Handcraft and 3D CAD design converge at the Midwest firm Goebel & Co. Furniture, enabling this young business of woodworking pros to fabricate high-end, customized mass produced furniture.

One of the hallmarks of this St. Louis-based company is its ability to offer heirloom-quality pieces which are attainable by the average customer, says co-owner/designer Martin Goebel.

“Purely handcrafted pieces are sinfully expensive and often not a part of the conversation for the general public,” Goebel notes. “And I want our work to be something that is accessible.”

He is able to achieve this by focusing on 3D design, taking the principles of a handcrafted furniture maker and scaling those methods through the use of technology.

“By creating in volume and automating the process we are able to reduce the price without reducing the quality,” Goebel says.

It’s digital precision that allows the same quality of work from the first piece in a production run to the 50th, he adds. It effectively removes the inefficiency and inaccuracy of the “human” factor.

“If we make a run of 50 stools (like his bestselling Cruz stool, pictured)...with our team of craftsmen – who are incredible craftsmen – the first stool is still is going to be more inconsistent with the 50th, maybe because the guy is tired or the work becomes repetitive. But when we use digital technology, it’s created to within a 95 percent resolution from what the finished component will be. That 95 percent is consistent and scalable to whatever quantity we place on the production sheet.”

The hub of Goebel’s business is really the office, adorned with quirky palm tree lamps from the 60’s, an acrylic bust of Elvis with a Burger King crown, and the glow of large computer screens where Goebel spends most of his time developing product concepts. He also has an elaborate set of software packages including Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, and the foundations of 3D CAD design, Solidworks.

After the designs are created, Goebel then utilizes 3D printings of ABS plastic to prove the digital concepts in a physical format. The 3D printing is via RedEye located in Minnesota which can ship the prints in 24 hours. From that point, full-scale handmade prototypes of the concept are fabricated – usually five to six iterations – to evolve the concept and ensure the digital design matches up exactly with the physical prototype.

“We manufacture based on the digital designs,” he says. “If you like the physical prototype but it doesn’t match the digital design, you are going to be producing something that isn’t what you think it is.”

Automated Manufacturing

Once assured the prototype and the 3D design match, the project is then sent off to local manufacturers, many of whom are in the aerospace and millwork industries. These companies cut the components with both 3- and 5-axis CNC technology from C.R. Onsrud and Techno CNC Systems. Matched with hand-made components, the digital fabrication returns to Goebel to be assembled and finished.

Goebel prefers to subcontract the CNC machining, or “buy up production inefficiencies of larger local manufacturers.” It allows him to concentrate on his strength, 3D design and product development.

“What I really focus on now is being really great with concept generation. There are not enough hours in the day to be really great at everything so we utilize the individual best of each subcontractor,” he says. “The ultimate goal is to do it better, faster and cheaper, to the benefit of everyone involved.”

To learn more about Goebel and his views on 3D design and automation, see him speak live at Cabinets & Closets Expo 2014, April 14-16 in Chicago, where he will also receive the 2014 Young Woodworking Professional of the Year award from Woodworking Network.

The inaugural contest, part of Young Woodworking Professional Week, was held August 24-31, 2014. It allowed entrants ages 18-35 to submit their work Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter using the hashtag #YWPweek.

Goebel took the top honors with his entry of a table comprised of a top created from World War II surplus, aircraft-grade Sugar pine, and a base created in solid 5”x5” walnut timbers. A black toning of joinery was used to ‘low-light’ joinery detailing in order to silhouette major connections.

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