Introduction: Fish Fire Place Mantel

About: I earned an art degree from the Art Institute of Seattle and became a official Graphic Designer and Electronic prepress expert. To add to the tricks in my bag I have added Sign Carving and Wood Working.

How to make a art piece on your CNC for fun and Profit.  
This is more of a general guide than a strict how to.

Step one Meeting with the clients (Ok they are my parents) we established several things.

The size,
About 6 feet long so it wouldn't hit the bookshelves.

The location,
Above the fireplace higher than what they have now so some art will have to be moved.

The material
Wood was chosen because it fit with the house but the species changed 4 times..  From Spruce to Pine Glue lam beam to Cherry. Finally Red Oak Stair Treads were Selected and used..

The finish,
This was a bit of a issue..  The Client wanted unfinished, but wood needs to be sealed to keep it from blowing is self apart during seasonal changes, so I used Semi Gloss Spray.. This should keep the peace..  But Finish can be used to hide all kinds of flaws.  If a client doesn't want the wood finished to save money or time my advice fight them on it..  

I would suggest is not discussing price until you have made a proof...  it will give you a better idea of how much time and effort a large project will take.  Never apologize  for your price..  If they can't afford it you can't afford to make it..

Step 1: Pencil and Draw

Step Two it is time to break out the pencil and draw..  It is fast and easy for me it also gets some of the vapertastic ideas onto paper.
I would show about 3 to the customer..  More than three can confuse the issue.  Another tip is show only the ones you like..  (why show a idea you don't want to do it if they pick it, it will just makes the project miserable)

Photo Mock up...  This will give the client a good idea of what they are getting.  
Informed Clients are Happy Clients. This is when you can talk price. 
When taking photos for your proof use a yard stick (or a tape measure set to 3 feet) in the photo.  
This is useful especially when your clients are 3000 miles away.
This will allow you to scale the photos and get a proper layout.  
If you think you can read the numbers off the tape think again it is next to impossible so you end up counting little black pixels.  
So setting your tape to 3' and then you can scale your photo to that..  
(Celling tiles are 2' wide and doors are about 3' wide.  Bricks and Cinderblocks are also standard size)

Step 2: The Layout...

Step three The layout
I set the base shape in the computer using Aspire software.  I hate to drop names but it really is the best thing I have found.  
15" tall  by 72" wide on this project.  I also started on the fish.  I outlined the major parts of the fish filling each one to give it a fish shape... Aspire also allows you to insert the original in to give it a texture...  After the fish is built I bent and warped it to fit the layout.
Setting the thickness of the background 
Aspire has a great feature allowing tiling of your shapes I felt this added more interest, but this makes setting the thickness and depth more of a challenge.

The mantel ended up being 1.875 thick.  So using two 1" thick stair tread glued them together became the blanks.

Step 3: Setting Tool Paths

Setting tool paths..  I found that I needed to copy the built file to a fresh document to eliminate some computer glitches..  When I was doing some test carving in foam the machine went mad and tried to destroy it’s self, what a glitch.
I also found a surprise, the whole thing would take 54 hours of carving.. That is just too long so I broke it up in to sections being 11.3" wide this allowed each part to be only 8 hours of carving time.

This was divided between two bits the 1” round nose roughing bit. Then the finishing was done with a special 2” long .25 round nose bit.  It still hundreds of thousands of lines of code for Mach 3

That plus all the computer time I put in it came out to  over 2 weeks of full time work..

Step 4: The Glue Up

I made the whole thing out of red oak stair tread These are glued up strips of oak with out knots or other types of common flaws.  I cut them in half and glued it to get to 2” thick.
It still took 7 treads to get all the wood it needed to finish it.
When I made the glue up I found clamps are more important that the glue.  You can use white school glue, yellow wood glue or Gorilla Glue.  The biggest problem I had was when I didn't follow the instructions on the back of the tube, and let the glue fully dry..  This caused all kinds of issues that I had to fix later.. :(

Step 5: The Carving

The carving The important thing is setting the start point, and marking this..  It allows one to reset the machine back to "0" and start over when "the monster fights back"  I mark mine on the work piece with a fine point..  Each one of the sets I had to reset to "0" at least once when I switched bits but often I reset 4 to 5 times..

Step 6: The Trimming..

The trimming.. I don't have a bandsaw so I turned in a couple of favors and went over to a sign shop owned by a friend of mine.  And 30min on it I had all the outsides cut off, It took 30 more mins talking about it.. I don't think I can get out of there in under a hour..

Step 7: All Done

All Done?  Well no it still needs the mounting brackets and to be installed..  (it also has to be shipped)  I did take the time and dressed all the edges and but lets say done...