Chicago’s Field Museum uses the ShopBot to put everything on display.

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photo (c) 2014 The Field Museum, photo by Emily Krakoff

Look closely and you can see John Zehren in The Field Museum’s Production Shop, just behind the shop’s full size ShopBot PRSalpha CNC router. John is the Exhibitions Productions Shop Supervisor, and has been with The Field Museum in various capacities since 1997. In addition to John’s expertise in cabinetmaking and case-making, he is an experienced sculptor and welder. More broadly he views his role as an educator as well, to production designers and technicians at the Field, as well as to school groups he visits around the country.

John Zehren with museum lounge benches he created

John Zehren with museum lounge benches he created

What exactly happens in the museum’s Production shop? In John’s own words, “It ain’t complicated. This is where we make stuff; metal stuff, plastic stuff, wood stuff. I always tell people facetiously that this is where everything in the museum comes from. But it’s not exactly untrue; the Production shop is where we make everything from benches to play structures to installations. We construct as much as we can right here in the shop, so we are conserving resources and not outsourcing our work. This is just a more responsible practice. It saves us money and recycles materials. Our line of thinking comes from George Washington Carver, who advocated for problem solving with the materials you have at hand. We have that here.”

As described on its website, Chicago’s Field Museum’s mission is to “inspire curiosity about life on Earth while exploring how the world came to be and how we can make it a better place.  We invite visitors, students, educators and scientists from around the world on a journey of scientific discovery.

  • Our exhibitions tell the story of life on Earth
  • Our collections solve scientific mysteries
  • Our research opens new vistas
  • Our science translates into action for a healthy planet

On display now are featured exhibits such as “Biomechanics: The Machine Inside,” where visitors can “find out why every living thing—including humans—is a machine built to survive, move, and discover, and explore the ways in which these marvels of natural engineering have inspired ingenious man-made mechanisms.

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“Biomechanics: The Machine Inside” a unique exhibit on display at the Field Musuem through Jan. 4, 2015

I caught up with John by phone recently to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes to make the Field’s exhibits so dynamic and interactive.

MB: Can you talk a bit about the Biomechanics Exhibit as an example of using CNC in  your production process?

JZ:  Absolutely. There are dozens and dozens of great examples; we use the ShopBot as well as 3D printers in almost all of our work now. For Biomechanics, one of the coolest installations was the Heat Theater. The initial idea here was to create some sort of immersive, almost 4-dimensional theater world that people could walk through, in order for visitors to experience what it feels like for animals and humans to live in every different climate on Earth. I built the wooden-framed structure that the Theater would “hang” onto…you can see here it’s a cave-shaped, 30 foot long by 20 foot wide arching structure.

Screen shot 2014-07-14 at 3.02.03 PM It’s sort of a warped quonset hut that needed to go together and come apart easily. The joints snap together and come apart very easily — and it’s the CNC technology that really enables us to do this kind of structural design and build. You want to be able to take it apart, put the entire framing into one crate, and send it off to its next location. Ideally, it’s best that one person be able to construct and deconstruct the installation; it’s possible with this kind of designing for CNC cutting.

MB:  And the Brain Scoop video?

JZ:  Yes, you really HAVE to watch this short “Brain Scoop” video (below). It’s the behind-the-scenes story of the Heat Theater from conception to reality, and lets everyone involved in the project tell the story…

JZ: Building this Heat Theater with the ShopBot is a good example of how digital fabrication has really changed everything about museum production. Traditionally, a lot of museum production work has been at its essence about cabinetry: figuring out the best way to house whatever it is that you are displaying — “building boxes” if you will.

When it comes to building those boxes, CNC has enabled us to make huge leaps in terms of constructing near-perfectly airtight display units — on its own a big achievement and I can say more about that. But CNC also expands the possibilities for installation design creativity. As you can see in the video, the nature-inspired shape of the Heat Theater was made so much easier to pull off with the technology of the ShopBot.

MB: How long have you been using the ShopBot?

