A most Prestigious Award

When Vincent Zeng first got in contact with me about making an acrylic trophy in the shape of a Semicolon my first thought was “OH NO!” I didn’t quite know how to dance around the sensitive topic of suicide while also somehow being a light hearted ‘gag’. Fortunately I would quickly figure out that this was a joke about computer science. Which was a relief.

For anyone reading this who feels like they might need help or is thinking about suicide please call or click to chat: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Project Semicolon is an organization that seeks to raise awareness and funding resources: https://projectsemicolon.com/


Now this was a great project for me because I had this huge piece of acrylic laying around that I had been carrying from house to house over the years as i moved. I originally acquired this from Gordon Kirkwood of Whimsey Engineering fame. He used to hold an annual “Mad Science Garage Sale” in PGH that was a ‘don’t miss’ event. I picked these up from him (They must have been offcuts from something epic) and had been hoarding them in hopes of finding a perfect project. This was a couple years back so I was in a hurry to divest myself of these, and I had just gotten access to a huge CNC router table at Iontank.
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Neither myself nor vincent had a solid direction for how this should look so we bounced around some ideas, we did want it to be kinda chintzy like a participation trophy but we had a lot of room to experiment, I threw out some ideas:

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Alex contributed the idea for a hanging Semicolon and I really liked that concepts I may revisit this sometime in the future.


We eventually settled on a general shape, mostly because of the need to incorporate text to have the joke land. Some of the above designs I think are fairly clever but less practical…and maybe look a little bit too much like a tombstone.



Once we had settled on a design I nested it inside of my circular workpiece, I wanted to get the most out of it that I could.


I made a 3D model of all the parts and then did a quick rendering of the finished part and the frame I would need to cut out of some scrap wood, the frame would be used to register the circular part on the table and to assist in work holding while the cutting was happening.


Autodesk generously includes a fairly robust CAM suite with their free Fusion360 software and this was the basis for all my toolpathing for the CNC router.

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The part was cut in 3 steps, first bolt a sheet of scrap wood to the sacrificial router table and cut a circle in it slightly smaller than the circle of acrylic and then hammer in the acrylic and bolt it down to the table, achieved in this instance with two screws. Step two was a wide facing pass that left a little material, and then the bit swept back in and cut out that last hundreth of an inch to ensure a consistent surface finish.  Final step was a contouring pass around the outside to free the new trophy from the remaining scrap.

Voila! The surface finish on this was good but not perfect and there had been some chipping, so it was brought home for sanding and polishing


This was sanded and polished using a router with a buffing bit for the tighter areas but mostly by hand, exhausting work, but with fantastic results.


This was a laser test to nail the engraving settings, I also sent this file and image to V in order to confirm all my spelling and the layout of the text.


Into the laser! If this messes up for any reason the whole thing would have been for not and I would have to go back to the beginning.

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Final photos taken by Vincent Zeng. Thanks V, these look awesome!




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