When I lent my services to a collegue who was working on a film about 12 years ago, I was introduced to the world of cnc. I remember watching this huge machining centre milling out a slab of mdf and turning it into a fantastic set of gears. I knew that it would have taken me hours to achieve the same thing with traditional power tools. I decided then that I would invest in a cnc router for my own business Oxenham Design. At that time I could turn on a computer, but even to check email seemed like a crazy set of operations. I persevered and learned every piece of relevant software I could get my hands on. I am now fortunate enough to be using Vectric's ASPIRE software, and Techno cnc routers, which has helped us to create some amazing projects, both in part, or in full. I thought that this blog would be a great place to share "behind the scenes" adventures with the software, materials and equipment we use, as well as the projects we build.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Weird Things On My Desk #3

The Saga of weird things on my desk returns..................................

What is that!?!?


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Watching the pros at work!

Our call time for shooting the gingerbread build was 8 am at Westside Studio.
We're shooting the Fedex job through famed photographer George Simhoni. George is great guy to work with, in fact everyone at Westside is great to work with! George is one cool cucumber, with such a dry sense of humor, sometimes I don't know if I should laugh at what he says. The answer is always yes, but sometimes my brain can't tell right away!

We also showed up with enough candy assets to intimidate the Easter Bunny. We laid out all our candy so the clients, and art director, could choose if they wanted to add anything to the build once they could see it through the camera lens.
I spent quite a lot of time in front of the camera as well! Not as an amazing man-model, but more of a candy truck wrangler. Jody was also on set for this this, and was the royal icing queen, when it was needed.

The great thing about shooting stills, is the camera doesn't move very much from the original layout.
A bit higher, abit lower, a little left or right, but usually always within 12 inches of the concept artwork. This allows us to know exactly how much of something we need to build. Like the roof on the house. we only built what you can see in these 2 pictures. The back side of the truck has no icing, or logo even. And it's gonna be a cold gingerbread winter, with no back walls on the house either!

This job was awesome! A lot of fun to build at the shop, and even more fun to shoot on the day. Plus the deadline was really 3 days, so we didn't even have time to hate it because it dragged on!!!

At the end of the shoot, George and I decided to whip out a stop motion feature film with the assets available to us.

Please sit back, and enjoy the film below, the world will never witness another cinematic masterpiece like this again:
This is why I love my job! Everyday is different, and we get to work with the most amazing people all the time!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Gingerbread all the way!

Work on the gingerbread build continued to chug along, with all of our attention focused on the house portion.

We ended up testing out several roof styles, until everyone at the agency was happy!
In the end, green overlapped smarties became the winning roof style. You won't be eating this house! Resin gingerbread, with crazy-glued smarties.............toxic tastiness! I will however flip anyone a 20 dollar bill if they can choke this baby down when were done. Don't worry, it'll be a brand new $20 bill, if that sweetens the deal for you!
We also decided on going with plastic display trees, mixed with our "gingerbread bushes" to decorate the yard out front of the house. I sprayed up the trees green, while our awesome student helper, Sydney, got awarded the task of decorating them all with icing.

We also went with a yellow pvc for the window inserts. The word 'fondant' was used, but I prefer routing pvc! The final snow dress will be done on set, and we'll use fine sugar. Fine sugar will sparkle, and won't become a sticky dust like icing sugar would. Not too shabby for s day eating working with nothing but candy!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Fedex starts to look tasty!

Once the cast sheets were ready, they got taped down to our little Techno, and the parts started coming! I cut all of them with our little 1/16" endmill. The sheets were only about 1/4" thick.
It looks a bit like a burned out scary house at the moment. Because the cut edges were so perfect, in relation to the texture of the sheet surface, I used a small torch to burn the edges. This rounded and textured them enough to look like they were baked in the oven that way!
 With the house, and truck assembled, and the edges burned, I sprayed them up a nice healthy gingerbread color, and we let them dry a few hours before moving on to the decorating.
This was the icing style the art director wanted to see the truck done like. Frosted almost all the way to the edge, with a bit of cookie showing around the edge.
We mixed up the first of an endless batch of royal icing, and I started to ice it. Not an easy thing to do, as the icing tends to set up pretty fast! I have decided that I no longer want to be the Cake Boss. This was a mentally tough job for me, I want everything as perfect as can be, but the truck MUST look like a cookie, so I wrestled quite a bit with perfection vs. cookie. No perfectly straight edges, everything hand done.
The final steps before the logo, was the little headlights and marker lights. All of the candy on this build will be real, to add the "food product" look to these miniatures. Can I tell you how hard it is to find two, somewhat identical, yellow jube jube headlights? They're all bent out of shape, half squished, missing half the sugar coating, stuck together. Oh, it's not all fun and games in our line of work, there are some tough challenges involved. Plus, I had to look very carefully to make sure there was no M&M logo's showing on the marker lights. These are mini M&M's by the way, and the logo is white. I need a nap...........

