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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Inn progress

Back in the middle of April I hinted at a project our family was going to undertake - a little inn. Peter and Hailey (son and daughter in law) purchased the property next door to us and now are going through the zoning process to make the project possible. This means we have been busy doing up the concept plans. There's been plenty of discussion and many versions of the buildings but things are pretty well settled now. The land is large enough to build a three suite inn and a house for their family. Each of the suites will be about 600 square feet with a 600 square foot private garden.

Each will carry a distinct theme. The front suite, closest to the road will be the explorer's suite. The story is about a sea captain who travelled the world. The 'North Star' suite will be home to his vast collection of treasures and moments from this exciting journey. The sleeping quarters are in the stern of the ship which is attached to the building.

The center unit is fully wheelchair accessible and is an earth covered house. It is dubbed the 'Under Hill' suite. Inside and out will be a true delight and unlike anything seen previously.

The third room carries the theme of a castle. The bed chamber is high in the tower, complete with a luxurious soaker tub with a view. Rich opulent decor and furniture will be fit for a queen.

We are in the process of making the signs now and I'll be posting the step by step progress shortly.

Monday, August 28, 2017


Now that the little trail truck is running and the bulk of the big fabricating is behind us it is time to begin all of the fun small stuff. I'm currently working on the levers which will control the functions of the vehicle. The Johnson bar which is bolted to the running board controls the forward and reverse of the variable speed hydrostatic transmission. To operate it you pull the safety back and then move the lever forward and reverse. The disc brake is controlled by the new lever addition - just above it. To operate the brake you push on the lever. This controls has a safety which will lock the lever in position to act as a parking brake. I still have to fabricate the throttle which will be located just behind the brake.

Each lever is to be slightly different and all will have a steampunk flavour - just for fun.

All of the cutting files were designed in EnRoute and then cut on the MultiCam plasma.

This morning I got an idea for the other side of the cab. The previous controls were mounted on the opposite side to keep them out of reach of the kids - for safety reasons. But those little ones will want to do much more than just ride. So I am going to add two more levers between the cab of the truck and the sidecar. I sketched out the ideas before starting the designs in EnRoute. These two levers will be hooked to cables which will be connected to the whistle and bell. The kids will be able to control both functions while still fitted safely in the sidecar. That's bound to entertain them endlessly and our neighbours too!  :)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Rail truck test run video

The little rail truck is still a work in progress but it is gratifying to at last do a successful test run. Here's the video of the first test run.

Today it was back in the shop for the little truck for some tweaks, adjustments and additions. I installed new heavy duty cable controls which made everything fool proof and much smoother. I also designed all of the brackets for a hand brake. I'll throw some steel plate on the MultiCam plasma cutter tomorrow and cut them out. Then it will be time for a little grinding and welding before I bolt it into place. It won't be long until it is time for some painting and aging. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017


This morning I cut the a last few pieces of steel on our MultiCam Plasma cutter, then welded them into place. Then I hooked up the throttle cable and took a link out of the chain. I welded up the bell mount as well. I then fired the truck up and carefully powered it out of the shop to position it on the track. I shot a few pictures and then called Phoebe over for a test drive. She was a little apprehensive after last week's failed attempt but game to go. I fired up the engine and together we made a couple of trips up and down the four hundred and fifty feet of track. All went well. 

Then it was Phoebe's chance to take it for a spin while I took some pictures and video. (I'll post the video tomorrow) Phoebe gingerly eased the Johnson bar forward and she was off. She went up and down a few time and after twelve years waiting was pleased with her first powered ride!

