Laser-Engraving & Hand-Carving Railroad Buildings out of HDU

Dennis Rayon is the owner of Denray Machine in Missouri, but he’s also an avid model railroad builder. He uses a laser machine & hand-carving tools to recreate highly-detailed buildings from the mid-1900s out of PBLT-15 Precision Board high-density urethane. We caught up with him recently to delve a little deeper into how he creates such fantastic looking wood, stone & brick out of Precision Board HDU.

model railroad

Dennis Rayon uses sheets of PBLT-15 Precision Board HDU that are a ½ inch thick.  He laser-engraves the basic shape into the HDU using CAD drawings and then uses carving tools to add the fine details.  He says you have to be a little savvy on your designs, but it’s not a problem for him- he’s been on CAD for 20 years.

“Precision Board is so soft that you can easily carve and model it, but it’s also durable.”  Dennis adds, “you can take your thumbnail and put grooves in it to make cracks or use a tool that’s a little bit round to make the surface smooth.”

He uses his laser to engrave all the details, including things like windows, bricks, stones, etc.  He also cuts the pieces out of the sheet with his laser.

“I like that Precision Board gives me the ability to get the effects of something like a door.  I don’t have to make the doors or buy the doors- it’s all one piece of material.”

Dennis says, “I’ll recess some of the bricks to give it depth.  I like the brick look.  I can pretty well get Precision Board HDU to do whatever I want, whether it’s making stone or brick.”  He adds, “it’s also a great material to make stucco with.  You just lay it flat and sand out the spots to make it look a little thinner.”

According to Rayon, it’s easy to get a stone effect on HDU with hand-carving.

“Stone varies so much in thickness and depth that your front is not going to be even.”  He continues, “but that’s the beauty of Precision Board- you can copy almost exactly how stone walls are built in the real world.”

Rayon directs our attention to a brick and stone wall on his Flickr feed.

“Around the window is an outlay of stone that is set off from the wall.  I lasered down the rest of the wall around it to make the stone frame stick out.”

The big white stone along the very bottom of the wall, however, is an add-on.

Dennis says, “I cut an overlay of stone on the bandsaw and then textured it with chisels.”  He adds, “I glued it onto the building after it was completed so that the stone sticks out on the bottom.”

model railroad

When Dennis glues his model railroad buildings together, he uses waterproof glue because they will be subjected to outside weather.  He also miters all his seams on a 45 degree angle.

“I do all four corners and let it dry overnight.  I put my floor in there to square it up and add a hole for lights to be added later.”

Dennis uses real aluminum and wood for his model railroad roofing.

“I cover the buildings with aluminum and use actual pieces of redwood to make the roof shingles.”

He says, “I use real steel and make a roller to corrugate it for the tin roofs.  That’s real rust you see on my model railroad buildings because it’s actually made from metal.”  Dennis adds, “the inside of the building stays dry if it gets wet from rain having an actual metal and wood roof.”

Rayon says he’s not a garden railroader.  Rather he’s a model railroad person outside.  He likes to make his buildings into moveable pieces.

“I like to put two inches around my buildings to leave room for details.  When I set this on the ground, it already has bushes and men, etc.  I can pick up the building in one piece and move it or take it inside.”

model railroad

Dennis has some thoughts on protecting your model railroad buildings from the outside world.

“The summer is what kills your buildings, especially plastic buildings.  Heat and UV rays kills the glue.  I’d rather leave my buildings outside during the winter and bring them in during summer.”  He says, “I’ve done a lot of buildings that are for outside.  I spray all my buildings with clear coat, but the sun still has an impact on them.”

Precision Board HDU itself holds up very well in an outdoor environment and in all different kinds of weather, including rain, snow, and sun.  It makes an excellent choice for exterior signage as well as themed objects that will be in the direct sun for several hours a day.

He spray paints his buildings with a regular Rustoleum-type paint and then takes a brush and brushes it.

Rayon says, “I do it with a medium brown and that gives me the shadow effect, but it also gives me the paint that will protect the Precision Board so that the sun doesn’t deteriorate it.”

Dennis uses a Krylon brown and then brushes it all in so that it gets down into the cracks and crevices of the HDU and gives a weathering effect.

model railroad

You can view Dennis’s extensive Flickr photo stream here to see a lot more in-process photos and completed buildings and pieces.

Dennis Rayon owns Denray Machine Inc. in Mt. Vernon, MO.  They manufacture down draft tables and dust funnels. They can be contacted through the website or by calling 800-766-8263.  Denray Machine is also on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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.


