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 with what I saw 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 and LOTS of hands-on practice I quickly found out that my MultiCam router was capable of just about anything imaginable.This journal will chronicle that journey to date and continue each week with two or three entries as I continue to explore just what is possible with this wonderful tool... -dan

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ready for the rough road.

The Merry Dragon sign is to be displayed in the Coastal Enterprises (Precision Board) booth at the International Sign Association EXPO in Las Vegas this coming April. It will be shipped and handled by many people. Over the course of the sign show it will be locked on and poked by hundreds of sign makers as they try to figure out how it is made and what it is made from. After the show it will be handled many more times and shipped to other shows and poked by many hundreds of other curious people.

Because of all the wear and tear the sign will be exposed to we decided a weathered look was the order of the day. I finished up the sign with a perfect paint job of all brilliant and shine colours. Then I added a series of aging glazes. Once the paint has sufficiently dried I took out our sander and rubbed off a whole bunch of the paint, especially on the corners of the metal where we could expect wear and tear. Then I sprayed these parts liberally with a mild acid to encourage some serious rust.

The sign is now ready to hit the road with style!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Production begins

With the prototype finished and approved it is time to get the NEB's Fun World bowling centre project in full production. Both the MultiCam plasma cutter and CNC router have been running steady of late. The router is churning out the number plates and panels for the posts. As quick as they come off of the machine the crew begins the painting.

The plasma cutter is cutting all sorts of pieces and brackets. These too are welded up as fast as they come off of the machine. Once they have cooled the corners and welds are ground smooth in readiness for the larger assembly process to start tomorrow. The shop is busy and filling up fast!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Merry Dragon pub sign - part four

With the sign fully assembled and the carving done it was time to do a little hand sculpting. I started with the bare armature, coating that with sculpting epoxy and then bulking it out with crumpled balls of tinfoil. I built it up layer after layers until I had the basic shape down pat. At that point I could start in on the detail. I began with the tail and worked my way up to the top. In the top two photos he is complete save his face and arms.

The next day I finished off the last details. It took about ten hours to sculpt the dragon in total.

Then it was time to begin the paint. I started with the base colors, all hand brushed and water based. I was using Modern Masters Metallics which cover well and blend easily. The dragon first got a coat of gold. The second coat was a brighter gold color on top blending through down to a apple green on the bottom. The sign is a light metallic blue for the base coat.

Next week I'll begin the glazing and build up the colors gradually, first with the dragon and then down to the woodgrains on the sign and post. I'm still a little undecided about the metal dragon bracket and the base but that will be worked out as I proceed. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Merry dragon Pub Sign - part three

With the assembly of the routed pieces complete it was time to move on to the welded steel base and support structure. I designed all of the pieces in EnRoute and the MultiCam CNC plasma cutter made quick work of the cutting of the steel pieces. The base plate is 1/2" thick steel to ensure the piece is bottom heavy and resistant to tipping over if someone bumps it. There is a length of 3" x 3" square tubing that goes up the middle providing ample structural strength to the post. The steel collar welded up around the 30 lb Precision Board. I welded the steel in short bursts to keep the heat down and the 1/4" thick steel dissipated the heat nicely.

The lengthwise piece is where I will weld the heavy duty dragon bracket. I welded a second layer of 10 gauge steel plate behind the letters.

We then positioned the dragon bracket onto the post and welded it into place. This shot clearly shows the four layers of 1.5" thick 30 lb Precision Board which we glued up for the sign. We used Coastal Enterprises PB BOND 240 - a one part glue activated by spritzing with water. It tends to squeeze out the edges a little but it is no problem as we always add texture there later anyway.

In the next shot you can see where I quickly used our hand held air powered die grinder to remove the glue and a thin layer of HDU. If there is any minor misalignment of the layers this is taken care of at the same time. I also use the hand held grinder to add woodgrain to the edges, bottom and top of the sign.

The first step of sculpting the little merry dragon is to weld up a quick armature with pencil rod. The rods are glued into predrilled holes in the Precision Board. Tomorrow I'll work on the sculpt and then it is ready for paint!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Merry Dragon Pub Sign - part two

In my last post we started the Merry Dragon Pub sign. We started with the main part of the sign. Today we'll go on to the welded steel bracket and the post that supports it.

