bright sunlight the colors really shone. This sign is going to look pretty cool on the south gable end of the Fox and Hounds Pub!

Peter sis the sculpted fiberglass reinforced concrete chimney for the pub as well and did a great job too. it will be allowed to cure for a few days before we apply the paint. This is a faux chimney that will hide an old unused kitchen vent on the pub roof.

Once the big pub sign was out of the shop it was time for a sweep and clean before we start in on the next projects. Stay tuned...


Friday, April 20, 2012

innotech sign

We've chosen to go with INNOTECH windows and doors for our new house. These windows are the among the greenest out there and with triple glazing on the north/road side of the house they should work exceptionally well. They feature European style tilt and turn enclosures that offer both functionality and security to the highest degree possible. Once again their logo was already designed, slick and modern compared to most of what I design. Our task was to interpret this as a 3D logo without straying from the design.

The Vectors were provided by their advertising department. No straying was allowed here. I incorporated the logo into the same size and shape background as the other site signs.

I imported the vectors into EnRoute and as a first step created a flat relief.

I applied the SPLOTCHES bitmap from the TEXTURE MAGIC COLLECTION  to apply a very mild texture to the background.

The swish was built as a separate flat relief, nudged into position (in the front view) and then merged highest with the base relief.

The lettering was done as a separate relief as well, and like the swish was nudged into position vertically and then merged highest with the background relief. Then I tool pathed the file and sent it off to the MultiCam. 

The sign will be routed from 30 lb Precision Board in three layers and then laminated together with the steel frame inside.

Stay tuned as the three signs are painted up ready for display out front.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wooly is done!

This sign was a whole lot of fun to do from the first inkling until it's finish. Today the ladies put on the final glazes and then painted the lettering. Wooly is going to be a playful addition to our shop display. The sign measures 33" wide by 36" tall by 20" from the wall to the tip of Wooly's trunk. THAT is a dimensional sign!

Yesterday I had a new customer drop by the shop. He owned an ice-cream parlor on a very busy road. All he needed to do was stop the traffic. He needed a landmark. One look at our little wooly made the sale of a very creative sign. Watch for the saga of that one being made real soon...


Fox gets some color

Today we got to the color on the large Fox and Hounds Pub sign. The whole sign was primed with Coastal Enterprises' FSC-88 WB primer. Then we started in on the base coats. Since the fox would be relieving some glazes he was the first to get painted. We double or triple coat all of our paints for longevity. The blend on his fur was went into wet, done with a 3" brush. 

Once he was good and dry I applied a dark brown glaze and wiped him down good with a soft terry towel. The dark glaze stayed in the deeper parts defining his fur and details in an instant. Then we began the base coats around the fox. We'll start in on the colors tomorrow, working from the top of the sign downwards.

By tomorrow evening this sign should be almost done and ready to roll out the door next week after the paint has a chance to cure a bit. Stay tuned...


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It grows on you

With the new house there are so many things going on and so many decisions to make. It is almost overwhelming at this stage but we are making great progress. The outside design is pretty much in the bag. The plans are now drawn and the engineering is almost done. We've picked various trades, selected many of our suppliers and done a lot of the prep work. We are only a week or two at most from kicking off actual construction. We have a giant excavator parked in the front yard and the digging in the ground has started.

Design work for the interior is now the focus of our attention. We are pondering the theme for each room and thinking of how they will relate to each other. We are looking at countless options for color and materials. The kitchen and great room/dining room are our focus initially. They are all open to each other and must work together. We have decided the wainscoting and trim will be a fun way to tie them together. this work of course will be done using EnRoute as the design tool, the MultiCam to create them. Much of the trim will be done using Precision Board as the material of choice. We intend to pull out all the stops.

Since the ceiling in the great room and dining room will be hugh and vaulted we have decided to use an upper decorative border. It will also go down the hallways and across the bridge that spans the living room. There are lots of details yet to be worked out and plenty of surprises in store of course, but Janis & I agree on the preliminary design. It will be a continuous twisted vine. LED lights will be imbedded into the upper edge to wash the ceiling in a soft glow. I've done a preliminary concept and now I have figure out how to design the file for the router. I'll be working on that in the next few days and running some get pieces which we will paint and glaze up to analyze and then fine tune.

Stay tuned for more...


Warm and Fuzzy

There is lots going on these days with projects in all phases of design and production. At the tail end of last month I showed how I built the routing file for the background of the wooly mammoth I had built at the Sculpture Magic Workshop. It will be a display piece for my studio. 

The ladies primed and painted the foist coats of base colors on the background panel and then I mounted the mammoth head. Once the head was firmly in place we gave the background one last base coat of paint.

We now can apply the glazes and then highlight the letters to finish it off.

I believe it to be so very important that we invest in ourselves by creating plenty of samples for our walls. These creative samples create atmosphere in our shop and act as great tools with which we can sell amazing projects in the future. How can we possibly explain the things we can do without display pieces that graphically show the things we are capable of. My personal goal is to create a new sample each month and raise the bar each time. It is a huge commitment but well worth the effort. 

The samples we have created in our shop over the last few years have changed the direction of our business. I'm a huge believer!

Stay tuned for more...