JZ: We purchased the ShopBot tool in 2010. And it’s fascinating because adding the CNC cutting station to the shop allows for two processes to emerge. On the one hand, it helps to eliminate operator error and reduce material waste… a person can be trained to run the tool to make the needed cut AND… this same person, if they’re intrigued about the technology and where it can take them, can start to learn how to alter and improve the DESIGN of what they’re working on. So it’s not just about “pushing a button” and stepping back. It’s about learning how to grow as a designer and builder.

Assembly of display case, cut on the ShopBot

Assembly of display case, cut on the ShopBot

MB: Tell me about your work on improving display case design and construction.

JZ: This is an area we’re quite proud of. When it comes to case-making, your goal is to eliminate acidity from the air inside the case, and reduce the speed of air exchange — the time it takes for the outside air to fully replace the air inside the case. All of this is in service of preserving whatever artifact you have placed on display.

For many years, wood has been the material, and it is deadly to artifacts because of its natural acidity. The acid leaches into the air and harms the artifact. So we’ve been designing cases with aluminum sheeting facing inwards, and making lots of advances in making more perfect seams. This is enabled by our use of CNC technology.

I’ll brag a little. We’re now able to build cases where the air exchange is slowed to about 10 days, whereas the typical rate of air exchange is around three days. And we’re able to create these cases for substantially less cost than is the norm. We’re sharing this knowledge too! I’ve written a paper about our work, and we’ve been sharing our work with colleagues around the country.  Every musuem is on a budget — so we’re trying to help others benefit from what we’ve learned here at The Field.

MB: We’ll close by sharing some photos of John and his team doing the installation of “Opening the Mummies,” a 2012 exhibit at The Field. This exhibition features two ancient Egyptian mummies in Field Museum collections, displayed in their coffins.  These mummies were formerly displayed in the Yate exhibition Opening the Vaults: Mummies.

Screen shot 2014-07-15 at 11.13.27 AMWithout unwrapping them, the Field’s CT scans and the 3D imaging in 2010 made clear that these mummies were not merely objects #30007 and #11517 but real persons who lived and died thousands of years ago.  The Field learned that one mummy was a woman in her forties with curly hair.  The other was a teenage boy, who was buried in a coffin too big for him.




Setting up and leveling the rails which support the case deck prior to installation.

Setting up and leveling the rails which support the case deck prior to installation.

Display case for mummy 30007 is a tad small for John.

Display case for mummy 30007 is a tad small for John.

Finishing touches prior to installation

Finishing touches prior to installation

Placing the mummy.

Placing the mummy

Pretty cool for a day job, eh? And we didn’t even get to John’s work welding on dinosaur skeletons!


John Murray creates dazzling environments for high-end corporate clients.

John Murray Productions of Oakland, California, is a full service event planning and production company specializing in scenery and stagecraft for corporate clients, focused on designing and producing innovative, memorable, and cost effective special events. Just a brief glance through their gallery of work and you see that John and his crew of 12 graphic artists, carpenters (doubling as welders) and producers have taken the notion of creating “signage” to an entirely new level. Here are a few snapshots of their installation at The Host Analytics World 2014, at the SFO Marriott.

The Host Analytics World 2014 took place at the SFO Marriott, and John Murray Productions worked with Seamless Productions to produce the set and lobby branding environment. The event's theme title - engage, empower, evolve - served as the focal point of the 15' x 80' graphic set, with our glo walls flanking the 9' x 16' screens. The hotel's escalator repeated the theme with a branding treatment that covered the entire 4 sides, as well as a custom registration area, all printed on JMP's large format eco-friendly latex printer.

John Murray Productions worked with Seamless Productions to produce the set and lobby branding environment. The event’s theme title – engage, empower, evolve – served as the focal point of the 15′ x 80′ graphic set, with glo walls flanking the 9′ x 16′ screens. The hotel’s escalator repeated the theme with a branding treatment that covered the entire 4 sides, as well as a custom registration area, all printed on JMP’s large format eco-friendly latex printer.

