New Carver on the Scene 12-18-2006

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Blog entry by Mark A. DeCou posted 12-18-2006 07:54 PM 8424 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

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 :

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 -

8 comments so far

View pat sherman's profile

pat sherman

621 posts in 4368 days

#1 posted 12-19-2006 12:37 AM

mark, i have found the same thing with woodburning. the laser machine, turn out the work faster but the machine laser burned pictures lack the one thing i can put into my olf fashion way of burning my artwork. i can put LIFE into them .where laser burnings have no life they are flat .
so i understand your doing your carving my hand.
a man i know here does his woodworking, bowls and breadboards with a cnc computer woodworking machine.

might be nice for him. but i prefer the hand made ones.

and mark your work is great. way togo. and merry christmas to all of my friends

-- pat,ohio...

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4323 days

#2 posted 12-19-2006 07:16 AM

That’s a toughie Mark…

What’s also tough is I just deleted the extremely long winded response I’d been working on for this (believe it or not) shorter version… although just concurring with what Pat said would have been easier.

I’d like to think that the avearge person would be able to tell the difference between something churned out by a machine and something hand made by an artist or craftsman.

Sure, I’d be perfectly happy to have one of your designs, presumably hand-drawn, then scanned into a computer and carved by machine, rather than your hands. But I wouldn’t pay nearly as much for a piece of mass produced art as I would a one of a kind piece.

Perhaps your customers have already made this decision for you. When you answer yes, I did carve this with my own hands, ask them for their thoughts Re: if you scanned in your own drawings and had a machine handle the carving. It’s still your art is it not? But what are they buying the piece for? your art, or your level of craftsmanship (if not both)

Bouncing between medium… is there a difference between a stencil (for etching glass) and paint-by numbers, or a template and a “lathe duplicator”?

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4295 days

#3 posted 12-19-2006 10:36 PM

Hi Mark,
I purchased a dupli-carver quite a few years ago, I thought I could reproduce some of my carvings, & sell them. The trouble with a carving that’s done with a small tip router, it doesn’t do a clean cut like a chisel. After the machine is done you have to go over the whole carving with a hand chisel, whiich takes up a lot of time. I think the machine system is fine if you want to sell rough outs. I think with all the letter carving you’ve done you can work just as fast as that machine.

I was reading some feed back about that CNC, & some say it’s slow, & very noisy which will take away the peace, & solitude when carving by hand. That’s another reason I quit using my machine.
I finally sold my machine last year after it gathered dust for quite a few years.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4295 days

#4 posted 12-19-2006 11:03 PM

I’ll show you a couple of the carvings I did with the machine. I don’t feel as proud of, or attached to these as the ones I’ve done by hand. They didn’t look near as good as this before spending several hours with hand tools.

I forgot to mention, I never did get into selling carvings, & I guess I never will.

Lovers about12” high.

Copy of a Horse about 4” high.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4233 days

#5 posted 12-20-2006 11:30 AM

O.K., my turn to add to the confusion. I looked into the Carvewright because I wanted to make a large wooden sign, but I wanted to use a font that wasn’t available in any templates. A machine will never be able to replace the “Old School Artisan” but a carvewright or compucarve machine is like any other power tool. It will never replace the “Hand-Crafted” stuff, but in a case where you are using a power tool instead of hand carving name plaques it is a wonderful idea. The things you create by hand can never be duplicated by a machine. And according to Ecclesiastes 3:7 … there is a time to keep silent, so you don’t voluntarily say ” Oh no, I mass produce these things in 15 minutes on my new Carvewright Compucarver Machine I bought at Sears.”
I’ve seen your work and I believe that your shop would continue to run as it does now, you’d just be able to be a little more versatile and you could let the machine do some of the lesser tasks, like carving letters and numbers, and for those of us who can’t carve a thanksgiving turkey without it looking like something from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Carvewright Machine is a Godsend. I want one. I NEED one, so, when the time is right and the money is available, I can justify buying one.
Check out the video at:

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4295 days

#6 posted 12-20-2006 02:29 PM

Thanks for video Obi,
After viewing the video, I take back some of the things I said about the machine. It looks like an amazing machine. I guess that’s why they can’t keep up with the demand for them. You can’t compare this machine to a dupli-carver.

If I was in the business of selling my woodworking, & wanted more production, I don’t think I’d hesitate on buying one of these.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4402 days

#7 posted 12-20-2006 07:06 PM

You guys are great, thanks for the input. I understand where you are coming from, and I appreciate the advice. I realize that it is a Machine, just like my table saw, or my routers, and I don’t have a morality problem using them for sure.

I am always amazed at how much people pay for a bronze copy of someone’s clay sculpture, while the wood carver who makes something just as nice as a one-time piece of art can hardly sell his/her work. Not fair, but the reality of the market.

There is a carver named J. Christopher White that I admire greatly, and he uses bronze and carving in the same piece. He has a great website if you are looking for inspiration and motivation from another carver.

I did notice that with the little Carvewright machine I would need to go over the entire carving by hand to clean it up. The back and forth motion of the cutting head means that it can not go around the outside of a carving profile like a ShopBot, or other CNC could do, which was a definite downside for me when considering the machine. I was afraid that I would spend as much time doing the hand work as I would have doing all of the work. However, if I was duplicating carvings, making several, or many of the same object, I think the machine would have more value for me.

I think if I was to be honest, I would prefer a real size ShopBot with some great software over the Carvewright. The competition in that tool market is dropping prices pretty fast. I think at some point, most of us will have some form of CNC in our shops, and feel just as comfortable using them as we do our other power tools. It might be the next generation that makes this more affordable and useable, but I feel the day is coming. With my engineering background, I am drawn to the technology as I think it would be a blast to learn to use it. I have been considering whether my customers would all leave me, or whether I would just get different and more customers as my prices would be reduced some? More stuff to chew on while I am whittling out a Walking Cane today in the shop.

As for the noise, I agree with you, the noise is an issue. I had figured if I ever made it to a CNC I would have a room addition on the shop just for it, so that I could close the door and go back to work in the other space while it is running away. I would still be able to hear it working and would be able to listen for problems, but it wouldn’t be in the same space. I have the same problem with power carving vs. knife carving. I love the solitude sitting on a stool cutting with a knife hearing the birds sing outside. But, I can carve so much faster with the power carver, that my prices are much less.

Keep the input coming, I like the discussion.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4402 days

#8 posted 12-20-2006 07:14 PM

Dick: I honor you and your purity, and your love of the artform and wood. Even your backyard woodworking is wonderful and creative (fence and storage building). You are as talented, and maybe more so, than any professional I have seen. Your decision to keep your carving your own, is an honorable decision, and your family will greatly appreciate that decision when your time with them is finished. My father does not sell any of his woodworking either. He and I discussed working together in the “DeCou Studio” business. He finally told me that he didn’t want to sell his work, and that was that.

I respect you for not introducing money into your art, I can assure you that it changes what you work on, how long you spend on each piece, the materials you use, and the love of the craft. There have been times in the past two years where I made things I wanted to keep for myself. Then, the propane, electricity, and the health insurance bill arrived, and I waved goodbye to the piece and headed to the bank. Money changes everything for sure.

You have posted so many wonderful creative pieces on lumberjocks, I sit at my computer and wonder “how can he be so talented?” I showed your Anniversary carving to my wife yesterday. What a blessing that must be to have in your home.

Keep posting, I am a great fan of your work,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

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