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Re: Are CNC machines ready for Fine Woodworking?

For me, this is an easy thing to answer. I build wood gear clocks. I built a number of clocks hand cutting the gears. The clocks run fine but boy is it tedious to cut all of those teeth. I built a number of different non-numerical devices to try to take the tedium out of the process and while they worked ok it was still a pain. The joy I get out of the clock making is on all of the rest of the stuff: designing, fabricating all of the other parts, assembling, problem solving, etc. I designed and built a 3-axis 24 X 36 X 12 inch CNC router to cut the gear teeth. The clock making joy is back. The clock gears need to be very accurate and the CNC takes care of that for me. I'm now building a very large clock with 30" diameter gears. I would never have attempted this without the CNC for the tooth forms. Each gear is made of 6 sectors with male and female puzzle lock features at the ends. When I assembled the pieces it was perfect; the tooth spacing accross the sector joints was +-.002". Actually, the pieces were too perfect; there was no space for glue in the puzzle lock features. I had to go back and desingn in the gap. The CNC has expanded my personal limits. I don't mass produce anything with it and the investment in the building of the machine was not out of line compared to the cost of other "good" power tools.

The use of technology to expand capability and improve my work product is ok with me. For example, I put digital scales on my table saw to improve accuracy over the ruler type scales. The scales did not diminish me as a craftsman in my mind but it made me happier with the results. I still use hand tools for some tasks if doing so makes me happy with the process and results.

The bottom line I think is that everyone needs to look at what they are doing and what it is about it that makes them happy. You use that knowledge to make your decision about what tools you use for your tasks.

In a production environment, I think that the decision process is different. I think, in the case of furniture for example, "fine woodworking" means the combination of fine design, fine materials, elegant details and robust construction. To me, the number of labor hours is not a measure of "fineness". If you want to do this with simple tools and lots of labor I cannot afford your product. If you create the same or better product at a more affordable cost using CNC equipment I'm for it.

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