I love and hate my carving machine

Dec 30, 2013 By Randy Tucker

When it's not working so well, it is like owning a sick goldfish, albeit one with a constantly revolving price tag for repair parts to arrive from Texas.

Unanticipated consequences can alter consciousness, experience and life in general. I answered a classified advertisement last July that affected all in various degrees.

It was simple and straightforward, "Carvewright carving machine. $1,100 or best offer." Never afraid to haggle, I offered $800 for Craftsman's version of a CNC router and took it home to my shop.

I didn't get much of a chance to work with it because my wife and I were off to Fort Wayne, Ind., for a conference later that week, then on to the suburbs of east Pittsburgh for a much-anticipated visit with daughter Staci and son-in-law Adam. When I returned, the love-hate

affair began in earnest with this 78-pound piece of brilliant insanity. When working, the machine is a noisy thing of beauty, cranking out intricately detailed three-dimensional carvings. When it's not working so well, it is like owning a sick goldfish, albeit one with a constantly revolving price tag for repair parts to arrive from Texas.

I've always dabbled in my shop,

but now, with a handful of part-time jobs and a retirement check each month, I have more time to spend there. My shops have ranged from a corner of our garage on Eastview Drive, to a small 8x16 outbuilding at the same location to my present 1200 square-foot compound.

The final addition came in 2012. After freezing through the winter for many years, the installation of a furnace, six-inch insulated walls, network connections, and cable television has created a veritable craftsman's paradise just 30 yards north of the west entrance to our home.

It already seems too small.

While some people collect guns, others clothes, and still others trinkets of all types, I can't stop looking for more room to free up working space for my variety of stationary power tools. You might call it an addiction.

On the same plane of thought, why would anyone ever waste a day in a clothing store? It all seems so mundane. It's just pants, shirts and shoes. Pick something useful and versatile, then wear it.

But tools and, especially, hardwood are entirely different. You can buy three shirts, and they may fit slightly differently, but they are simply shirts. Do the same thing with three different brands of orbital sanders and you'll experience a variety of performances, each differing greatly from the other. It's not just the square inches of sanding surface on the sander's face, but the orbital speed, the motion, centrifugal force exerted, and the weight of the machine all combined into one that makes each a unique tool.

The same is true of hand planes, hand saws and chisels. Each has a very different feel and a tremendous difference in performance.

While my table saw, radial arm saw, skill saws, hand saws and double-bevel chop saw can all mimic each other in working out lengths of stock, I don't have the same luxury when it comes to my CNC router. There is just the Carvewright. When it fails, I can't make any custom designs for boxes, cabinets, hope chests or picture frames. Customers don't buy any finished projects. It's just hurry up and wait.

Perhaps that's why it has earned the role of my most-admired and most-despised tool, simultaneously.

Walking through hardware stores is one of life's great intellectual joys. Amid the myriad blades, nuts, bolts, dowels, electrical fixtures, hand tools, glues, caulk and paint there is an answer to every handyman's challenge.

Sometimes you find the solution to a problem right on the shelf in front of you. Other times you take a handful of unrelated items back to your shop and mill, grind or weld them into the tool, flange, hinge or device you need with a bit of inspiration and a lot of perspiration to guide you. Hardware stores are the best.

On par with a good hardware store is a lumber yard that carries a selection of straight pine or hemlock lumber with a bit of oak, black walnut and cherry hardwood hidden inside, safely distanced from the elements.

Mix the raw materials with the right tools, and it's almost as Michelangelo once said: "Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."

Likewise, artisan and wood create the challenge in shops across the world.

A craftsman sees the finished result in his mind long before he makes the first cut on even the most complex project.

Unanticipated consequences are ubiquitous, and love-hate is a common rollercoaster of emotion in a working shop, but a perfectly finished project, made with your own hands guided entirely by your own intellect, are the kinds of unanticipated events to be cherished.


Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator.

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