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.

Friday, 23 January 2015

So Long Little Cowboy.

The saddle sign paint got done in bits and spurts around the other projects going on in the shop.
Each step of the paint didn't take very long to do, it was the getting back to it that took most of the time!
I wasn't overly dedicated with getting pictures though, it seemed to always slip my mind for some reason.

This was a lot of fun! I really like not being handcuffed to someone else's design, and can change whatever I want to as the job progresses. Another fun project!

However, as fun as that job was, next week will be pretty hard to beat......................Ahhhhhhh!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


Actually, I jumped the gun on the next step being paint. Next step..........sculpting the saddle!
The whole time I was working on the colored render sketch, I knew I was going to hand sculpt the saddle. I know alot of you thought for sure I would machine it, but I think a little hand crafted, not so perfect, was the order for this sign. I don't even mind it being a little lumpy and bumpy even, which is usually something I go to great lengths to avoid!
Before I could sculpt the saddle, I needed to add a few structural elements to the sign. I certainly would hate for someone to bust that saddle off!
I added 4, 4" long wood screws to act as an anchor for the saddle. These go into the HDU about 3", plenty of strength! The head of the tallest screw would be where the saddle horn is. That would have the potential to snap right off without the screw support. And the stirrup structure was actually 2 pieces of coat hanger wire, shaped with pliers, and glued into the sign about an inch. That'll be rock solid in the end!
I did the saddle in bits and pieces all day, while tackling our other 'colossal time suck' projects! This was sculpted from the Aves Apoxie Sculpt epoxy putty. I love working with this stuff, due to it's rock hard nature when its finished curing! I actually have started a small block that is made from the tiny little bits of leftovers. One day, I hope to slap it on the cnc, and machine something!

With the saddle done, the next step will be paint for sure!
But not till the epoxy sets up!

Monday, 19 January 2015

A little sign.

The last few weeks have been a little odd for me. We've got a few projects in right now that we can't share, and one project, that isn't really a job, but still work, I will post about in a while. We're super stoked about working on it, but it's a long way from finished, so stay tuned!

A third project, that we can share, is a rather small sign gig. Nothing huge in terms of size, but huge in terms of fun! And when my job stops being fun, I'll do something else!

The customer wanted a small sign for their daughter. She has a horse boarded at a stable, and they wanted a small sign they could hang in the tack room, above her equipment, that let's everybody know who's equipment it is!
He already knows what he wants the sign to say, "Buddy and Kyleys' stuff" Pretty simple!

He also said I could do whatever I thought would be cool. Nice.....I like this guy!

My workflow on a lot of things is a bit backwards to some people. Sometimes I start with a sketches,
sometimes I go straight to a 3d massing model, sometimes I start with vectors. I guess it all depends what I'm doing!
In the case of this little sign, I went straight to vectors. For 2 reasons. The first reason is I can find the font I want quickly, and get an accurate size relationship, and the second is because I will eventually need the vectors anyway.

So after I'm happy with the overall layout, I export the file out, so I can open it in our sketching program.
Then I can add the colours I'm thinking of using, and fine tune the overall feel I want.
Then I send it of for changes and approvals.
Once the concept was O.K.'d, I used my already created vectors in Aspire, and started to build up all of the dimensional components.
Once the HDU sign came off our Techno, I quickly carved in some of the smaller details by hand, and continued the wood grain on the "stuff" portion on the edges, everywhere a 3 axis cnc couldn't cut.
Next stop paint!

Monday, 5 January 2015

Toolpathing in Aspire, the l-o-o-o-ng hard way!

First off, I hope everyone had an amazing holiday season, and Jody and I truly hope that the arrival of 2015 brings amazing things for everyone!!

We had a few NDA projects over the holidays, and a couple that weren't. So I thought I would get started with the couple that we're allowed to share.

The first one was what should have been a simple one, but progressively took more time than I had planned on. Hey, it can happen!

A neighbor a few units down from us does major renovations, for some pretty big custom properties.
He had contacted us in hopes that we could match his custom trim profiles for a series of arched top windows in a huge house he was building.

"Sure, should be pretty quick" I thought out-loud...............

I took his trim profile, traced it onto a sheet of paper, and scanned it into the computer, and adjusted it for some minor differences. This clearly would be made from 2 pieces, as the machined out waste would be way too much!

I tackled this this project in the usual way. I swept my profile along the 2 rails that match the window opening, then set up a 3d offset machining strategy, so the cutter would machine along the length of the trim, hopefully giving me a wonderful piece of custom trim, that will match exactly to all the other trim that already exists.

 Here's where it pretty much fell apart for me!

Due to the X and Y size of the window trim, versus it's relative skinny width, versus the resolution of Aspire on an entire 4X8 sheet of MDF, it didn't come out very well. On a 4X8 sheet, with the maximum 50X resolution (the highest Aspire reaches) it put a voxel pixel at around 1/16th of an inch. So couple that, with a .125" cutter, and you get a relatively rough piece of trim. Add to that, the long 3d machine time of multiple pieces of trim, and it all boils down to finding a better way to deal with this. The estimated machine time, including cutter changes, was 6 hours a sheet. PFFF.......

Aint nobody got tahm for dat!

So I was forced to re-think the process. I decided to go with many, many, many, single profile toolpaths, at the varying heights required.
So the above image was my self-torture test. Each circle represents the .125" ballnose cutter, and the vertical lines are the .025" stepover. These were originally laid out in Corel, as I still find I'm faster at some portions of vector work in it. But the actual offsetting of the vectors for the all the trim profiles, was done in Aspire, because that portion was faster in it.
This was the vector-jenga-mess I ended up with! Then it was just a matter of assigning each vector to a separate profiling toolpath, with the cut depths based of the first image above. The good news is I was able to re-purpose all the toolpaths for each successive piece of trim. Then I just saved all 27 profile cuts, for each piece, to one toolpath file.

WAAAY more computer time than I had first anticipated, but it got the machine time down to 45 minutes a sheet, and the trim was flawless!