The bracket started as a freehand sketch, done on my iPad in Photoshop. As I worked I thought about a number of things. The first was how we would mount the sign faces. This would be done by extending tabs off of the tip of the flames coming from it's mouth. The flames and the centre layer of the dragon body would be cut from half inch thick steel on our MultiCam plasma cutter. The dragon details would be cut from 1/4" steel in three layers (per side) and laminated together to form the sturdy bracket. That bracket in turn would be welded to the top cap and side piece of steel which would encapsulate the top, bottom and one side of the post. The post  in turn would be cut from 30 lb Precision Board.

I traced (by hand) the dragon bracket and then used various drawing tools to create the layers. 

To clarify the layers I've color coded them in the next image. The yellow shape was cut from 1/2" steel plate. The next layer is orange. The red layer is red and forms the red outline of the dragon body. The wings (blue) and eyes (black) go on top of that. The arms (brown) will be bent and welded to the body and the steel cap on the post.

Here's a picture of the heavy steel bracket assembled. It went together in mere minutes. I welded it on the top and bottom and then did a little grinding to make things smooth once more.

When I cut the centre pieces for the sign face I cut some pockets into them. The large 'H' shaped pocket was filled with a similar shaped welded fitment of 2" x 2" square tubing. The extended steel tabs on the flames were welded to the bottom of this 'H' shaped steel structure.

Next up was the post. While in the drawing it looks square I really wanted this post to be a little tapered. By using one of the bitmap modifiers I could also get some serious bend in the piece. The file was created using vectors for the shop, the raised leaves and vine as well as the top and bottom caps

By using the white to black to white bitmap fade I got some nice curve to the board. This is what it looked like in the front view of the relief.

After they came off the MultiCam I ran them upside down through my table saw with the blade set to a 45 degree angle. The cuts came out nice and crisp. The pieces fit together neatly and achieved the exact slightly cartoonized look I was going for.

Then it was a simple matter to glue the pieces together. It will take very little hand work to make the grains match up perfectly.

I also used EnRoute to create the vector files for the plasma cut steel for the top cap and bottom ring of the post. These pieces were all cut from 1/4" steel plate on the MultiCam CNC plasma cutter. I cut the pieces but won't be assembling them until tomorrow. Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Merry Dragon - part one

Each year we do a special display piece for our friends at Coastal Enterprises. They manufacture Precision Board high density urethane - the board we use to make many of our projects. We discussed this year's feature and decided a little pub sign would be just the ticket. I whipped up a sketch which was enthusiastically approved.

I found a font I liked and tweaked and modified it to suit the little sign. I did this work in Illustrator. I then imported the vectors into EnRoute and began building the routing files.

I drew up three separate boards using the drawing tools. It was important they be three separate boards as I wanted to use my new wood texture collection to heavily modify them.

I first made these three boards into a relief. I used a value of 0.5"

I started with the centre board. I first applied a wood texture bitmap. I used a little bigger number than usual to make the grain more pronounced - 0.25"

I then imported a modifier bitmap from the same collection. This would warp the board. Once again I used a fairly big number 0.4" as a modifier to create a more dramatic effect.

I checked the front view and could see the effect the bitmaps had created.

In the side view the effect was apparent. The board had warped - just as I had envisioned.

For the next board on the right side I opened two bitmaps. One was a modifier designed to bring out the weathered effects of the woodgrain. The other was the woodgrain itself. I sized them at the same time to ensure I could easily line them up. They would be applied one at a time.

I then applied a third bitmap to this same board. Knowing that white affects the relief and black does nothing I knew it would effectively twist the board.

The third board received a flat grain bitmap.

Flat grain boards in real life will often cup and so I then applied a bitmap to achieve this effect.

I checked the front view to make sure I had achieved what I desired. All was good.

It was then time to turn my attention to the lettering. I started with a raised border which was created as a separate relief.

I then drew a rectangle vector under the boards which I made into a relief. I combined this rectangular relief with the board reliefs.

I then duplicated the board background relief and flipped the copy for the back side of the sign.

The letter outline was then merged highest with the front and back of the sign.

The lettering was added by modifying the board relief using the bevel tool. This made the sign file ready to tool path and send off to the MultiCam.

The sign faces were routed from 1.5" thick 30 lb Precision Board.

The sign will be comprised of four layers of 1.5" Precision Board. The centre sections has pockets routed into them to allow a 2" square tubing frame to be laminated inside. The slots along the bottom are where the 1/2" thick steel sign bracket will be pocketed. It will be welded to the square tubing for a secure mounting.