Once I was happy with the truck, I set it aside for the rest of the day to harden up.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Fed Ex gets a new truck, just in time for the Holidays!

Another Holiday season, and more gingerbread!
We had done the gingerbread men being tortured last year, or the year before, I can't remember fully!
This year we had to break out the gingerbread one more time.
Jody cooked up a fine specimen of gingerbread, I have no plans on using real gingerbread for this shoot. Plastic all the way for me! Plus, I'm not sure how well it would machine on our Techno!
Once we had our baked sheet of real gingerbread, Jody made a quick and dirty mold box for it.
She filled the bottom of the gingerbread sheet with clay, down to the bottom of the mold box, so we wouldn't have silicone creeping under the sheet. The silicone may be super thick, but it wicks in everywhere, including the smallest of holes!
And through the power of time-lapse, TAA-DAA! One fully cured, gingerbread rubber mold!
We made the sheet as big as we could, because we also have a house to build, as well as the truck.
 Once the table surface was re-levelled, Jody moved onto casting the sheets in resin.

At about 10 minutes per sheet curing, She had a pile ready for the Techno before my second coffee break. I drink a lot of coffee, so that would be around 9:30!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Sometimes the 11th hour can feel like 24!

With the light and tables nearing completion, the only major component left to do was the table trays. These got a simple, repeating, Hockey Canada logo graphic. I had these printed on vinyl, and we stuck them onto the trays that form the bottom of the display boxes.

 There were quite a few steps to the table tops, and I ended up color coding the drawings as not to get confused between all the sections!

I am quite grateful that we have our Techno cnc router. That I can draw any shape, or angle on the computer, toolpath it in Aspire, and wait for our best employee to machine it out of whatever material I jam under it's gantry! Even though the old days of layout/ skill saw/ jig saw and sander are miles behind me, I can certainly appreciate what automation brings to the table! Of course, it was about this time that I pondered how well the welded steel table frames were fabricated. We were supplied the rough dimensions, and I allowed for even more room, but with the actual frames being in Ottawa, I guess "surprise" could be the install word of the day!

In the end, it always gets done! Even though the driver had to wait for about 30 minutes for us to finish up the last minute details, we finished pretty much right on time. We helped him load our stuff, than waved a goodbye for his trip to Ottawa that night.

 The production company sent us these images of the install. They were very happy, and so were we! I think the light looks amazing! I wish I could have seen it in person!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Shadow box tables saving me from the light!

While Jody worked on the light fixture, I moved onto the next 2 portions of the build. One was the the curved PVC sign panel that mounts above the light fixture, and the other was the 5 table tops that have 4 recessed display boxes inside them.
The curved pvc sign was the very next step for me. I drew a circle in corel, the diameter I wanted the final curved sign to be. Divided it up into 3 panels, then extract one of the curves. This would give me the lengths and 1/3 radius I needed to build the forming jig.
I made a quick bending jig out of plywood. This would be the form that would shape the 1/4" thick pvc sign backer.
Because of the nature of the logo shape, and the 1/4" thickness, I had to gently persuade the curve with a heat gun. There was no way I could get the shape without heat forming the pvc plastic. It would have been all weird looking. This was an extreme exercise in patience. Thankfully, I'm a business owner, Dad, dog owner, Husband, have In-laws, and live out in the country, so really, I have unlimited patience!
With all 3 sections formed, and bolted together, I moved onto routing the 1/8" pvc logo that gets further wrapped onto this structure.

While our Techno cnc cut out all the various logo pieces, Jody and I moved onto running the 6- 3/4" pvc sheets through the saw, then I moved onto assembling the display boxes that will hang under the table surface. These will display objects from the Hockey Hall of Fame at the upcoming event were building for. I love pvc!! I love the fact I can tack it together with CA glue, kick it off, then move right onto chem welding it. No screws, nothing. And it looks awesome with perfect corner miters!
Once our Techno had finished the logo pieces, I set up for the table tops. These got varying pocket toolpaths carved in for the hanging boxes, and the acrylic windows.
We're getting there now!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Oh, will it ever end......