Screen shot 2014-07-07 at 2.16.57 PMScreen shot 2014-07-07 at 2.17.05 PMI spoke with John Murray by phone recently about his company’s work.

MB: John, give us an idea of what your production shop is like.

JM: Well if you think about it, this exhibition business that we are in really boils down to being a combination cabinetry-and-signage business. You’re either creating “boxes” of some kind to mount things on, large areas on which to project videos and other graphical elements, or a combination of the two. So our scene shop is really a cabinet shop at its core, with all the traditional tools you’d expect — table saw, band saw, drill press, chopsaw. Plus in recent years we’ve added our ShopBot 96 X 48 PRSalpha tool with a spindle, and we run the [you know what!] out of that tool day and night… We also have invested in an 8ft-wide latex printer, and have a complete backdrop painting facility. This is unique to Northern California. Actually the space we’re in was built back in 1928 as a scene shop for local theater companies.

MB: Can you describe your work process?

JM: Well it depends on what stage the production is at when we come on board. We’re often referred by companies that do video development and projection, and they’re in need of a scenic source after the video/lighting/sounds pieces of the project have already begun. Sometimes we’ll receive highly detailed CAD files, other times just pencil sketches.

In nearly every case we have to create build drawings. We prepare the details in Vectorworks, and ultimately bring it into CAM, but along the way there is a lot of back and forth collaboration between us, the rigging crew, the lighting crew and projection crew. In this special events/corporate theater world Vectorworks is the go-to program. It has plug-ins for lighting designers so they can use it for their conceptual drawings.

MB: What’s a recent highlight to share?

JM: Well this one is pretty interesting, as you’ll see. Immersive Audio Visual approached us with a pixel mapping project for the 2014 Kaspersky Cyber Security Summit. We were hired to create scenery on which a video from Kaspersky Cyber Security would be projected. The video was designed to dramatize the technological process of image-mapping, and made use of multiple focal lengths to create its images. So they needed a projection surface which itself was multi-dimensional! With just 10 days to accomplish the design-build, and the provided Sketchup drawing, our work was cut out for us. First just check out the video, it’s pretty cool….

JM: The set consisted of a 75′ wide by 13′ high flat wall with a center screen, and flanking walls covered with boxes of varying size that the projection team masterfully used as a backdrop for their set. The challenge came in building such a detailed projection surface within a very short period of time, but our crew managed to build the entire set in 2 days. The result was fantastic! Here are some stills of the projection set…

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MB: I understand that you’ve been involved with Chevron’s efforts to support STEM education?

JM: That’s right and actually it’s a project that’s near and dear to me. I earned my B.A. in Biology, and assumed when I got out of college I’d be combining my love of science with my passion for building to go to work in a museum creating educational installations.. Well, about 8000 corporate logos later… I’m having this tremendous opportunity to build STEM Zones.

This started about three years ago, when we were approached by Chevron to help them re-make their golf sponsorship events into STEM awareness events. Typically at golf tournaments, there will be corporate hospitality areas for hosting clients and educating them about the company. Chevron wanted to make it a highly interactive area where they’d clearly promote their interest in supporting STEM education.

The first STEM Zone installation we did was to create a TV studio environment that showed people all about the technology behind creating a TV broadcast. The place looked as though it was built by kids as a cross between a clubhouse and mad scientist’s lab!

Since then we’ve created “STEM behind sports” installations, demonstrating the physics behind golf, and now we’re working with the NBA on the Science of Basketball, the Giants on the Science of Baseball, the 49ers on the Science of Football.  And most recently we attended the USA Science and Engineering Festival which had presences from Chevron, Project Lead the Way and FabLabs.  So it’s a very exciting time for us, getting involved in supporting STEM.

Chevron STEM Zone installation

Chevron STEM Zone installation

John Murray Productions uses a full-size ShopBot PRSalpha tool. You can learn more about it here.

We’d love to hear about new and different applications for ShopBot Tools. Add your comment or get in touch using ShopBot’s Contact Form.

With a dream for a “second act” business, this couple is inventing their future.

