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…

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Failure, Redemption, Repeat…

I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I don’t take failure well, which is a bad combination.  Things are never perfect and I’m rarely satisfied unless they are.  It doesn’t really matter if it’s my first attempt at something, I still expect myself to do it perfectly.  The problem is I’m not perfect and things don’t always work perfectly, which leads to me getting down on myself.

The other day I started work on a small lap desk for my daughter.  My dad made me one of these when I was little, only he made it out of three pieces of plywood and a couple of piano hinges.  My design consisted of bent ply lamination, veneer pressing, and through tenons on the legs…  Were all these aspects necessary? Of course not, but they are all things I wanted to try so why not do them all in the same project?

I started with the bent ply.  First attempt, the 3mm baltic birch snapped on the third of four corners.  Second attempt, same thing but on the fourth corner.  I gave up for the night.  The next morning after some cheering from friends on Instagram, I gave it a third try and the bend worked.  Normally I give up on the first or second try, sticking out three times is a new record for me, and an example of the patience I need in order to improve my woodworking.

This desk isn’t going to be a beautiful piece that people will lust after, but it has taught me some patience as well as improving some of my techniques.  They are far from perfect, in fact some aren’t even good enough to sell, but I’m getting there, and it’s the only way I’m going to improve…

Busy Week!

It’s been a busy week in the Studio.  I’ve had many prototype ideas going through my head for ages, and I finally had some time to experiment.  It’s always a bit tough for me to try out prototypes as I hate to waste the materials if it isn’t going to work out, and if they aren’t perfect, what to do with it?

camera 4

First up was a production run of toy cameras.  Made from Walnut for the body, and maple for the lens, these were a copy of a prototype I made (and gave away to my daughter).  I love the simplicity of these, just the basics of a real camera, viewfinder-lens-shutter button.  They are finished with a light coat of mineral oil, and are for sale in my Etsy Store, as well as in Patisserie La Toque in Wakefield, Quebec.

midcentchair2

Next up, a mid-century modern inspired chair.  Made from Baltic Birch plywood with padauk wedges in the through tenons.  I curved the back using bent lamination and the seat is covered with an upholstery grade corduroy.  I’d like to make these adult size, but for the prototype I decided to build it for a child so as to not use as much materials.  It’s now my daughters favourite chair!  After seeing me taking pictures of it, she yelled at me, “You’re not going to sell my chair are you???!!!”.  She’s hard to please, but I clearly won her over on this one.  These chairs will be custom order only as I don’t have the space to store finished chairs, and this will allow people to choose their upholstery colours.

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Last up was a pyramid shaped macaron tower.  Requested by Patisserie La Toque, how hard could a pyramid be to make?  Turns out this was the hardest project of the week.  Lots of angles made this very tricky, but with some glue, and a ton of brad nails and filler, it got completed on time and made the customer very happy.  Might think twice before making another pyramid though…

Next week I’ve got some canoe paddles on the go as well as a few more prototypes to try out, stay tuned!

Vegan Coat Rack…

A goal of mine this year is to make some things for our use.  While I sold many cutting boards, salad servers and spoons last year, we use plastic junk versions ourselves.  I much prefer mine, but at the end of the day, I’d rather sell something I made than keep it for myself.  This attitude unfortunately means although I’m a furniture maker, our house is rather sparse in the furniture department, beds without frames, etc. etc.  Below is a pic of our current coat rack situation.  It’s basically a collection of hooks I had lying around that was added on to this piece of pine the previous owner had used as a coat rack.  surprisingly it was only held onto the wall with a few brad nails…

 

vegan coat rack (1)

 

yes, that’s a saw… doesn’t everyone keep a saw on their coat rack?  So I had an idea for an antler coat rack, without having to take out a few Bambis….  I designed a new rack using a walnut back with 4 baltic birch “antlers”.

vegan coat rack

 

The finish is simple boiled linseed oil on the oil, and a few coats of polyurethane on the baltic birch.

vegan coat rack 2

 

The “antlers” are attached by a mortise and tenon joint, but I used epoxy to glue them in.  Finally, the whole thing was attached to the wall using some keyhole hangers with screws attached to studs.  Likely a better attachment than the old coat hanger…  I might put up a few of these on Etsy in the future, time will tell.

Wooden Nursery Mobile

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A friend of ours had a baby a while back and we wanted to make somethings special for her baby shower.  My wife had the idea to make a wooden mobile and this is what came of it.  All pieces are cut from baltic birch and hung by twine with gold foil.  The edges of the clouds are painted white while the raindrop is turquoise.   I’m very pleased with how it turned out and the gift was very well received.

Due to the praise it received I have made and posted another mobile for sale on Etsy.

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