It is hard to believe that it was almost ten 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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Game of darts part one, anyone?

We are still working on details at the Fox & Hounds Pub. The to-do list is slowly being whittled down to size. Today I designed and routed a whole load of small signs, NO SMOKING, MECHANICAL ROOM and such. They'll be given the faux copper treatment, so they are there, but don't detract from 'the look' we have worked so hard to achieve.

I also built a couple of complex files and sent them off to the MultiCam. I'll be posting one today and one tomorrow, even though they were combined into one routing file.

The first was a small sign that used some pretty useful EnRoute techniques. It is more complex than anything I would have tackled when I was starting, but broken down into small steps it is manageable. So let's begin with a crown. I first roughed out basic half crown vectors, not worrying about shape or size. We'd tweak things up later.

Then using the vector editing tool I adjusted the nodes and added the curves to the vectors. Once I was happy I duplicated the vector shape, flipped one of the pieces and lined things up before merging.

Then I created the lower and middle rings for the crown starting with simple rectangles and then tweaking them using the vector modification tool. The basis crown relief was created as a zero height relief. The two ribs were dome reliefs with a 0.15" tall vertical edge. I added the wiener shaped oval around the combined reliefs. This would be used to modify the relief.

The result was a crown that bowed outwards real nice!

Then it was on to the flag background for the sign. First up was the vectors - all done in EnRoute. Other than the overall size of the sign everything was eyeballed, using EnRoute's tools to rotate, center and space things so they looked right. I would resize and slightly distort the lettering as needed later.

 The jigsaw tool was the tool of choice for much of the next operation. I worked my way around the flag creating new vectors from the inside profiles of the combined shapes.

The center cross had to wait until last when all but one of the original vectors was gone. Now we are ready to begin the final work at last.

The crown was moved into position and an outline added. Then the lettering was positioned, resized and stretched a little before adding the outline. Now we could begin building the flag background relief.

A .045 "flat relief was first, then this flat relief was modified with the flag vectors, raising them by 0.15".

I then imported the splotches bitmap from my TEXTURE MAGIC collection. This would add a subtle wavy texture to the colored flag sections of the Union Jack.

I then created separate flat reliefs of the outlines of the lettering and crown. These were raised to clear the flag and textures, then merged highest to create one file.

The last step was to ass the bevelled prismatic lettering.

The file was then ready to tool path and send off to the MultiCam.

Stay tuned for the second half of this project...


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day of rest

Today, I finished the sculpting on the Shady Rest sign. It was fun to add all the small details such as his wiggly toes, his big belly and the had pulled down low over his eyes. This guy is out for the count. A bunny sneaks up below - not worried by the fellow sleeping overhead. 

The sculpted tree foliage was a first for me and I was pleased with the result.

Now it is on to paint. Stay tuned...


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Time to fly!

Today, being Saturday was sort of a day off. Janis was busy with horse stuff and so I had the time to do what I wanted in the shop. It has to be fun! And what could be more fun than doing the last of the painting on the balloon and then hanging it in it's permanent home in the studio.

I dragged my tallest step ladder in from outside then drilled some holes in the vaulted ceiling and securely fastened in the strong aircraft cables I had bought for the occasion. Then it was time to 'fly' the balloon into position. This balloon was definitely heavier than air! It didn't take long to secure everything perfectly. A few touchups made it all ready for the photo shoot.

The first four axis routing project is now officially done!


Friday, January 27, 2012

Working in the dark

Yesterday, in the early afternoon, when I went up the road to get some small supplies from the local hardware store we noticed some smoke coming from a neighboring building. The fire department was called but before they even arrived the fire was well out of control. The flames were so high they engulfed the power and telephone lines putting all of Yarrow out of commission for the day. Power was restored before long but the internet was out into the night.

This morning things were back to normal but around nine thirty it went black once more. A fire at a local electrical substation knocked power out for thirty thousand homes and businesses in the area. Thankfully I didn't lose any computer work nor did I have the router running but we did already have a good amount of epoxy mixed so we pressed on with our work in the semi darkness of the shop.

Around noon we headed into the Fox & Hounds Pub to do the last of the touchup painting there. Tomorrow things will hopefully go smoother in the shop. Stay tuned...


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Built to last

Then it was time to take the routered pieces of Precision Board off the MultiCam and make them into a sign.

 I used the center pieces of the sign as a jig to hold things nice and steady I cut short lengths of 1" x 1" steel tubing to length, approximating the angles by eye. The beauty of welding is that small gaps are easily remedied with a MIG welder.

 The welding only took a few minutes. It created an extremely strong frame that will be laminated inside the 30 lb Precision Board sign.

A few seconds of grinding on each side flattened the welds to make the welded metal pieces fit nice and flush into the sign.

I also bent up an welded some 5/8" solid steel rods on each side. these would form the armature for the trees. I cut a small slot in each side of the sign with my air powered die grinder to make room for them.

Then I used Coastal Enterprises  PB BOND-240 one part glue to hold everything together. I clamped things up tight as the glue expands as it cures. I left it clamped overnight.

The net morning it was time for a little more welding. I used up a bunch of short pieces of 1.5" x 1.5" square tubing which I save for this kind of job. THe triangle tubing which sticks out of the bottom of the sign was leveled up and welded into the top of the new steel. I then used some 1/4" steel pencil rod to form the hammock, tree branches and also to create a framework for the thicker bottom of the support branch. the Abracadabra Sculpt will be formed around these sturdy supports.