Cheryl and Kent Wille of Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, are embarking on an exciting new chapter in their lives: taking their first steps in launching their own business together. KNC Woodcrafters offers its customers a variety of original, eye-catching home products made of quality woods, such as cheese slicers and cutting boards. They are currently working on new designs for puzzles and games, and small furniture. From their Facebook page:

We have the ability to customize our existing product line with monograms, scripts, logos, and graphics. Or when additional customization is desired, we work directly with you to create your own unique wood and sign creations for any occasion.

With Kent’s 30 years as woodworker and general contractor, and Cheryl’s background in IT, the two started to daydream about a new, creative challenge that they could embark on together. Cheryl said that they “brainstormed a lot of ideas, including opening a restaurant, getting into real estate upgrading and selling homes, and toying with CNC technology to design and make their own products.”

The couples’ complementary skillets seemed the most natural approach and led to their decision to start KNC Woodcrafting. One of their first investments in the business was a ShopBot Buddy CNC tool.

KNC Woodcrafters has a growing line of cutting boards and cheese slicers

KNC Woodcrafters has a growing line of cutting boards and cheese slicers

Cheryl explained it this way:  “My husband and I are a team in this world. He is the experienced woodworker and I have a computer background; so the two of us are forced to work and learn from each other. I didn’t know collets; and he didn’t know vectors. He works in fractions; I work in decimals. I’m intimidated by the table saw; but with my computer background, running the ShopBot is second nature.”

The Willes recently attended a ShopBot training class at the company’s headquarters in Durham, N.C., which they said was very helpful to their growth as new ShopBotters.  “We both learned a lot from TJ at the ShopBot Training — he made it fun and interesting for everyone there,” Cheryl noted.

The Willes' sent TJ Christiansen, their ShopBot instructor, a special present after training. The note reads in part, "Your training (both in person and web) gave us a great start in the CNC world...I know you'll appreciate the process in creating this Mexican Vase cutting board. The machine cut the pieces flawlessly to provide tight, curved joins."

The Willes’ sent TJ Christiansen, their ShopBot instructor, a special present after training. The note reads in part, “Your training (both in person and web) gave us a great start in the CNC world…I know you’ll appreciate the process in creating this Mexican Vase cutting board. The machine cut the pieces flawlessly to provide tight, curved joins.”

“Starting this new project is making for a very interesting change in our marriage,” remarked Cheryl. “We actually are forced to communicate; without it, the result is doomed to fail. Overall, it is very positive and we are no longer just two different people that happen to live in the same house; it has given our marriage a new definition; and hopefully we can figure out how to make some money too!”

Computer technology is getting both less expensive and easier to use all the time. So if you’re even just thinking about the idea of making a product yourself either as a hobby or as a business, there’s little or no barrier to entry for anyone at any age, to take advantage of computer-driven design and fabricating tools.

To browse the many types of items you can make with the help of a ShopBot Tool, visit the Applications page.

The Willes have installed their ShopBot Buddy in their garage. Learn more about the tool here.

Here’s an overview of the tools and guide to helping you choose. Give ShopBot a call or use this form to get in touch. We’ll be glad to assist you.

DID YOU KNOW? There’s a great, supportive network of digital fabrication businesses at  Check it out and join the community for free.

Homebuilt is Re-Inventing Homebuilding with Distributed Manufacturing (and ShopBots)

Guest ShopBot blog contributor Dennis Michaud is an architect and was one of the founders and leaders of the highly successful California company, Blu Homes. Michaud’s new venture, Homebuilt, is more than a company; it aspires to also become a new business model for home building.  In this post he shares his vision for Homebuilt: “to empower absolutely anyone, regardless of prior experience, with the knowledge and materials to modify an existing residential building or build a new home – themselves.”  Dennis writes:

Eight months ago, Homebuilt set out to do something at once radical and unnoticeable. Inspired by the successes of Larry Sass’s digitally fabricated buildings, including the Digitally Fabricated House for New Orleans (MoMA NYC 2008); Robert Bridges’s and Bill Young’s Shelter 2.0Timberply (also by Young and Bridges); and the Wikihouse project, we aimed to springboard from the proven ability to make buildings out of CNC cut parts, to bring this technology into the realm of a code-compliant building system. Here’s a look at some of its pieces and parts….


