I used to build signs. Lots of them. Aside from a couple of detours into advertising and sculpture, I built signs all through the aughts. I learned to use vinyls, acrylics, plastic, wood and aluminum to construct a pleasing storefront. I stuck stickers for the government.
The first sign shop I worked at was fairly advanced for a small mom and pop. All the design was done using industry standard software. Not sign industry software mind you, software specific to sign manufacture is usually pretty terrible, this was the standard graphic design software. Illustrator, Photoshop, and their corel equivalents. When we had to we would use the sign industry nonsense too. We used that software to feed into several high end manufacturing machines. Several vinyl cutters, a heat transfer printer, a large format inkjet printer that could print a 4 foot wide image on pretty much any flexible material you could feed into, and last, but not least, a large computer controlled router machine.
I was the new guy at the shop and I knew just about nothing. It took a while, but the crew there patiently taught me to use each of the machines, probably so I wouldn’t just be in the way while they worked. I got fairly confident using most of them, but I was very reluctant to use the router. I can only justify my fear of the machine, by telling you that almost everything in a sign shop is either sharp or toxic, but the only one that could slice off all your fingers and keep on going, is the router table. I avoided using it for quite a while, but in the interest of having some workplace redundancy I became one of the people trained to use the router.
I’m not sure when it happened, but pretty quickly I was the only one using the thing 90% of the time. The main shop was very small, and the router table was a six foot wide 10 foot long piece of equipment that weighed roughly the same as a datsun. It lived across a parking lot in a two bay commercial garage that was only accessible from the back alley. I would stop at the main shop in the morning, pick up a few work orders, a cup of coffee, and head over to the router garage, sometimes for the rest of the day. I became very, very familiar with that particular table. I only drilled holes through it a couple of times. Anything I broke on it I also fixed. I calibrated it to a few thousandths of an inch, and tuned it until It could cut a sheet of acrylic and only scratch the protective paper on the far side. I got very good at using the router.
A few years later I was at a different shop, operating a different router table, and I figured it was about time I built that arcade cabinet that I had been dreaming up.
Next time I’ll go over the design, and construction of Captain Joystick, the current incarnation of the ongoing arcade controller saga.