To CNC or not to CNC…. That is the question…

I’ve been dreaming of a CNC for years… I once bought a book on how to make your own CNC and even had some money set aside for the parts, but things got busy in life, we moved a fair bit and lugging around a piece of equipment that size just didn’t seem practical.  Now that we’re settled a bit more, and my woodworking/design business is growing, my thoughts have been led back to the idea of a CNC.

doll crib cnc inventables

I make a lot products that require precise repetitive cuts.  To this point I’ve done this mostly by hand, drawing the parts out, cutting close with the bandsaw, and sanding to the line.  For some items I’ve rigged up a jig for my router, but all of these would be simpler with a CNC.  Some products have tested the limits of my current tools, while others just aren’t worth making due to the amount of time it takes vs. how much people are willing to pay.  While a CNC would have an upfront cost, it would allow me to start it running and then work on other projects while it cut out parts.  Three things have been stalling my purchase so far: 1-cost, 2-know how, 3-man vs. machine.

cnc carved dish walnut1- Cost: Fairly obvious one, these machines aren’t cheap.  I’m used to powerful woodworking tools that have had little change in the last 50 years, meaning my 40 year old Unisaw is the same product as one bought today, except mine costs 1/10 of the price and all parts are metal instead of practice.  There aren’t many used CNC’s around, and they are getting better all the time so newer IS better.

2- Know How: While I was once a computer geek, writing computer programs as a kid, I haven’t done as much of this recently, and it’s a bit overwhelming to figure out where to start, how to use the software, and which one to use.  I see lots of people saying it’s pretty simple and you’ll learn fast, but I’m not convinced so far.

3- Man vs. Machine: I work with both hand tools and machines.  I’m not partial to either, although hand tools are quite and generally make less sawdust which is always nice.  I use the best tool for the job, and the reality is that often that is a machine because time is money, and this isn’t a hobby for me.  But the other day I heard someone saying that if it’s made by a CNC, it takes away from the artistry of it.  It’s an interesting comment, but if we look at painters, no one criticizes them for selling prints of their work instead of one off works of art.  I see a lot of product descriptions of makers stating things are “hand carved”, “hand dipped”, “hand made”, etc.  What is interesting is my wife runs a bakery, one of her best selling products are Macaron.  In order to make these, you whip egg whites, which she does with a commercial mixer.  Would people pay more if she whipped them by hand? Likely not, she’d probably just get huge biceps and a case of tendonitis.  The truth is, my products cut by a CNC would be more accurate than me cutting them, so resulting in a higher quality item for my customer, so it seems like everyone should be happy with this?

x-carve CNC inventible

Where am I going with all this?  Well last night I stumbled across the Inventables website, they just came out with a new product called the X-Carve which is a CNC that you assemble yourself.  They’ve really put some thought into this machine, enabling you to customize size, motors, and spindle all to your liking (and budget).  There are reviews starting to come out across the net and they are very positive.  It’s great to see so many actual woodworkers reviewing this product as it gives confidence to someone like me that I’m just as capable to make great use with this CNC.

It also addresses my issues….  The price is very affordable, especially since you can configure it to your needs, and the testimony from other woodworkers has really helped me to believe this is something I can handle and learn fairly quickly.  As for the Man vs. Machine debate, the more woodworkers I see using this CNC, the more I feel it’s just another tool in my shop, one that has infinite possibilities for my woodworking business.

So am I buying one?  Not sure on this.  While it’s affordable, it’s still a fair chunk of change, and once it arrives I still need to assemble it and start learning how to use it.  This might be a great summer project as my shop is not air conditioned and it gets really hot and humid here, so tinkering is much nicer than sweating buckets while making things.  Summer is generally slower for my shop, so a great time to learn new things.

cnc rocking chair kids

One other thought I’ve had is my 5 year old (seen above when much younger) loves to make things with me.  I think this could be a real fun item for Sunday mornings, she can dream up something, sketch it on the computer, and head out the shop to make it.  Just for that purpose it would be worth it in my books.  I’ll keep you posted what I end up doing…

The Endless Table Project

mid century modern minimalist design

Whenever I make something, I always try to incorporate some new skill so that I can learn while creating.  This time I went a little over board.  My daughter was in need of a lap desk to replace the dollar store plastic one that had an untimely death when she used it for steeple chase practice in the living room…  My father made my brother and I two such desks when we were kids, except that he simply used three pieces of plywood and some piano hinges (in hindsight, not a bad idea to be honest…).  I decided I was going to go much more upscale!

My mid century modern inspired lap desk started out as a way to practice bending plywood.  I made the apron of it from several layers of 1/8″ baltic birch plywood that I bent around a form.  Then I attached it to the top which I decided to veneer with some walnut I had lying around.  I was using the white glue and iron technique which unfortunately led to a few large cracks.  This meant I needed to do some inlay to cover up these cracks.  The legs were made using angled bridle joints, and finally the top was coated with an epoxy finish.  Did I mention I had never done any of these skills before?

The final piece is not something I am truly proud of, there are many “first time” mistakes which I have learnt from and will be better able to handle next time.  It’s only failing if you aren’t learning after all right?  I do like the design, and some of the techniques I’ll try again (bridal joints), and some I won’t use (vacuum press veneering would lead to a much better finish).  There should be more furniture pieces showing up on the blog throughout the spring, so stay tuned!

