In February of this year, my wife and I made our annual trek to Kansas City to visit The Woodworking Show. This is just about the only date we take each year without kids, and so it is looked upon as a great weekend for more than one reason. My wife puts up with the woodworking show for the chance to get into the big city, stay in a real hotel, and go to the Outlet Mall. She will spend about 2 hours holding my hand walking around the woodworking show looking pretty and acting real supportive of me, but eventually her eyes glaze over and she has to get out of the show. I appreciate her a lot for putting up with me, and being supportive of my passions for woodworking, so I eagerly give her the car keys and let her head to the Mall.
However, before she took her exit this year, we stumbled onto a new tool that really had her worried, and me excited. It was called the Carvewright, and it looks very similar to a bench top surface planer, although it is a self-contained CNC router that carves anything a router bit will cut up to 14” wide, and since it has an indexing belt, the material can be as long as you want to feed through it.
I have been doing a lot of carving on furniture, and my most notable niche has been Carved Letters. I immediately saw the importance of a CNC of this size in my shop to quickly cut out letters in wood. As my wife looked worried, I talked with the inventors of the machine for a long time. They both lived in Wichita, KS, and said that their partners were in Houston, and that they had developed the machine, and decided to introduce it at the KC and Houston shows as they didn’t want to overwhelm their ability to service, or sell the machines.
So, justifiably, the wife was so worried about my using the credit card to buy a machine that she would not leave while I was talking with the inventors. Even after I left their booth, she continued to hammer on me about how we couldn’t afford it, over and over again, until I finally had her convinced that I had given up on the idea, but both of us knew better. Fourteen years of marriage gives the time to really know someone.
I lived by my promise to not buy the machine at the show. However, I came home from the show with a lot of excitement for the machine, and told one of my customer’s about it. He got excited and offered to buy the machine for me if I thought it would benefit my work.
Then, a “Crisis-of-Thought” hit me with worries about what my “Image” would be with a CNC in my shop. If I had a CNC router that would do the carving, would people still find my carving interesting? Would they see me as just another “factory,” and most importantly, would I lose the “Artisan Image” that I have tried to develop with my work and lifestyle?
These questions had me stymied on the decision and so I was paralyzed. First off, I don’t want anyone to give me something I don’t need. Secondly, I wasn’t sure how to address this new technology in a small shop. If the machine was to truly be a revolution for the woodworking industry, how long before the rest of the woodworkers would have one? Once that happens, what would my niche be then?
During this thinking process I was going through, the customer had someone he knew check on the machine in Wichita, and most importantly, the software. I am not CAD saavy, but I have the confidence to know that I can figure it out with some practice.
However, I learned a few years back when I looked at the ShopBot CNC machine, that the software makes all of the difference between a large paper weight, and a useable, flexible Tool (with a captial “T”) when it comes to a CNC machine.
The ShopBot idea was cancelled as it was close to $10,000 at the time I looked at it. But, this new Carvewright machine was introductory priced at $1,500 with the software, accessories, and a scanning probe included. After hearing back from the CAD expert that the software had some limitations for a full-out CNC user, I combined that concern with my bigger concerns about how to deal with this CNC technology in a small Artisan Shop.
When I have shown my work, either on the internet, in a show, or in my brochures, nearly the first question I am asked is, “did you carve that by hand?” I have been able to say I do all of the work, in my shop, with my own hands, and that seems to set an image in people’s mind that they like.
However, I was worried that if I had to start answering, “no, I design the carving on my computer, and I have a small CNC router machine that does the carving….” that people would not be nearly as impressed with my work, as it wouldn’t be any different than anyone else’s work.
I imagined that this would be sort of the same feeling I experience at motorcycle shows when I look at the difference between CNC routered machine cut art, versus the old school hand engraved work. The machine cut work is cool, but nothing is more cool than the old style look of hand engraved work. When the CNC milling machines were first being introduced to machine shops, the perfectly patterened cuttings in steel or aluminum that made their way into motorcycles and hot rods looked really cool. Now, every shop has this capability, so what is cool now? The old-school handwork done by an Artisan? I think so.
What is next, a CNC tatoo machine? You put your arm in the strap, hold your breath, and the machine inks out a new tatoo on your arm? Will tatoos still be as “cool” then?
I know I am rambling, so I will get to the point.
This Sunday at church, the customer that offered to buy the Carvewright machine handed me a new brochure. On it was the big name “CRAFTSMAN” with “CompuCarve” below that. The photos in the brochure were the same as I had seen before, and at the bottom, the name “CarveWright” was seen with it’s logo. All of these brand names are Trade Marked, so be careful how you use them. Apparently, there is a marriage between the inventors of the machine I saw and Sears. I don’t know the details of how this looks on paper, but I think it is probably a good move for a group of 4-5 inventor partners to put the Sears brand on their machine and use their retail stores to sell them. Maybe they can move onto the next new idea.
I had asked one of the inventors if they could combine a rotating axis machine with a CNC, so that I could CNC carve walking canes and other turnings. A guy I know in Wichita invented his own machine like that for his custom pool cue business. They said that they could not do it yet, but that it was in the thinking stages. So, maybe if they have some new capital and free time, that will be the next cool machine on it’s way.
Here is a link to the machine on the Sears website :http://www.sears.com/sr/javasr/product.do?BV_UseBVCookie=Yes&vertical=TOOL&cat=Bench+Power+Tools&subcat=Jointers%2C+Planers+%26+Shapers&pid=00921754000
The price has gone up, the accessories are extra now, but the machine is the same. I feel that bringing the Craftsman brand and the trusted Sears name and warranty to this machine will be huge in getting it off of the ground. Additionally, this widespread marketing will surely speed up the introduction of hundreds if not thousands of these machines in hobby and professional woodworking shops in the next few years. Yes, I see this as the future for many of today’s woodworking activities.
The question of whether people will collect woodworking with CNC carved artwork is still at the forefront of my thoughts. If I missed the boat, it won’t be the first, or last time for sure.
Still whittling the old-school way, appreciate your thoughts and comments,
-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com