Sign Invitational Challenge 2017 – Part four

With a fun Christmas day behind us and all of our company gone I found a little time to sneak out to the shop for a little bit today to work on a project I’ve been itching to start. And that project is my entry into next year’s Sign Invitational Challenge.

I had glued up the routed train pieces just before we broke for Christmas. They need a little sanding but they are pretty much ready for the sculpting process to begin. It is routed from 30 lb Precision Board so the pieces are nice and sturdy and easy to work with.

The next step was to design the plasma cutting files for the sheet metal base. I imported the quick sketch I had done and sized it up to 23.5″ wide. I then used this as a reference to design the jagged lines for the cuts which would form the outline of the mountain rock work. I cut two holes in the panels. The larger one at the back will be an access door for the smoke machine. The smaller irregular hole on the side is for a mineshaft – just a bonus detail for those who look close at the piece. I also cut a number into the front of the piece. I will back this up with a sheet of steel.

I then used the jigsaw tool to create the vectors.

With all of the extras deleted the files were ready to send off to the plasma cutter.

It took longer to load the steel than to cut the pieces. I sure love this wonderful machine! Tomorrow I’ll do a little grinding and then set to work beginning the assembly. Stay tuned…

Sign Invitational Challenge – building the routing file

Building the routing file for a steam train might seem daunting at first glance but it really is a sum of it’s parts. In my case I want the router to do the hard parts, bulk it out and then I will hand model the rest. The reality is you could get as detailed as you want and go the whole way with the router. It would just be a matter of time, both for 3D modelling and machining.

The secret from this point is to look at what you want to model and then break it down into simply modelled components. Each 3D piece is then built using the best tools and then combined in the end.

The vector files for my locomotive looked like this when I was done building them.

The smoke stack and boiler were built using the revolve tools. These were first built as meshes and then combined with the zero height relief to create these shapes. I then deleted the meshes. The smoke stack was first.

Meshes appear as black when unselected, green when selected. When they are rendered they appear red.

The boiler was next to be created as a mesh.

I then selected both meshes and the zero height relief. I then opened the combine meshes with relief menu and using the MERGE HIGHEST option made the meshes into a relief. When I hit render it looks like this when you are successful. I could then delete the meshes.

The steam and sand domes were next. I built them as separate reliefs using the dome tool.

When I rendered the pieces as a test I noticed the bigger dome encroached into the sloped area so I moved it back a little. When I was happy I merged highest with the zero height background.

The frame of the train was the next to get my attention. I first combined some of the components that would be the same height. Then I made them into a flat relief.

The front support for the boiler next was made into a relief. The axles were also made into a relief.

The beam which would support the train was also created at this time as was the running board and bottom of the engine cab.

I then MERGED HIGHEST all of the separate reliefs onto the zero height base relief.

I then used the SWEEP TWO RAILS function to create one half of the train rails as an I-beam. Two of these will be glued up to form each rail. This too was combined with the base relief.

I then selected my completed relief with all of the components on it and used the warp function to distort the entire relief. This would effectively bend the engine and all related components to match my concept.

After I built the wheels I sliced the relief to fit onto a sheet of 1.5″ Precision Board. I merged everything to the bottom plane and merged highest with the base relief.  I then duplicated the file and flipped it for the other half of the train. The file was then ready to tool path and send off to the router.

Sign Invitational 2017

I started by clipping the train section from the sketch I posted last time. I saved this as a JGP file and imported this into EnRoute. I then sized it up to how it would be in the final piece. This drawing was then used as a reference to get the sizes right on the routing files.

I then recreated the various parts in scale, inside EnRoute. One of each size wheel was created and then duplicated to make things fast.


The train will be busting out of the sign face and so needed to have that feel of movement. To do this I used the distort/warp function to do all of the pieces at once, and keeping them in proportion.


In the next session I’ll begin creating meshes and building the reliefs needed to build the bulk of this piece on the MultiCam CNC machine. Stay tuned…

Sign Invitational 2017 – Part One

With Christmas fast approaching and some quiet days scheduled between Christmas and New Years it was time to work up my ideas for the next Sign Invitational challenge. It us my usual habit to work on personal creative projects in this period.

The design parameters for the competition are similar to last year although there are a few changes. The build envelope is still 24″ x 24″ x 72″ tall. Movement and special effects are allowed but must be triggered by the viewers. The theme is ‘Sign Magic’.

That left a lot of opportunity to be creative. As I thought about my piece this year many inspirations came to mind.
I love trains and have wanted to build a dimensional piece for some time. I decided to have a sign painter working on a bill board with the train (and trestle) bursting off the canvas beside him, showing the magic of a good illustration. The base of the display will be chiseled out as defined by the shape of the landscape. We will also cut some mineshaft into the rock work to add some interest on the plain cut step bottom portion.
As always I have a few surprises in store and they will be revealed as I get into the build.  Here’s the concept art which will serve as a basis for the construct…


Eighteen months ago I issued a CHALLENGE to my sign making friends. The CHALLENGE was for everyone to create one sign or project that was for themselves. It was to be  sample for their shops. The sign was to be of the type they would make if cost was no object – the type of sign they dreamed of making. In our shop we upped the ante, creating one sign each month instead. These signs worked beyond my wildest dream for us. They’ve been honored with many international awards, been featured in articles and most importantly brought in the type of work we WANT to do.
Today I received word the CHALLENGE is still going. The CHALLENGE, along with pictures of our projects is being published one more time – in Russian this time. A six page feature is to be published in the biggest Ukrainian Sign Magazine.
It is my sincere hope some sign makers there take up my challenge for themselves!