Archive for February, 2012

With all the key components cut out for the BMW M TEK sign it was time to start piecing it all together. The idea was to layer it all to give it some 3D feel to it. I was also going to have to make it all come apart so that all the individual pieces can be finished appropriately.

Using a felt pen I traced out all the components onto the backing plate so that I was able to determine what overlapped where. Then I went to work building spacers out of 6061 aluminum round bar. I machined all the spacers on the lathe then drilled and tapped all the holes. Eventually all the spacers got TIG welded onto their appropriate sign component. As uneventful as all this is the process was somewhat time consuming. However I am a big believer in that the amount of time invested in the project will be visible with the end project.

So at this point all the components have been mounted and bolted down. I had yet to build the exhaust pipe mounts. My main concern is that I didn’t want the mounts to be too visible. I Vise-Gripped some washers onto a sheet of aluminum and plasma cut out a couple of inconspicuous plates. The plates got aluminum tubes welded onto them that would allow me to slide the M3 exhaust tips onto them. The brackets then both got mounting brackets welded to the back side of the sign.

The only phase left in the actual construction involved welding the 1” aluminum perimeter, previously made, to backing plate. Using an old sheet of plywood and some wood screws I was able to position the perimeter tight up against the backing plate and then join them with some welds. Yes there were a few gaps, yes I find them difficult to cope with, will anyone notice? I doubt it but it still bugs me.

Okay so the actual construction is done and now comes the point of the process that involves spending time finishing all the components. This is where I struggle. I am not a great finisher however I am determined to improve in that department. My original plan was to combine flat black spray bomb, anodizing, polishing, and brushed finishes to create some contrast. I will spare you the vision because the vision had changed. I really had my heart set on anodizing but opted not to for various reasons, I’ll save that technique for another project. My new plan involved seeking out some outside help for part of the process.

I have friend, who has a friend, who knew this guy named Dave. Well it turns out that, because of my friend’s friend, Dave is now a guy I know. Anyway…I went to see Dave cause Dave does vehicle tinting, rock guarding, and vehicle wraps for a living. I went to see him because I wanted to incorporate some carbon fiber look to the sign plus I thought he could help me with the addition of some color. Well it turns out Dave was the guy to see cause he confirmed that what I was looking for was something that he could do.

So with the components prepped I took the pieces to Dave and this is what I got him to do. The backing plate got layered with a carbon fiber look wrap. The outer circle of the BMW roundel was also wrapped with carbon fiber and then was decaled with a white laser cut “BMW”. He wrapped two of the “Propeller” blades with BMW blue and then laid down a custom made M stripe decal on my supplied aluminum support. Fantastic! The wraps totally gave the sign a motorsport look to it. I am a little disappointed that I farmed out some of the work however I consider it a lesson in recognizing, and accepting, ones limitations.

The plan from the start was to polish up the “M” to a mirror finish. I also decided I would polish the circle that provides the background for the BMW emblem. The polishing of the circle will hopefully add another dimension to it all. I sanded the circle and “M” down to a 400 grit and then went to town on the buffing wheel and put the aluminum through a 4 stage buffing process. After that I had Stu, an automotive detailer and friend of mine, help me finish off the mirrored look with a 3 stage polishing compound laid on with a 7” electric polisher.

The rest of the components were all finished in a brushed finish. After sanding the remaining pieces down with 400 grit I took a Scothbrite pad to them and carefully brushed in the final look. The brushing helps the polishing of the “M” and BMW circle really standout.

All the non-visible backs of all the components all got spray bombed with flat black. I wanted to prevent any nasty reflections from occurring as the light creeps in from the backside of all the suspended lettering.

So with a few more minor finishing touches and a bit of detailing I was ready to check this one off my list. And I did however I had some straying thoughts while I built the sign which led me to put the effort in to build a couple of bonus items. So with some extra material on my hands and a little bit of time I came up with a “M-R” sign. It is simply a mini award that was meant to recognize another key player at the dealership who is not a tech but still plays a significant role in the department. Their name starts with a R therefore I turned the “M power” into “R power” The sign is nothing more then a couple sheets of aluminum trimmed to spec. The base was carbon wrapped and then top was half polished and have “M stripe” wrapped.

The second bonus item was a “Pimp My Hoist” kit. I built a hoist control upgrade kit for one of the hoists at the dealership. The kit was all made from 6061 aluminum and machined on the lathe. The 4 key components comprised of a motor button, lock release, hydraulic down release, and an oil tank vented lid. To give it the “M” look I machined 3 separate rings for one of the levers and then anodized them with “M stripe” colors. The lever was then bolted together to give it a 1 piece look. The rest of the components were all polished.

