Sign Effectz Entices Coffee Buffs to Stone Creek With Supersized Rooftop Sign

Fiberglass-and-metal cup overflows with character

Adam Brown is co-owner of Sign Effectz (Milwaukee).
Our shop has enjoyed a years-long relationship with Stone Creek Coffee, an independent, Milwaukee-based coffee roaster, retailer and café operator. They’re terrific clients; they seek creative signage that often moves outside of standard-issue projects, and they keep things interesting and fun.
Stone Creek’s owners, Eric and Melissa Resch, developed the concept for an outsized coffee cup that would be installed atop a chimney stack on its three-story headquarters on 5th St., near Highway 794 in downtown Milwaukee. They contacted us to determine whether constructing it would be possible. Working with their engineer, we went though the process of conceptualizing a coffee cup that spans 10 ft. from the cup’s edge to the handle’s tip.
After having created several CAD renderings and mock-ups, we determined a cup this size would weigh 300-500 lbs. With this in mind, the engineer analyzed the chimney’s sturdiness. He decided, with several structural modifications, it would work atop the chimney.
Problem solving
We started the process by creating a 3-D model with TurboCAD software. Based on prior knowledge
of past sculptural signage, we determined the body should be an aluminum substructure with a fiberglass body. To reduce its weight, we built the handle with aluminum and the body with built-up layers of expanding, liquid urethane. Its composition resembles HDU, but its liquid form is readily castable. The process incorporates some of our traditional, sign-fabrication techniques, plus methods used to build boats and weave baskets.
Using Delcam’s ArtCAM 3-D modeling software, we created templates for machining parts on our Gerber Sabre 408 CNC router. We routed ½-in.-thick, aluminum baseplate with 1/8-in.-thick, aluminum ribs. We spaced the ribs radially every 11.25º so they’d follow the cup’s shape. We tied the ribs together with ¼-in.-thick, aluminum-rod stringers that served as the base layer for subsequent 2- and 6-oz., fiberglass layers. A base pedestal matches the size of the chimney underneath.
The fiber of its being
To obtain the fiberglass material, we contacted Fibreglast (Brookville, OH). This reliable supplier of fiberglass and other resin-fabricated materials has always been a great resource for technical information. Because of fiberglass resin’s heavy fumes, we worked in a spray booth. Wearing gloves, disposable body suits and paint rollers, our crew applied the base layer of 120 ft. of 6-oz., fiberglass cloth, which we followed with 150 ft. of 2-oz. material. We bonded the cloth with 15 gallons of polyester resin, which we applied with spray guns, rollers and brushes. In the final stages of resin buildup, we mixed it with various fillers – talcum powder, chopped-glass fibers and fine sawdust – to easily sand the surface and trowel over the cup.
To smooth out the surface, we sanded it with a series of flexible sanding longboards, which are 16 in. long and have clips for holding sandpaper, as well as several dual-action, orbital sanders. Then, we evenly layered the resin and cloth with standard masonry trowels. Once we’d finished perfecting the cup’s surface, it weighed 400 lbs.
To finish the job, we detailed the cup to resemble the stemware used inside Stone Creek’s café. After sanding, we applied Fibreglast’s polyester gelcoat to cure the surface. This finish is used to cure most fiberglass boat hulls; it’s designed to be durable, with strong resistance to UV degradation and hydrolysis. For the fininshing touch, we applied the “band” with 3M russet-brown, high-performance vinyl. The “Stone Creek” letters were cut on a Graphtec Vinyl Express Q130 cutting plotter. Obviously, transporting a 400-lb. coffee cup to the jobsite would require great care. We secured it to 20-ft.-long, auto-hauling trailer, which we pulled on a Dodge Ram pickup truck.
Stone Creek hired Cardinal Fabricating (Germantown, WI) to install new tuck points on the chimney and repair bricks on its surface. Using a Terex 15-ton crane with a 20-ft. swing jib and jib extension, we strapped the cup to the lift and hauled it over the building to the roof. It was mid-November, which can be a dicey time of year for outdoor installations in Wisconsin; thankfully, it was merely overcast and in the mid-40s. We added 4 x 4 x ¼-in., steel angles to all four corners of the chimney structure. They run vertically from the roofline to the top of the chimney. Then, we placed a 48 x 52-in., rectangle frame to the top of the angles and MIG-welded them into place. The cup has a matching frame at its bottom, which was welded to the chimney.
Sensing an opportunity, Stone Creek’s staff sent out a press release about the event, and several local newspapers, TV stations and websites carried news about the event.
We strive to have our projects blur the line between signage and art. Coffee aficionados who both cherish their joe and crave a Starbucks alternative are happy to patronize such a shop. And we’re happy to do business with customers willing to make the investment to differentiate themselves from their competition.
Equipment and Materials
Polyester gelcoat and fiberglass coating resin, from Fibreglast (Brookville, OH), (800) 838-8984 or
Crane: Terex 15-ton crane, from Terex Inc. (Wilmington, NC), (910) 395-8900 or  
Masonry: Chimney repair, subcontracted to Cardinal Fabricating (Germantown, WI), (414) 744-9700
Plotter: Graphtec Vinyl Express Q130 cutting plotter, from Graphtec America (Irvine, CA), (800) 854-8385 or  
Router: Sabre 408 CNC router, from Gerber Scientific Products (Tolland, CT), (800) 222-7446 or  
Software: TurboCAD drafting software, from IMSI/DesignLLC (Novato, CA), (415) 483-8000 or; ArtCAM 3-D modeling software, from Delcam (Windsor, ON, Canada), (877) 335-2261 or
Substrate: Two- and 6-oz. fiberglass cloth, from Fibreglast
Vinyl: Translucent, high-performance, russet-brown vinyl, from 3M Commercial Graphics (St. Paul, MN), (800) 328-3908 or  
Misc.: Aluminum angle and MIG-welder, available at building- and industrial-supply stores
More About Sign Effectz
Founded in 1996 and co-owned by Adam Brown and Rick Rossetti, Sign Effectz (Milwaukee) is a full-service, custom-sign fabricator that also handles sign repair, installation and permitting, among other services. Its architectural-sign division, which it calls AFX, focuses on outside-the-box signage, such as an illuminated sculpture for a Greenhaven, CA public library and an interactive, electronic display for Amazon’s Seattle-area headquarters, among many others. The company has been profiled in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Milwaukee Business Journal, among other regional publications.
For more information, visit