The Big Think

October 17, 2011

The Good Old Baylor Prop Build

Filed under: Maker,Woodworking — jasony @ 2:40 pm

A few weeks ago I got a call from Baylor University. They heard that I build props for the Sing and Pigskin and wanted to know if I could build them a new Baylor Logo prop to replace their aging 30-year-old big Baylor seal. They had the design all worked up from the marketing department and wanted to know if it was something that I would be interested in. Hey hey! Yes, I would! Is it something you can get to us in three and a half weeks? uh… (gulp)… yes. So I set out to build the new Baylor corporate logo prop over a whirlwind fifty hours. I had a lot of fun, it was a lot of work using some new techniques, and I’m tremendously proud of the results. Read on if your’e interested.

Step one was to get the official Baylor logo in digital format. The “BAYLOR” logo (aka “wordmark”) and symbol (“logo”) are both custom-designed by Baylor’s marketing department so I couldn’t just print out any old font. It had to be the exact “BAYLOR” that nobody else owns. The spacing between the letters is also critical as it’s part of the overall registered trademark. Once I had this file I took it to Kinkos and paid $65 for them to print it out on their large format printer. It’s pretty cool that you can get just about anything printed out in any size. Good to know for future projects.

Here’s a pic of the symbol and wordmark before I cut them up. I had to measure the spaces between the letters to reproduce them exactly once the thing was built. The overall length of the whole thing is about 23 feet!

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The next step was to carefully cut out the letters and logo with an X-acto blade. I cut them just slightly proud of the design since I would then be fixing them to pieces of MDF with spray adhesive and then carefully sanding the MDF to the exact outlines of the pattern. These MDF pieces became my templates for making all of the letters and parts of the Symbol:

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Yeah, my 42 year old eyes can’t focus that closely any more with my glasses on. I suppose there are bifocals in my future.

Detail work!
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Here’s the symbol once I attached it to my MDF template and carefully cut to the line. For the symbol I ended up having to remove the archway and side supports so I could sand the edges of the building. Later when I attached the building layer to the background I had to sand and fill the cut with body filler. It’s an invisible join, even up close.

A little bit of mineral spirits and the paper template comes right off.

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Next I cut out the paper silhouette, stuck it to some 3/4″ plywood, and used my scroll saw to remove the outline. I did the same thing with the numbers (you can see the holes I created there). I’ll eventually make a stack of the background layer, building layer, silhouette layer, and numbers. A nice 3D look.

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I made the template for the letters in exactly the same way. Cut out the paper template 1/32″ oversize, attached it to a slab of MDF, cut and sanded the MDF to final shape, then removed the paper with mineral spirits. I did this will all six letters until I had a perfect example of each. Why? (I mean Y?)

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Pirates!

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What the “L”?

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Oh!

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And there was much rejoicing “LAAA!”
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In the picture above you can see the almost completed “L”. I didn’t get a picture of this next part of the process, but what I did was take the perfect MDF letter templates and use them as a pattern to make the 12 layers that comprised each letter. With 12 layers of 3/4″ thick plywood I was able to construct a 9″ thick letter. Basically I would lay the MDF letter onto a piece of plywood and trace it out, trying to fit as many of each 30″ tall letter as possible onto a 4×8 sheet. I ended up using almost 30 sheets of plywood for the whole job (that’s a grand in plywood, btw). The I would rough cut out each plywood letter, screw the template onto the rough letter, and then use a pattern maker’s bit to follow the template and thus cut an exact copy of each letter. Any imperfections in the pattern got translated to subsequent layers so I had to be really particular with the master pattern letters. Some errors still crept in but I corrected those later. Here’s a pattern bit so you can get an idea how it works (I didn’t get pics):

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All told I had to cut out 72 different letters. It looked like an explosion on Sesame Street (minus the muppet body parts).

I then glued the layers together to make each chunky, 9″ thick letter. Then I had to sand each letter to get rid of any imperfections. If there was even a slight error in my template this error would be transmitted through the stack and you’d see a groove or dip all the way along one edge. My next step was to coat the outside of each letter with a layer of super sandable Bondo. It’s called Rage Gold and is used by the aftermarket auto body guys to make cool shapes in their cars, construct custom dashboards and radio inserts, etc. I used about 1.5 gallons of the stuff. I’d scoop some out, mix it with the hardener, then quickly (it begins hardening within about 90 seconds) spread it on the plywood edges of the letters. I spread it on thick to cover imperfections and to try and fill in the rough edges of the plywood. Once it dried I went back over it and sanded away probably 95%, leaving a glassy smooth surface. My entire shop was covered with blue-green-pink dust from the stuff. It’s nasty (but I wore my breathing ventilator).

