Whipping The Smokehouse Sign into Shape

Coastal Enterprises, manufacturers of Precision Board HDU, is proud to host guest blogs written by some of the signage industry’s biggest movers and shakers, posted to the Precision Board Blog.  This guest blog/interview was done with Cam Andres of Multiwerks Design in Alberta, Canada.  He talks about creating a dimensional sign from Precision Board urethane foam that would not only tell the story of the residence known as The Smoke House on Hammer Head Ridge, but also withstand the high and blustery winds in the valley around the home.

Tell me about this project…how did it come about and what is it?

I like “Back Stories” and this was one of those projects with a very interesting one.

This project was commissioned as a very special birthday gift for the client’s significant other. She wanted the best lane marker sign you could imagine. As we talked about what the sign could look like, the client provided only one requirement, it must read “The Smoke House on Hammer Head Ridge”. She was familiar with other signs I had crafted and told me that the design was now in my hands. I was familiar with this house as it’s located in one of those picture-perfect locations that you can only dream about building your special place on. It sits high on a ridge that looks over the winding Red Deer River in Central Alberta Canada. The wind blows hard on this ridge at times as the river valley tends to channel and amplify them more so. I requested pictures of their house from various angles as I envisioned using it as the focal point of the sign. I knew wind had to play an influence on the sign’s appearance.  Its presence is constant and at times unrelenting.

The next influence on this sign would be the hammer heads. This home’s location has a history of being an indigenous land, used as a hunting and gathering area for centuries long before the settlers moved in. There are artifacts to be found and over the years, the client’s spouse had accumulated a number of hammer heads which he displays in the smoke house lookout tower. The final influence is the smoke house concept. A part of this house had been built years ago, several miles from its present location by an oil and gas company. The house and surrounding buildings were designed to a western theme in order to blend into the countryside. When the building was no longer required the local fire department acquired the building and used it as smoke filled house to train fire fighters rescue techniques, hence the smoke house. The present owners invested a significant amount of sweat equity and $$ to move this house to its present location and bring it to its impressive state of being.

Why did you decide to use Precision Board HDU?

I was first introduced to Precision Board HDU when I attended a Sign Magic workshop at Dan’s Imagination Corporation back in 2014. I was amazed with the stability and strength of this material as we cut it on the router, carved it with wood-working chisels and shaped it with die-grinders. We worked with 30# HDU (PBLT-30) at Dan’s workshops as it’s his “go-to” density for most of his work.  I have found that for signage that will not encounter day-to-day handling and traffic, the 18# density (PBLT-18) is my choice and that’s all I have on hand in my shop inventory.

What specific density, thickness and sheet size did you use?

For this sign, I used 18# density and a combination of 1” and 1.5” thickness. As the internal steel supporting structure is made from 1” square mild steel tubing, the back and middle laminations use the 1” thickness. The front of the sign is made from 1.5” thick HDU. The sign is 36 inches in diameter and was cut out of the 4’x8’ stock sheets.

Why that density?

As previously noted, I’ve been very satisfied with the quality of the finish that I get from the 18# density PBLT. I designed a lot of texture into this sign and this density worked exactly as I had planned. As a side note, I work by myself quite a lot and there is a considerable difference in effort required to handle a 30# density sheet of 2” PBLT compared to one made of 18# density.

What software did you use and what look were you going for?

I have been using Enroute software since I started making dimensional signage 5 years ago. I do the majority of my design work with reliefs and meshes and use Enroute’s editing tools to smooth and shape these features to the look I’m after. In this case I wanted a sign that had a look from the early 1900’s, something that you would expect to find out on the range lands. The large textured circle that surrounds the smoke house would look like an aged leather piece and brass bands on both side of this ring would again carry that aged look as the patina builds. I am a real fan of epoxy sculpting clay and try to use it on everything that needs to look natural and not machine cut. Whenever I get a handful of Magic Sculpt mixed up, I usually have an idea of where I want it to go but sometimes we end up with something totally different once the imagination kicks into gear. As I mentioned, the wind has a real effect on the real smoke house and I used the distortion features of Enroute to play on the wind bending everything and built it up more so with the sculpting epoxy. If you look at this sign from different angles, the distortion presents itself as a bit of a fisheye effect, totally acquired by accident.

