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.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

I think I can, I think I can...........finish this job this year!

The front of the train barrel finally got all the little detail pieces attached. Including the dimensional sign for the front. The real train has this as well, although the scale of ours is quite a bit larger, just to make it stand out a bit! Although, funny story, the first version of this sign, I misspelled the word
prairie, and no-one noticed for 5 days. In fact, it was a friend whom had stopped by, that pointed it out! Stupid Jamie.

There was still a bit of underside work to finish up, so we put the whole assembly up on a couple of tables. It's pretty high already, to say nothing about the 4 more feet it will be sitting in the heart.
The very last step was to weld up the bracket that will bolt the bridge and the train together! That was a whole lotta crap working in that tight space!
Quite the monster from down around this height!
I had a few options for bringing the train whistle to life. But in the end, I decided to 3d print it. Who says 3d printing is "rapid prototyping"? Pfffff. HA HA! I do like his leaning back posture, and from the front, he kinda has "blowing cheeks"

I didn't even take the time to sand, and clean it up. I just went right to our 2 stage polyester primer, and applied it with a brush, because I didn't want to have to clean the spray gun for a tiny little bit of primer! Jody sanded it the next day, and it looked great!

All in all, he looks awesome!

Monday, 23 March 2015

On with the train details!

I got the barrel of the train coated and sanded, as well as managed to get the black strips around the front glued and riveted. That was clearly a 2 person job, and Jody stepped up nicely! A self proclaimed "Good holder of things"! That Jody.............
The last major pieces were the 2 pipes that come off the main barrel, into the lower pistons. This was 1.5" abs pipe, carefully, and frustratingly, cut around all the parts that were in it's way. This took forever..................really. Cut a bit here, cut a bit there, repeat, repeat..........................and once more!
Once they were as close as my patience would allow, I used Apoxie Sculpt, a 2 part epoxy putty, to fill in the rest! Including my miscalculated mounting hole!

Jody used 3/16 brass upholstery tacks to simulate the rivet heads on the body of the train. The color isn't a factor, as it will all be going black! We're keeping the rivets to a minimum on this. I want just enough to suggest that the whole thing is riveted together, old school, without junking it up too much.

Once the last bits that were going black were all mounted, I sprayed it up, and then clear coated it with a water based urethane clear. I find the water based clear is a very versatile product, I've even used it as a glue in a pinch! Plus, the sheen eventually all evens out in the end, unlike some, non automotive, products I've used in the past.
Jody was also able to get the track sections sprayed with rockerguard, to give it a bit of texture. Almost everything we are building will get this "miracle in a can" treatment!
Once dry, she speckle coated the tracks with a red oxide primer, strictly for the color, then did a washed glaze, to tone down the brightness of the red.
The last step on the tracks was for her to get the bright silver paint onto the top edge of the rail tracks. We went with the Rustoleum water based metallic silver for this part. Normally I don't use water based paint directly over plastic, but because we had used a flexible clear primer on the top side, the bond will be VERY good!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Still the train rolls on!

Before I post about the train, I thought I would post an interesting link to a contest being put on by Tools Today!
They are running a CNC Vector Pattern Contest. You can follow the link and rules by clicking on the image below:
Vector Contest
$500 in tooling at Tools Today is no slouch prize, that's for sure! That's American dollars to boot. I think with the exchange, it equals about $10,000 Canadian :) I know a lot of people use vectors with their cnc's, so make sure you at least check out the contest, you never know! Also make sure if you win, you get the Amana single flute up cut bits, I'm almost exclusively using those for everything now!
Actually, everything 2d on the train has been done with the 1/4", and 1/8" cutters, and the edge quality is second to nothing else I've used............but speaking of trains.......

The cab section, and coal car came into existence pretty quickly! Again, made entirely from .400 black pvc. The nice thing with pvc is being able to chem-weld it, as well as drive screws into it for added strength.

The train barrel was the next on the list! I brought all of my 2d vectors into Hexagon, from Corel.
From that point, I used the vectors to mass out the 3d pieces I actually needed. The barrel was the primary concern. I wanted slits down each side of the barrel for the walkway to slide into. This was for 2 reasons. The first being that it will look so much cleaner at the transition point between the 2 pieces, and the second being the walkways will actually clamp the barrel, preventing it from moving around, essentially making everything structural. A major concern for when the whole thing travels down the highway, at highway speeds.
You can see the slots, and the flat section at the rear, that will locate the barrel, as well as have it sit level.
From Hexagon, I saved out the final model, and sent it to STL Slicer. Another one of my favorite pieces of software! This makes slicing any stl file a breeze, and I like a breeze, that's for sure!!
Stl Slicer chopped the model into 16, 2 inch slabs, because that's the thickness of the HDU material were cutting the pieces from.
From that point, the pieces were sent to Aspire 8, for 3d machining. I also punched out the centers in Aspire, to cut down on as much weight as possible on the finished assembly.
In order to keep the machine time down to something reasonable, I cut everything with a 1/2" ball-nose cutter, and took the time in the computer, to limit the toolpaths to just the 3d geometry, using a profile pass to finish of the vertical sections.

