Monday, November 26, 2012


My family spent our Thanksgiving holiday in Hermann, Missouri.  We had a chance to see my in-laws and some family that we haven't seen for quite some time.  I have enjoyed going there since my wife and I began dating in the late 90's.  We were, in fact, married on the farm they own there.  Besides the amazing food and time getting to reconnect with extended family, my sister-in-law gave us a fantastic gift....we spent a night at the Hermann Hill Riverbluff cottages.  The suite was simply amazing.  When you have time take a look:

We stayed in the George Bayer Suite (room 103).  There is a hot tub outside, a Jacuzzi and crazy cool shower inside.  Multiple fireplaces and our own stocked kitchen made it feel like staying at a wonderful home instead of a rental cottage.  Hermann is a great little town, outside of St. Louis.  If you're in the area- I recommend you stay there. 

At my in-laws home, the decorating for Christmas was in full swing.  My wife, her sister and my daughter all worked to get things decorated. 

As I went downstairs to help bring up the tree- I looked over the fireplace mantle and had an instant flashback and immediately smiled.

Several years ago,  I lost the tip of the middle finger on my left hand in a table saw accident.  I think it might be more accurate to call it a Doug accident and the table saw happened to be involved.  I was trying to finish a doll house book case for our daughter and by ignoring all the safety recommendations that Norm Abrams ever explained on his show, I managed to end up minus one finger tip and some damage to the pointer finger as well.  I got back on the woodworking horse soon after and finished the doll house, but had some fear that the accident might impact my ability to do things.  Quite simply, I was scared.  I had been looking for ways to be creative and trying to make things, and I worried that this accident might impact my ability. 

My wife had promised to use an existing decoration of my mother-in-law's to create a new version...a winter scene instead of fall.  There would be some minor woodwork and then painting.  With Ashley at work and me at home recovering, I decided to give it a try myself.  I was right-handed anyway and thought there was no time like the present to see what I could and couldn't do.  I quickly found that I could manage quite well.  I proved to myself that there was no need to let a damaged hand limit or define me. 

After a few years, I don't think much about the accident or that I'm missing the finger tip.  It comes up sometimes in conversation as people notice it, but I no longer feel the sense of humiliation and frustration that came soon after the accident.  I've become more aware of the need for safety in the things I do, and I appreciate that I've been able to go much further than I hoped on the day I finished this winter scene.

 I am so fortunate to have a family of relatives, extended family, friends and neighbors...and my hand is now little more than a reminder to not take any of it for granted.  It makes it quite easy to look at my stubby middle finger and think "I am one of the luckiest people on the planet". 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pink Foam to Pulse Rifle

I threw on a couple coats of thin resin to help protect the foam, and then it was time for primer and paint.  I could tell you that once it was dry I didn't do any Colonial Marine with pulse rifle poses in my shop, but why lie?

Now it's time to get back to work...something big I think! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lock And Load People...

I had to work on a website this morning....and I just hate it when there's nothing carving on the cnc.

I remember that, as a young boy, I was visiting my brother in Seattle, and my mother took me to a hobby/collector's store near the Fishmarket. They had all kinds of cool toys, movie and television scripts (original star trek scripts!) and then I saw it on the wall....a rifle from the movie Aliens.  It's called the m41a Pulse rifle.  I stared at it until my mother told me we simply had to leave!  I don't know if it was original or a replica, but I loved it.  Oddly, I'm not a gun person at all. I don't own a gun, don't want a gun and have no particular interest in them...but this was Sci-Fi. A gun to destroy the bad alien! I loved it as a kid, and I still like it now.

So...As I sat down to work on the website, I thought...what the heck. I very quickly found a decent 3D model on google's 3d warehouse, and set up some pink foam on the bot.  I got up to get some lunch, and the bot was done.  My own foam aliens rifle...full scale.  Eventually it'll probably end up on the neighbor boys wall, but that's ok...for me, it's practice and a chance to make the dream I had as a 10 year old come very own aliens pulse rifle! 

A fast glue-up and just a bit of sanding, and it's ready for paint.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Carve Til You Drop

One of the truths in life is that in order to improve at something, you have to practice.  The more you flex the muscle you're using, the better you get. This applies to everything from athletics, to reading, to this weekend I had a chance to flex my carving muscles.  Steve Luck arrived Sat. morning and we jumped in.