Now we are on to the sculpting phase of the project. My two helpers are in the next couple of days and it should go pretty quick. Stay tuned...


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A change is as good as a rest.

We don't do a lot of residential and cabin signs but when we do I enjoy them. In this case the owner's wanted something playful that reflected their relaxed time at their cottage. After some discussion we decided a fellow asleep in his hammock was the perfect image. The trees leaning inward under the weight of the sleeping fellow was a humorous twist. The chicken was added as an afterthought. After the drawing was done he was changed to a bunny. I never bothered changing the drawing but the final sculpt will include a rabbit.  This project would be a combination of routed 30 lb Precision Board, welded steel (to make it good and strong) and some Abracadabra Sculpt.

The entire project routing file was designed in EnRoute. The first step was the vectors. The font called 'Quickdraw' is one I made some time ago, available at Letterhead Fonts  I bounced the letters around a bit to make it fun.

I added an outline around the letters and then duplicated the file. Only the outline was flipped to make it a double sided sign. The two sides of the sign were from 1.5" HDU. I made up one more copy of the outline to be routed as an extra layer to make the sign extra thick. This would be cut from 1" thick Precision Board.

I I then made up a triangle of 1.1" thick rectangles. This would be routed out to allow a welded steel frame to be embedded into the sign as a holder and reinforcement.

I positioned the merged triangle and then used the jigsaw tool to create new vectors which I would use as a cutting guide.

Then it was time to start in on building the relief. I built a flat relief and then added the raised lettering outline.

Then I modified the relief one more time by adding slightly domed letters.

On looking at the file I decided the holes or the steel were too close together to I went back a couple of steps and redid the triangle, making it larger. This allowed more of the triangle to hang out of the bottom of the sign..

Then I used the jigsaw tool once more to create the vectors I needed to make the outline I wanted, deleting the old ones.

The sign was now ready for tool pathing and ready to send to the MultiCam.

 Next time I'll show how I welded up the frame and made the sun ready for sculpting and paint. Stay tuned...


Workshops coming fast!

Our next Sign Magic Workshop is now less than eight weeks away - March 9-11, 2012.  In these workshops we talk about, show and practice, hands-on, all the things I write about here in the blog. We cover many other subjects as well including marketing and selling of three dimensional signs. There are no secrets, nothing is held back as we do our best to cram 45 years of experience into three days of learning.

We have a few seats left for this workshop. If you wish more information you can go to our website 
Or you can drop me an email  dan@imaginationcorporation.com

The three day workshop is to be held in our studio/workshop
Sawatzky's Imagination Corporation
42392 Yarrow Central Road
Yarrow (Chilliwack) British Columbia
Canada   V2R 5E2
604 823 2216

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Town crier sign(s) done.

Yesterday I worked on the signs adding color after color, glaze after glaze. Each stage went quickly and by the time I was done every square inch of the signs had at least four layers of paint/glaze - some up to six coats. Because of the design and routing of multiple layers and lots of textures the process went easy. For tricky areas like the lettering I just had to drag a brush over the raised parts making cutting of the edges a snap. 

Now it will be up to the owners to chose their favorite and I'll hang the other in my studio as a sample piece. Having finished samples on hand makes it easy to sell more of this kind of work in the future.

If it was your choice which one would you pick?

I do have a favorite but I'm not telling...


Monday, January 23, 2012

Sign comes to life with color!

The two signs are being worked on simultaneously with progress being about equal. Similar but not the same, I'll let the client choose the one they want and I'll hand the other in our showroom as a sample to encourage future sales of this kind of sign.

The paint started with Coastal Enterprises heavy bodied primer FSC-88 WB. As is my style I brushed in on with a small brush, purposely leaving brush stroked behind. This adds character and goes a long way to making the sign look hand made.

I used Modern Master's Acrylic Scenic paint for the base coats. It was also brushed on by hand. I worked with a very limited pallet, custom mixing my colors as I went. The gold paint is from Modern Masters Metallic line of paints.

I worked on the top portion of the sign initially as I like to splash paint around. Once the top part is done I'll start in on the bottom portion. Next up is the glazing process.

Stay tuned...


Saturday, January 21, 2012

More than just a pretty face.

Structure is critical in our work. Structure comes in many forms starting with the substrates we choose. In our shop I like to use 30 or 40 lb Precision board exclusively while most shops stick with the less expensive 15-20lb HDU. The numbers refer to the pounds per cubic foot. The higher the number the denser and tougher the product is. I want to sleep good at night and knowing I have used the best possible product for our projects means they will be a LOT sturdier and withstand a lot more abuse down the road.

The small sign we are building now is a good example of our sturdy construction methods. When it came time to build the town crier's arm I first welded up a sturdy armature from 5/8" steel rod. This was epoxied deep into the 30 lb Precision Board. I know that no matter what this guy's arm is going to remain intact.

Once the steel rods were epoxied into place I did the sculpting of the hand and arm, knowing it will stay in place no matter what.

There is also some steel mesh embedded into his hat giving it a lot more strength like steel inside a concrete deck. Overkill? Perhaps, but if it never fails then it has done it's job.

I'll be sleeping well at night knowing the signs I build won't fail due to poor material and shortcuts in their construction. Most of my customers and those who see it will never know. Hopefully they will be concentrating on the pretty face.  :)