Finally, the test fit.............................like a glove! Once again, the computer reigns supreme! Thank you computers, thank you very much!


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Skater dolly.......it's cooler than your thinking!

I have been working on a video project recently, and I am really enjoying it! I am camera man-editor, director, etc! Or, as normal people say, "a one man show" HA HA!

I have been wanting a small table dolly for some motion shots. There are a ton of them available, but by the time I drive to a pro video place, and back, it's a few hours.
So being that I own a cnc, and have lots of material handy, I decided to draw one up, and cut it out.
I also added angle degree markers for both axles, just so the front and rear wheels could be placed at the correct angles to each other.

I have a box full of in-line skate wheels, which were the last part of the puzzle! All in all, it works great for what I needed. It was about 15 minutes to draw, and 30 minutes to cut and clean up and assemble! Plus I got my first shot with it already!!

Thursday, 12 March 2015


Oh, the train parts are flying off the cnc now! Partly because our Techno is very fast, and partly because some of them weren't held down very well!!

The main chassis assembly got glued and screwed together. I'm not sure if I stated it before, but the Stettler train is all black, so we decided to fabricate all the parts from black pvc. Were pretty much using 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2" black.
And while the chassis was being glued, even more parts came up ready to use!

It wasn't long before there was some sort of semblance to train pieces. When I designed the chassis, and all of the parts that go with it, I designed everything to have slots, tabs, and pocket holes. This way, I didn't have to waste much time aligning pieces. They would automatically fit right where they were supposed to!
I made the wheels oval, and slightly tilted forward, giving a sense of speed to our little train. I'm really digging the way it's all starting to come together, and fast.
This is pretty much the end of line for the wheel details. I tiny bit more, but for the most part, The chassis is almost complete!
My plastic order should be in tomorrow, so I'll be able to get started on the cab, and coal car!


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Ridin' the rails..

Today was a day for paint! Finally, some colour! Not for me though, I get Jody to do it!
I think there are 30 rail-ties in total. All of them get 2 base coats, and 1 coat of glaze. Technically that's the same as 90 pieces. Sorry Jody, I gots other things to do :) Plus I'm the boss..............
Although it didn't actually take too long to do.
We're just doing a 2 colour paint job on these. Most people won't be able to get too close to the final float, on account that most of the time it will be moving! So doing just 2 coats will keep the final paint job pretty contrasty. Just what we want!

So far so good! I love them!

I got all the train parts figured out in Corel, and ready to import into Aspire. I think my favourite part of Aspire, is how well it works with all of our other software. In-fact, I usually end up tweaking my final vectors in Aspire, due to how easy it is to add things like dog-bone fillets etc.
Then off to our Techno cnc for cutting. I have been using our Tools Today cutters quite a lot. These are the Amana up-cut, single flute cutters I spoke about a while back here: Cutters.
I used to use mostly parallel flute cutters on pvc, but the edge quality with the Amana cutters makes it really hard to go back now!

 All of the train parts are just going to be layered flats. It's a fast, strong way to build "seemingly" 3d depth.
Now to put all the crazy pieces together...........

Monday, 9 March 2015


Hellooo............Helloooo............I'm still here................

We had to actually put the Stettler float on hold for a bit. We had a job come in for Molson's beer, and it was a fairly big job, with no blogging about it, but I'll share a cool pic! Lot's of LED backlit wall panels, and laminating veneer and aluminum over MDF and acrylic.

Not super cool, but more of a challenge. It was supposed to be installed on the 2nd and 3rd of March, but the location wasn't ready, so we were pushed back until April 7th and 8th. Photo's of that coming when it's installed.

In the meantime, we're back on the Stettler job now.

Shortly after the framework for the heart, and the bridge was test fit, I decided to change the design. A small change in theory, but a huge change in terms of re-work, and fabrication!
I decided that instead of bolting, and un-bolting the train from the bridge for transit, that the available real-estate inside the heart was the perfect place to store the train. Why I didn't think of it earlier, I don't know. Stupid Jamie...........

The answer was to put the whole bridge, and train attached, on a vertical slider system. This won't be a powered system, they'll still have to use a small ladder and lift it, then lock it in position. BUT, the benefits far outweigh any small things like weight and gravity! HA HA!

I used 2" steel tubing, and welded 1/4" rod on all the inside edges. The rod essentially becomes the rails in the system. There's also a hard stop welded to the sliders to stop the whole thing from crashing down into the heart.
Each end of the opening got the track system made.

The rollers were actually heavy duty patio door sliders. These were designed to ride on 1/4" rails.
The system is pretty slick!
This minor/ major change actually ate up 2.5 days on our end, when you include the added design time, and re-work to the heart assembly!

It's a little hard to believe that a heart that big could be collapsed down into a 4 X 8 X 16" tall crate.

I think it was around 250 lbs when it was all crated................
And now it's gone!