Dan Sawatzky and The Tottering Tortoise

We love using Precision Board in our shop to create unique dimensional signs and we go through literally tons of it each year. Precision Board is versatile and easy to work with as it accepts almost any finish and is durable over the long haul. Even so, it is rare that we only use Precision Board to make our creations as it’s often combined with other materials, a recent pub sign project is a good example of this.

The pub sign is a sample piece that hangs in our studio. The name of the fictional enterprise is Tottering Tortoise and we decided to add the 1954 date to ensure some history (1954 happens to be my birth year). We have more than 150 such samples of dimensional signs on display in our studio. These samples allow us to experiment with new methods and materials and build our skills, but most importantly, they help us sell a tremendous amount of quality work. This sign has already proved its investment by selling a large new project with similar signs.

The first order of business was to create the concept art. The concept art allows us to work out the bugs of a new design. These drawings are quick and easy, done in a loose style that allows plenty of room for interpretation as we build. This was accomplished by freehand using an iPad as a digital drawing surface and Adobe Photoshop as the program. 

Typically, when creating a project for a client, I produce a second drawing with more information on it such as measurements and notes which is pictured above. I wanted to replicate my normal process in case anyone has questions on this specific project.

I then produced the needed lettering vectors using Adobe Illustrator before importing the file into EnRoute Pro to generate the CNC routing files. This drawing is tight and not changeable (the client never sees this portion of the artwork).

We created two identical routed panels on our MultiCam CNC router from 1.5” thick PBLT-25 Precision Board. A centrepiece was also created with a hole in it to accept the horizontal square tubing frame. We welded that to the steel mounting plate, which was attached to the wall. The two sides and the centre were laminated together using Coastal Enterprises PB Fast Set glue, then clamped until they were cured. This is a glue we love as it is one-part and sets in less than an hour.

We then welded a steel armature for the tortoise and the tree using 1/4” steel pencil rod. It is easily formed by hand and then welded together. 1/4” holes were drilled into the Precision Board sign for the steel rod to be glued into. We used Sculpting Epoxy to first form the tree and then sculpt the tortoise.  Additional final textures were added by pressing crumpled tin foil onto the surface. 

Next, we welded scores of plasma cut steel leaves to the branches of the tree. While it looks complex, the sculpture is relatively simple. I find sculptures with a lot of character and age much easier than most.

We applied three coats of base color (acrylic house paint) and then a series of glazes to bring out the texture and detail. After each glaze color was applied, much of it was wiped off with a soft towel.

Since the tortoise was the most complicated and the messiest part of the painting, we did this first, then masked him off to do the balance of the painting. Once the min part of the tortoise was finished I went back and added the details such as the eyes.

The finished sign featured 23k gold leaf letters for some extra bling. The combined materials of Precision Board, steel and epoxy work together to create a very strong and durable sign. The detail in each part is superb. Unless you touch the sign, it is almost impossible to tell which part is made from which material. That is the way the components of a sign should work together!

Using Multiple CNC Passes to Get Clean Edge Detail When Routing HDU

When James Spouler with Mainland Woodworks got the job to update the signage at the Southlands Riding Club in Vancouver, BC, Canada, he used 15lb and 18lb Precision Board HDU to give the signs some depth and durability. Spouler also used multiple CNC router passes to get clean and deep lettering. Read on to see why he likes using Precision Board as a substrate for his dimensional signs.

James says the core branding design came to him from the clients branding designer.  “I took their vectors and made some adjustments to look good within the desired final sign dimensions using Vectric Aspire for my tool pathing software.”

He used PBLT-15 Precision Board HDU at 3″ thick for the larger main sign and PBLT-18 at 2″ thick for the second two signs.

Spouler prefers to use Precision Board HDU for outdoor signage, saying that “it’s thermally and dimensionally stable, essentially weatherproof, and UV stable.  It’s the best material I have found for painted exterior signage if you want it to last.”

For the deep lettering ( 0.8″ ) on the large main sign James first cut the lettering pass using a 5º tapered endmill.  “Then I cut the clear out passes in two depth passes leaving about 0.05″ and then one final finishing pass to remove that last 50 thousandths of an inch.”  He adds, “this lets me hog out the material fast and dirty then do a nice cleanup pass to get rid of any tear out or other blemishes that can be caused by weird or inefficient tool-pathing or by cutting too fast or too deep in one go.”

“I primed the signs with Coastal’s FSC-88 WB primer/filler, which took a little playing with to get used to, but once I thinned it to the right consistency, it worked great,” says Spouler (Ed note: Click HERE for tips from the experts on priming HDU with FSC-88 WB).

James painted the signs using the Matthews urethane paint color system saying, “it’s the best way I have found to accurately hit PMS colors at any amount you need to mix up, from a thimble to a gallon.”