I went through the process of cutting pocket cuts, profile cuts, v-carving, prismatic letter carving, 3D model importing (scaling, slicing and carving), and some very general painting tips.  I tread carefully because some of my knowledge comes from my friend Dan's workshop, and I encourage anybody who wants to take what they are doing a dozen levels up to attend his workshop.  I feel like what I showed Steve is the kind of stuff I wish I could have known before I went to Dan's workshop...only because knowing the basics would have let me go even further at the workshop.

So....I had Steve make a bunch of files..we carved and in some cases recarved. Our first attempts didn't always succeed. That's ok...learning how to recover from a mistake is just as important as succeeding.  I tried to keep up with his questions, and guide him through the process of making toolpaths (those tell the machine how and what to carve). 

We started with a recreation of a little sign I was given by another Sign Painter, Dave Correll.  The rest were things Steve wanted to try.  We really only spent 1 day working...with breaks for food and a little wrap up today...I think he did great.  I also learned a great deal, and flexed my carving muscle.  It's not even sore.  Ready to carve more..

This is the reproduction of the "signs" piece I was given...and below is a carving
of a 3D model of the "cricket" gun from the original "Men In Black" movie. It is a two-sided carving.

In addition, there is a copy of the monkees logo, a reproduction of a "Rustees" sign from the Pixar film "Cars", a v-carving of the "Green Hornet" hornet and a prismatic lettering sign of "Sign Magic".  I know Steve enjoyed watching the pieces appear as if by magic from the HDU powder left behind from the carving, and I enjoyed it too.  In the middle, we ate some birthday cupcakes as this weekend was also the time chosen for my daughter's 10th birthday party.  Cupcakes and Carving.  That's what I call a good way to spend a weekend.  Happy Birthday Elena!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Believe that you can do it..because you can do it.

One of the very first people I met at my first Walldog event (an event where more than a hundred artists descend upon a town to paint murals over a few days) was a man named Steve Luck.  We endured a massive rain storm under a tent and learned that making good memories doesn't always happen during the sunny days.  I spent some time that year painting with Steve and learned about his sign shop called "Sign Magic" in Godfrey, Illinois...near St. Louis.
Steve bought his own cnc machine last year and he's been itching to learn how to do more than carve out letters and cut pockets.  Steve, like many of us who make signs, is very visual.  A "hands-on" situation where Steve can watch, and then try it himself is ideal.  He's asked for awhile if he might come over for a day or weekend to play and learn.  I know Steve is creative, and I also know that until you get comfortable with the machine, it's hard to focus on being creative. 

He'll be here bright and early tomorrow morning, and I'll be showing him what I know so far.  I think we'll move up the ladder quickly...starting with making what we call prismatic letters, and then move on to more advanced things like importing 3D models and slicing them to carve...and then dig in to making your own dimensional designs and getting more complex.  By the end of the weekend, I hope to learn some new things as well.  I believe that one of the best parts of trying to teach others is learning more yourself.  I have no doubt Steve and I will do some laughing,  have some fun and make some cool things.  I also hope he'll head back home with enough tools in his how-to kit to make some amazing things that will help him take his own business to the next level. 
Why help him?  Because lots of people have helped me so far, and I have no problems trying to pay back a little of what I've been given.  Besides, I need to continue to sharpen up my's time to start pushing my friend Dan. 

The shop has been cleaned up a bit, and I'm ready to go!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Happy Accidents

One of the things that's great about learning something yourself is that you sometimes have what Bob Ross called "happy accidents".  You also sometimes have not-so-happy accidents.  In the case of the tapper heads, I had the happy kind.  I had used an old trick to measure how much resin to mix...I poured water into the mold and filled it...then poured out the water into a container.  The amount of water in the container represented the exact amount of resin to mix up for the cast.

What I didn't do right was wait for any remaining water in the rubber mold to fully dry.  I mixed up my batch of resin in excitement and poured it in...the resulting cast was not what I planned.  It came out with some pitting and looked kind of "eroded".  I wasn't happy.  The next cast turned out great, so it was a learning lesson....but I kept looking at the bad cast yesterday.  It looked like the thing was rusted....

As many of you know I like rust.  I like the look.  So I painted up the cast with a rust finish just to see how it looked.  Is it right for the client? I doubt it..although I like the concept that it looks like it was dug up from the old Brewery...but I turned an accident into a trick I can use down the road if I want something to not only look rusty...but to look eroded!

