Precision Board Replaces Sheet Metal Architecture on Church Built in 1841

Calling it “one of the most technically challenging projects of his career,” the 40 foot long balustrade Will Williamson made for Old St. Mary’s Church in Detroit, MI is an incredible feat of craftsmanship.

The church, built in 1841, had a once magnificent sheet-metal balustrade that had deteriorated over the years and was about to collapse into the street 30 feet below. Having performed much work for the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit over the years, Will, owner of Williamson Lumber and Millwork, was confident he could offer a long-lasting solution for the church.

18 OSM 30 feet off the Ground


4 Old St Mary before

1Old St Mary before
Original balustrade, note sheet metal erosion.

With over 15 years of experience using Precision Board on a variety of projects, Will figured it would be the perfect long-lasting substrate for this project. Also, because Precision Board is available in 5′ x 10′ sheets, 2, 3 and 4 inches thick, he could CNC cut and shape all of the large ornate details easily.

“I chose to use Precision Board HDU on this project because it’s such a stable material that I knew could withstand the rough Michigan weather. When I received my Precision Board Plus shipment, it was the middle of December and about 10 degrees outside. The first thing I did was open the package and measure the sheets before we brought them inside. There were 10 5′ x 10′ sheets, 2″, 3″ and 4″ thick. When I measured the last 4″ sheet 6 months later in June, it was pushing 90 degrees. The sheet had only moved 1/16th of an inch in the 10′ length and about 1/32″ on the 5′ end. That’s when I knew I had made the right decision going with Precision Board for this project,” says Will.

Using his American-made Thermwood CS45 CNC router, Will designed all the architectural details in Autocad and exported the dxf files directly to Thermwood’s e-Cabinet Systems 3-D design software.

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9 OSM Balusters

Inside e-Cabinet, 3D parts were created and nested onto 5′ x 10′ sheets of Precision Board Plus. This resulted in a very efficient use of materials with very little scrap. When everything was finished, Will had 32 6″ x 6″ balusters, 4 24″ square newels with recessed panels, and 40′ 12″ x 6″ hand and foot rails.

After all the Precision Board was machined, it was primed with FSC-88WB Primer/Filler and finished with Sherwin-Williams paint.

Before installation began, Will removed all remnants of the previous metal balustrade.  Will and crew built new pressure treated pedestals underneath where the newel posts would lie, and had a new rubber roof installed.

The newel posts were made by building a white oak frame and surrounding it with CNC routed Precision Board pieces that were engineered to lock in place because Will did not want to bond the dissimilar materials together due to different expansion and contraction rates.



Because the 40 foot length of the balustrade exceeded the space in his shop, the entire piece was pre-assembled and painted in Will’s driveway. Midway through the project, Will suffered a Quad-Runner accident and broke his wrist. Frank, his son, stepped in and tackled the planing, jointing and assembly of the 2″ thick White Oak frame, pre-fitting the entire assembly.

17 OSM White Oak Frame2

When installation time came, the white oak newel bases were set onto the new rubber roof, followed by slipping the HDU down over the base.

A crane was then used to lift the pre-assembled railings into place and the framing was fastened to the newels. A final caulking of the joint where the balustrade contacted the building and the project was finished! This project was officially completed in 2009, though it was over 2.5 years prior to that when talks began!


For over 40 years Williamson Lumber & Millwork has been a licensed and insured State of Michigan contractor, and their projects have included everything from church restoration, to sign making. Will Williamson started his trade as an apprentice rough carpenter and progressed into finish carpentry contracting. In 1985, Will started Williamson Lumber and Millwork, producing architectural millwork and selling kiln-dried hardwood lumber.

Will’s reputation for fine work has seen him undertake projects for the Archdiocese of Detroit along with major motion picture studio Paramount Pictures. Currently, Will has been commissioned by the Arch Dioceses of Detroit and is in charge of designing and building an entirely new TV set for the Mass Shutins TV show (channel 2 in Detroit!).

Please see additional information on Will’s website,

Rustic Signmaking With HDU: Glazing A Sign To A Cool Finish

Almost medieval looking, the sign crafted by Synergy Sign & Graphics for Teal Insurance practically looks like it was made with ancient wood and hardened steel. In reality, Synergy used 30lb Precision Board Plus and a combination of other materials to give their sign a rustic, aged look.


