When a highly specialized job calling for intricate, historically correct craftsmanship came through the doors at Wonders of Wood in Tracy City, TN, owner Dean Lutes knew the job would require a CNC. That would be a first for Wonders of Wood. And the timing was perfect to acquire a new Swift CNC Machine from Laguna Tools.
“I have been following the evolution of CNC technology since its inception,” said Lutes, who enjoyed a successful career as a heavy-equipment operator for 18 years before opening his woodworking shop in 1990. “Having worked with design software since 2003, making the jump into CNC machinery with this project seemed like the natural step to take for my business.”
Lutes’ assignment was to create an oak electronics control booth hiding sophisticated audio equipment. While that sounds simple enough, the project took on more dimensions because the control box was to be installed into the famous All Saints’ Chapel, a beautiful landmark at the University of the South (commonly known as “Sewanee”), which broke ground in 1905.
The regal-looking chapel is known for its ornate, Victorian Gothic-style architecture, patterned after the Church of England in Oxford, England, a movement that began in the late 1740s there. The Gothic revival movement had a dramatic influence on architecture around the world, especially on educational campuses.
“What makes this job so challenging and fun is that the control booth, which we’re making out of red oak, cannot look out of place in the chapel,” says Lutes. “On the contrary, it must look as though it’s been part of the chapel’s historic interior for over a century.”
Lutes estimated it would take approximately 286 man hours to create the 11 carved panels needed to cover the 8’ x 6’ control booth using his existing tools. And that doesn’t include the time to produce the carved decorative columns and matching access door.
Using a CNC machine would cut that time requirement in half, Lutes figured, and so he was ready to jump into the CNC era.
“I decided to go with the Swift 48 X 96 model from Laguna Tools for a number of reasons,” said Lutes. “I had been going to the IWF Atlanta woodworking show for years, and it was obvious that Laguna Tools really understood the needs of small-to-medium-sized operations. After spending some time at their booth, the Swift CNC option became the clear choice for me.”
Lutes said he appreciated the fact that the CNC Swift was extremely versatile, and could be easily outfitted with a vacuum table, so he could use it for all phases of his business.
Lutes used existing woodwork in the chapel to establish patterns and built drawings with his Vectric Aspire software. These allowed the Swift CNC to complete the exacting replication of the original woodwork, carved by hand more than a century before. The completed project fits naturally into the landmark setting of the Old Sewanee chapel. The solid frame of the Laguna Swift was an important factor in attaining consistency in cutting the oak panels. Lutes even entered the project in the Custom Woodworking Business Design Portfolio Awards.
When he was weighing his buy, says Lutes, “I took note of its solid, one-piece, tubular welded frame construction. Going to various shows over the years, I could see that other CNC machines on the market were made from cheaper aluminum with bolted-together frames requiring assembling by the customer; that meant me!
“Of course, the fact that the Swift CNC Machine was also very affordable didn’t hurt, either,” he said. “I also appreciated the tremendous customer service I’ve been getting from ‘Router’ Bob Alsup and other folks at Laguna Tools,” he said. “If I have a question, I get fast follow up service. Bob, and everybody at Laguna Tools, takes the time to make sure my questions or requests are handled quickly and effectively. That’s the kind of old-school customer service you just can’t find these days.”
Lutes says business has grown steadily over the years thanks to word of mouth. In his 48 x 88-foot shop he handles everything from simple woodworking jobs to ornate reproductions of antique furniture, porch columns, windows and doors, as well as custom kitchen cabinets.
While Lutes comes by his woodworking talents naturally enough – his father was an accomplished carpenter – it wasn’t until he grew tired of high-rise construction that he returned to his woodworking roots.
“I just got tired of doing heavy, high rise construction and decided to fi nd another job,” Lutes said. “I answered a help-wanted ad for a trim carpenter position to help with building Blockbuster Video Stores. That contracting assignment took me all over the country and led to a number of other jobs as well.”
Lute eventually settled in Tracy, where he began building his Wonders of Wood woodworking business and married.
“I’ve been very blessed to be making a living doing what I truly love, and being able to work for people who have become some of my best friends. And that’s exactly the way I feel about Laguna Tools…they treat me like a partner and friend.”