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Engineered Organic Wall Art… A One Year Journey

February 13, 2014

So two years ago about Art Prowl time, we met up with some folks who decided that they wanted an original piece of art made for their dining room.   They’d seen Bob’s wall art that Sweet Sallie’s Cafe had commissioned, and loved its vibe. By last year’s Art Prowl we’d finally perfected a design that was ready to be made.  It only took a year.  Pretty good, right?

Engineered Organic CNC milled wall sculpture

Aluminum & brass CNC milled wall sculpture

So what do you make for a mechanical engineer & a teacher who loves the outdoors?  aluminum & brass sculptureTurns out, you make an “Engineered Organic” sculpture.  Like I said, the design process continued over the period of a year until we hit the right idea for this couple.   We tried bubbles, we tried leaves, we even pitched a 3D face. The key ended up being a combination of mechanical and effervescent qualities.  The effervescence speaks to natural design while the linear mechanics keep it grounded to the engineered aesthetic.We also wanted to make sure that  the art would accent the fixtures already in the space, so we created the pieces in aluminum and brass.

aluminum & brass sculptureThe whole installation consists of 20 pieces.  Bob painstakingly designed them in a CAD program and spent hours engineering the pieces to fit within and on top of each other.  He carefully created each element on the CNC mill complete with mounting holes and connection points on the back.  The clients decided that they wanted the pieces installed directly onto their wall, rather that onto a background, and we agreed wholeheartedly.  It made so much more impact that way. Bob created a template on the mill and we used it to drill hundreds of mounting holes into the drywall (scarey!).  Next, Bob put in wall anchors and installed standoffs one…hole…at…a…time.  The entire install took about 4 hours.  You can see the light changing in the photos below as it got later in the day.  I took a million shots…we could make a complete animation!

Here’s the blow by blow of the installation—-

install template

The installation template…like a piece of Swiss cheese.

1st piece

Piece number 1… of twenty!

Midway thru the install

Midway thru the install

More installing...

More installing…

...and VIOLA!

…and VIOLA!

The wall art sits opposite a huge bay window that brings in so much sunlight.  This thing virtually GLOWS, and it’s just sublime in the evening, if I do say so myself.  Imagine eating breakfast staring at this crazy amazing pattern…what a great way to start the day. So personally, I think the moral of this story is that good things come to those who wait!

Engineered Organic wall art

Engineered Organic wall art


Repurposed to Party

January 1, 2014

So technically this is a story about a collaborative piece that we did with Jason Moore, our studio mate…together we are 4D Studio (dum da da dum!). Anyway, it’s so cool that I just wanted to share.  Jason and Bob put this really great bar cart together for a local architect in town, and it came out so SWEET!  It just goes to show how much you can do with a little elbow grease and an old dirty salvaged pushcart.

vintage industrial bar cart

Vintage Industrial bar cart recycled from old factory bin

Jason had this piece around the shop.  I guess he’d gotten it at an auction at some old factory.  To me that makes it even better, to be local AND recycled.  Our client was interested in having us make a piece of furniture for his new bachelor pad.  He loved the lines of the old cart.  We knew that we could change it up to be a functional piece that really makes a statement.

factory cart

factory cart before

Here’s what it looked like before…nasty.  As you can see, it didn’t have doors or even an open side, and no top.  Man, it was dirty and had tons of old grease on the wheels. That cart must have had a good life in that old factory. Somebody kept those wheels seriously rolling.  It would be cool to know more about what was in the old boy back in the day. But I digress.

The boys used a wire wheel to clean the dirt out of the wood, and man was that a cloud of dust.  After several tries with degreasers, Bob finally just took the wheels off of the bottom of the cart and actually took them to the car wash.


cutting the doors

Next came the doors, so they took out the 3 pieces of wood from the front, cut them down the middle, and Jason made the metal X bracing & hinges. Jason also made a handle for the end of the cart, and a shelf for the inside.

barn wood

Barn wood saves the day

By the way, the floor of the cart gave way midway through the project, (of course it did) so that got replaced with some old barn wood that we had around the shop.  It was a good match, and still local. Bob milled the barn wood smooth for the shelf and the bottom replacement.

The top of the bar came from I think an old high school science lab…remember those tall desks?  When Jason brought it in, it had a super thick coating of amber colored finish on the top, so Bob put it on the CNC mill and completely planed the top off of it. It turned out really pretty and we used that same technique on a couple of other pieces on the 4D Vintage Industrial Furniture line…which you should really check out, so get outta here and go do that.