First off, sandblasting acrylic into a consistent frosted finish sucks. It just plan sucks. It's almost as crappy as digging holes in the ground.

Luckily I can pass the "unwanted" jobs off on Jody!. I got this small sandblast cabinet specifically for doing these sticks. It's as small as I could get, while still being able to manipulate the sticks inside.
I ended up blasting just under half the sticks, while Jody ran the difference, as well as pre-sanded them all. Pffff. It sucked. It took along time to do them all. I was glad to be able to pack this blue box of  'time torture' up when we finished. Maybe the odd one or two off parts would be fun...........probably not anymore.

They did look great once they were all frosted, you can see the before and after above.
Because we couldn't fit the structure plates into the sandblast cabinet, I ended up just running a palm sander over those for frosting them. The wiring didn't take very long for the light sockets, and the cascading LED light strips already came wired 16 strips to a power source. I used thick walled PVC tubing, wrapped in a chrome mylar, to cover the 9 threaded rods that bolt the whole structure together.
Jody assembled all the LED boards into the rabbet we machined into the hockey stick handle, and then she started the assembly.
Due to the nature of cast acrylic, there was more than one stubborn stick that needed some serious persuasion to fit into it's slot! I made all the slots seriously over sized, because the material can vary quite a bit, but some of them were waaaaay thicker than the rest. And we didn't have the time to machine slots into every stick to get a consistent thickness.

A hard thing to photograph, but I took a bunch to try and show the LED's in action! While Jody worked like a trooper on the light, I had to move on to the other portion of the build.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The right tools always help!

I had gotten a set of cutters in the summer from Tools Today, and was saving these cutters for some aluminum milling work I had planned on. However that project never seemed to have gotten off the ground!
It was an 8 piece O flute set specifically made for routering aluminum on a cnc router. A router not being the ultimately ideal machine for this, due to the incredibly high spindle rpm. I have always had my share of problems dialing in feed and spindle speeds perfectly in aluminum. But with these mirror finish, single flute Amana cutters, the prospects looked good.

I still haven't cut any aluminum yet.....


It's a really nice kit, in a wooden box, with a clear plexi cover. I secretly enjoyed having these cutters, un-used, all shiny and razor sharp, waiting for the day they would hear their calling, and jump to attention. Well our current project was just the thing. Although not aluminum, acrylic can have it's drawbacks cnc routing as well. I decided that they would be shiny no more..

It's a pretty sweet deal when a simple tool can make things easier, and give 10 times the professional finish that you were getting before.
These cutters are amazing! I ran 80 hockey stick blades in a sheet of cast 1/4" acrylic. These were all cut with the single flute, 1/4" upcut bit, in one pass. I had my feed speed at 71 ipm, and surprisingly, there was VERY LITTLE up pull on the sheet. But the edge finish was something that I was really impressed with.
The clarity was incredible on the finished part. It's pretty awesome that you can see my hand through two cut edges, on a part that's 2.5" deep. If I had had more time, I would have played around with my speeds a little more, to see if it could be even better, but at 71 IPM, there was no issues with cutting. These weren't even held down with the vacuum table, just some screws through the sheet into the spoil board. I'm a believer!!! I think on the next acrylic project, I'll give the downcut spiral version a test drive. With these results, I think I'm going to permanently switch over to Amana cutters. Ordering from Tools Today seemed to go pretty smoothly as well, with the kit arriving in a very timely manner. I would definitely order more from these guys, especially these O flute cutters.

 The other portion of our crazy hockey stick chandelier was the center plates that hold all the sticks together. I cut this from 1/2" cast clear with the same cutter. Although, my bravery ended at a 1/4" per pass, so the plates were pocketed in one pass at 1/8", and cut out in 2 passes, at a 1/4" per pass. The thought of busting my amazing new cutter friends was more than I could bear!
The edge finish on the 1/2" acrylic was just as good as the 1/4" pieces, even though it was done in 2 passes. If these were any better, they'd rival laser cut edges! In-fact I'm pretty sure flame polishing would go very fast, with the edge quality being 3/4's the way there already!

Next step..............sand blasting!