Anyway…there you have it. A completed project that was able to teach me a few things. Hopefully the service manager will be pleased with the result and hopefully the sign will suit the purpose. Time to move on to a bigger project, stay tuned.


It was time to start coming up with a plan to put some lettering on the BMW technician award. The basic components were all cut out but the sign lacked the info that was going to define what the sign is going to represent. In keeping with the German BMW theme I decided to shift from the “M Tech” theme to a “M Tek” theme.

The plan was to cut all the lettering out of the same aluminum sheet I used for the base. Now if I had a CNC plasma then the cutting of the letters would have spared me of some ingenuity. Since I don’t have a CNC plasma, yet, I was faced with having to cut all the lettering by hand.

I decided that multiple steps would be required in order to ensure that the lettering would come out looking that of CNC quality. It all started on the computer tracking down font that was similar to that of the BMW line. The “M” font was not an issue as I was able to AutoCAD the dimensions using an actual “M” emblem as a reference. The issue was with the “TEK” font and after reviewing many different fonts I finally settled on one that was similar. The only concern I had was that the font would eventually be increased by approximately .170” around all the edges. Since the font would be acting as a plasma guide I needed to ensure that the space left between the plasma cutting tip and the plasma cutting tip guide edge (sort of like a kerf) would not alter the look of the font too much.

The “TEK” font then was scaled to size and printed out on multiple sheets of paper. So after a bit of arts and crafts I was able to tape and cut paper that would leave me with a full scale version of my lettering. So with the paper templates in hand I was off to the garage.

So as the second step to the cutting process I traced all the lettering out on 1/8” MDF hardboard. With a jigsaw in hand I trimmed all the letters out. Using multiple sanders, including a drum sander on the drill press, I was able to work all the lettering down to precise dimensions. It was important to ensure that the lines were all straight and the radiuses were all smoothly rounded. Since the templates were going to be the actual guide for the plasma torch any imperfections in their shape would surely transfer through onto the aluminum.

With the MDF templates built the rest of the job was quick and easy. The letters were Vise-Gripped down onto the plate of aluminum and then trimmed out using the plasma torch. The edges only required light touch up with the belt sander and flap wheels. As far as the “M” letter goes there was no MDF template made. The “M” was all measured out and then straight edges used to provide the guide.

With the letters all cut I was able to lay them out onto the rest of the sign and verify that the image I had in my head was the image that was now sitting in front of me. Now that all the components of the sign have been cut the next phase will involve layout and some sort of method to attach all the pieces into unity.

A local BMW dealership that I have done some work for in the past approached me about a potential project. The manager of the service department was developing an internal company technician recognition program and was in need of some “hardware” to hand out. The manager wanted some sort of “Stanley Cup” for the award that would get passed around to each recipient. He wasn’t able to offer much of a suggestion as to what the award was supposed to be. All he knew is that he wanted something unique and he thought that I may be able to come up with an idea.

Well I pondered it over for a day and decided to pitch an idea to him that had been lurking in my mind for sometime. For some unknown reason I have had the urge to build a sign. I really have had no use for a sign and therefore no reason to build one. It’s not that I had any particular type of sign in mind; I just wanted to see what I could come up with. So with paper and pen in hand, along with some colored Hi-liters, I used all the skills I lack as an artist and sketched out a fairly pathetic artists rendering of what I envisioned I could build.

The idea was to build a 4 foot wide by 26 inch high aluminum sign. The shape, and feel, would mimic that of old school garages as well as modern BMW vehicle lines. As I pondered about what the point of the sign was I decided to create an “M Tech” theme award. For those of you who are unaware the “M” style BMWs are the high end performance line of BMW vehicles. Therefore it seemed fitting to provide a high end performance based award to the top technician.

So as I spent time researching and figuring out how to combine old school with M Power and came up with the following design. The overall shape mimicked that of old school garages combined with the features found on the back of an M5. I plan to incorporate some chrome tail pipe tips along with the air vent found on the rear of the M5. The sign would be made out of aluminum and incorporate multiple layers. It would also involve using different finishing such as paint, polishing, brushing, and anodizing.

Well I took my artists rendering to the service manager and pitched him my idea. I was bit shocked that he told me to “go for it” after only seeing my pathetic sketch. I suspect there must be a certain amount of trust involved as I am not much of a salesman.