Vintage Industrial Bar Cart

Vintage Industrial Bar Cart

Follow the spinning coffee pot

May 14, 2012

ImageOUR MISSION: Nix the old outdated sandwich board!

Our friends Lora Lee & Kevin over there at the Corner Coffeebar & Arthouse asked us to create a one-of-a-kind sidewalk sign for their new shop.  They wanted something that matched their vintage industrial decor, and they didn’t need the usual chalkboard that everyone and their dog has.  One thing about these guys is that they sit at the corner of the main square here in Cookeville, so they wanted the sign to be visible from MORE than 2 angles. Final issue, this corner is like a wind tunnel!

OUR SOLUTION: Think outside the box

So we stepped into another dimension with a faux-aged, triangular sign topped by a spinning coffee pot!  Whew.  We started on the CNC mill and cut the basic shapes…seems simple enough.  Then came paint, crackle finish, paint, asphaltium, sanding, paint mask, airbrushing, metal edging, paint, more CNC cutting, more paint, two bushings, one metal rod, then we wrapped it up with a sturdy set of casters. And by the way, we filled that baby with 50 lbs. of sand so that it won’t tip over…EVER.

After we delivered it, I sat and rocked, and watched the heads turn as fast as that little red coffee pot did!



April 26, 2012

Hiya…we’re back!  Well, we never really left, just got busy with life, work, and whatnot.  For those that aren’t up to speed, I’ll fill you in on all of that later (or at least I aspire to).

Anyway, just thought what better way to get back on the ol’ blogwagon than to post a recent piece that Sign Builder Illustrated did on Acme Industrial Thinking about our sign-making process.  It covers a cute little sign we did for Just for You, right here in Cookeville, TN (yes, we’ve moved…more later).  Check us out around page 30. Enjoy!

ps – don’t miss the extra article about Team Bob & Jen near the back of the mag

Son of Fruit Bowl – Ideas – Dwell

November 11, 2010

A great article in the 10 year anniversary issue of Dwell last month.  Gives a nod to the evolution of the small CNC shop like ours!

“Back in the early 2000s, I met an architect named William Massie who was teaching at the Montana State University in Bozeman. Massie was using the computer differently than most of his colleagues,  not just as a design tool but also as a manufacturing tool. He embraced computer numerical control (CNC), a methodology that evolved from automated machine tools of the 1940s, and used it to cut precisely shaped building components directly from his computer files. Massie’s vision wasn’t mass production. He wanted to manufacture homes like Boeings, producing small quantities of highly industrialized, highly customized houses in his own workshop. “That to me is the perfect model,” Massie once said.

Now, the Massie approach, once exotic, seems to be verging on ubiquitous. I’ve been touring Brooklyn’s resurgent industrial enclaves and I keep walking into wood shops and metal shops, relatively modest setups, that have CNC-driven routing machines and other fairly sophisticated computerized fabrication equipment.I’m beginning to notice that as CNC technology has dropped in cost and become more commonplace, the CAD jockeys who used to be found only in architects’ offices have migrated to the places where things are actually made. Arguably, custom-mitered complex polygons could soon become as available as two-by-fours. No, it’s not mass production as Corbu understood it, but it is a circumstance that makes the idea of the “Machine-House” more interesting, more variable, and potentially more beautiful. “

A little payoff

November 6, 2010

Do you ever just google your company’s name?  Well you should.  If for no other reason than to confirm that your blogging, chatting, Facebooking & Twerting (?) are actually getting out there.  I mean, really…it’s exhausting isn’t it?  And sometimes I wonder who cares anyway.

So yesterday I did just such a thing, and I was surprised to see how many links there are to Acme Industrial Thinking.  I guess the goal is to have other folks talking about you, but I was even surprised to see how much of my own work is reflected…page after page actually.  It’s sorta creepy…and great.

Anyway, all of is blathering is to say that I found this neato little mention of a custom nightstand that I listed on Etsy a million years ago. It’s just pretty cool to see that someone out there really likes your work, other than the client that ordered the piece…or your mom.

Apparently re-nest like us, they really like us!

“Last week we were looking at the Apartment Therapy Flickr pool for nightstand inspiration. This week we’re looking through our next favorite source, Etsy, for some stylishly green bedside tables. Take a look at some of our favorites…”   Sweet.

Halloween CNC-o-Lantern

October 29, 2010

I know I already posted this pumpkin on our Facebook page, but I think it bears reblogifying for Halloween. Check out this CNC milled jack-o-lantern made by Lumenlab

Happy Halloween!