Every once in a while, life teaches us a lesson. Sometimes the learning comes years later, but often it arrives sooner than you expect. This was our experience at Mammoth Handcrafted Signs in our hometown of Hot Springs, SD, just a few hours from Mt. Rushmore. Our first attempt at a new sign for Massa Dental blew away in a storm wind the very day we installed it. But that detail is near the end of my story and lies far ahead.
After the initial designs and subsequent refinements were made, a toothbrush-themed sign was agreed upon. The design called for the toothbrush shape to be cut from 18-lb. sandblasted HDU sandwiched around a skeleton of ¾-in. square steel tubing, which was to be the framework and post for hanging the main signage. Toward the end of the design phase, the client requested additional signs featuring the dentists’ names.
Due to the size and shape of the toothbrush, we outsourced its routing to Tim Chayka, owner of TC Custom Woodworking (Black Hawk, SD). His team cut and routed a space for the steel frame spine of the toothbrush. Next, we primed and painted the brush façades with 1 Shot Imitation Gold.
The substrate for the signs with the dentists’ names was first primed and painted, then masked off. After sandblasting, we kept the mask in place while painting the background, making the process quicker and reducing the risk of painting over the names. Once the paint dried, all that was left was to remove the flashing that remained around the masked areas with a pass of high-grit sandpaper and minimal paint touchups. We also travelled nearly 70 miles to a previous collaborator, Alan Dalhman, owner of Nitro Alley Inc. (Rapid City, SD), who specializes in sandblasting, to finish the material removal, which Al accomplished within an hour.
The next major step was cutting and welding the square stock to shape. After measuring, we determined the angles by laying out the materials on a Rhino Mat with 1-in. increment grid lines. Using the grid, we adjusted the angles to achieve square. Once welded, we inserted the frame into the routed-out portion of the toothbrush. Along with testing the fit, we hooked up the finished signs to check the stability of the frame (which was originally designed to hold only the main sign). The additional weight of the doctors’ signs stressed the frame and moved us a half-inch from square at the length of the signs. Reinforcing the frame then took top priority. We cut and rewelded the frame while adding upper and lower support bars to alleviate the flexing.
FILLING A CAVITY
The following week we arrived at the install location and removed the previous sign. We blocked the bottom of the post hole to keep the new sign from sinking in the soft soil. To allow the groundskeeper room to trim around the sign, we increased the height between the bottom of the toothbrush and the ground to 12 in. We then mounted the ¾-in. square stock inside 1-in. square tubing that was set in concrete. The sign frame and square tubing were subsequently bolted together to allow easy removal.
As is common in South Dakota, a storm quickly started to brew. Within half an hour, wind gusts up to 50 mph whistled through the hills. As we loaded up to head back to the shop, a giant blast of wind slammed into the sign. The brackets and frame held, but the stress on the linkage to the signs ripped the sign foam away. Floating on the wind briefly, it careened to the ground, where it smashed and lay in pieces.
Learning from our failure was crucial in determining the key areas in need of redesign. Immediately we contacted the client and informed him of the situation. Back at the drawing board, we decided on an updated twist on their old sign while incorporating the theme from our previous attempt. Adding a second toothbrush to the opposite side changed our design to a double-post panel system, greatly increasing the stability. The additional toothbrush allowed us to redesign the support beams above and below the main signage, and as an added redundancy of support, we increased the interior frame structure to 2 x 1-in. steel tubing.
Because the support beams could now hold the main sign, its need to be free-hanging was eliminated. The new design combined both signs into a rigid format while remaining within the confines of the client’s dimensions. Determined to create a sign capable of withstanding the winds, we increased the thickness of the sign foam to 1½ in.
The setback of our first sign meant that our new version would have to be made as quickly as possible. To adjust for the diminishing deadline, we opted to have Tim and his team rout our main signs rather than sandblast them ourselves. This gave us time in our shop to increase the realism of the toothbrushes by adding bristle façades made from ½-in. PVC.
Once we received the routed components from TC, we quickly set to priming, painting and assembling our new design. The rigid setup of the new layout proved slightly tricky to transport, but we carefully delivered the fully assembled sign to Massa Dental and got it installed. Luckily (or unluckily) another wind storm blew through the hills a few days later – a perfect opportunity to watch the performance of our newly engineered sign. The new design stood motionless against the wind.
Lesson learned and an attractive, unique, handcrafted sign for a local dental group. Look ma, no cavities!
EQUIPMENT AND MATERIALS
SOFTWARE: Adobe Photoshop CC and Illustrator CC, adobe.com; Graphtec Studio, graphtecamerica.com
PLOTTER: GRAPHTEC CE6000-40, graphtecamerica.com
WELDER: Eastwood MIG 175, eastwood.com
TOOLS: DeWalt drill and chop saw, dewalt.com
PAINTING: 1 Shot Chromatic Metal and Wood Primer and 1 Shot Imitation Gold, 1shot.com
SUBSTRATES: SignFoam®4 18 lb. High Density Urethane, signfoam.com
SANDBLASTING MASK: Hartco HGS930S Equalizer Rubber Sandmask, fellers.com
FRAME: Builders FirstSource 2 x 1-in. square tube (wall thickness .120) and 1 x1-in. square tube (wall thickness of .065), bldr.com
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