Happy Accidents..... let's share a little music about the subject.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tenacity Wins

I spoke last time about re-doing the mold and also re-doing the mother mold for the beer tapper I'm doing.  It's my first time making a small, very detailed mold, and it's been a great chance to learn more.

I'd like to show you the final solution and then I'll explain how I arrived here.  This is the rubber mold and the 4-piece mother mold made of a hard plaster called Hydrocal.  Even better would have been Ultracal, but I didn't have any on hand.

Why plaster? What happened to the plastic stuff?  Well, I discovered that the casting was coming out deformed because the plastic material just wasn't supporting it well.  I have never used the plastic material, and using this new product was an experiment.  With practice, I might be able to get better using it, but plaster is much less expensive and I have used plaster before and never had issues.

Why four pieces?  My rubber mold was not perfectly smooth....and plaster is very rigid.  I realized that in any configuration using only 2 pieces, I was going to have the rubber piece locked in the plaster...the only way around it, was to cast 4 pieces that would come off easily.  How did I do it?  I placed the rubber mold in a box I made from leftover pvc...and used clay to build up a base to the 1/2 way point around the rubber.  I also placed clay on the midway point on top...creating the first section.  I poured in plaster that I mixed, then waited for it to cure. Once it had- I could pull away the clay wall on top...and coat the edge of plaster with wax (so the other plaster wouldn't become glued to it).  I then poured the second side....I repeated this procedure on bottom by turning over the mold and removing the floor of the box and the clay that had been supporting the rubber.

Now I can close up all four sides of the mold and hold it together with rubber bands. This allows me to pour in the resin at an angle (to allow air to escape as I'm pouring so I don't get bubbles in the cast). Once filled, it sits solidly on it's base and I can let it cure.  About 20 min. does it.

So the real moment of truth is finally pouring in the resin and waiting to see what I get....
The good news...after some rough attempts at first, I have success!!

The "master" is on the left...and the resin copy is on the far right.  The one in the middle is just the HDU version that I painted as a test paintjob.  Now I can cast many more as needed!  Later, I'll prime the cast, paint it...add the mounting hardware and send it off for the client to look at and try out!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mistakes lead to success

I find that, as people, we enjoy talking about our successes in life, but generally try to avoid the mistakes and failures.  In truth, the failures and mistakes teach so much more than the success.  Part of learning and trying new things is stumbling before we can run. 

I thought I'd share a recent failure, and talk about learning from it, and turning it into success.  The truth, though, is that success isn't guaranteed. 

I have been working on a tapper head for client.  It is the handle they use in a pub to draw the beer from the keg.  I worked with the client to create a design based on a very old logo from the brewery and I carved a sample.  The first one was extremely large and out of scale.  On the second try, I reduced the scale significantly and became astounded at how well the cnc cut the very small detail.  This new one became the master which I coated in rubber and made a mold.  Then, I covered the mold in a plastic support mold called a "mother-mold" to hold the rubber in place.

The bad news?  The bad news was two-fold.  1. some of the detail was so small, that the rubber became very thin and very deep...not a good combination. 2. I believe I didn't wait long enough between coats of rubber to build up the mold. On one side of the mold, the rubber had not fully cured at the point I tried to open it....resulting in damaged detail and gooey rubber still not dry.  It was a disappointment.

I find, though, that dwelling too long on the failure leads to frustration and fear...fear of messing up again.  So I quickly began to run through the issues and look for solutions.

1.  I took the opportunity to  modify the vectored files (the design) and I thickened areas where I felt it was too thin.
2. I decided that the depth had also been a little much. I reduced the depth the material would be carved by half.
3. The material....I had spent more time than I liked cleaning up the carving before. It was carved in HDU 18lb variety that is soft and easy to carve.  Unfortunately, it had lots of little bits to clean up.  I decided to change to a more dense foam - 30lb.  I hoped it would be easier to clean and a bit stronger.
4. I told myself that letting the rubber cure was critical.  I would wait at least 2 hours between coats to ensure each layer got a chance to cure fully before I added the next.

Each of those things takes time.  It's easy to allow yourself some time on the first becomes harder when you've encountered problems or a failed attempt.  I determined that whatever time it took to get it right on the next try was worth it.

The carving went quickly, and it was clear from the start that a heavier HDU is extremely better for small work.  It was crisp, and the cleanup was essentially non-existent.  I blew it off with the air-compressor and it was done.  Next, I carefully gave it a couple coats of spray primer.  On something this size, the heavier primer I brush on is a bit thick.  Once the primer was dry, I then put on a final coat by brush, adding just a bit of texture.