Creating an Architectural Gable with Precision Board HDU

When Shane Durnford created an architectural gable for a home, he used Precision Board HDU and hand-carved the incredible detail into it. For him it was a return to sign work & he couldn’t be happier about it. Shane talks about bringing this work of art to life through craftsmanship, skill and the use of Precision Board HDU.


Durnford was a sign writer in the 80s doing lettering and specialized in handcrafted signs. He taught himself how to carve in 1989 and it took on a life of its own from there.  Over the next 20 years Shane created thousands of premium carved and crafted signs for commercial, municipal and residential commissions.  After taking a break from carving and sign work, Shane recently had the opportunity to create an architectural gable from some PBLT-18 Precision Board HDU and jumped at the chance.

“This was my return to sign work and hand carving. It never left me. As soon as I picked up the tools, it came back to me,” Shane says. “It’s fun. I missed the craft.”

It took him about 100 hours altogether for the design and carving of the gable. He started with a flat piece that had the general shapes in it and then worked from there to carve dimension into the substrate.  “The 18 lb. Precision Board sheet was only about four inches thick, so I used shadow to give it a bigger look,” Shane says. “I start with a low point and high point for reference and then bring the picture into focus by shading with light and undercutting to give the substrate dimension,” he added.

Almost all of Shane’s work has birds in it. “They are poetically beautiful creatures.” he says.  “Almost everything I do is nature oriented and organic in shape and line. I think living in the beautiful countryside where I had my studio for years had a great influence on my work. It’s the place where my muses live.”

Because the bird’s wing on the right side of the gable was only about an inch thick, he drilled a ¼” brass rod through the bird and into the wing to give it strong support.  Durnford then used Benjamin Moore primer and latex paint with an eggshell finish.  He says, “I thought about painting the apples red, but it would visually clutter the sign and be a distraction to the entire architectural nature of the sign. More of a gable architectural feature instead of a sign.”

Pro Tip: “When carving, take it one section at a time. Pick your highest and lowest depths and establish those areas and then carve the remaining elements in relation to those two points. The detail comes at the very end, like a picture coming into focus.  Design and carve by feel and intuition and try not to over think the process. It’s like sketching. Rough it out and establish the over all composition, and then refine the detail. The learning curve is always steep and never ending. That’s what I love about it.”

Shane likes the feeling he gets when hand-carving high-density urethane.  “It’s a meditative and natural process. When I carve, I try to work intuitively. The carving pulls you inside the work and time passes effortlessly. You forget yourself and let the design find you.”

We asked him how he knows when a particular carving is finished.  “It depends on the piece. For exterior pieces I limited the detail, since it will be viewed at a distance. For more interior pieces the extra refinement adds to the intimacy and expression of the piece.”


Shane prefers to work with Precision Board HDU because there’s no grain or knots and has a nice consistent density.  He says, “no matter where you are on the material, it’s all the same consistency. It helps the carving, so you don’t have to adjust your work for the material.  I’ve used other sign materials and they don’t hold the edge like Precision Board does. The tools get along well with it.”   He adds, “I like the natural color too.  It’s a little thing, but it affects the mindset when carving.”

Durnford elaborates a bit more on his style.  “I approach the work as a designer rather than just a carver. The sign design criteria easily translates to interior architectural pieces like entranceways,  newel posts, mantels.  I think the key is to feel it when designing and carving. It makes for an authentic and honest piece that engages and connects with people.”

A great selling point for commercial signage.


Shane graduated from Toronto’s George Brown Signwriting program in 1981. With lettering quill in hand and a box of paint, he started from a humble shop in Creemore, Ontario and, within a few short years, had become a highly sought after Signcrafter. As a Registered Graphic Designer, Shane quickly became known for not only his superb hand crafting skills but also for his novel image consulting and design services, across various mediums: logos, websites, promotional/advertising material, illustration, corporate branding, and showpiece signage. His unique brand is sensory storytelling thru maximum impact, multifaceted visual imagery.

Shane’s work and articles have appeared in international trade publications. National exposure in major Canadian magazines and television. His work, as well as articles, are well respected within the industry. He has hosted design workshops, participants from as far away as Australia. He is retained as key note speaker for branding strategies by municipalities.  Shane Durnford Studios can be found on a variety of platforms, including his new Instagram account.  For more information and other social platforms, check out his website.  Design & Carving workshops are being organized for Summer 2018, more information to come. Email Shane to receive more info and pricing when it becomes available.

Coastal Enterprises offers free samples of Precision Board HDU.  You can also sign up for our monthly blog roundup, which is jam-packed with helpful blogs on people like Shane doing creative and interesting things with Precision Board.  You can also give us a call with your questions at 800-845-0745.  We’d love to hear from you!