Homebuilt's easy-to-assemble construction. If you can lift 23 lbs., you can build your own house.

Homebuilt’s easy-to-assemble construction. If you can lift 23 lbs., you can build your own house.

Homebuilt construction pieces cut on a ShopBot full-size gantry CNC

Homebuilt construction pieces cut on a ShopBot full-size gantry CNC

Our successes to date have been very exciting, not only in the technical ability to use Shopbot’s CNC tools to facilitate some of the most challenging and expensive aspects of stud-framed and wood-finished construction, but also for this technology’s ability to integrate seamlessly into the existing homebuilding industry while simultaneously offering an alternative business model to innovate within it.

Technological advances in US homebuilding: a history of unfulfilled promises

This history of technological advances in homebuilding, as for example highlighted in the Museum of Modern Art’s 2008 mega-exhibit “Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling” in New York City, has been one of false starts and unfulfilled promises.  Whether they involved advanced materials, new production processes, or new ways of “delivering” a house, almost nothing substantial has changed since the first use of dimensional lumber studs in 1830’s Chicago.

What I feel has been missing from the, albeit technologically laudable, innovations from 1850 onwards has been a deep recognition that homebuilding is a fervently local endeavor.  As such, it is difficult for any process not immediately and easily repeatable anywhere in the US to gain traction against the tidal flow of cross-continental standardization within this very mature industry, with its established,  slow-moving supply chain.

Whether for the philosophical or architectural desire to work with the genius loci (“spirit of the place”), the ecological importance of minimized transportation costs, the economic benefits to local business, or simply the market demand to “know your builder,” attempts to industrialize housing have either failed or failed to integrate within the mainstream building industry.

However, centralized, non-local industrialization is not the end-all and be-all of technological advancement, or even of off-site building production, both of which can operate on a local level. Indeed, what is most incredible about Shopbot itself is its having yanked one of the most important tools of modern manufacturing – computer controlled fabrication – out of centralized factories and into the realm of local fabrication.

The possibilities of distributed manufacturing

Whereas previously only the most highly capitalized – and therefore centralized – fabrication outfits could afford a CNC behemoth, Shopbot’s tools are able to be housed, well, in almost anyone’s garage. What this has meant and will mean for the small-to-medium scale wood and metal-working industries cannot be understated. Many of us take for granted that a custom sign or beautiful cabinetry can be shipped from someone in our own state at little more cost than the off-the-shelf Made in Who-Knows-Where variety.   Technology like Shopbot’s CNC tools may indeed not only create the possibility for a more localized model of manufacturing, but as a result help save American manufacturing in general. It would be too lengthy to get into why this is so important, but in the specific case of homebuilding, in light of its inherent local-ness, such “localizeable” technology is fundamental to any attempt for real innovation of American homes.

If properly designed, the pre-fabricated component of a digitally-fabricated house can be completed by anyone with a Shopbot or similar CNC router. This can be in a local millwork shop, someone’s garage, or even on-site, as conceptualized by Larry Sass’ YourHouse, and made possible by tools such as ShopBot’s Handibot® Smart Tool.  This is because, unlike other forms of automation, CNC digital fabrication uses standard formats and well-established, open methods, file types, and tools. If you have a Shopbot, regardless of its size or age, you can start making digitally-fabricated houses.

What does this mean for a company like Homebuilt? 

We have designed a building system, and with the help of Shopbot a series of tools, that enables us to work with local fabricators to build local houses. It means that Homebuilt doesn’t need a huge, centralized factory, or the associated costs thereof.  Neither do customers need to pay for shipping from that centralized factory.  Homebuilt is instead able remain lean and nimble, collaborating with local, equally nimble fabricators to modernize the way we think about housing production. All the while, the efficiency of the tools as well as the distributed manufacturing model enable equitable sharing of profits, not only between Homebuilt and local, distributed fabricators, but also with the buyer, for whom efficiency of production leads to lower prices.

