Case Study - James Patton



VCarve Pro user James Patton has discovered how the variety of ready-made, customizable projects over at Design & Make can really take your work to the next level.  Having been raised by a father who was a skilled woodworker, James was nurtured into learning his skills and is now a very passionate craftsman. Before we take a look at his work, we asked him about about his background and how CNC machining entered his hobby...

It all really stems from my father who was a big wood worker. As far back as I can remember, we used to go to the naval base all the time and use the wood working equipment they had and made butcher blocks, china cabinets, tables…it was limitless. People began to see what he could do, and they started asking him to make this and make that, with little or no compensation, which my dad did for them gladly. He was just that kind of person. Then it started feeling like it was a second job and he lost his desire and finally gave it up. He passed away a couple years ago from leukaemia. Like anyone who loses a loved one, I was angry. The only safe outlet for aggression that I had was in the garage. I started to put my knowledge to the test. I felt I needed something more than just hammer and nails, so I went out and purchased a scroll saw and put my mind to scrolling projects. My wife wanted me to make something for a school raffle to benefit one of the teachers there. I made a rustic cooler for them to auction off. It did really well. I think they made about $800 from it. Then I thought what if there was a way to carve something into the cooler to customize it? That’s where the CNC would come in handy, and this is the point where my luck kicked in.

ImageI first discovered CNC by accident. I had gone to Home Depot to look for a shelf pin jig, but was told by an associate they didn't carry them but Rockler across the street did. Funny thing about that, I had been in that Hobby Lobby 1000's of times and never even noticed Rockler next door. Anyway I went to go look for the jig and they had a click-n-carve sitting on the table. Anyway, after weeks of debating, they made me an offer I couldn't refuse so I bought it. I made some small carvings and lithophanes with it but was wanting more and really hated I was limited to only 5" x 7" products. A few weeks later I went in and they had a CNC shark there. I was saving up a few bucks for months to make the purchase when the Anniversary model was coming out. Being they wanted to carry that model, they made me an offer I couldn't refuse on the display model Shark HD which I then purchased.

Now my garage is outfitted with just about every tool a wood worker could use, from an Oscillating Edge/Belt Spindle Sander, band saw, miter saw, table saw and CNC shark HD with the touch plate which is hooked up to a Delta 1.5 horse power dust collection unit. I had a copy of Cut3D which I used for a long time until I realized I could import STL files into VCarve Pro (V8), which was included with the CNC Shark that I had purchased. With VCarve Pro I could fine tune the STL files the way I wanted. I had visited the Vector Art 3D and Design & Make web site but not realizing I could combine the model there I couldn't justify the cost. After finding out they were compatible with each other and I could import and combine them with the STL files I currently own they I started buying then for my projects.

Now that James has discovered the power and versitility of Design & Make projects, he has been able to easily push the creative boundaries of his work. We asked him to pick a particular project to discuss his process in creating, he chose a Praying Cowboy plaque he'd made using Design and Make artwork.

ImageI cut this particular project before, but the finish I applied didnt give the desired effect so I had to cut it again using a nice piece of Brown Maple. There really wasn't a background for this project I just really enjoyed assembling the 'Western Scenes' Project Pack from Design & Make.

Like they say, "You cant rush Art" and this was definately the case for machining this piece. The roughing toolpath took about 2 hours using 1/4" endmill. I don't take anymore than 1/8" at a time. I've burnt out 4 routers in the past year, so I have cut back on the depth. I then followed it up with a 2mm bit finishing path. I don't use anything bigger than 2mm for any project. That took about 7 hours. I followed that up with a 1/16" ball-nose bit on the detailed part of the project and that took about 8 hours. Yea, it was probably overkill, but the 2mm cuts down on wear and tear on my smaller bits. For the most part I use 1/16 and 1/32" bits exclusively, depending on the detail of the model.

I don't like using the dust boot when running finishing passes because the bristles don't always squish right (see image right) and that usually leaves improper depth cuts, that I end up having to try and blend. I have found that when I shellac first, it cuts down on the dust considerably.


Once the finishing toolpath had run its course I applied a coat of wood conditioner to the part. I didnt remove the piece from the bed as I had one more toolpath to run. Once this was dry I ran the VCarving toolpath, this gave a nice contrast between the text and the background material. As soon as the VCarving was done I removed the part from the spoil board and dry brushed the new wood stain over the project. Then, I used 80 grit sandpaper to sand down to the natural stain, then resanded with 120 grit and lastly with some #0000 steel wool to smooth it out. Once I add the top coat, the wood will darken a little again.

Looking at the final piece (below to the right) you can see that the extra time James had taken with the 1/16" bit for finishing has really captured the detail of the scene, along with the choice of stain to give added contast to the finer textures. Having created this project for the second time, we had to ask James what he had learnt from his experience this time around and if he has anything different planned for the future...


Well, as I've only owned my cnc for about a year and a half I feel I haven't even scratched the surface of what the VCarve software can do. I wish I could offer you some actual tips or tricks to do with the software and machining. I guess the one thing I would say is sometimes you just need to have patience. Some projects can have some extensive run times, especially if you want the best finish.

I would love to turn this hobby into something bigger, and eventually retire from working in retail/ customer service, so I guess that would be the focus for the long term future. I haven't quite figured out how to go about marketing and where as to yet. I've looked into ebay and etsy, but after calculating listing and final value fee's, I find it isn't cost effective to go that route.

Having a lot of goals to achieve in the future, James is well and truly on his way to creating even more great work. We would like to take this opportunity to thank him for spending his time to help us write this article. If you would like to view some more of James's work scroll down to take a look at a small gallery of work. Alternatively you can see pieces of James's work showcased on the Design & Make website too.







































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