We’ve worked with Synergy Sign & Graphics on several articles now, and one of the nicest things about working with them is that Jim Dawson, the owner, is an amateur photographer and takes excellent photographs documenting his signs every step of the way.

This unique sign began its life in Adobe Illustrator, based off an initial proof provided to him by the customer, before Jim generated a 3-D model with  CAM software.

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 3.59.01 PMInitial proof (left) and final Enroute Pro design (right).

Once the design was finalized, Jim’s MultiCam CNC transformed a piece of Precision Board Plus PBLT-30 HDU into the design he made in Enroute.


Since he sure didn’t want to see this beautiful sign get damaged by the weather or anything else, Jim reinforced the sign with a custom welded steel bracket, sandwiched into a routed slot in between each sign face. Once inserted, the sign faces were laminate bonded together with PB Bond-240, a single part urethane adhesive. A small opening at the top allowed space for eyebolts attached to the inner frame to mount to the faux tree – a simple, yet complex strategy.

To compliment his sign, and because Synergy Sign & Graphics refuses to make anything run of the mill or standard, Jim designed and built a custom faux tree from which he would mount the sign. The tree’s core was built from a custom-welded piece of steel.


Using an epoxy clay, Jim added a subtle, yet major touch to the signs appearance. The brackets surrounding the sign would be formed with the epoxy clay, and painted to look like hammered steel.

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A wire mesh frame provided the perfect foundation for the fiberglass reinforced concrete to be applied to and sculpted into a tree and surrounding rocks.


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This sign is a great example of the “jack of all trades” skill set that it takes to make a sign. So far, this project has required welding, CNC machining and masonry, and the finishing steps will include painting and glazing – in short, beautiful signs are a lot of work!

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 1.31.54 PMSign primed with FSC-88WB (left), 3 coats of exterior grade latex paint (right).

After priming the sign with FSC-88WB Primer/Filler, and coating with three separate coats of light brown exterior grade paint, it was time to start the glazing process on both the faux tree and actual sign (to see the glazing process, please visit Jim’s blog). Once the three-stage glazing process was complete, the sign was clear coated with exterior grade flat latex clear, resulting in one of the most unique hanging signs we’ve seen!


The recipients of the Teal Sign stated that it was “More amazing than they could have possibly imagined,” which is a real testament to the skill and craftsmanship of Jim Dawson and the entire crew at Synergy Sign & Graphic! Be sure to visit for more information and pictures!


How To Make Prismatic Letters Stand Out With Synergy Sign & Graphics

1901341_10153802809240368_785612181_n“If I were to have used a lower density, the prismatic letters wouldn’t look half as sharp,” says Jim Dawson, owner of Synergy Sign & Graphics. He’s talking about a sign he made recently for F.S.R.C. Tanks, Inc., boasting prismatic letters that came out sharp as a knife.

Jim is the previous builder of the custom gearbox made from Precision Board Plus PBLT-30 and is well known for his creativity and innovation.“I wanted this sign to scream something different, something that would make it stand out from the normal signs people see every day. The owner of F.S.R.C. asked us to build him a sign that would be unique, but would also last forever, and we came up with the perfect idea,” recalls Dawson.

Jim started this job with two sheets of 2″ x 4′ x 8′ Precision Board Plus PBLT-30, cutting them both on his 5′ x 10′ MultiCam CNC machine with software. “We CNC routed the 30lb. Precision Board, which is twice as dense as the 15lb. and can hold an extremely high level of detail. I knew if I were to try 15lb, the prismatic letters wouldn’t have the same pop as 30lb, which weighed in on my final decision,” explains Jim. “After we CNC-routed each face, we tig-welded an aluminum frame and attached it to the back of each sheet to provide strengthening and reinforcement.”

The pillars, as you may notice, are neither identical, nor entirely uniform. “As a graduate of Dan Sawatzky’s sculpting class, and thus, an amateur sculptor, I decided to shape the fiberglass-reinforced concrete posts entirely by hand. By doing this we hoped to give part of the sign a truly man-made aspect, as opposed to using cardboard forms as would most often be the case,” states Dawson.

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Of course, the detail on the substrate isn’t the only thing that stands out on this sign. “We used a pretty bright color combination for the sign to add to it’s ‘wow’ factor,” reveals Jim. “After we primed the sign with Coastal’s FSC-88WB Primer/Filler, we used Sherwin-Williams Acrylic Latex Paints, Incredible White and SW6967 Frank Blue, to give it a really vibrant finish.”