We believe that the Homebuilt concept – the reduction in the cost of housing through localized, distributed manufacturing – is truly innovative, even if we are still using 2x4s, 16” OC, and no one will even notice the difference.

Here are some of the projects, mentioned at the beginning of this post, that have inspired the Homebuilt concept…

Digitally Fabricated House for New Orleans Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling (MoMA, 2008) Larry Sass, Daniel Smithwick, Bill Young, and Dennis Michaud (author) Sponsors: Shopbot Tools, Boise Cascade, eFab Local

Digitally Fabricated House for New Orleans
Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling (MoMA, 2008)
Larry Sass, Daniel Smithwick, Bill Young, and Dennis Michaud (author)
Sponsors: Shopbot Tools, Boise Cascade, eFab Local

Shelter 2.0 Robert Bridges and Bill Young

Shelter 2.0
Robert Bridges and Bill Young


Wikihouse (image from

(image from




ShopBot Will Test-Cut Your Design at IWF Atlanta 2014

Thinking about adding CNC technology into your production? ShopBot Tools has announced a special offering for attendees at this summer’s International Woodworking Fair (IWF) in Atlanta, August 20 – 23. For those who are seriously exploring CNC solutions in woodworking (or virtually any material), ShopBot will demonstrate the cutting of your design, live at the event.

Ryan Patterson, ShopBot’s Director of Production Support, noted, “Our tools enable tremendous efficiencies for manufacturers, and really the best way to understand the power and precision of CNC technology is to see it in action. That’s why we’re providing this opportunity for interested professionals.”

Patterson invites you to send him information about your product and production needs, and include a design that ShopBot will cut on either the ShopBot PRS Alpha 96 X 48 with Automatic Tool Changer, or ShopBot Desktop. Your design can be anything from a pencil sketch to a CAD drawing file — we’ll take it from there and get it prepped to cut.

Interested? Send an email to  You’ll need to contact Ryan by August 8th in order to “make the cut.” In your email, mention your production needs, and attach your design. The ShopBot team will perform material cutting for a limited number of IWF attendees on a first-come first-served basis.

ShopBot Desktop CNC

ShopBot Desktop CNC

ShopBot Tools has specialized in serving the needs of small to medium-size cabinetmaking, furniture, and other woodworking businesses for years.  But their tools are also widely used on materials such as plastics, MDF, styrofoam, and soft metals such as aluminum, in a wide array of industries. “This includes aerospace, transportation, consumer products, hotels and restaurants, the list is endless,” noted Patterson.

Manufacturers using wood or other materials are encouraged to get in touch with Ryan Patterson. “We’re not just about providing tools,” Ryan summed it up. “ShopBot is here to help solve problems. What sets us apart, aside from providing affordable CNC tools, is the group of services and resources we offer to support your success.” These include free access to user forums and communities such as, in-person and online training classes, and free technical support.

ShopBot PRSalpha CNC

ShopBot PRSalpha CNC

Handibot Tool goes to work in a FIRST Robotics Competition pit crew

The roar of robots racing, kids shouting and general mayhem filled the air as the FIRST Robotics 2014 Virginia Regional Competition got underway in April. FIRST Robotics’ mission is “to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”

Chris Thompson was there with two FIRST teams that he coaches, Team 1829 and the Carbonauts. And there was a new member of the pit crew on hand…  a ShopBot Handibot® Smart Power Tool. Chris and his students offered up the help of the Handibot tool to anyone needing an emergency part made quickly on this powerful, portable CNC tool.

Team 1829

Team 1829

See the full story and pics at the blog.



