Bill Young

Seaside Small Craft, Willis Wharf VA

Bill Young, our creative guru of productive robotic gizmos, describes his latest ideas in Bill’s Corner.

Bill03I’ve been trying to come up with a terribly clever and witty introduction to my new part of the ShopBot web site, but finally gave up and decided to just let y’all know a little about me and what I’m planning on doing here.

Up until about 10 years ago I was a boat-carpenter and builder in a small town (200 people and at least as many dogs!) on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Then I got a computer for a birthday present, my 40th I think. It seemed pretty cool, but I wasn’t really sure what I would do with it other than play Solitaire. Then I found a book called “Learn CAD Now” that came with a program named EasyCAD, and thought “Hey, being able to draw stuff on the computer might come in handy”. I bought a copy, went through it from cover to cover, and after a while got so that I could draw boat parts and do some other useful things with CAD.

Now if any of you know any boatbuilders, you’ll know that we read WoodenBoat magazine the way stockbrokers read the Wall Street Journal. Well, a couple of months after I started using EasyCAD, WoodenBoat magazine had an ad for a boat design program that worked within EasyCAD! I called the phone number, placed my order, and in a few days my copy of BtDzn came in the mail. The design software was neat (but somewhat quirky) — but included with the software was a letter about a computer-controlled router that BtDzn’s creator Ted Hall was also working on. It sounded like a great idea to me, so I kept in touch with Ted, visited his shop in Durham to see an early prototype, and ended up getting one of the earliest production ShopBots.

In the first versions of the ShopBot software there wasn’t a built-in way to convert CAD drawings to cutting files, so one of the first things I did was to write a very simple DXF converter to go from EasyCAD drawings to ShopBot cutting files. Within the first couple of weeks after getting my tool up and running I had cut out the parts for a small plywood canoe and lots of signs, and had ruined quite a few sheets of cheap plywood! The more I worked with my ShopBot, though, the more types of software I learned to use and the better I got at creating cutting files. After a while I was cutting boat kits and doing custom cutting for boatyards and Naval Architects, designing furniture and other projects like the workstation and sawhorses that you can download here, and working with other ShopBotters to help them create their cutting files. The evolution was complete; I had changed from a skinny hippie boatbuilder to a fat computer nerd!

That brings us up to date, but it doesn’t really tell you what this “Bill’s Corner” web page thing is all about. To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure yet either. Hey, let’s just leave it that I’m going to ramble on about CNC, woodworking, and robotics stuff that I’ve found interesting or helpful …