Next, I began to coat the piece in rubber....4 layers, with 2 or more hours between coats (after the second coat, it dried overnight. I really wanted those initial coats to be fully cured).  Today, I put on the mother mold paste which is curing even now into a plastic shell that will support the mold.

In the meantime, I took a test carve I'd made in the lighter foam and decided to do a paint job to show the client.  We can finalize the paint now, so that when I begin casting multiple tappers, I'll already have a paint strategy in place....

Tomorrow, I'll once again open up the molds and see if I have a success or a failure- either way, the lessons have been valuable.

Stay tuned!

Monday, November 5, 2012

It's Getting Moldy in Here.

Today I began the molding process for the Weston Brewery "Royal Lager" tap head.  I thought I'd show the process I'm using to make multiple copies of the piece.  Now that I have the master made (a final version of the tapper head). I can mount it to a base and begin to cover it in silicone rubber. This rubber will ultimately be used to make castings. I drilled a hole through some leftover PVC and drilled a hole into the bottom of the tapper head.  I mounted the tapper onto the pvc.

First, a thin coat of rubber is brushed onto the piece and onto the base.  This will be sure that I capture all the details and don't leave holes.  Too thick of a coat at first might accidentally leave bubbles and miss details.  A couple thin coats to start is the way to go!  Here is the first coat.

Once that dried for about an hour, I put on another thin coat.  I let that dry for about 45 minutes.  Next I mixed a batch with a liquid that makes the rubber thicker...and it can be brushed on more thickly without running.  I want to build up a nice thick coat on the piece. 
I will give this another thick coat in the goal is to create a rubber mold that should be about 1/2" to 3/4" thick.  Right now it's roughly 1/4".  Tomorrow I'll do one or two more coats, and then prepare something called a "mother-mold".  The mother mold provides strength to the rubber and ensures that the rubber will hold it's shape when I'm casting.

The mother mold will be made of a plastic material and will be in two parts...split down the middle.  It may sound confusing, but it will be much more clear as I post pictures....we'll soon be making multiples! Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Size Matters.

I spoke with the client, and it appears that the tap head really needs to be no more than 2.5" at it's widest point.  So, I went back to the vector and made some changes. To accomodate the smaller size, I widened some pieces, and spread out some things like the dates on the bottom to give the bit enough room to clear the areas around and in them....  I was still able to use a 1/32" bit and take the whole thing down to 2.5" wide by 7" long.  It's about 1 1/8" thick.  I think it's much better smaller!

I'm astounded at the detail on something this small...the Shopbot did an absolutely fantastic job, once I dialed things in and made sure that things would line up when carving both sides.  I used a bit of a jig to make sure it all aligned properly.  The new version is on the left.

Next- I drilled a hold in the bottom, to add a round piece that will hold the brass bottom which connects to the tapper.  Once this approved and primed...I can begin to make the mold.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Royal Tap

I finished the prototype for the Weston Brewery "Royal Lager".  It's about 11 1/2" tall with brass base. It's 4" at the widest section at the bottom and 1 1/4" thick.  I suspect the width at the bottom will have to be scaled down...possibly the whole thing scaled down...I imagine it will need to be no wider than 3" wide.  We'll see! In the meantime, I'll paint this prototype to show the client colors and await the response!

Itty Bitty Router Bitty

Sometimes, I go through ups and downs in my shop...but maybe not the kind you're thinking.
I just completed some signs that were about 5 feet tall...and right before that a mural that was over 18' in diameter.
Today? I'm carving 2 sides of a prototype for a beer tap's about 10 inches long.

Here is the general design...

A few changes occured between design and carve. 1. We changed "Brewing Co." to "Lager" so that this design could be used with other flavors...  2. I had to thicken up some of the lines so that they'd carve well and hold up the detail.  It's exciting to play with things like this.

In order to hold the detail at this very small size- I am using a much much smaller bit than normal.  This little bit only has a 1/32" tip.  It would be easy to break, but I have it running a little slower than normal and it's cutting HDU which is easy to cut.

The carving is just under 1/8" deep...and I took a chance and am carving it in one pass. It seems to be doing just fine.

One it is complete, I'll do the other side.  The bump out on the left, will be the backing for the "R" on the other side.  Once this is approved,  I'll clean it up a bit, prime it..and then make a mold so that I can cast multiples!  I'll share the process here, so stay tuned!

Here is the first side completed...