Case Study - Tom Watson


ImageFor December’s case study we are delighted to bring you the story of Aspire user Tom Watson. With heaps of passion for his work and a genuine love for catering to his clients Tom has written a very entertaining piece which you will definitely enjoy. So with no further ado, we will let Tom take it away…

My good friends and family tease me that I listen for my CNC ďthe way a mother listens for her babyĒ. It doesnít help that I actually use a baby monitor in my office and painting area to hear whatís going on in my shop, but itís true, I know my machine. Thereís the humm that means everything is good, the silence that indicates its time to change the wood or the bit, and the shrill scream that leaves wind in my wake and terror in my heart as I frantically race to the shop. I am a mother, and Iíve been carving full time for 3 years. Wood working is my past, present, and future.

Carving signs has a nostalgic, emotional connection for me that started in my childhood. As a young man I would accompany my dad on horseback through the state parks of Southern California making trail signs on location, posting them, and returning home. My dad shared his talent and his time with me; it left its mark.

The mark has always been there, but it took another 30 years to fully bloom. Itís really been in the last several years that my carving has taken off. I was originally a hand carver, carving signs for neighbors, family and an occasional business. However, as my family grew up and my personal life slowed down, I was able to spend more time carving. The more signs I made and the more I looked on the web for ideas, the more I found that the detail and definition I was looking for, especially on small projects, was beyond my grasp as a hand carver. Thatís when I bought my first Carvewright.

That first Carvewright was the turning point for my business. In fact, prior to it, Iím not sure you could call what I was doing a business, it was a hobby, something I did because I enjoyed it. But that changed, I was suddenly able to do so much more. The detail, the design, the speed of the carve; everything came into play and I was making money doing something I loved.

I love what I do. I love making signs in wood, and although I love my machine like a mother loves her baby, I am all guy. That first Carvewright was great for me; it was exactly what I needed. But like every guy, I wanted bigger and better; bigger signs in a single carve, more detail, greater versatility, beautiful 3d, sharper results, and faster carves.

ImageTo say the least, I was on the hunt for a new machine. I looked online, read reviews for different products, and talked to colleagues. Everything what I learned pointed me towards Vectric. Their reviews were stellar, but what ultimately swayed my decision was working with a gentleman by the name of Greg Gurden from Portland, Oregon. I was able to see him work in his shop, giving me a hand on tutorial, and I was sold. Iím sure not everyone makes this decision as easily as I did, but for me the answer was so blaringly obvious after that first visit; I wanted a CNC, and more specifically a Pilot Pro with a Mach 3 software and Aspire.

Eighteen months ago I found my PDJ Pilot Pro CNC, and the Mach 3 software with a 48Ēx50Ē carving bed along with the Aspire software. As much as the Carvewright took me from a hobby to a business, my Pilot Pro and Aspire has taken me from basic sign maker to a professional wood carver. Now I have it all. I make about 25 signs a month of all shapes and sizes with an average sign about 20Ēx14Ē. I make business signs, portraits, address signs, welcome signs, holiday signs, cribbage boards, man cave signs; if it can be carved into wood, I can make it.

I recently got an order from a woman whose dog had just passed away (image above). She had buried the dog in the backyard and wanted a portrait of the dog to use a grave marker. It is so wonderful to formulate a design based on her image and our discussion, email it back and forth, discuss it further, and manipulate it so effortlessly using the PhotoVCarve to get just the right look. This was a sensitive project for her; it needed to be done right. The end result was so much more than I ever could have achieved previously. The portrait was beautiful, and I was so pleased to be apart of not only the carve, but her healing process.

This was just one order, one sign, one customer. Everyday I get emails for new signs, new ideas and someone else who needs a sign and has a specific vision in mind. I love meeting that need. It is so rewarding to watch a project go from an idea, to a drawing, to a mock up, to a carve, to a beautiful piece of artwork. Here are a few more examples of the hundreds of projects Iíve worked on:


















Both of the above carvings are from CNC Mini Projects; I love how you can create beautiful 3D projects with all the combinations supplied. Theyíre so versatile and can be ďHACKEDĒ in so many designs.



This is a 3-D, 1 ĹĒ thick cedar board created from a customerís photograph of their pizza oven. The Hawaiian carving was requested by my customer to create them something to help remember their trip for a lifetime.




Above (Left): 15Ē tall, 8 layered carve, in 1Ē cedar. This is a Seattle Seahawks 12th man gnome. It was a big hit after the Seahawks won the Big Game in 2014. I received a lot of orders for these this year at Christmas.

Above (Right): This was created as a gift for a friend who loves pictures of Heronís, it measures 19Ē X 11Ē carved in cedar.

Below: This sign is 24Ēx12Ē, it was purchased by a business manager to replace some old signs they had. This shows the awesome detail that I have achieved carving in cedar. It is very rewarding to achieve these results and exceed my customer expectations.



Above (Right): This sign is 4ft x 8ft, 2in thick carved with a V carve, including the flower. The image for the flower came from a photograph of the old sign that the customer supplied and is an exact duplicate of their original image using the amazing Aspire software. When necessary, my signs are sealed with Marine Spar Varnish.

Then it all comes down to when my customer receives the sign, here is one of many comments I have received.

ďThe sign arrived a few days ago, and it looks fantastic; better than we could have hoped for! More importantly, we also thought you'd like to know that it was a huge hit with stepdad, who couldn't have been more excited about it. He was equally touched and impressed, particularly with how well you captured the area from the pictures. Here's a picture of him proudly holding it, and he's already picked out a place of honor to display it. Anyway, thanks again for all of your help and your great work on the sign! Take care, Steve & Anne Ashburn, VA"

The last eighteen months have been a learning process and itís not to say itís all been easy. Between Greg Gurden in Portland, online tutorials, and most recently the conference down in Florida, Iíve learned a ton. But thereís a reason I have a baby monitor in my office, thereís a reason I recognize maybe a shrill scream, and thereís a reason I know to run like mad out to the shop when I hear it. However, with all that, I love what I do. I canít overemphasize how wonderful it is to sit down, draw something up on the computer, up load it to my cnc and hit carve and away it goes. Then I get the joy in painting my creation. I almost feel like Iím cheating. Itís like that nagging feeling from your conscience telling you itís probably too good to be true. I can do so much more, I can make it so much faster and it really does look that much better. I may have likened myself to a mother and her baby, but really Iím just a guy in heaven.

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