- Mar 10, 2009
I got that idea when I went to the Schimmel piano factory in Braunschweig, Germany and the production manager told me that was why they bought the CNC.
I spent over 3 times that amount over the last five years just on band saws.Yes you have to have the work to justify it but honestly is $2000 a 'big' investment when you can use the machine for things other than luthiery to help 'pay' for it. It's a question of how you 'employ' this worker.
I use one to cut my saddles and my fretboards, and for what little inlay work I've done so far, too. Sure inlay is an art, most of the art is in the design, though. Anyone with the skill to cut small pieces accurately isn't necessarily going to be good at inlay. And using a cnc router isn't easy, either, but it's repeatable. It's like when I learned to print black and white photos. I had my own dark room for a number of years (and I'm a photographer by trade, like, it's on my business card and everything), and while I got decent at the dark room, what it lacked was repeatability. I could spend hours trying to get a print just right, and once I'm done if I want another one, I can just put the hours in again and hope I pull it off as well a second time. But by the time I got okay in the darkroom, I was already more than okay in Photoshop, and what I do in photoshop is repeatable. I can even do it in layers, where if I don't like an edit I made two weeks ago, I can just remove that layer. And all of that is just as much an art as learning to cut little pieces accurately with a jeweler's saw.I don't mean to start an argument here, but am curious about how ukulele builders feel about using CNC ( maybe CAD/CAM/CNC is better- I don't know that much about the nuts and bolt of these things). I do not use it myself, but I'm thinking about it. I can see how it might be useful for a large production shop. For the smaller shop maybe not so much. I also see the utility of producing parts that are reproducible and of extremely fine tolerances. For instance, I have struggled over the years making the perfect neck block with the perfect radius at a perfect 90 degrees. Inevitably the blocks turn out as small works of art taking way too much time to produce. I could definitely see using CNC tools to get the perfect neck and tail blocks over and over. All this takes valuable time and time is money in a lutherie shop. It is your labor you getting paid for in the end. Also your craftmanship.
Where I begin to have a problem with it is with inlay. To me inlay is an art in itself and not just shell or wood and just flipping a switch seems... I don't know, cheating perhaps? It always looks too perfect to me and inlay done with CNC is always too much inlay to my eye. Over the top inlay? Or maybe using CNC is also an artform.
I know a number of posters here use it to produce their ukuleles and this thread is not meant to denigrate them. They produce some absolutely gorgeous instruments that sound great. Maybe it is just another tool to use in the shop just like bandsaws and routers?
I think Pete is right with this observation of the 21st century client. I think over the last 50 years or so customers have been exposed (notice I didn't say chosen) to increased mechanisation and mass production in all areas of life. Small local producers of all kinds have been driven out of business by big business. The offer and appeal (e.g. supermarkets) was of greater choice, but the result is that every shop you go in is pretty much the same. People value time, reliability, consistency, neatness etc almost at the expense of performance.The 21st century client wants 21st century accuracy/repeatability. I can see no reason to hand build something that is a 'precision' part.... and there are many luthiers already using quasi forms of these modern tools. How many here use a laser cut fret template on a bench saw or a dovetail jig with a router? I've done timing tests for all operations and unless you are building complex carve tops and backs and going through the pointless task of carving a neck, the amount of 'work' the CNC does in the small workshop setting is less than 15% of the overall time spent making. I wish some of you could visit my workshop and see how seamlessly integrated into the tasks of building this technology can be. Used appropriately it engages; it does not disengage you from the creativity of making.
Luckily I have not run into customers that are influenced by a desire for repeatability. Most of mine want something different and personal. Pete, I totally see your points about how useful the CNC can be in your shop. I think it is very admirable that you have learned to integrate it into your work, whether out of necessity or just interest. That's completely acceptable to me. I guess the bottom line is that some of us just don't care what a CNC can do. Just not our thing.--BobThe good thing about anything digital is 'rubbish in rubbish out'. It's only as good as the person using it. Small workshops will sooner or later all have one or regret not getting one and it will become as essential as a pencil and scale/rule.
Great idea. But 'The Pete Howlett Collective' sound like a really dodgy 70's prog-rock group......This is a thought which came to me after reading this thread. I doubt that some regular UU members in the luthier lounge will relate to it, but it is an idea for general use not just the luthier lounge regulars.
The concept is the cottage industry. If you live in a nice cosy village, or have a group of friends who want to, the increasing ease of access to CNC technology makes the setting up of your own real or virtual village that can fund itself with a cottage industry. It is about creating useful products and musical instruments out of wood that can be sold to support the village lifestyle. It is not necessarily about the products, or the mystical qualities of musical instruments, but you can use that stuff for promotion.
The idea is to set up a village which has a commercial co-operative. Each member acquires an accessible CNC machine and the collective arranges for designs and the software to create the components on the CNC machines. Each member focuses on a group of components on their CNC machine, and the components are collected and assembled by villagers, like an on-going harvest, for sale. So in effect it is a distributed factory where the workers are also owners in the co-operative, and all villagers work together to create useful and saleable products out of wood.
The availability of these lower cost CNC machines makes it possible to question the idea of needing a large factory with big machines and owned by billionaires and manned by humble workers who are paid just enough to effectively subsist. A group of workers can all work together and buy suitable machines and set up workshops logistically or physically close together, and the "factory" could provide a healthy income to suit a lifestyle. As a discussion to explore how it could work, UU luthier lounge members who own CNC machines could discuss working together to create some bread and butter products to sell so they can afford to indulge the more esoteric luthier lifestyles. Instead of being maker hermits and the possibilities of a more tribal village based approach could be explored.
Yes, you could do this with hand tools and jigs, but if the CNC machines are set up well, they can generate parts in volume and accuracy which are beyond the capabilities of most single artisans, without need 30 years of experience, and the idea is to create components which fit together easily to create products to sell to support a lifestyle. Once the income is secured, then the villagers or makers indulge in their chosen woody lifestyle, making fine instruments by hand or creating musical content or whatever. Then the high end hand made products could be used to promote the other products and vice versa, providing a complete range of products in a local area.
A nearby plantation forest owned or controlled by the co-operative would be the source of the raw materials.