|A few weeks ago when I wrote about the CNCed plywood furniture at Maker Faire, the comments we numerous and scathing. I don't disagree. But the question was raised about what happens when someone with an appreciation for traditional design wants to use CNC to cost effectively extend what can be done by hand. |
We make our Gramercy Tools dovetail saws by CNC'ing a walnut blank and then hand finishing it.
The reason it all works is that the person who programs the CNC router to produce our handles not only has an appreciation of the type of details we look for, but also is a master CNC artist. This is craftsmanship of a digital kind followed by craftsmanship of a traditional kind that enables us to have such nice handles - not some magic bullet machine.
It wasn't easy to find a shop that could make the handle. The handle itself started out as a composite sketch based on actual 19th century saw handles and was modified and adapted to our dovetail saw and to what our testing thought worked best and looked nice. A lot of what we wanted to do was capture the design sensibility in both look and feel of an early 19th century saw handle. We think that the geometry we use, a combination of the lightness of the saw and the high hang of the handle makes it easier for a person to saw straight. But the ease of use also has to do with how the saw feels in the hand which is partly a function of the quality of the finish of the handle. We also think that the traditional look is important to get right because it helps put you in the frame of mind of the time period of furniture you are making.
One example of the detailing is that we thought the tiny radius that at the base of the horns on the top of the saw handle looked too industrial. We increased the radius for strength and then added decorative "file" notches to give a crisp demarcation line that looks better but doesn't weaken the handle. It's a Victorian feature that you see on planes a lot. The "file" is in quotes because in the first run of handles we would used a saw file to add the notches. That's the traditional way and it takes two seconds. Currently the notches are added as part of the CNC routing.
Once we actually had a proper 3D model we sent the handle out to bid. I don't remember the number of CNC firms who flat out turned us down, or the number who quoted crazy prices. I do know that the number wasn't small and the reason was that the companies that were able to do the programming to produce the blank didn't have the ability to do the hand work needed for finishing. And the companies that could do the hand finishing just didn't have the programming chops to make the handle cost effectively.
Finally, when our current handle maker said "maybe" I was ready to dance in the street (The Macarena if you must know - this was a few years ago). For the handle maker it was a chance to push his craft and we are so happy he did. The final picture shows an unfinished handle - as it came off the CNC compared to finished handle.
The point of this post is to show you from practical experience that CNC made doesn't have to be primitive or the lowest common denominator. A CNC router is a tool like any other and in the hands of great craft people great stuff can be made.
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