This afternoon I went back to the parts store for a few more pieces to do some tweaks. A bigger pulley on the engine will give us a slightly higher top speed. A heavy duty throttle cable and a second heavy duty control cable for the Johnson bar controls will make them fool proof - especially in a sudden stop. I also sourced a disc brake caliber of the correct size to give our rig some stopping power. I'll have to design, cut, fabricate and install a hand control lever for that system tomorrow as well. So tomorrow I'll put the little rig back in the shop for a little more work. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

IAAPA trade show booth progress

Work continues on our trade show booth for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions EXPO in Orlando, Florida. As I posted previously we decided to rebuild our booth which we created last year. We first stripped down last year's effort and cut off all of the structure we no longer needed. 

Since this year's space is to be twenty feet wide instead of only ten we added two five foot wings to the sides of the booth. These fold in and fasten for shipping. The entire structure is of welded steel and the paneling is 3/4" thick fir plywood. It's far heavier than most booths but also much more sturdy. Every element and showpiece will be bolted to the backdrop. Setting up is as easy and quick as unfastening the two sides and swinging them open.

Once the new structure was welded up we bolted on the plywood. The faux rivets were glued into place and then the texturing and painting began. As with all of our projects we laid on the base coats and then the glazes.

A stand will bolt to the middle of the floor with a showpiece on the top - our dimensional logo.

We routed all of the dimensional signage from 40 lb Precision Board to make sure it survives the tough use it will see during transport ad at the show. These pieces will be painted, with the letting sporting a brilliant 23K gold leaf finish. On each side of the structural wings are our 25th anniversary medallions. It's hard to believe we have been active in the business that long! The rich copper structural components will be carefully aged with a green patina to add character.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Dayna tree progress

Since the last post on the progress of Dayna's tree we've made great progress. The top portion of the structure was completed and the galvanized lath applied. A few small details were added at the request of the family like a small fairy door, tucked into the roots.

We then did the sculpted concrete which was done over a period of three days. The first day we did the branch tips and large knotholes in the lower sections. By doing smaller areas it afforded us the luxury of taking our time and adding lots of detail. This was especially important in the heat of the summer when concrete kicks fast.

On the second concrete day we did the bulk of the tree area.  Since the bark has less detail we could be more ambitious. On the third day we did the roots which were tricky as it was hard to reach the back side and underneath.

The sculpted concrete was allowed to cure for a few workdays and through the weekend. Much of our staff is on holidays and so it was just Grant and Jeff who began the painting process. They managed to get a first coat of base colours on by the end of the first day. From here on the process will speed up as each successive coat of paint becomes easier. Stay tuned for more progress...


Back to the shop

I've been busy on weekends and an hour or two on weeknights working on my personal project - the little rail truck. Last week it was at long last ready for a test drive. I called Phoebe, my grand daughter, who has been waiting twelve long years for a test drive. 

The throttle was still jury rigged, the drive train chain was not yet tightened, and a few other things yet to be done but I was confident the little rig would power it's way down the track without difficulty. I jumped into the cab and Phoebe into the sidecar. The vehicle was stable - despite Phoebe now being almost adult size and weight. The goal was to do a couple test runs un and down the completed track and then do a video pass - which I would post to the blog for all to see. 

Things did not go quite as planned. The drive chain was far too loose and jumped the sprockets continually. Then as we approached the first corner things went awry. The tandem rear wheels bound badly as the front of the car negotiated the corner. My design simply wasn't going to work. Phoebe took it all in stride for she knew I would come up with a solution.

As we used the rig back towards the shop I puzzled how to do a fix. By supper time I had the solution.

The answer was to pull one of the axles in the rear. It didn't take long. Once the axles were pulled I cut off the bolts and welded in a new set. The single axle was then bolted into place, entered under the fender. I was almost happy but thought things looked a little sparse. It was time to do a little research...

I decided I would add a single spring to the back axle and a arch bar suspension to the front truck. Using some historical pics from the web I designed the steel components in EnRoute. The pieces would be cut from 3/8" and 1/8" plate steel. The screen grab below shows the file for one side of the truck. It took a couple of hours to assemble, weld and grind each piece.