The Artists Who Happen to Make Signs – The Angry Bull

I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “taking the bull by the horns.” Well Xpressive Graphix takes the phrase to a whole new level. Creating a sign for the Angry Bull Saloon is a prime example of what the artists at Xpressive Graphix are capable of while following their motto: Expect the unexpected.

First being approached with the idea of rebranding one of Zanesville’s favored local saloons, Tony Rose, David Mattingly and the crew at Xpressive Graphix used their expertise to take this project above and beyond. Using Precision Board Plus, these artists were able to craft a sign that would stop any passer-by in their tracks.

The design created by Xpressive Graphix.

The design created by Xpressive Graphix.

Using PBLT-18, this sign is layered perfectly. Actual 19th century barn wood was mounted on a steel frame as a backing for one of the craziest bulls you’ll find on a sign. While the lettering and outline were routed on a CNC, the bull itself was HAND CARVED by Tony Rose. The hand carved bull was mounted using 100% silicone while screws where placed to hold the bull until the silicone set. The surly demeanor was captured perfectly and the Angry Bull Saloon is now the proud owner of an amazing sign using Precision Board Plus!

19th century barn wood and the steel frame.

19th century barn wood and the steel frame.


IMG_0003bull finish1


The Angry Bull Saloon by Xpressive Graphix, Zanesville, OH.

Tony and the team are doing an amazing job showing what Precision Board can become. Visit them at their website or catch Tony on his twitter to see what they can do for you.

Letterheads: Keepers of the Craft – 40th Anniversary

For generations, men and woman designed, carved, lettered and painted signs by hand. In today’s world, machinery is taking the lead in signage with its ability to mass produce or “set it and forget it”, but what about the flowing subtleties and unique touches that lead to a top-notch sign? Letterheads ‘Keepers of the Craft’ are all about keeping traditions alive and Coastal is proud to be a part of the 40th anniversary.

This special 40th anniversary will be held, appropriately, at the American Sign Museum in a few weeks on September 24th through the 27th. This four-day event will offer two days of formal workshops – aka, Letterhead University, and two days of informal sessions such as panel jams, murals, impromptu demonstrations, and more. The workshops offer a range of topics with an emphasis on traditional techniques and design.

Coastal Enterprises has sponsored the Letterhead Meets, with Precision Board HDU, since the early 90s, and still to this day, we are very honored to be part of it. Kellie Miller will be in attendance for all 4 days of Letterhead40, and besides having a table, she will be available at the workshop offered by Noella Cotnam and Shane Durnford, “Letter carving and Then Some”. She’ll be there to help with any and all questions regarding HDU and finishing products (Primers, adhesives, texture coatings, etc.). This is a 2-day class offered on the 24th and 25th among the 28+ classes available, but time is of the essence as these classes fill up quickly.

If you don’t have time for the workshops, stop by Coastals table for free samples and demonstrations.

Online Registration ends on September 10th so be sure to register ASAP!

Letterhead40 Registration


Noella Cotnam, 2009. Don’t forget to sign up for her carving class co-taught with Shane Durnford.


Cam Bortz – Callander, Scotland, 2006


Stewart McLaren, Brenda Daley, Mike Meyer – Winter Muster, 2004

photo 1.1

Mozeppa Muster, 1999



Terry Colley – Callander, Scotland, 2006

letterhead timeline

Bring a piece from a past letterhead meet to share with others and place on the 48ft display shelf!

Check out their website,, or look for them on Facebook! You’ll find more details about the meet and see more pictures that will give you an even greater appreciation for the craft. Hope to see you there!


ISA is almost here…

We all know that Dan Sawatzky is a talented man that loves his Multicam CNC, Enroute software and Precision Board Plus PBLT-30.

But this time, he took a different approach to a sculpture he made for our booth which will be displayed at the ISA show April 9th, 10th and 11th.


Dan told us that he dug around in his Precision Board “stash” and found a solid piece of PBLT-40 (what… not PBLT-30?!) “It begged to be a Tiki. So I obliged.” He not only used a different density than what he favors, but he also carved this 5″ x 5″ x 22″ sculpture by hand. Watch it come to life on Dan’s blog.

Kellie's tiki

When visiting ISA 2015 next month, stop by and see us at booth #5971.

Want to see Dan? He’ll be at booth # 712 with Multicam. Stay for a while to watch his presentation as PBLT-30 is happily being routed.

Don’t forget your free ISA passes!