A week out the shop

I really don’t know where last week went. Well, at a logical level I do: I was trying to move contracting forward on two client software projects, both of which are in a frustrating stage themselves, and then I was ill for part of the week, so it was just One Of Those Weeks™. But still, last week I was talking about how you can use spare moments to make progress, and this week felt like I didn’t get to do that. It’s just one of those weeks where I look back and feel a crushing lack of progress was made. Some weeks are like that, and the challenge has to be to not let that mental low stop me from making progress this week. 

The only guitar bit I managed to do was I laser cut a neck template out of clear acrylic again, this time for a 25.5” neck, and attached it to a neck blank ready to trim. The trimming I’ve held off as Makespace has finally received its new bandsaw, which will make trimming things much easier (in theory at least). Similarly the body for the commission is in the queue waiting for this to become operational, which it should do at the end of this coming week. Whilst I can do these with the current bandsaw, I am pushing what is effectively a hobbyist bandsaw to its limits at times. 


The new bandsaw is practically big enough to chop up the old bandsaw, so it should make light work of the body and neck blanks I have. On my todo list for the coming week is to change the plug on this from a commando unit to a regular 3 pin UK Plug so that when Graeme turns up to commission the bandsaw later in the week it’s good to go.

The main bit I did do in the workshop this week was help a friend prep for a big get-together his family were planning and help him make a giant Connect 4 game :) Connect 4 is a board game that I played as a child, so it was fun to try make a giant one nostalgia wise. 

Firstly I modelled the thing in Fusion 360, and calculated everything based off the maximum width of the wood I can machine on the CNC Router at Makespace. Based on that, and given you have a grid of 7 x 6 for the game, you can pretty much calculate everything else from that, putting in a few constants for things like spacer sizes. Now if you asked me to make one a foot wide my design would nicely just resize and re-calculate all the board and counters to be suitable - I do love parametric design.

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After that, there was a good few hours on the CNC Router. I’ve mentioned before that people assume CNC Routing is fast, but it really is not. Effectively each hole in the board takes a minute to cut, and we have two boards, each with 42 holes in, and then we have 46 counters (allowing for some spares), so you’re already down for over two hours machining just for those bits. 


Thankfully there was two of us, so whilst I nursed the CNC Router, Rob was able to get on doing other bits of work like putting together the bits we’d already cut.


Because we were pushing the limits of what could be made on the bed size wise, we weren’t able to do all the cutting on the CNC Router: once we made made the holes and assembled the main board part, I then ran over it with a hand router to get all the edges nice and straight. I was wearing a lot of dust by the end of the night!


It took us 6 hours all in, which includes the CNC Router setup, machining, and then cutting other bits on the bandsaw etc. Since then Rob’s taken it home, added the side frames to help it stand up, and given it a lick of paint, and it’s now looking like the real thing.


This was a fun little project, and reminded me that CNC Routing for certain things is the right tool for the job, even if I’ve kind of given up on it for guitar building. It was also just nice to build a thing with a friend.

The only other bit I did in the workshop was to do some training, continuing my volunteer duties at Makespace, taking a couple of hours to get someone up and running on the CNC Router. It’s tempting to see volunteering like this as a time sink, but it’s definitely an investment on which I get regular returns.

The worst thing you can have in a community workshop like Makespace is a bit of equipment that only one person or a small clique know how to use. It means that bit of kit won’t get properly maintained, and it’ll be resented by those who can’t use it (either because they want to use it and can’t, or because they see it as taking up room that could be used for something else). You can see this at Makespace if you contrast the fortunes of the woodworking vs metalwork facilities. A year or so ago they were both equally neglected, but since a group of us have put in effort to get the woodworking facilities improved, you now see not only more people using it, but also everything is generally better looked after, other people are maintaining things, etc., and now woodworking at Makespace is much better served than metalwork as there’s a momentum there.

So I definitely see time spent improving the workshop or training people to use equipment that I use as a good thing that makes things not just better for others but also better for me. A rising tide raises all boats is the saying that springs to mind. It’s even the little things, such as I went to use a hand plane off the shadow board the other day and it was sharp and set up properly so I could just do what I wanted without thinking - that’d never have been the case 12 months ago.