Friday, April 13, 2012

Productive day

Today we kept real busy and got a lot accomplished too. We finished sculpting the head of the fox today. It is much bigger than it looks. We used almost a hundred pounds of sculpting epoxy to finish the fox.  

We also got the LOGIX sign assembled and ready to paint.


Dimensioning a corporate logo

Most of the work we do is stuff I design. These pieces are thought out from first concept as a three dimensional pieces. For the new house project I am doing dimensional versions of some logos which I did not design and this means I have to translate their corporate looking logos into three dimensional form without destroying the integrity of the original design. 

The first thing I do is look at the design and decide what is flexible and what isn't. Obviously the fonts and symbols are cast in stone as is the layout of the same. This only leaves dimension for the most part. The logo I am dealing with today is LOGIX, the makers of our foam concrete forms. Since they are slightly textured and we are dealing with concrete I decided to add a little texture through the sign. And I would raise the letters. The red blocks I would raise a little more. And I would round the corners of the sign to match the sign I did for Harold's Contracting.

I found a decent bitmap version of the logo online. This I imported into EnRoute and did a quick trace. It needed a little tweaking but came out pretty good. I replaced the small lettering because it was faster than tweaking the many letters by hand.

I would route the face of the sign from 1.5" Precision Board and then cut two more layers of 1" thick board to laminate to the back. The center layer would be cut to accept a square tubing frame inside. I first created a flat relief and then imported the SPLOTCHES bitmap from the TEXTURE MAGIC collection. 

On this sign the lettering would have the same texture as the background so I next raised the lettering 0.3" by modifying the original relief.

Then I selected the square above the 'i' and the red square below the 'L' and raised them 0.5".  As quick as that the sign was ready to tool path and send off to the MultiCam.

The MultiCam is doing short work of the logo while we are busy on other things.

Stay tuned to see the paint going on these signs in the next few days.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Feeling foxy!

Today was the day we were to play with sculpting epoxy - the whole day. Sarah and Hailey did the mixing while I did the sculpting. I first pressed on a quick scratch coat and then crumpled up a heavy duty tinfoil to add bulk to the shape, getting it within 3/8" of the final shape. I then pressed on another coat of Abracadabra Sculpt to form the skin. If necessary more tinfoil was added to bring things out further. Once I was happy with the shape I could go back and begin adding the final layer of sculpting epoxy and then used a sharpened paint stick to carve in the hair detail.

 We had a few interruptions but most of the day was spent on this project. By the end of the ladies time in the shop we had finished the fox's head. Tomorrow the neck will be completed as well, making the sign ready for paint.

The fox is a little better than eight inches thick providing for lots of relief that will work great in the sunlight. The overall depth of the sign is a little more than twelve inches in total.

 The sign just looks bigger all the time. I know however from plenty of experience that once we get it out of the shop and hoist it up onto the building it will shrink dramatically.

Stay tuned for the finish of the sculpt tomorrow.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Top end work

Today we set up the scaffold so I could apply the last of the hand done texture over the background areas of the sign. It made working on the sign a whole lot more comfortable, safer and faster.

Here's a typical section with the hand done texture done with the air powered die grinder. The screw holes have yet to be filled with Abracadabra Sculpt. I'll be doing the fox head sculpt with the same material.

Tomorrow we hope to do the bulk of the sculpt with final details to be done on Friday. After that it is on to paint.

Stay tuned...


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Last piece on

The last piece of the Fox and Hounds Pub sign was glued in place today. There are 21 pieces in all. Now it is on to the last of the carving and then the sculpting of the fox.

Tomorrow we'll set up a scaffold to work from the top down, painting as we go. It will make it a whole lot easier and more comfortable to work. Stay tuned for pictures and more progress reports.


First a secure foundation

Every project we create first involves creating a secure and strong structure. As we design the new fancy house and all the routed prices we will fasten to it our thoughts must first turn to the underlying structure that will hold everything up. As always, we did our research to make it the very best possible.

Nine years ago when we built our shop we discovered (and used) a relatively new building system called ICF. ICF stands for insulated concrete forms. These forms are made from styrofoam and look a lot like giant LEGO blocks. They are stacked up and as we build engineered rebar is laid inside. Once everything is plumb and square and braced properly a high strength concrete is poured inside. The styrofoam blocks remain in place after the pour providing incredible insulation. It is a slick building system.

Our shop was done in this fashion primarily to mitigate the noise we would create inside. It has also proved to be a very economical building to heat in the winter months with up to a 60% savings over conventional wood frame, more than that for a comparible concrete block building. When we were planning the house it was a no brainer to go with a similar system. 

There have been significant improvements to the system in the last nine years. The biggest change is a block they make by coating the styrofoam beads with graphite meaning a huge jump in 'R' value and even better insulating qualities. We will be using the LOGIX system - one of the best available today. It is manufactured only five miles from our place, meaning we can save significantly in the freighting charges and be even more green in the process.   LOGIX PLATINUM

The result of this foundation will be a secure and lasting wall we can fasten all the fancy work to follow without any worry of failure. With a shop building now up for the better part of a decade without any issues we go forward with confidence.

Stay tuned to watch the magic happen fast!