Modular Building toys

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Project by robscastle posted 10-19-2012 08:24 AM 2011 views 6 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is an interesting story in regards to not attempting to compete with CNC woodworking using MMC at home MMC Man Manual Control.
I was approached by a resident asking if I could make some modular toys that were on ESTY

I thought at first that the sell price was beyond my costs and said that I could not make them in MDF for the same price and suggested what I thought was a reasonable cost I could make them for.

Silly move as my price was accepted.
So my learning training began, I set about attempting to replicate the image provided using MDF.

After lots of sawdust and a bin full of scraps, broken router bits and a few expletives I managed to produce a presentable product.

I rang the customer and invited them to view my work.

They were happy with the result and then asked if I could do it in ply.
Shouldn’t be a problem was my misinformed reply.

The saga continues

However the plywood which was readly available is a step above firewood, its graded as CD, holes poor finish warped to name a few of the defects, which after reading the specs I would consider it barely conformed to.

So my attempts to try to find plywood suitable for making toys went on, and it was is no easy task I tell you, eventually I did find some suitable AA grade ply but the cost was prohibitive along with not being readly available.

Eventually I found some ply locally which was reported to be BC grade and appeared to be suitable, and the cost was now twofold, meaning it was 50% of the AA grade cost.

I was tempted to phone the customer back and decline the job, but as failure was not one of my options I decided to do it anyway.

I managed to produce some presentable examples and called the customer back to review my work.

They were happy with the results, apart from some minor cosmetics, like holes in the material, so much for BC grade plyywood.

The cosmetic defects will be fixed and the customer will go away happy.

However the lesson here is do not attempt to compete with CNC wood working in the home shop using MMC and expect to be competitive.

Lesson learnt

-- Regards Rob

5 comments so far

View ChrisK's profile


2014 posts in 3280 days

#1 posted 10-19-2012 12:22 PM

I do not know that the CNC part keeps cost down as much as sourcing building material that is cost effective and usable. Once looking for some oakum, I found it for$4 US per 48×96 x 5mm sheet. That catch was I needed to order a full shipping container’s worth. Enough for about 5000 canoes. It would be great if you could find a local shop that would let you tag on to there order. I know, easier said than done.

Keep the jigs in case you find some material.

-- Chris K

View robscastle's profile


5456 posts in 2403 days

#2 posted 10-19-2012 09:17 PM

Hi Chris,

I have to agree that the material cost weigh heavly, from my experience, I eventually found the material was available .

The 9.5mm MDF I used first up was about $25 per sheet, so I assumed ply would be much the same, silly me.
But the CD grade ply available locally was $35 and was not suitable for toy manufacture.
In fact I was at a loss to understand what its purpose use was anyway as it was not structural plywood.
It had exposed knot holes, butterfly patches inserted, gaps in the laminate, variations in thickness and then not one sheet as straight all were warped, and that was just some of the defects I saw.

The Plywood manufacturer near me has very helpfull but did not sell directly.
To find a outlet meant travelling across town up to 30Klms round trip plus road transit tolls as well and then add the sell price of $65 to $70, made for a vey expensive sheet of ply.

Hence settling for a smaller sheet at 1200×900mm and BC grade at $25.00.
Of which I meticlously inspected prior to purchase, only to then find gaps in the laminate hidden inside the ply after cutting.

-- Regards Rob

View MattHartzell's profile


12 posts in 2261 days

#3 posted 10-20-2012 02:20 AM

I am fortunate to work for a furniture manufacturer. We get 11/16 Chinese birch ply for like $15 per 4×8 sheet. I am sure you could find a local cabinet shop that would allow you to tag on to their order for 10% or less – maybe just a case of beer.

View robscastle's profile


5456 posts in 2403 days

#4 posted 11-27-2013 12:00 PM

Beer is good!

-- Regards Rob

View Jack McKee's profile

Jack McKee

27 posts in 661 days

#5 posted 02-22-2017 05:24 PM


Interesting experience, and I went through some of the same trials with Builder Boards, but my experience with CNC VS MMC was different: Long story, short, I found MMC works better for me than CNC.

For a long time I probably built and sold a set of Builder Boards every two years. Then one year, and who knows why, I got 6 orders. I didn’t want to lose the orders and young guys had been telling me forever that BB’s should be built with a CNC so I bit the bullet and paid to have them laid out in RHINO, and then organized by the CNC guy. It was about $500 to set it up for four sheets of plywood. The CNC was $!00 per hour and the guy tossing the plywood on the CNC and stacking the pieces got $60 per hour. So it worked out to $250 to cut out a set. This didn’t seem too bad until I got the pieces home and discovered many pieces required much more sanding than when I cut them out. They were not paying attention to the quality of the cut. I later figured either the bit was dull, or the router was moving to fast, and I talked with the CNC guy. Well, he could change bits whenever I wanted ($50) or he could slow the machine down by 1/3 (whatever) and charge accordingly. I didn’t realize I had to pay extra for a clean edge.

Hmmm…....maybe a shaper would work using a vacuum pump to hold a pattern to the plywood. I asked all my woodworker friends and half of them said no, shapers turn too slow, and the other half said yes it would work. I looked on the internet and found the same 50-50 split. Well, nothing to do but try it myself. So I got a 1 hp shop fox shaper ($300). I choose shop fox because it turns at 13000 which is a little faster than most others. And them began my education about router bits. To make this shorter (and me look better by not exposing all my digressions) I found using a 1/2” Freud or Whiteside flush cutting bit with a bearing on the bottom I can cut on the notches for one set in 5 or 6 hours. It works pretty darn well now.

One big bonus of doing it my self is that I watch each piece as it comes off and I can tell when the bit is getting dull. Or I can shove the boards thru a little faster or slower depending one the type of wood. Therefore less sanding for me, YES! There was quite a variation when i was doing the recycled set. It takes two bits to get thru the whole set and keep the edges smooth.Bit changes are $17, not $50. Its also easy to make changes, and make new test piece.

If you want to think about the economics of it the CNC is a $100,000 machine housed in a $150,000 pole barn and needs a 15 hp vacuum pump running to hold the plywood down. I’m sure half their money goes to the bank. I work in a one car garage with a $1000 worth of equipment. And much of the cost to produce a set goes to and actual person, for labor not to the bank.

I have a friend who has a shop and 10 or so employees and has made fine furniture fro 30 years. I asked him about the MMC VS CNC problem. He said they have a CNC but that every time them make a new part they have to carefully think thru how many are they going to make, how difficult is the pattern going to be to make, how difficult will it be to run it thru the shaper, etc. Sometimes they go with CNC, sometimes not.

In this case the MMC wins over CNC.

Jack, in Bellingham

-- Jack,

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