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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

15" gauge fun

This past week I was in California visiting Hillcrest Shops, the folks who are building the chassis for the train that is to go to Trinidad. They have an impressive operation with many projects underway. I also got the tour of the whole operation which includes miles of track and a number of steam locomotives, all in 15" gauge. One of their smaller pieces of equipment is a rail inspection truck which is gasoline powered. It looked like a lot of fun and of course got me to thinking about our own 15" gauge railroad. What would such a rig look like if we designed and built it? 

I dug through some old sketches I had done about sixteen years ago and found the start of what I wanted. Last night I did a little more sketching and came up with the basic concept of what will soon come to life in the shop. 

Our locomotive is named in honour of our first grand daughter Phoebe. The little truck will carry the moniker of Juniper, our family's latest addition. 

Railroading is a whole lot of fun at any scale but being able to ride around on the finished piece is the very best yet! Stay tuned as there will be many instalments to come as this thing comes to life.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Time for some R&R

R&R most often means rest and relaxation. But in my book it means RELAXATION AND RESEARCH!

At least once each year I make it a point to visit a Disney park. There are now twelve Disney parks worldwide and we've had a chance to visit nine of them - so far. Right now we are on a ten day visit to the Disneyland Resort.

The reason to visit the theme parks is two fold. Janis & I (and the rest of our family) enjoy visiting theme parks. Disney Imagineers, the creative farm of Disney, are the very best in the world at creating these imaginative places. By visiting the parks I get to see first hand all of the latest and greatest ideas they have come up with.

My plan is not to copy what I see, but rather be inspired by all of that creative thinking and building. You can bet that my camera is always handy and that I am taking notes on all I see.

As I observe I ask myself how we would tackle such a project. What tools would we use?  I see a lot of router work and plasma cut steel as well. But as I observe I see work done by water jet and laser too. Imagine what I could create with these wonderful tools.

I also try to ascertain the materials used.  And of course it all gets me to dreaming up new ideas.

I recommend that everyone who is creative to spend some quality time in one of these places. It is a bunch of fun and a wonderful chance to learn plenty too!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sign Invitational Challenge 2017 - Part twelve

In the last few days I did my best to do a little more on the challenge project than usual. I'll be out of town for ten days and so have to set this thing aside during that time. I had Grant, a newbie, mix sculpt for me as I wanted to tackle some larger areas. It turns out he is a very prolific mixer and we made rapid progress in only a couple of hours. I managed to sculpt all four tall wooden timbers plus much of the rock bluff. The hand sculpted textures changed the piece in a dramatic fashion! It is now looking pretty cool. I can hardly wait to get to all of the bracing on the trestle along with the greenery on the bluff. The angle from low by the floor allows a spectacular view of the piece.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


Today, at last, was the time to do the sculpt of the horse on the Spring Horse Farm sign. I welded u a quick armature from some 1/4" pencil rod and then sculpted the horse over that. The 'spring' is sculpting epoxy wound around some half inch steel rod.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sign Invitational Challenge 2017 - Part eleven

The keys to getting a complex project like the Sign Invitational piece done are to start early and sneak lots of small increments of time to work on it. I use it as a reward for doing other things I don't enjoy as much. Five or ten minutes a couple of times each day adds up over a period of weeks.

In the last while I found time to work on the billboard background. I was originally going to have the train come out of a painted tunnel but decided to have it bust through the sign board instead. I cut some random shaped bits of coroplast and coated them in sculpting epoxy. One edge of these shapes was then blended into the background surface at random angles to get the effect I desired.

Today I found the time to do the cut stone tower for the trestle. It hides the pipe that will bring the smoke up to the train smokestack. The texture was created by pressing crumpled tinfoil into the soft sculpting epoxy. A sharpened paint stir stick was used to sculpt in the crevasses between the stones. Keeping the carving tool wet (with water) made it not stick to the epoxy.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Sign Invitational Challenge 2017 - Part ten

We will be showing the Sign Challenge pieces at the MultiCam booth at the International Sign Association EXPO in a little more than three months. I prefer not to cramp my time as the deadline approaches and this means there is a steady push to work on the piece now.

In the last few days we have managed a few hours to work on it, between the many other larger projects on the go. I got a start on the engine cab and with a little help from my crew we now have the first coat of epoxy on the sign background and base of the display. From here on it is final detailed coats of sculpting epoxy.

Current work involves hooking up the hidden piping to have smoke and steam effects from the locomotive. Then it is back to the small details on the locomotive. I am looking forward to sculpting the trestle as well. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Stuffing the shipping trailer for NEBs

Almost everything we do requires a custom solution. As we set to load the first shipment of arches for the NEBs Bowling Alley project we had to devise a way to get the long features into the trailers which were fifty inches off of the ground. Our solution was to build a sturdy welded steel sawhorse the height of the trailer.

We then used the forklift to swing one end of the arches into the trailer. The boys put the sawhorse under the outer end and then the forklift was used to lift it off the sawhorse and stuff it into the trailer. It wasn't't long until we had ten arches loaded along with the many beams and posts for the project.

The first load will leave for Oshawa, Ontario tomorrow. That makes a whole lot more room in the shop to continue building more pieces for the project.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Gluing up the horse shoe sign

With the Spring Horse Farm pieces routed and the base pole sculpted it was time to begin assembly of the sign portion. I used the center section of the sign as a pattern to measure up, cut and weld up the structural steel. Once the welding was complete this steel was laminated into the center of the sign. I use Coastal Enterprises PB Bond 240 one part glue which is activated with a simple spritz of water. Rather than use clamps I instead use screws which will stay in place as an extra bit of insurance.

I'll let it all cure overnight before I begin the carving and sculpting process. Stay tuned...

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sign Invitational Challenge 2017 - Part nine

Over the last couple of days of the holidays I've spent an hour or so hand sculpting details onto the train engine.  It is coming together quickly and now the front is almost complete. Next up I'll start in on the cab and then onto the plumbing on the boiler. Tomorrow the crew is back in the shop and we get back into production once more. I'll fit more time on the train into the evenings and weekends. I'll be posting more pictures as things progress. Stay tuned...