CNC technology allowed a Texas company toproduce high-quality solid wood architectural components in quantity –something that would never have been possible with any other method.
Jerry Frederick saw that the traditional processof carving architectural components such as doors, panels, columns and othersolid wood pieces was slow and outdated.
Frederick and his company, Camcraft 3D, appliedCNC router technology to woodcarving, and were able to produce architecturalcomponents faster and more efficiently than other methods, especially craftsmencarving every piece by hand. The CNC technology provided the ability toduplicate, adjust, and reduce or enlarge any file developed in a CAM/CAMprogram.
Frederick started with one large project thatrequired making components for 100 custom doors for a huge mansion, somethingthat would have taken years to produce using other methods. The success of thisproject led to others for Camcraft 3D, including a cathedral and high-endresidential projects.
A key point is that Camcraft 3D is often makingcomponents that fit together, not the entire finished piece. In some cases Frederick will assemble thecomponents together. On a larger piece such as an altar or door, he willprovide components and contractor will assemble on site.
“There are two main drivers that determinehow to break up a model. One is the machine capacity. Second is the woodgrain, as you want as little cross grain as possible in the finished part,”Frederick said.
Frederick works withthe designer or the owner directly. They will hand sketch what they want.
“I’ll take the handsketch to the artist and have them recreate the sketch into three-dimensionalart that I can scan,” he explained.
The process itselfcan start with a clay model. Camcraft 3D uses ArtCam as a base program. If itcomes in digitally he uses stl files, sometimes in rlf, which is a relief filefrom ArtCam. Also used are AutoCAD and Rhino, which have good 3D functions.
To scan an existing piece, a white light systemuses flash photos in sequence at the same time to locate and track surfacepoints.
“This allows the handheld to move around theobject and keep all the data aligned. Once captured, the data (surfaces) can becleaned up and converted to other formats, such as stl. which can be sharedbetween software packages.
”Over the years I have constantly improved thecarving process by incorporating and transferring files from software tosoftware.” Frederick said. “I still and always will use three-axis multi headmachines. The only way to improve the process is with the software.
Camcraft 3D has sixMultiCam routers. All work goes through a server in the Magnolia, Texas, shop.Frederick was the first person to use a MultiCam router for a three-dimensionalcarving. He started the business in 2002, bought a four-foot-bed CNC router,and used it in his garage for a year.
“I quickly found outyou can’t make any money when you’re making one part at a time,” Fredericksaid. “The first move was to go with a three-head router to work on athree-year project in River Oaks (in Houston). Before that project was done, wepurchased a six-head router.
Later, Frederickused the original MultiCam single-head routers for prototyping, using themultihead routers for larger production runs. In the shop, for example, aMultiCam FourPlus is currently being used for prototyping.
Camcraft 3D willalso make large, single pieces on the smaller, four-foot-bed router. Largerpieces also depend on space under the CNC router’s gantry. One machine has a12-inch space, three others have an 8-inch clearance.
The newest, a MultiCam 7000 series router, haseight spindle heads, allowing a high rate of production to complete largeprojects in a timely manner. Fredericksaid it has a lot of new features. This router can use single individual motorsseparately, or all eight heads for a larger job.
Ninety percent of the tooling Frederick uses iscarbide ball nose tools: 1/2, 1/8, 3/32 and 1/16 of an inch. The tooling isdependent on the amount of detail size in the carving.
Three-dimensionalwork shows the capabilities of the three-axis machine. Camcraft 3D doesn’t needfive axes to do this kind of work.
”You can rip themapart in software, and build components 20 at a time. Then you have somethingyou can make some money (with),” Frederick said. “Bottom line, it’s allsoftware. With a simple three-axis machine you can do five-axis work.”
Business has beencentered around MultiCam’s capabilities, and he has been working with the CNCrouter manufacturer since 2000, when he purchased a MT2 machine.
“We had good luckwith MultiCam, those (first) two routers are 14 years old and still running,with very few issues,” Frederick said. “They have a service center nearby, andsell a lot of machines.”
Also in the Magnoliashop are a Jet bandsaw, Rockwell Jawhorse workstation, Powermatic jointer anddust collection system.
Big rooms and bigprojects
Customers are almostall residential, but are very specialized. These are really wealthy people thatcan afford the one-of-a-kind things. These aren’t million dollar houses --they’re million dollar rooms. “A room can have a lot in it,” Frederick said.”
Half-million tomillion dollar rooms might includes mantles, trim, moulding, corbels, mirrorframes, and floor panels, all kinds of architectural elements. Camcraft 3D dida whole room out of bloodwood from Brazil.
To an observer, muchof the work looks like it could be in a museum. “I never tried to targetanything else but residential,” he said. “In many cases public buildings don’thave wood trim and mouldings.”
All work here issolid wood, all premium grade, with a lot of walnut and genuine mahogany.“Sometimes people want premium hard maple for paint grade.”
Frederick recentlyreceived two large orders to cut components, including one requiring work inbeechwood. Frederick is also working with a startup company on a new project to carve wooden frames from tulip, zebra and rosewood foran eyeglass maker. Frederickcould make 400 sets of glasses at one time on the 7000 CNC router.
Workflow and largejobs
Camcraft 3D usuallyhas five to 10 employees, and has had as many as 18 people. One problem withthe large jobs was keeping a permanent workforce. Frederick couldn’t keep apayroll with large fluctuations in workload. Sometimes the machines will berunning around the clock.
The year 2014 wasslower than other years. The company ran 24 hours for at least a year and ahalf previously. Now, Frederick can handle work himself, but a big job in RiverOaks is coming up with French design and a lot of carvings. That job may go ayear and a half.
Success has comefrom delivering quickly, but also keeping the artistic elements and vision ineach wood component, combining modern technology and traditional woodcarving.
“Profitability is totally in the hands of theclient,” Frederick said. “I have to hold to my hourly carving rate. Inmost cases the programming includes that rate. Art workis additional. I have several contract artists working forme depending on the size of the job. The main challenge is just acquiringthese projects. For me it has been word of mouth, no amount of advertisinghas ever worked for me. This is a very small niche market and it tookyears to develop.”