One of a Kind Wrap up and more Blog Love…

Last week I did my first One of a Kind Show in Toronto.  It’s the biggest show I’ve ever sold at and it was quite exciting to meet so many new great vendors and customers.  Over the five day show I talked to thousands of people and got lots of great feedback about my products as well as learnt many tips and tricks from other vendors.  All in all it was a great success and I’ll be applying to be back for the Christmas edition.

Over the week I got some great publicity, including this spot of Breakfast TV.  I also got some blog love at Design Maze and the Recreational Decorator who even did a design talk at the show on how to bring Spring into your home.

Finally, I’d like to highlight a couple of great friends I made in the Etsy section over the show.

Pikelet Workshop

Pikelet workshop sells wonderful kids plush toys.  My little one was particularly smitten with a tooth fairy pillow as she recently got her first lose tooth.

Route 401Next is Route 401 who makes awesome art out of vintage license plates.  I’ve got a few in the back of my studio that I’ll have to find and send him.

Hopefully this week I get around to my studio clean up.  Many plans to move things around but never enough time to deal with it all.

One of a Kind Show Spring 2015

Things have been busy in the studio lately, getting ready for One of a Kind Spring show in Toronto.  It’s a big step up from any show I’ve done so far in terms of costs and length, so I’m hoping I’ve prepared enough product to last throughout the show, but selling out the last day around 5pm would be just perfect…

Production has been very smooth, with only a couple of machines breaking down, both easy but pricey fixes, and both involving motors wearing out.  Thankfully I was only down a day or two with repairs so nothing to delay me too much.  I still desperately need to do a massive re-org on my studio, but between moving the machines, rerunning the dust collection and electrical, and just general clean up, I really need a week to get it all done.  So far the orders have been quite consistent and I simply haven’t been able to shut the shop down for so many days in a row.

I’m excited to announce a few new products that I’ll be showcasing at One of a Kind. First is a German inspired Breakfast Board.  It’s a walnut board with a slight dish to it and a colour block edge.  Often used to serve breakfast on, it can double as a serving tray or just look nice on display.

Walnut Breakfast board

Next product is a happy accident.  I had a failed glue up and the only part of the larger board salvageable was a tear dropped shape.  I played around with the size and came away with a new walnut serving and chopping board.  It’s got a rounded edge and a hole for easy hanging.

Walnut tear drop cutting board serving

These products won’t be on Craftcollective.ca or on my Etsy shop till April, so if you you’re keen to have them, be sure to come down to One of a Kind, you’ll find me at booth P44F in the Etsy section.

Artist, Designer, Maker, Woodworker?

Every fall, there is an artist’s studio tour in my area.  Artists open their studios for all to see how they work, and to show off (and hopefully sell) some of their latest art.  There is an application process and those who are accepted get published in a booklet that is given out around town and receive quite a bit of exposure.  I find the biggest barrier to sales is people not knowing I exist, so any publicity greatly helps the cause.

 

Over the last two years, it’s been suggested by many of my friends (some of whom are artists taking part in the studio tour) that I should apply.  They say I am a shoe in, and I will get a spot no problem.  I get compliments on my work and they tell me the great benefits of this tour.  The only thing is I’ve never applied.  Am I worried about getting in? No, what I have trouble with is the term “artist”.

 

You see, I don’t feel as if I’m an artist.  I guess it all boils down to how you define an artist.  My wife is a pastry chef, and most of what she makes could be considered art… it also tastes good.  I feel an artist is someone who makes bespoke one of pieces that were inspired in some way.  I don’t really do that, at least not the stuff I sell.  I’ve made one off things for myself or family, but generally what I produce in my studio is production work.  I create a design, then I maximize the efficiency in making it.  Some items I make only one of because I can’t make it efficiently enough to be able to profit from selling it.  So I feel I’m more of a designer, but one who makes the items as well.

 

So another year has gone by and I’ve let the deadline slip by without applying.  While I’d love the exposure, the artist label is one that is hard for me to accept.

Flat Bread Serving Boards…

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Just before Christmas I had an email from an Executive Chef down in Florida.  He was opening up a new restaurant and was searching for flatbread boards.  He liked some of my other products and we worked together to come up with these 10×14″ walnut boards.  The chartreuse edge was requested in order to match some of the same colour accents in the restaurant.  They’ll be adding some rubber feet to the boards to keep them secure on the tables.

If you’re in Delray Beach, Florida, head over to Apeiro and grab a bite to eat on one of these boards!  Remember that we’re always keen to work on custom orders no matter how big or small.

For non-custom orders, head over to my Etsy Site or my Craftcollective.ca for a full selection of my wood products.

Off to a Flying start!

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Last January was slow.  Sometimes slow can be nice, time to get caught up on things, get those repairs done in the shop that you keep putting off, etc.  That had been my plan for this January, I need a new assembly table, plus some dust collection revamping, a little electrical work, all in all a few weeks worth of repairs to get things running a little smoother.  None of these repairs are essential, but they would make my day run a bit smoother.

 

So that was my plan, but plans sometimes change.  I’ve spent the last few days ironing out a big commission with a restaurant in Florida (which seems hard to believe as I watch the blizzard outside), and packaging up some work to go to my latest stockist (more on that below).  It looks like I’ve hit the ground running in 2015, and I’m pretty excited to be this busy right from the get go, as for the repairs, some have waited a year already to get done, so another few weeks won’t hurt…

 

The new stockist I mentioned above is the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie, Ontario.  The products in the picture above will be available in their gift shop later this month!

 

For those of you not in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), my work is always available at:

www.craftcollective.ca

or

Etsy