As I worked I was amazed at how fast and efficient the Plasma cutter made the operation. Everything fit perfectly and little grinding as necessary. This little all steel vehicle has been in progress for twelve years and much of it was done without the benefit of our MultiCam CNC plasma. Things are much better now!

The springs and archer setups are actually non-functioning as the axles are supported by pillow block bearings off the frame. The spring assemblies look massive and fill in the fender space nicely. Visually and in actuality they add weight  to the lower half of the chassis. 

There are still a few more details to add to the chassis of the rail truck but I am pleased with the result. It should function a whole lot better on the rails. In the next couple of days I'll put it back on the track and call Phoebe for another test drive. Hopefully all goes well. Stay tuned...

Monday, August 14, 2017

Tailgate party

It was time to fire up the MultiCam CNC plasma once more for the next stage of the little rail truck. I needed to build a functional tailgate. The truck will be powered with a four stroke gas engine which needs lots of air flow. When the weather is warm or I need to work on the drive train I can drop the tailgate. For normal operation there should be plenty of airflow with the open bed and top as well as through the logo which I cut into the tailgate.

The logo is to identify the pike's name... Persnickety & Doodle Railroad. 'Persnickety' is a nod to Janis, my loving wife of 43 years. She has an eye for detail (and accuracy) which she regularly employs. Janis is in charge of quality control. The 'Doodle' part references my drawing - which is one of my passions.

The files for the many pieces of the tailgate were created in EnRoute. They were cut from 3/16" and 1/18" thick steel plate which makes the tailgate sturdy enough to handle anything that might be thrown at it! With the tailgate on it was time to celebrate with a tailgate party.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Amazing installation!

This past week Peter and I flew out to Oshawa, Ontario to visit NEB's Fun World. After almost a year in design and construction the bulk of the pieces we built and transported there have been installed. The NEB's crew did a fabulous job! Our task was to do a few touchups, install some of the signs and do the texturing and faux finishing on the upper portions of the side walls. 

The pieces had never been previously fitted together s our shop is simply not nearly large enough. The sheer scale of the project is amazing. Our panels, fit together, covered more than four hundred feet of wall! 

As we worked I thought back to the first concept drawings done of the project. The first drawing is one done by Peter as we started to work out he logistics. It is of the left corner.

The picture below is of a similar angle and it is amazing how close we came as we designed. Once the ceiling panels are ct and installed it will look even more like the concept.

A second drawing which I did a little later worked out more of the details for presentation. A few things changed as we proceeded. The archways had to be flattened out a little to keep things legal for the serious bowlers. We were still working on the colors at this point as well.

Since our client had his own CNC router it didn't make sense to do all the pieces in British Columbia and then transport them across Canada. We simply provided the cutting files and he took it from there for the grass, tree and mountain silhouettes.

Despite the pieces being loaded, transported more than 4,000 kilometres, unloaded, and lifted into place they were in almost perfect shape. We created more than a hundred pieces in all and they fit together almost perfectly. We did only a little caulking to fill a couple small gaps. Two days of on site painting finished our work.

The NEB's crew was still lifting the last of the posts into position as we worked and has yet to cut and install the ceiling flats but it is coming together quickly. The tough part of the job is that they did it without shutting down more than a few lanes at a time. While they worked guests were still bowling around them. Below is a panorama shot showing the immense nature of the job.

There is more to come as well. Special lighting is being tested and will be installed across the entire back wall. The owners will be able to create special lighting effects and shows which will be spectacular!

We now head back to our studio to begin design for the e=next phases of the project. This is going to be fun!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Pickup artist.

Each time I can spare a few minutes of my free time I head out to the shop to work on the rail pickup. In those minutes I build a file, fire up the plasma cutter to cut some pieces or do a little welding. Those minutes add up and I am making real progress. The pickup bed is now largely complete and the four fenders are fabricated and welded into place. The transmission is in place and will soon be mated to the motor. A test drive isn't far away. This is fun!