What would it take to build a curving custom conference table nearly 60 feet long in your shop? At  Custom Desk Inc., Eagan, Minn., owner Douglas Hubbard says the answer is CNC technology and good planning.

Hubbard and his crew recently tackled such a job, making use of a new Komo CNC router with Solid Works and CimTech software.

Measuring 59 feet from tip to tip and 17 feet across with an open center, the curving conference table was a challenging project that would have been extremely labor-intensive without the router.

But Hubbard says the router, purchased in December 2007, has made jobs like this possible. He can now devote more energy to planning the unique parts of a project because cutting time is reduced.

"Doing the matching of an odd-shaped table requires a little bit of figuring," says Douglas.

"It'll take one minute, four seconds to cut that panel. The prep takes more time than the cutting. You've got a radius, straight edge and angle cuts here. You could spend hours cutting that manually."

Details, details

Initially the shop switched from three table saws to a CNC router to handle larger projects, says Nathan Hubbard, the owner's son.

"But the beauty of it is to do the one-offs," says Nathan.

"You get the benefits of the small stuff as well as the big."

The shop offers 12 standard product lines but it can easily make slight modifications in size. Many of the cabinets and office pieces such as lateral files are in a software library that can be parametrically adjusted for different space sizes and configurations.

The shop uses Solid Works for the parametric modeling and the SigmaNest for the CNC interchange. The library had to be created to account for every panel and part.

Reducing errors

Over time, the shop went through different construction methods, from knockdown assembly to dado construction to pocket screws and glue with dados used to line up pieces.

"The machine works fast; you don't have to," says Nathan.

"We expect that you're going to take the time to make sure the parts are right before you have to put it together. If the parts are wrong, or if they're banded wrong or processed incorrectly, you don't want to find that out in assembly.

"We need to measure and verify the measurement. We know how to speed up the machine, how to get more out of it. We want to make sure we get the right parts, the right places and it's accurate right off the machine."

Once all the details are entered into the program and the machining is set up in all the right places, the job is flattened out, giving the computer programmer a group of parts that are manipulated just like puzzle pieces.

Cut lists are organized by material and then nested for optimized cutting. If the material is particleboard, which needs no orientation for grain patterns, it will be laid out differently than parts made of veneer plywood.

Although the computer can do an optimized, nested layout, it can also be done manually by the software operator.

In most projects there's a lot of analysis involved to get parts lined up to fit correctly, says Nathan, especially with odd-shaped pieces and grain patterns. There's not as much chance of error with the prep done well before cutting.

All the products made by the shop involve book-matched veneers. Grain matching is all done in the programming. Most pieces are made from cherry, walnut, maple or white oak, although the shop will do laminate.

Box materials and substrates are 3/4-inch veneer plywood, particleboard or MDF.

See Custom Desk's finishing process in this  video.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.