ShopBot Tools in large-scale manufacturing: Wood-Mode

Following is a 2009 update to Cabinetmaker FDM’s article by editor Karl D. Forth, about ShopBot CNC Tools in use at Wood-Mode. The article speaks to the benefits to large-scale operations of incorporating smaller CNC routers in cell-based operations. Since its original publication, Wood-Mode has grown its stable of ShopBot Tools to 16 tools. We’ve taken the liberty of adding some photography of the beautiful product that Wood-Mode offers in its Wood-Mode and Brookhaven lines.

By any measure, Wood-Mode Inc. is a large operation. But it is unlike many other large cabinet manufacturers. “We are, for the most part, a very large job shop,”says chairman and CEO Robert Gronlund. “We are focused on how we can be more efficient in just-in-time.”

The privately owned company was started in 1942 and employs 2,100 in a large, integrated 1.3 million-square-foot plant in Kreamer, Pa., that does everything from process green lumber to carry out delivery in Wood-Mode trucks. The company produces custom cabinetry for every room in the home. Annual sales revenue is more than $200 million.

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Screen shot 2014-05-16 at 3.43.54 PM

The Kreamer factory produces 1,600 to 1,800 units per day. Wood-Mode makes custom and semi-custom kitchen and bath cabinets, and custom cabinetry for other rooms. There are two product lines, Wood-Mode and Brookhaven, in both framed and frameless. Wood-Mode sells through independent sales representatives to 850 Wood-Mode/Brookhaven independent dealers. When Gronlund goes to a trade show, he says he spends half the time looking at big machines with the capacity to make thousands of pieces and the other half looking at smaller equipment normally used in a small shop.

Despite its size, Wood-Mode employs something small to improve its manufacturing process. It has 16 ShopBot CNC machines in use, equipment normally used in much smaller shops. The ShopBots are primarily used for point-to-point boring for hardware, doors and drawers. The first one was purchased as an inventor’s kit in 1999.

Flexibility advantage
Joe May, director of manufacturing and engineering, says flexibility is the biggest advantage of the ShopBots. “We can configure each one differently for different types of products, without the expense of a bigger machine,” he says. “In the newest machine we have about $25,000 invested, so about every five weeks it pays for itself.”

The ShopBots work well in component part production. “Components can be anything,” May says. “A customer can want a completely unique profile. The ShopBot allows us to cope with that easily. We can build one component. And that’s what we do.”

The company has four product lines. The Wood-Mode 42 line is named for 1942, the year it was started. The Wood-Mode 84 frameless line was started in 1984. Brookhaven One is frameless, Brookhaven Two is frame. Making both frame and frameless cabinets in the same plant isn’t really an issue, May says. “One side of the assembly area is frame, the other is frameless.”

Manufacturing flow
May says it’s difficult to describe the flow without describing the buildings. Component parts, drawers, frames, drawer parts are all done in the A1 component plant. Special cabinets are done in A2, which is on the second floor. The C building makes flat sheet stock.

There are five basic steps in the manufacturing process:
• Rough mill.
• Component plant, with cutoff saws, sander/shapers.
• “Wood start,” which brings doors, frames and sides together for sanding before machining.
• Finishing is primarily catalyzed varnish. Wood-Mode is just getting into water-based.
• Assembly;  the company does very little finishing of assembled pieces.

Almost all doors are made here, but Wood-Mode outsources MDF doors. Wood-Mode cuts door pieces for assembly of five-piece doors, and has them go through a shaper/sander combination.

“I’ve been here five years and I’m still amazed by the volume of cabinets we put through,” May says. “We’re doing a better job of tracking systems with bar coding. We know where individual parts are.”

But many challenges remain. “It’s a constant ongoing effort to try to minimize bottlenecks. The goal is to be a little better than the day before. Even if you do one thing better, it helps,” says May.

Wood-Mode purchased its first ShopBot, a PR model, in 1999 to make templates for rails and panels. The company found it could do an infinitenumber of parts on one machine, and Wood-Mode went from 800 templates to eight programs on the ShopBot.

Parts come down to assembly, with frameless on one side, frame on other. There are four frameless assembly lines, each with its own boring. Two of the ShopBots are in components and eight are in assembly, where they are used for decorative hardware boring.