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Synergy Sign & Graphics is not your ordinary sign shop! See more of their beautiful designs here.




Going Global With Insignia!

With a motto of “Helping you leave your mark on the world,” Orange, CA sign shop Insignia was well suited to tackle the massive 3-D globe project proposed to them by DOW Chemical.

DOW requested the globe be lightweight enough for customers to lift, which was no problem for the creative minds at Insignia. According to owner Joseph Westbrook, “We worked pretty closely with DOW to make a lightweight sculpture for their trade show exhibit. Because it needed to be so light, we decided to use Precision Board Plus PBLT-6, which is lightweight, but would still allow us to retain a high degree of durability.”

With the concept completed, the next step was blueprinting the design and planning the most efficient assembly build process. “The most challenging part of this project was figuring out how we were going to cut and assemble it as a whole,” states Westbrook. “Through collaboration with Dan Sawatzky of Imagination Corporation, we ultimately decided to CNC rout the Precision Board in many different sections – 16 to be exact – which took a lot of time. Our CNC router ran day and night to get all the pieces cut.”

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With so many pieces to assemble, putting the project together was a little like a game of Tetris. “We used Coastal’s PB Bond-240 adhesive to put together the different pieces of the globe. After we assembled the entire thing, we used a combination of FSC-88WB Primer/Filler and FSC-360WB HDU Filler to fill in the joints where it came together.”

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After painting the entire project with 1Shot Paint, it was ready for delivery to DOW. As this picture shows, the goal of making the project light enough to lift was a success – through the use of a hollow globe, the globe weighs only 50 lbs.!


Additional information about Insignia and other creative ventures they have tackled can be seen at:

That's Not Metal, It's All In The Finish!

Its hard to believe it’s not solid cast metal, but this is a custom finish applied to Precision Board Plus by the artisans at Synergy Sign & Graphics in Strasburg, OH!

This massive gearbox was built by Synergy as a showpiece for the front of their business as part of a recent Steampunk rebranding theme and also to show their 3-D and design capabilities.


We asked Synergy Sign & Graphics owner Jim Dawson how he came up with this project and he responded: “Out of nowhere except my crazy head. I wanted to design something that reflected our recent Steampunk rebranding, and I came up with this idea.”

Thinking of a project is one thing, bringing it to life is another. “I started this project by planning out the contour layout for the gears and side beams in . Designing the project in AI is always our first step in our workflow of a project, as it is such a powerful drawing tool. Next, we imported the AI designs into our Enroute CNC software and put the CNC to work. We routed three sheets of Precision Board Plus PBLT-30 on our 5′ x 10′ MultiCAM 1000 and they came out absolutely perfect,” explains Dawson.



After the pieces were cut, it was time to assemble the behemoth. The rolled chain was linked together with 1″ PVC pipes cut to size and PVC splice connectors for spacing to keep the chain aligned.

One of the major standout features of this project is the finish. After seeing the finished picture and looking close, it was apparent that every square inch of the gearbox was textured with an extreme amount of care.

Two coats of FSC-88WB Primer/Filler, undiluted, were hand-brushed on. Jim decided against diluting the primer, purposefully keeping it thick in order to simultaneously add texture while priming.

“After priming and texturing the entire gearbox, we added base coats of Modern Masters black and black metallic. Next we did 3 or 4 coats of a combination of a wipe on/wipe off glaze along with a lot of dry brushing. The aged look was completed with an application of Modern Masters Iron Reactive Paint, which is a 2-part process consisting of the paint and rust activator,” stated Dawson.

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Jim also used denatured alcohol on a rag to fine-tune the appearance of the rust in many of the low spots. “One of the coolest things about the Iron Paint is that the rust is continually activated by water if you don’t put a clear coat over it, which we didn’t. When it’s set up for good in front of our shop, it will continue to develop real rust, continually looking more aged,” says Jim.

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Jim plans to also create a fictional story documenting the history of the gearbox and its recovery from the Titanic. The story will be inscribed on a plaque attached to the front.

All in all, we would like to congratulate Jim and Synergy Sign & Graphics on this awesome project!

Be sure to check out more info about Synergy Sign & Graphics here.