Magic Router in New Braunfels, Texas is leaving its clients spellbound by the custom dimensional signage and awards it consistently pulls out of its hat. “We like to say we work in everything from granite to paper,” says Owner Bruce Larson. “We don’t really fit in a niche, and that’s kind of why we do it.”
After retiring from his job in the steel industry, Larson started Magic Router in 2003 and began shipping jobs out in 2004. He naturally gravitated toward the high-tech, dimensional equipment, which he had used in his previous job for cutting, forming, and laser processing steel.
Larson’s passion for this type of equipment clearly shows in Magic Router’s arsenal of tools, which allows them to work on a variety of materials in a variety of different ways. The shop’s line-up includes a MultiCam router, sublimation equipment, a Canon ImagePROGRAF wide format printer, and sandblasting tools.
“I’ve tried never to say ‘no’ to a project, but there sure are a lot of times I’ve come back to the shop and said, ‘Now how in the heck am I going to do this?’” says Larson. “Many times I’ll go out and buy another piece of equipment or another piece of software to make sure I can do it.
“So we’ve got a lot of toys!”
But when it comes to unique and challenging projects, it’s Larson’s Epilog Legend 36EXT 60-watt laser engraver in particular that works an extra bit of magic.
The Engraving Effect
Larson started out with a small Epilog Mini 18 laser engraver but soon upgraded to the larger Epilog Legend 36EXT. “We primarily went immediately to a 60-Watt machine because we wanted to be able to cut at least 1/2-inch acrylic,” he says. “We do a lot of different things in acrylic, and we wanted to have the ability to cut and process it.”
Larson says the laser engraver’s learning curve was a shallow one. “The biggest thing was becoming completely and as thoroughly knowledgeable with the CorelDRAW® software as was possible,” he says. “Find out what your software’s capable of and then keep exploring and finding out what you can do with it that isn’t necessarily in the textbook.”
For Larson, software is akin to a magic wand, which unlocks the laser engraver’s capabilities to work on many different materials and in very intricate detail. “It allows us to do some things that would be impossible without a laser,” he says.
Trick 1: Kenpo 5.0
One of the projects that demonstrates the power of Magic Router’s laser engraver is a sign the shop created for Jeff Speakman’s Kenpo 5.0 martial arts school.
“They had a logo that showed a dragon, and they were wondering what I could do to make a sign for them out of it,” says Larson.
Magic Router started by laying out the sign in CorelDRAW. A bit of layout work was required to scale and fit the text “Jeff Speakman’s Kenpo 5.0” within the circle. “Those are individual pieces and to get that to all line up and match up, they’re not all the same height,” says Larson. “In order to maintain the accuracy of the customer’s real logo, we had to shuffle with it.”
When the design was finalized, Larson visited his plastics supplier, Allied Plastic Supply, LLC (www.alliedplastic.org), and purchased a blank forty-two-inch-diameter circle made of 1/8-inch-thick clear acrylic, which was cut on a CNC router.
He also purchased 1/8-inch-thick black acrylic to create the outer rim of the circle and the dragon. These elements had to be cut in pieces that fit into the 20-inch-by-24-inch laser bed.
The black outer circle was cut in four skinny, arc pieces. The dragon was cut from four major pieces of black acrylic that measured 24-by-20 inches.
Much effort was spent on the dragon’s scales, and the laser engraver proved its worth on this detailed section.
“When we cut it into four pieces, each of the four quadrants of the dragon’s scales were not exactly, precisely lined up with the next piece,” says Larson. “So we took one quadrant of it and made the next quadrant and adjusted all of the scales so that they matched up to the previous piece and so on all the way around, until we cut all four parts.”
All of the pieces of the circle and the dragon were then assembled onto the clear acrylic circle for a trial fit to make sure they all matched up with each other.
Next the paper covering was removed on the clear acrylic and on the pieces of the black acrylic, which were then glued to the clear circle. The lettering (a Rowmark material with a stainless steel appearance) was glued on top of everything.
“One of the many job challenges was to glue and attach everything without leaving unsightly [adhesive] residue on the clear piece,” says Larson.
It took about two days to completely engrave and assemble the sign.
Larson says this sign was a challenging project but one his shop really enjoyed. And it’s a sign that the martial arts school also enjoys—so much so that they have Larson create awards for them each year with a smaller, eight-inch-diameter dragon logo mounted to a piece of calcite mineral.
“By making the sign, we were able to offer them the additional option of something to do for their awards every year,” says Larson. “Of course, this has [led to] increased sales.”
Trick 2: The SCOOTER Store
Magic Router is known for its custom-designed awards. The shop has even created a recognition wall that included 892 engraved names on a six-foot-wide-by-five-foot-tall piece of black granite for The SCOOTER Store. The job also included 892 individual black granite blocks with a saying and each person’s name.
The project put the shop’s Legend 36EXT laser engraver to work, and it took almost a week to finish.
In the middle of it, the client asked Magic Router to add two names to the wall. This required the shop to do some rethinking and extensive layout work.
In the end, their “sleight of hand” paid off, and it all balanced out.
Trick 3: 187th Medical Battalion
Magic Router also worked its wonders to create a monument honoring the 187th Medical Battalion stationed at Fort Sam Houston in nearby San Antonio, Texas.
The 20-by-24-inch Corian plaque features the logo from the Battalion’s collar insignia and the words “187th Medical Battalion,” which Magic Router lasered into the Corian and filled with epoxy paint.
“We then put the Corian back into our MultiCam router and routed out the overall shape of the logo 1/8-inch-deep into the Corian material,” says Larson. “Then we used our laser engraver to cut mirrored gold, burgundy, and white acrylic into various shapes and inlaid them into the Corian so that they’re flush with the top surface.”
At the request of the Colonel in charge of the project, Magic Router also drilled and countersunk four actual regimental coins into the plaque’s four corners for a unique touch. The shop then mounted a piece of museum-quality, UV-resistant acrylic over the top of the sign and sealed it to protect it from the elements before anchoring it to a large rock.
“It looks just as good today as the day we installed it,” says Larson.
And Now for the Last Trick: Sandblasting
Magic Router also frequently uses its laser engraver to create masks for sandblasting on materials like sandstone. “Most people carve into the rock,” says Larson. “We carve around the effect, in order to give it that raised look.”
The shop works quite often with honeycomb calcite, which is a mineral only found in one mine in the world. Since 2005, Magic Router has worked with the distributor from the mine and completes all their engraving work. The shop does multiple things with the material—including adding appliqués, color filling it, and of course, sandblasting it.
Magic Router has even used this honeycomb calcite material to create signage. The shop crafted a 450-pound, 30-by-78-inch sign for a local mall store called P.S. Gifts. Larson used his laser engraver to cut sandblast masks for the lettering, sandblasted the letters out, and then filled the text with stone paint. Because honeycomb calcite is translucent, it is able to be lit from behind for a distinctive backlit effect.
By Ashley Bray
All photos courtesy of Magic Router.