By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Tuesday, June 30th, 2020
Sometimes it’s an art teacher or racecar lettering or watching a sign maker at work that triggers the interest in someone to want to learn to make signs. For Jason Hakki, it was seeing a CNC router cut shapes with amazing precision. He soon had his own Multicam CNC router, and that almost inevitably led to someone asking if he could use it to make a sign for them.
Six years later, he stays busy making custom signs in the small town of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, where the northernmost Canadian coast meets the Alaska panhandle. Along with his local sign work, Jason has also done custom exhibit work for the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Here’s what he has to say about where his enthusiasm for CNC routing has taken him:
Hooked on 3D
I have a small sign shop in a small town. I work out of about 1000 sq. ft. and work alone most of the time. Occasionally I get into a bigger project, and I get a little part-time help for that.
About six years ago I got a CNC router, and that’s how I got into signs. I was fascinated by what the router was capable of and wanted to see what I could do with it. I made several small projects on it for a while, then a customer approached me about making a wood sign for their business. It came together very well, and I really enjoyed making it.
I liked the idea of making really creative signs with the help of the CNC router. I did a few more, and the response from local businesses was great. I realized I had found a market for what I wanted to do.
About that time, I found Dan Sawatzky
online and was impressed with his work. He’s been a big inspiration to me, even though my market is more signs for small businesses than for cool features for theme parks.
Outsourcing the design
My roots are more in making things than art and design. Though I am working on improving my design skills, I know my limitations. So I outsource most of my design work and focus on selling, fabricating and installing the signs. I design some of the smaller signs, but I use a designer for the larger projects.
Design is the foundation that you build everything on. You can do a great job of creating all the dimensional effects, and finishing the sign, and use gold leaf on the lettering, but if the design isn’t there, it still won’t be an attractive sign.
I knew from the start that if you want to sell the better projects, your signs have to look great. I also knew it would take me a while to get my design skills up to speed, compared to the quality of work I wanted to put out there. It only made sense to work with good designers then concentrate on using my skills for the sales and production aspects of the business.
From 2D to 3D
I like to focus on what I enjoy best, and that is taking the 2-D design on paper to a really interesting 3-D sign. Creating the details, doing the finishing and maybe adding some LEDs can turn that design into a sign with a lot of impact for the business. If you start with a solid design, you have a lot to work with. You can turn it into an interesting sign by using the capabilities of the CNC router.
Off the beaten path We are very isolated here, and that makes it hard to get materials and services. When you need materials, it’s always a one-week wait or more. You have to plan ahead and get used to waiting.
Being isolated makes marketing harder, too. There are no large towns nearby to draw on. We’ve had a lot of good opportunities to do cool signs, and that’s been great. But I think if I were in a bigger city, my work would get more exposure, and there would be even more opportunities.
We are reaching out to work in the other small towns around us, though. We’ve also been getting calls for bigger signs, plus other interesting things like sculpted concrete and other funky stuff.
I plan to just keep at it and focus on doing interesting, fun signs. We’ll see where it goes and see where the market is. There’s a lot going on in the world, so we’ll see what happens.