Bear with me – the following may not seem like it has much to do with wooden boats, however… Many of you will be familiar with the phrase “Computer cut kit” or “Laser cut kit”. This evokes images of accuracy, precision, complexity, speed, efficiency – at a price. It is a technology that has often fascinated me with its potential to create complex forms quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, such advanced technology came at a high price ($50K +), putting it out of reach of all but the commercial operators putting through the volume to pay for it, and perhaps the very well heeled enthusiast. I continued to toy with the idea, thinking “Surely there must be some clever fella out there who has managed to make this stuff cheaply?”. Through the magic of the electric-inter-web, I discovered that this hypothesis was true! What an amazing thing the electric-inter-web is – it seems there is no end to the amount of information available and the willingness of people to freely share their thoughts and ideas (where do they get the time!).
www.buildyourcnc.com showcases the work of Patrick Hood-Daniel, an energetic and obviously bright chap who was fascinated by Computer Numerical Control (CNC) systems. He, like me, thought “there must be a way…”. He has quite literally managed to apply the IKEA principle of furniture construction to produce a range of CNC machines that the enthusiast can put together themselves at a reasonable price. Using cheap MDF, IKEA-type fasteners and other hardware store bits and pieces, off-the-shelf electronic components – stepper motors, controllers, power supply, a standard wood router, and a cheap PC with some great cheap software, he assembled his prototype.
He started with a small system for cutting 2' x 1' sheets of plywood or MDF, and also producing electronic circuit boards (I think electronics is his professional background). In a spooky sci-fi sort of way, this prototype machine enabled him to make the next, bigger and better machine, and so on. It had a life of its own! Well, almost.
He now has a range of machine sizes that both look good and do the business. Better still, the machines are now constructed from high-quality marine grade plywood – a testament to the versatility of wood (don't we love the stuff).
I couldn't help myself: With a low up-front cost for a low-volume machine, I could see the potential for cutting some of the simpler stitch-and-glue kits we sell the plans for – the Michael Storer "Eureka" canoe, and the Boat Craft Pacific "Joey" pram dinghy came immediately to mind. I felt that it was also a great opportunity to showcase the versatility of wood, especially plywood which is an efficient use of a valuable resource. This machine brings together wood, electronics, mechanical components and brains to produce a tool that will enable people to imaginatively produce more wonderful boats. I can't help but reflect that this might just be a reflection of how busy our lives are – make more, faster, cheaper. Ah well, we are creatures of our time, even as wooden boat builders and sailors, whether "traditional" or "modern".
One thing leads to another, and I have permission to cut the John Wellsford designed SCAMP sailing dinghy and also his Navigator 14' day sailer. There is still a lot of work to do to transfer these designs into the electronic format that the CNC machine uses, but that will happen over the next few months. Other designs are in the pipe-line. My hope is that having the ability to produce kits locally and reasonably economically will enable Build Wooden Boats to continue to work to our motto: Everything you need to… Build Wooden Boats.
Please feel free to get in touch to have a chat or drop around to have a look. We really enjoy being able to welcome people into the workshop to see what we're doing and share their interest and enthusiasm for building wooden boats.
Hope to see you there sometime soon.