The next step was to give each letter a coat of primer in prep for the base coat of paint. I didn’t want to use a brush or roller since the fast dry times caused by the 112 degree summer heat would mean horrible brush marks, so I purchased a paint sprayer from Lowes. Brilliant decision as it made the final finish so much better. Unfortunately, I only had room on my paint table for one letter at a time- and I gave each letter three coats of primer! I ended up sitting in my garage all day long with my laptop literally watching paint dry. Every 30 minutes I’d get up and give a letter another coat of primer until all the letters were done. A sweaty, hot, boring day.

Paint station (my neighbors love me)
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Spraying the R
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What I actually did most of the day

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Finished letters
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Unfinished letters:

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Incidentally, the symbol that’s hiding behind the O in the above picture started out as a solid 9″ hunk of plywood, but it weighed well over 100lbs! So I had to cut each layer into a hollow donut then cap the front and back with solid pieces to make it manageable. It still weighs about 40lbs. The neighbor’s kids came over and we signed the inside before closing it up (hi neighbors!).

Next I gave each letter a coat of Official Baylor Green (helpfully supplied by Home Depot and Glidden- they have the contract for official college colors, thank goodness). I had to build a makeshift paint spray booth in my shop out of leftover plywood (cut into strips) and plastic from HD. You can see in the pic that I had some overspray onto my shop floor. Whoops. Time to ask the neighbor if I can borrow his pressure washer. It took me four days to paint the letters starting around 7am every day (one coat every four hours) and ending right around sunset. Three coats per letter:

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Finished letters. Time was very short (remember that three week deadline?) so I didn’t paint the backs of the letters. No big deal as they won’t be seen from the back anyway. The flash catches the plywood layers here but in person it’s much more subtle.

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Next I taped off the symbol and gave it a spray of green (the building will be painted yellow later). The nooks and crannies of the building (Pat Neff if you’re a BU grad) were particularly difficult to tape around:

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After the green dried (and one day from deadline) I hand painted the details of the yellow building where it met the green background using a magnifying glass and a lot of patience. I wish I’d waited until it was painted to attach the yellow building to the background but for various reasons this was the best way to do it. Still, it was a pain in the backside, taking several hours to do a single coat, then going back over and correcting mistakes with green paint after the yellow dried. I gave the yellow layer three coats as well.

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The yellow layer is done!
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My eyes hurt.
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Finally (and literally the morning I drove it up to Waco) I applied the silhouette and numbers, then filled in the micro nail holes with putty and a touch of paint.

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Finished!
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Here it is in front of the house, all set up:

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Yes, I got weird looks from drivers, but that’s half the fun!
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An hour later I had loaded it up in my (well padded) Tacoma bed and trucked it up to Waco for delivery. Here it is in the Ferrell Center waiting for its public unveiling… which I never saw because I was told the wrong time! Oh well.

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But someone was kind enough to send a few pics of it on the stage. Hopefully I’ll see it all set up in person someday.

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So that’s the story of how it took me 50 hours to construct Baylor University’s official new corporate logo prop. I’m extremely proud of it and feel honored to have gotten the job. Hope you enjoyed this little how-to in case you want your very own giant collegiate logo. Just don’t do THECOLLEGEOFWILLIAMANDMARY. It’d take forever.

3 Comments »

  1. Great stuff, amigo. Thanks for the info and the write-up! You did a phenomenal job.

    Comment by seanmctex — October 17, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

  2. One thing I don’t get: you had to measure the spaces between the letters? the kerning? But if they’re standalone letters then why would that matter?

    Comment by barrybrake — October 22, 2011 @ 11:13 am

  3. Barry: it’s not just the design and the font that are part of the trademark, but the spaces between them as well (the overall look). It wouldn’t look right if the letters were all mashed up against each other or spread out across the stage. The consistency between the prop and bumper stickers, letterhead, or TV logos is part of the overall look. Marketing was very specific (and, I might note, nervous) about it not being right. They seemed pleased with the result.

    Comment by jasony — October 22, 2011 @ 11:24 am

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