So with given the green light I spent time getting the basic shape and dimensions finalized in AutoCAD. With some dimensions to work off of, a 4’ x 5’ sheet of utility grade aluminum, and some 6061 flat bar I stepped into the garage, broke out the plasma cutter and started shredding metal.

The backing, or base, that would support the rest of the sign was cut out from the sheet of aluminum using my homemade circle cutter to ensure the lines were uniform. The BMW emblem was designed to be 2 tier and was cut as per the AutoCAD specs to ensure the ratios all remained the same. The border was built from 1” x .125 aluminum 6061 flat bar. The entire border is made up of approximately 6 sections all welded together. The bends were either done with the ring roller or the Hossfeld clone bender.  I had acquired a complete set of 4 M3 chrome tailpipes which I had planned to use for the project. The pipes were too long so they all got trimmed down on the band saw and then cleaned up on the lathe.

So as it sits now the base and basics have all been rough cut and mocked up. Next step in the process will involve designing BMW font lettering and coming up with a technique to accurately cut them out of aluminum.

I had been procrastinating finishing the paint booth simply because I had no clear game plan in place. Well my procrastination turned to frustration, depression, and finally anger to the point where I just sucked it up and went at it. People always say nothing good ever comes from getting mad, guess they were wrong. It was my rage and fury that got me to the finish line.

As a quick recap the paint booth frame had been all welded up, the ventilation fan assembly had been built and all the supports that would allow the booth to stand on its own, as well as collapse, had been completed. I managed to get my hands on a 30’ x 40’ tarp which I had planned to use to wrap the booth up like a birthday present. At this point in the project I am still unsure if any of the master plan is actually going to work out in the end. Gotta trek on…

So my rage day came where I went and purchased 175 feet of tarp tape, 15 feet of Velcro, and then came home and set the frame of the booth up. As I struggled to lay out a tarp with a footprint bigger then my entire garage I managed to actually incase the booth. From here on in it was simply a matter of cutting up the tarp as though it was gift wrap. All the seams were sealed with numerous different methods. Tarp tape was used on some, others had 1” x .125” 6061 flat bar sandwiching them, others got Velcro, and the floor was done by folding the tarp into the wall seam. I certainly will not bore you with every seam detail. The project took me a weekend and 5 evenings however in the end I had a 98% sealed booth that was still completely collapsible down to 4 inches thick.

I still had yet to deal with a lighting issue. I needed good light however it could not be installed permanently. I picked up 4 double tube T12 48” florescent light fixtures and rigged them up to see if the illumination would be sufficient. 4 fixtures would do however 6 would be better. So I picked up another 2 fixtures. I strung cables through the tops of the housings to allow for hanging them on hooks. Then using a 50 foot extension cord I wired them up together in 2 sets of 3. The lights all get hung on hooks inside the booth and when it’s time to disassemble it takes approx. 1 minute to unhook them all and hang them on a storage hook in the shop.

I still needed to get an air supply and electrical connection into the booth through the tarp sealed walls. I welded up a support plate that got bolted to the lower corner of the intake filter wall and then configured a stubby extension cord to fit through it along with a permanently mounted compressed air hook up.

So with everything sealed it was time to fire up the ventilation fan, face bitter disappointment and come to terms with the realities of my backyard engineering. Turns out the disappointment is going to have to come back another day cause the booth pressured up fantastic. The walls and ceiling all ballooned out which actually gives me more room inside the booth to move around. There appears to good airflow coming out of the exhaust filter. Now there are minor little spots in the tarp that have a few leaks, I’ll have to wait till I actually spray something to be able to visually see if the leaks are an issue. There is a slight breeze blowing through the center of the booth, it’s not bad and may not affect the spraying at all. Again I will have to wait till I spray to be able to evaluate the full booth performance.

Because of te size of the booth getting good pictures were difficult. The best I have is a video that gives a full tour, you can check it out below.

I measured the RPM of the ventilation fan using a digital tach. The maximum specified speed is rated at 1140 rpm and the way I have it pulleyed down from my 1725 rpm treadmill motor the fan’s actual speed is 1265 rpm. Not too bad, a bit high but until further testing it will have to do.  I suspect I can re-pulley the fan to allow for lower RPM and lower CFMs and still have good pressure within the booth.

Well I can’t stop now, the booth is complete but it still needs to be stored. My current plan is to hang it from the ceiling however I lack a plan at this point. I’ll see what kind of ideas I can grow.