"One Perfect Part at a Time"

Armchair Machinist

That is a term I used to read or hear a lot. Substitute whatever hobby or profession you like after armchair. They all mean the same. It refers to that fact that there are people who go out and “do” and then go publish about their real experience. Then there is whole bunches more folks that enjoy reading a book or magazine in a comfortable armchair about those active folks who are doing the doing, and then the reader lives that activity vicariously.

I cater to that armchair adventurer with my workshop web sites and blogs. That makes me a supplier or is that called a “pusher” these days?  I am also a user.  Armchair adventure is fun and the lowest cost way to enjoy and sometimes learn from others. Television owes its popularity to this phenomenon, the same for Internet browsing of blogs and websites.

So I have been playing armchair machinist for awhile. Although I prefer to call it “doing research”. My computer screen stimulating my imagination is a great place I go to play with things I don’t have. Imagination may be a part of what makes us human. We encourage our kids to go use their imagination but are concerned that TV and now computers stunt imagination.  OK, I will not take video psychology any further… at least here. Ha!

There is no question I am hooked on CNC machining. Unfortunately I’m hooked more on the process than the products it can produce. So I have trained myself to think about what I want to create with the CNC hardware (and software) I own.  That keeps me within the envelope of reality.

I just did that with a recent decision of how much CAD and CAM software power I need to perform the type of work I can actually do in a small workshop. Some folks call it a reality check. It is a very good thing for me to do from time to time, especially when I am about to make a big investment. I left wiggle room for some expansion but I know I will never have (or the need for) software to run a full house VMC. It  couldn’t fit in my workshop.

Exploring options in CNC hardware is an area or opportunity for me or anyone to get in way beyond budgets. I wrote about the machine selection process years ago when I first set up my machine shop. Even a hobby needs a business plan. When I got out of the armchair back then to make it happen, it was best for me to have a plan for where my limitations (like budgets) were. That’s how good decisions can be made, based on the rules of limitations.

I still think that way.

I am doing some armchair exploring today of what I need to do if I want to take my Hobby CNC activity up to a small retirement business. The decision is not about what machines this will take, that comes later if I need anything other than what I have. First step is determining if I really want to do this. Then it is finding a market niche where what I make in the shop can be sold. I admit am coming at these decisions backwards. To me having a shop full of tools, looking for work is a lot more difficult than having work, and looking for the tools to get it done.

3D machining is the path I am exploring. It’s what I have been doing all along. CNC is required to do multi-axis 3D machining, even for one-offs. Making dimensional molds and masters is a good one-off CNC application. This is where I keep going with most of my hobby machining activities. It is the reason I already own 3 dimensional CAD software (Rhino and Vectric).

Designing one-offs in CAD/CAM and saving the G-code means I can easily make duplicate molds when getting into production runs.

My armchair business thinking is therefore centered on making and possibly selling molds and masters. Mold shops have been around for a long time. However, I am leaning more towards products made from molds and masters. Castings in resin (plastic) and pewter are at the top of my list.

My informal business model justifies that low volume cast parts (products) are cheaper and easier to sell than long term involvement with producing purely machined items with lots of production time and cost on every part. I find this interesting enough to explore in detail and do actual trial run experiments.

My definition of low volume is about fifty and up into the hundreds, not five or six.

All this is subject to change. I am still fairly close to the armchair.

NOTE: Log in is for admin and members only, not required to post comments.