This month for our case study we spoke to Gene Crain, regular forum user, professional carpenter and CNC user. After leaving his job as a finish carpenter for a builder in Carlsbad California, he moved to San Jose del Cabo in 1990. Here he worked as a construction supervisor for a local developer until he made the move to start his own business, Plantas y Maderas SA de CV, in 1997. It was only in 2011, however, that Gene and his team started to focus on the CNC side of work seriously and they decided to rebrand the company as Vector Studio 22 to specialize in outsourced “unique and creative woodwork”.
Gene investigated the possibilities of Computer-Aided Design and Manufacturing (CADCAM) as far back as 2006, but it wasn’t until two years later that finally took the plunge.
“In 2008 we contracted a home and part of the woodwork was interior louvered doors. We first started fabbing these door stiles with a hand router and jigs but soon discovered it was impossible to be 100% accurate. This is when I seriously began looking for a CNC machine. I purchased a used Shopbot PR machine soon thereafter…I learned of Vectric software from web searches. I purchased VCarve Pro a few years ago…The ease of use with VCarve Pro, the short learning curve has made it possible for us to produce some amazing products. We have found VCarve Pro to produce very accurate previews and toolpaths.”
The brief for Gene’s recent project was to recreate a traditional Moroccan style for local hotel villa called Las Ventanas using a series of designs for an intricate entrance door with matching window panels. The work was undertaken on behalf of Westwood Designs, a high end cabinet shop in Cabo San Lucas, who provided the source CAD drawings for each piece – comprising 455 individual parts in total!
Using Vectric’s VCarve Pro software,Vector Studio 22’s designer, Jana Husarikova, imported all of the original CAD files. These were then sorted onto layers, making them much easier to manipulate, and edited to provide the necessary geometry for toolpath generation. Gene then went on to create the toolpaths, making extensive use of VCarve Pro’s ability to ‘sharpen’ the inside and outside corners of each design element as they are cut. This feature automatically raises and lowers a conical or V-bit tool as it cuts into corners of a shape, thus ensuring crisp edge detail is maintained at the surface at all times.
"The new version of VCarve Pro is fantastic, it really helped us to be able to add dimensions to the files"
So what lessons did Gene learn? Well, cutting such intricate designs required unusually delicate tools. Combined with a solid wood material, this was an unforgiving combination.
"Solid wood machining is always tricky. The 2” thick jamb panels were a challenge to try and machine the sharp corners they needed. Toolpathing the cuts using 3mm diameter, 88mm length bits was fun."
The process required a careful balance of moving the tool through the material at just the right rate (the feed rate, or 'feeds'), while turning it at the correct spindle rotation speed (or 'speeds') so that the wood chipped out without excessive lateral force or overheating of the tool. Unfortunately it turned out that the magic combination only emerged after quite a bit of trial-and-error!
"The first dozen panels we broke a lot of 3mm bits but finally dialled in the feeds and speeds and for the remaining panels we only broke 2 bits”
Hopefully you will agree that the end result was worth the sacrifice though. Amazing work.
If you are not a Vectric user but would like to see how easy to use and
deceptively powerful the software is then you can download a free trial
today - no registration required.