CNC Jamboree: An Enlightening Event

   Published on Thursday, 20 December 2012 23:58 
    Written by LindseyElza (Lindsey Elza)    


A recap of the First Annual CNC Jamboree from a Digital Fabber Newbie.

As some of you may know, one of the initial pushing off points for Digital Fabber Magazine was the CNC Jamboree that happened the last weekend of this past September. The successful, two-day event held at Long Lake Park Campground, near Loudonville, Ohio, was the first of its kind; but, will hopefully be the grandfather for many more to come. During the event, we formed a valuable network of CNC users, exchanged new and challenging ideas on CNC technology, and for some of us, learned just what it was that we were getting into.

The limited knowledge I had of CNC machines prior to this weekend came primarily from school. In order to save time, professors encouraged us to use the laser cutter, plotter, and automated router. I tried to stay as far away from the shop as possible, preferring time in the computer lab where I assumed I couldn’t loose a finger or get a woodchip in my eye. Thus, when I was invited to the group, I was lured in with the promise of “steam punk” attire and graphics classes, not wood sculptures and 3D creation.

As the weekend drew near, I was able to convince my father to come with me. Using my meager database on CNC technology, I tried explaining it to him, “It’s a machine that you can carve pictures and signs and Christmas ornaments on.” Therefore, as the two of us set out on our eight hour drive, we were headed to event that neither of us understood the slightest about.

The nearer we got to the destination, the more phenomenal our drive became. The part of Ohio where the Jamboree was located is amazing. The campground is in the middle of gorgeous countryside with rolling green fields and some of the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen. Dad and I concluded that had the Jamboree been awful, the drive itself was completely worth it.

Pulling off the main road and onto a bumpy, little, county lane, we entered one of the largest campgrounds I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. I’m used to seeing the parks in the south that are inhabited for most of the year, where they have their cute gardens, outdoor kitchens, golf carts and pink flamingos. However, I never imagined that such places existed in Ohio, as well. Stunning, quiet, and calm, it surrounded a huge lake. The whole campground felt serine and peaceful; it was the perfect setting for creating.

Nestled on the lake shore, the clubhouse was where a majority of the weekend’s meetings would take place. When I entered the room, I gave my awkward hellos, knowing a total of three people in the room - one of which I had just spent eight hours with in a car. As introductions were made, it became apparent that people from all walks of life were in attendance. There were seasoned veterans touching up on their craft, high school boys interested in designing guitars, men and women, women who just came with their husbands and then those who, like my dad, just came with their daughters. Several lived in Ohio; however, there were others who had traveled from as a far away as Washington state. Most owned CNC machines - some of them had very expensive machines, some had very old machines, and some had built their machines from scratch. The diversity of the room was great and later it proved very interesting as ideas were exchanged and tales told.

None other than Wayne Sutter, president of Woodline.com, gave the hour and a half long introduction. Upon first glance, then second and probably third, he appears to be a bit of a CNC guru. He discussed stepper motors, software, CNC building, tearing the machines apart, and how to convince your Great Uncle Bruce that he needs one! His presentation proved to be a weekend overview and set the tone for what was in store. When Wayne finished, and we all had a brief break, I looked over at my father to ask if he was at all bored. However, the man sitting beside me did not have the face of one who was entering the first stages of catatonic boredom; rather, his eyes were glazed over and a small smile was twitching the corner of his lips. He quickly hushed my babble and told me to hurry or else we would miss Wayne’s lecture in the other building. He was hooked.

My father and I spent the rest of the day in the maintenance building. Do not be fooled by the term “maintenance building.” It is, in fact, a wood shop of the most magnificent scale, where Dough Hawkins - co-owner of the campground, happens to park his lawnmower. I thought my dad was going to cry. Actually, that was the response most people had when they entered this sanctuary of woodworking. Inside was showcased Jason’s work trailer, which is the rolling workshop for his business. Also on display, were several pieces that he had produced from working with his CarveWright, including some gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright inspired cabinet doors that I’ve always considered stealing. The (home built cnc) machine that Michael had built was also there, along with several CNC machine variations that (were brought to share).

In the wood shop, Wayne led a discussion on how to build and program your own CNC machine; while, in the clubhouse, Michael conducted an actual build. Michael’s machine affectionately won the title of Garage Band CNC. If that’s the case, then Wayne’s could have been the Stark Enterprises machine. It wasn’t long before Wayne’s discussion of Mach 3 programming began to go way over my head. I think it was mainly due to my inability to understand and small attention span; looking around the others were latched onto every word he said and nodding vigorously. I probably should have returned to the clubhouse. There, Michael, before beginning his build, was demonstrating art creation software such as Illustrator, Photoshop, MOI, Blender, etc.

All in all, Friday wrapped up as an enormous success. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not booking a cabin in the campground. So, my father and I headed back to our hotel in Wooster, OH. Those smart enough to stay onsite, partied the rest of the evening - eating delicious food, hanging out around the campfire, and telling their best stories. I don’t know what all went on that night, but I heard it was great fun.

Saturday was an excellent end to the Jamboree even though it left everyone wanting more. Michael and Wayne both continued their projects from the previous day, while several other speakers and demonstrators shared their knowledge base.

Joe Lovchick, marketing director for CarveWright, also took the stage several times during the weekend and walked those in attendance through CarveWright’s Designer software. He gave a fairly in-depth introduction to the program, and showed how to design a project from the beginning. Due to my graphics appreciation, this was one of my weekend highlights. I got in on the last part of his discussion during which he took an image of a fighter jet plane, imported it, and began creating a cutting template for his machine. It made me want to become a professional pattern designer.  

For me, the icing on the weekend’s cake, was when Randy Johnson, editor of Woodworker Magazine took the stage. When he walked to the front of the room, a hushed silence of anticipation stole over the audience. He guided the audience through his experience with CNC machines and his enthusiasm for them was contagious. The projects he showed us opened up new possibilities in CNC use that many there had never thought possible. For the first time, I really began to see how phenomenal CNC machines are. I am sure that moment came sooner during the weekend for others. For my father, it was probably during Wayne’s introduction; but for me, this was the moment. He showed us bowls and boxes and ornaments and trinkets galore! He even gave us a sneak peak of his newest project that wouldn’t be available to the public till his next publication!

Once Randy left the audience in a speechless, CNC daze, the whole group headed back to the wood shop. We were able to ask any recap questions from the previous discussions and talk one-on-one with those who had given presentations. We had hands-on investigation of the machines and objects produced by them. Randy began working with a Shopbot, Michael woke up his machine and did demos on it, and Joe started two CarveWright projects. It was a great way to sum up the weekend and allowed those of us with a little less practice, to see the machines in action.

The CNC Jamboree was a fantastic experience, and well worth the long trip to Ohio. While I may not be an expert on CNC machines now, I feel savvy enough concerning them to strike up a good conversation. It helped connect a group of individuals from all walks of life and all corners of the continent with a common interest so that they could share ideas, issues, and work. It also gave a great insider’s look from pioneers in the field of CNC use. I am super excited about next year’s Jamboree, which I know will be bigger and better!