Spouler says machining the Precision Board HDU took no time at all.  “Cutting the HDU goes fairly quickly, that’s one of my favorite parts of working with it.  It cuts fast and sharp and with a little planning you can really push the feed rates on it.”

Spouler uses a CNC machine which he built with his father-in-law.  “My father-in-law is an inventor and builder, electrician, plumber, and network systems engineer,” he tells us.  He adds, “the machine was originally based on open source MechMate plans, we built it with a 62″ x 122″ cutting area, initially it had about 6″ of Z travel, and of course, on the second project, which was planing a 5″ thick maple slab, we ran into the Z height limitation. and so we redesigned the Z axis with a lead screw and some linear bearings and rails to now allow for a full 16.5″ of travel.”

James uses a 2.2 kW water-cooled spindle on the machine and runs it using LinuxCNC.

Mainland Woodworks is a family run design and wood crafting team that is able to bring your ideas from a dream to a reality that you can see, touch and admire for years to come.  They offer a wide range of wood milling services as well as a large bed CNC router which can plane slabs and create elaborate 3D carvings.  You can call them at 778-241-6984 or visit their website.

Coastal Enterprises offers free samples of Precision Board HDU.  Already have a project in mind for our material?  Request a quote and get started today.  Sign up for our monthly blog roundup so you don’t miss any of our informative blogs.

Have a special project fabricated with Precision Board HDU and want to know if it could be featured in a blog on our website?  Give us a call at 800-845-0745 or drop us an email with details.  We’d love to hear from you!

Making the Hazelnut Inn Model with Precision Board HDU

Coastal Enterprises, manufacturers of Precision Board HDU, is proud to announce a series of guest blogs written by Dan Sawatzky of Imagination Corporation, which will be posted on the Precision Board Blog at the end of each month.  In this month’s entry, Dan gives us some insight into using Precision Board PBLT-30 to make an incredibly detailed scale model – like this one for the Hazelnut Inn he profiled last month.

We find endless uses for Precision Board in our shop. One use is to build scale models. Precision Board is easy to work with and cuts precisely. It also holds detail extremely well – especially the 30 Lb Precision Board we use.

As we considered all the implications and challenges of building the Hazelnut Inn project it very quickly became evident that the normal drawings and plan views were not up to the task. The building, with its many angles, elevations and roof slopes was far too complex to easily convey to the professionals and building authorities we would be dealing with. In order to have our planners, engineers and builders understand what we were going for we needed a model.

Initially we were going to do just a quick massing model which would have sufficed for that process but we decided instead to do a full blown, highly detailed model. This would ensure we could plan out the many walkways, features and landscape elements as well. We could also work out the complex colour scheme at the same time. The model could then be used for many other purposes as well.

We started by using our plans to build the various massing blocks of the building components. We settled on half inch to the foot for the scale. Peter built the cutting files in EnRoute and then we sliced the model into sections to allow it to be cut from 2” thick Precision Board. Once the files were cut it was a simple matter of fitting the pieces together and fastening the layers tight.

Once the blocks were all in place we went over the model carefully, fixing various small problem areas and making necessary changes. It’s one thing to plan something on paper, quite another to build it in 3D. Although the necessary changes were relatively small it didn’t take long for the model to pay for itself as the changes would have been very costly at the building stage.

Once we were happy with the massing model we added smaller bits of Precision Board to create the overhangs, garden walls and other details. We worked quickly and fairly rough at this stage, filling in gaps with sculpting epoxy. Then it was time for the fun part – the detailed sculpting. The sculpting epoxy was pressed on and worked in small sections. It took Peter and I a little more than a week to do all of the areas. As we progressed we had meetings with the people doing the building drawings, engineering and the builder to make sure they understood every aspect of what we wanted to achieve.

We are now into the detailed painting of the model. We are approaching it just like we will the full sized version. We picked out the colour selection and then bought gallons of what we needed. The model will only take a teeny bit of the paint but the rest will be used as construction proceeds. We applied the base coats of paint and then did the glazes – just like the real thing.

The model is going to be spectacular and will be used in our marketing efforts for Hazelnut Inn as well as Imagination Corporation.

Sawatzky’s Imagination Corporation is a small family company that specializes in the design and creation of dimensional signs and environments. They tackle projects of any size from small signs to entire theme parks. Their work has garnered numerous national and international awards.

Dan Sawatzky is best described as a creative force and visual storyteller extraordinaire. His art career spans almost fifty years of magic. Dan’s passion is to design and create imaginative places that take people from the normal world to a setting of delight and wonder.

You can get free samples of Precision Board HDU, request a quote, and sign up for the monthly Blog Roundup from Coastal Enterprises.


Signing Off (Dan Sawatzky’s Blog)

Why Dan Sawatzky Exclusively Uses PBLT-30 Precision Board HDU

Imagination Takes Flight: Our Interview With Dan Sawatzk