It starts with a sketch

Most every project we do starts with a sketch. This one was done while I sat on our couch watching TV with my wife. There’s far too many commercials on these days but I put them to good use. The sketch was done in about ten minutes.

Using the sketch and historical photographs as reference I created the vector file in EnRoute. I imagined how I would break the piece down for cutting and then after the pieces came off the router I would glue back together again.

Then I built reliefs of each piece of the assembly individually, merging them at the last minute to make my routing files It only took about an hour to create this file. Here’s a screen capture I took just before I tool-pathed the file.Using the powerful tools and imaging of EnRoute I could clearly see how it would look when I was done.

This was going to be a very cool little sign. Stay tuned…

Finishing touches

I first painted the dimensional pictorial in bright colors. It didn’t look natural for it was a bit garish, but I had just the cure. I mixed up the most awful glaze – a mix of khaki and chocolate and flooded it on up to the tree line of the mountain. The using the soft rags I judiciously wiped it off once more leaving it in the cracks and crevices of the sculpture. It immediately toned down and brought it into the context with the sign. It looked a LOT better in a short time!

The gold leaf only took a short time and instantly added the sparkle the sign needed. Today after allowing the sign to dry for a couple of days we moved it out of the shop and to the site. The client was most pleased and so were we !!!
The shop seemed empty with the sign now gone… but we were ready with the next exciting project. Stay tuned…


I’ve never followed directions well

We routed pockets into the sign to make it easy to locate the separately cut letters when we glued them on. Most sign makers paint everything separately, then glue it together, but true to form we do it a little differently. I like to glue while all the materials are in their raw state. Routing the letters separately allowed me to build up the thickness of the sign in an economical fashion. Then after gluing I like to add just a little more texture with the heavy bodied primer. We use Coastal Enterprises FSC-88 WB primer. WB stands for water base. It goes on with the thickness of rich cream and doesn’t shrink or crack as it dries. The gold leaf will have that little extra sparkle on the texture. Then we painted our base coats on the sign with a top quality acrylic paint. The yellow/tan was first. Then using custom mixed acrylic glazes we started in with a reddish brown flooding the woodgrain texture, then wiping it off with soft rags, leaving the glaze in the lower areas.

The next step was a dark chocolate glaze with a touch of dark cherry metallic (for that little extra sparkle) it too was flooded on and then wiped off allowing the lighter shades to peek through for a rich wood look.

The sign was coming along quickly now. I painted the borders and top with two coats of chocolate, saving the best parts for last…

Stay tuned…


The world is NOT flat!

While the whole sign world around me works hard to make everything perfectly flat and smooth we take a radically different approach. I LOVE TEXTURE! This sign was so massive it begged to look like it was hewn from a solid timber. Using a die grinder it was easy and quick to make the piece look like I’d used an old fashioned adze to cut it to shape. I extended this treatment to the sides, rear and borders on the sign. In less than an hour the effect was magic!

Using the same tool I carved the mountains into the cutout shapes I had created in EnRoute and cut with the router. I used rough broad strokes for the mountain rocks and glaciers and short vertical strokes for the closer trees. It didn’t take long to prepare the sign for the next step.

We used a Sculpting Epoxy to form the missing shapes of the mountains, form the tree line and add in the rows of crops. It is like the plasticine we used as kids – only this stuff gets rock hard in about 3 hours. It’s MAGIC!
At this point we were ready for primer… stay tuned…

Project just finished!

I get most excited about the projects underway in our shop. Today we installed the latest and it’s a cool one. In the next few posts I’ll show how we went about using EnRoute, our multiCam router and a few other tools to pull it off.

It all started with a concept of course. Once I had the idea firmly in my head I created a vector drawing in Illustrator and then imported it into EnRoute. The vector file looked looked this…
Then, step by step I built up the shapes and added my bitmap textures. Pockets were created for the letters which were built separately. The diamond shapes were done the same way. The file was fit into a 1.5″ 4’x 8′ sheet of 30 lb. Precision Board HDU. Then five more layers of 1″ thick HDU were built as cutouts which would be laminated to the back of the sign. Cutouts were machined into the middle sections to allow a 3″ x 3″ welded steel frame to fit inside with two legs protruding out the bottom for support. Running the detailed files took 23 hours of router time. I did other things including sleep. CNC routers are marvelous tools!

Stay tuned for the next steps on this project…


‘T’ is for texture!

It wasn’t long until adding one texture to a routing file was old news. I wondered if it was possible to add multiple textures… and yes it was! With EnRoute textures are relatively simple. Simply define a shape with a vector line, build a profile, then overlay a bitmap image over the shape, select both and insert a numeric value, and with one click texture is created. Black does nothing, white raises by the amount specified and various shades of grey are in between. Repeating the steps and combining the building pieces make anything I can imagine suddenly possible.

It was back to the drawing board and experimentation stage as I struggled to figure out what worked and what didn’t. We filled the dumpster once again with failed experiments, but also built a sizable display board with what did work. This was fun… much more fun than working!

Each successful sample provided a test bed for our painting techniques too. We were using all water based acrylics and applying everything by hand with brushes. In doing so we found we could recreate anything we saw around us… and much, much more. We could create anything we could imagine!
This was WAY more fun than working!


Welcome to the 3D world of routing!

Welcome to my routing adventures with EnRoute! It’s hard to believe that it was only a little more than four years ago I started on this journey. The first time I even saw a CNC router was at a trade show a few months previous. I knew I needed one in an instant but I didn’t know exactly what I could do with it at the time. I searched high and low, made countless phone calls to sign folks across North America but I could find no one who was doing the type of 3D textured work I wanted to do. The routers were capable and so was the software but I was on my own in figuring out just how it would come to be.

When the MultiCam techs set up the machine they showed me how to operate it. It looked daunting but thankfully they left a set of detailed instructions in how to turn it on, warm it up and put it through basic maneuvers. I had the EnRoute manual as well to guide me. But I’m not very good at manuals. At that point I was green for I had never even worked with vector files previously. I was in for the learning curve of my life!

We had no paying work scheduled for the machine. I wasn’t about to put a customer’s job on the table until I could make the machine do what I wanted. I decided to start with the letter ‘a’. With the manual open and me painfully reading, then trying each step, I built the files, we’d put a piece of pink insulation foam on the router and we’d give it a go. We filled our garbage bin with failed experiments. Eventually, once we got some experience and successes with the inexpensive foam insulation we put on some Precision Board HDU and routed our very first sample pieces. I built a ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’ and then did the entire alphabet, each different, each with a different texture. While we were at it we experimented with different paints and patinas. This was to be a learning exercise in every way possible and learn we did!

It took almost 3 months of experimentation in our spare time to get confident enough to put a paying project on the machine. By then we knew anything we could imagine was possible – if we took the time to figure it out. We were on our way in our journey and we were traveling at light speed!

Stay tuned for more…