One of the perks of owning a laser cutting machine is the ability to cut the most intricate shapes from sheet metal or plate. There’s something very satisfying about watching, (while wearing appropriate eye protection), the table dance under the beam as the laser cuts a series of arcs and straight lines in sheet metal or plate.
We use this capability on a wide variety of fabrication jobs, particularly those needing complex cuts and where setting up for punching takes too long for the quantities needed. Laser cutting is especially useful for small quantity orders because there’s next to no setup on the machine and it can even produce one-offs quickly and efficiently.
This last trait makes it the key to our range of steel signs. In this post, we’re going to tell you how we make those. If you’d like to see the range (and maybe place an order), you can see them in our Etsy store. (Yes, Etsy. It’s not just for potters and crafters.)
About our Custom Metal Laser-Cut Signs
Most of the signs we offer on Etsy are designed to help people celebrate the fun places in their lives, although we also offer a more somber “Fallen Soldier” tribute too. They’re cut from 12 to 16 gauge A1011 steel and then given an attractive black powder coating.
The “Fallen Soldier” is a silhouette while the others are cut out so you can look through. This makes them ideal for hanging at the end of your driveway, on a porch, or at your boat dock. Size-wise, the circular signs are mostly about 21” in diameter while others are 14” x 30” and 24” x 26” (so make sure you have a sturdy hook or post!)
The steel we use, A1011, is corrosion-resistant, and the black powder coating we apply over the top is protective as well as decorative. Unlike a lot of cheap and flimsy signs you may have seen offered, ours are going to last and last!
Custom Metal Sign Production Step 1: Laser Cutting
We begin by mounting the steel sheet on the bed of one of our laser-cutting machines. (We recently added a high-power fiber laser to our capabilities.) The bed moves the sheet under a gantry that holds the laser cutting head. A computer coordinates the in-out movement of the bed and the left-right movement of the laser on the gantry to produce the straight lines and curves we want.
When a laser is set up properly and well-maintained, it generates a very thin beam that slices through steel like the proverbial hot knife through butter. This thin “kerf” plus the precise x-y motion control, enables cutting of tight radii and fine features. Our programmers can create almost any shape you want, which includes making your name part of the sign.
Edge quality is a critical aspect of laser cutting, and also something that’s key to the quality of our signs. We make sure our lasers produce very smooth edges with minimal dross stuck to the underside. Then, when the cut sign comes off the machine we clean it up thoroughly.
Custom Metal Sign Production Step 2: Powder Coating
After cutting the sign moves to coating where a polymer powder is applied to the metal. This is done using electrostatic spraying. The process entails blowing powder at the sign through a spray nozzle that gives the particles an electrical charge. At the same time, the sign is given an opposite charge, and as opposites attract, the powder is drawn onto the steel.
The coated sign then goes into an oven where it’s heated enough to make the polymer particles flow together. A cross-linking process takes place within the polymer as it cools, which weaves the long chains together to form a very durable “skin” over the metal.
We prefer powder coating to paint because it provides more durable protection without any runs or other paint blemishes. As paint dries, solvents evaporate, which puts fumes into the air and leaves microscopic pores in the paint. The fumes are bad for people who breathe them in and the pores will eventually let moisture reach the steel beneath.
Even with corrosion-resistant steel, once moisture gets under the surface there’s no way to prevent rust from forming. After a while, that starts to lift the paint, and soon your sign doesn’t look so good.
Powder coating avoids that problem. It’s durable and water-resistant. But, (there’s always a “but”,) we advise against cleaning it with strong detergents and especially acetone. Just wipe it gently with some soapy water once in a while and it will stay looking like new.
Dress Up Your Property With Signage
No, we’re not talking Vegas-style neon, we mean a smart but tasteful, high-quality custom metal sign that welcomes friends and neighbors. Put one down on your boat dock, on your porch, or out by your fire pit. You could hang one at the end of your driveway and you could even put a second one on the wall in your den or family room.
Our business is fabrication and we like making cool things. We’re of the opinion our signs are pretty cool. View them in our Etsy store and see if you agree.