What brand of CNC router you use…also, what was your routing time?

I have a Multicam 3000 router with a 5 by 10 sheet surface area. When I built the relief for this sign I went with a resolution of 80 which lines up nicely with an 1/8” ball end bit. I used an overlap of 80% and did the whole sign in a single pass. I expected this job to take a while to run and after 8 hours it was complete. When I’m doing a relief like this I just set the speed at 300 IPM and RPM at 20,000 and let it rip. The bit I used was an X-Edge XCT518 1/8” Tapered Long Bit. I’ve used this bit for a few signs now and feel there is definitely a time saving to be realized when compared with my previous practice of ½” rough pass then 1/8” fine pass.

Talk a little about the coatings…primer, paint, gloss, etc.?

I use FSC-88WB as my primer for anything HDU. I cut it with water when I’m going for a smooth finish and then either brush or spray it on with my HVLP setup. When I want to add extra texture to catch and hold the final glaze coat, it’s right out of the pail and build as required to get that surface looking rough and aged. I used Modern Masters paint almost extensively on this sign. The small amount of acrylic latex paint used for the backside and overall glazing was from Benjamin Moore Canada.

For bonding the three layers together with the steel frame I used PB Fast Set in two sessions. The back panel and middle pieces were the first session. Once the PB Fast Set had hardened I attached the front piece to the frame and backside.

I had originally finished the letters of the sign with Modern Masters bright copper paint. It failed the pop test and I needed to find a different solution to get the pop I needed. Enter Golden Leaf Products 23.75 real gold! This was my first attempt at guilding HDU outside of what was introduced at the Sign Magic workshop. Believe me, real gold behaves a lot different than fake gold when guilding and it took a few hours to get the rhythm going for me. The end result?  Absolutely beautiful letters that jump off the sign!

What do you like about Precision Board HDU?

I am always amazed with the mechanical strength and resistance to tearing it has when you get down to very thin cuts. In this sign I made an error when placing the sky background panel into the relief. The top surface ended up way too close to the bottom of the plate and it wasn’t until I could faintly see the router spoil board through the HDU that I realized I had a potential problem. So, fast forward a few hours, the PBLT did not tear and held its shape and texture even though it was paper thin in a number of places. When I attached the front piece to the frame assembly, I made sure I applied a nice even coating of PB Fast Set in these thin areas to bond everything in place. That’s just one example of the versatility and strength of PBLT HDU.

Any tips or tricks to routing and working with PB?

This product is very easy to handle, store and finish. I use the guidelines for cutting speeds as a starting point but mostly watch the swarf coming off the bit to make sure I’m not travelling too slow.

Cam Andres is the owner Multiwerks Design. The Multiwerks shop is located in east central Alberta, Canada, close to the city of Red Deer.  Cam was drawn into the sign industry in 2013 when he came across the work of Dan Sawatzky on the internet. After attending a Sign Magic workshop in the fall of 2014, the seed was planted and the career shift from an Industrial Automation Engineer to “Maker of signs and things that are just way cool” was underway.  A highlight of his new career was being invited to participate in the Sign Invitational at the ISA Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. That was a golden opportunity to meet and hang out with some very  talented sign makers, artists and vendors of the sign industry!

Coastal Enterprises manufactures Precision Board HDU, a versatile, cost-effective and eco-friendly urethane sign material that is particularly effective for making professional-looking indoor and outdoor dimensional signs.  It is a closed-cell rigid substrate that does not rot, warp or crack.  You can request free samplesget a quote or sign up for periodic newsletters packed with helpful information.