Custom Signs with Vintage Metal CoNov 23, 2016 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema
Sign of the Times
Photos: Amber Smith
They say they last forever, that they’re a woman’s best friend, but why settle for diamonds when you can get your hands around an industrial-grade CNC plasma cutting table? The 10x5-foot tool can cut sheet metal up to an inch thick, and from this, Jaime Baeza will craft the most delicately curved letters and designs that, when catching the light just right, outshine the purest carat diamond.
Baeza began working with sheet metal earlier this year when she founded Vintage Metal Co, a business that creates custom signs, phrases and designs for customers across the country.
“I started the brand in January, but we really began long before that,” says Baeza, who had a hodge-podge Etsy shop where she sold various crafty items.
“I’ve always been a creator, a crafter, a maker, but it was more like a hobby. I didn’t know how to turn it into a job,” says Baeza.
With the help of her husband, who works with air conditioning units, Baeza created metal monograms that she framed and sold on her Etsy site. “I would cut a vinyl template and he would lay the vinyl on sheet metal that he would then cut by hand,” Baeza explains.
She then began getting requests for custom phrases made with different fonts, sizes and logos, which were too difficult to create by hand. “I had to turn away so many people,” she says.
Baeza’s husband then told her about the plasma cutter, which she describes as “a machine that uses a torch to cut metal. Whatever you design on your computer, it sends through to the torch and then cuts for you.” In other words, they could offer custom designs more quickly and more precisely. They purchased the machine last winter.
“It was kind of go big or go home,” she admits, and quite literally. “We had to build a whole new room just to hold this machine.”
It took them nearly a year to save up for the plasma cutter, which was assembled on the East Coast and then shipped across country. When the machine finally arrived, it was surprisingly easy to set up (if not move), but once the table was ready to go, “we had no idea how to use it,” Baeza says with a laugh.
“We watched tons and tons of YouTube videos,” she says, “and I spent nearly all January learning how to use it.”
Finally, Baeza was ready for her first cut. “We wanted to learn how to cut a shape within a shape, so we cut a circle within a circle,” like a donut with an offset center. “We called it our Death Star, because that’s what it looked like.”
That first piece still sits by her desk, a kind of reminder of their success, since “every step was like a big celebration for us.”
Baeza hasn’t stopped at shapes within shapes, but has expanded Vintage Metal Co to create phrases with block prints and cursive letters, as well as custom logos.
“That is what it’s about,” she says. “Words. Customers want words. They don’t want a circle in a circle.”
“We can draw whatever we want,” Baeza says – with the right skills. “You can learn how to take images, or logos, or something that’s special, and that’s what we cut,” though she specifies that their cuts cannot have “grey areas.” Images must have positive or negative space; it’s either metal, or no metal.
They do, however, offer lots of paint choices, “because not everyone wants raw steel in their house.”
One of Baeza’s favorite custom designs was for a customer in Washington, who ordered a “keep out” sign cut in the shape of a large Sasquatch. Another favorite, which she displays in her own home, is a cutout of a giant Ball mason jar logo. “I collect the old vintage ones,” says Baeza.
Since January, business has boomed, thanks to some savvy social media marketing on Baeza’s part. Plus, there’s something about the permanence of metal, which also complements the DIY, reclaimed wood home décor that is currently en vogue.
And since most people with industrial plasma cutters are using the tool for industrial-related work, Baeza believes she has found something of a niche for using the tool to create custom designs.
Which means she hasn’t gone back to let her old customers know that she’s finally able to create those different font and size letters. “No,” she admits with a laugh, “we have no shortage of requests.”
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