The ShopBots work well in component part production.

The ShopBots work well in component part production.

“We do the doors and the drawers independent of the final cabinet,” May says. “They take a drawer or door to the decorative hardware machine, with a tag so they know what hardware it needs to be bored for. Doors are finished, then bored. All hardware is field installed.”

Wood-Mode uses 219 different pieces of hardware, all with different center sizes and different spacings. May says they threw away about 40,000 drill bushings used for assembly fixtures. “We would have to make a whole new set of fixtures if there were any changes. It used to take us a month after we identified a new door style to get the jigs and fixtures to the floor.” Now it takes 15 minutes. Information comes to May’s office. He makes changes, and they go to everyone on the floor at the same time.

It’s important to note that setup is done by the operator on the screen. Operators pull up the door style on a screen. (They tried to do setups on the keyboard, but found that didn’t work as well.) The operator programs on the screen, and next to one ShopBot is a person who machines hinges on another ShopBot. Wood-Mode buys ShopBot’s inventor’s kit. “It’s not a toy. It’s not just for signmakers. It can be a

Programming for boring on the ShopBots is done on the screen. This is more efficient than using the keyboards.

Programming for boring on the ShopBots
is done on the screen. This is more
efficient than using the keyboards.

“There are a lot of people who want to do what we’re doing,” May says. “With the ShopBots,
you can do whatever you want. The only limitation is your imagination.”

New rough mill
One of the largest upgrades is a new rough mill operation. Weinig supplied most of the equipment, including a new Weinig CNC moulder (there are five moulders in all). Also here is a Newman Whitney planer, Raimann ripsaws and the LuxScan optimizing system. All components were integrated into the Weinig system. The new rough mill started in June, and can produce 30,000 board feet a shift.

Wood-Mode also has a new dust collection system, upgraded electrical service for the old building and a new compressed air system. The company also built six new dry kilns and increased capacity 30 percent.

Commitment to dealers
“I think we go to market very well, through independent sales reps,” Gronlund says. “We focus on the independent dealer as opposed to selling to larger home centers.” Normally, about 70 to 75 percent of Wood-Mode’s business is remodeling, but the builder business has been so strong that remodeling is about 60 percent.

“We strive to keep our costs down,” Gronlund says. “As we grow, we’ve found our biggest challenge is quality labor. We have good quality labor in this area, and we’ve started an aggressive training program.”

Government regulations and environmental issues are always a challenge, but Gronlund say imports will affect a different, larger-volume market than Wood-Mode serves.

“We’ve grown our business with the almost tidal wave of homebuilding,” he says. “We want to build more capacity on the same footprint, to increase capacity 15 percent, within existing buildings, We have already done that in the lumber mill and rough mill.  “Our strategic theme is qualitative growth, as opposed to quantitative growth.”

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A Journey from Maker to Maker PRO: The Timbrr Stylus story

The first thing that strikes you when you step inside Dom Peralta’s garage/maker space in San Mateo isn’t necessarily the high-pitched drilling of his ShopBot Desktop’s spindle. Rather it’s the very pleasant and heady aroma of natural California cedar. That’s because the ShopBot is hard at work precision-cutting wooden dowels of cedar for the Timbrr Stylus, an ergonomic stylus for you to use with your touchscreen tablet or smartphone.

Dom Peralta's garage/maker space/factory

Dom Peralta’s garage/maker space/factory

The Timbrr Stylus is the brainchild of the team of Dom Peralta and Jon Corpuz, corporate industrial designers by day, and entrepreneurial Maker Pros on nights, weekends….and just about every possible waking moment. Right now they’re hard at work getting Timbrr Styluses completed to show off at the 2014 Maker Faire in San Mateo, and putting the final touches on a Kickstarter campaign to help the duo expand production.

Timbrr cedar stylus with capacitive rubber tip

Timbrr cedar stylus with capacitive rubber tip

Read the full story and see more photos at


ShopBot Launches Official Certification Course for Teachers

ShopBot Tools has announced the launch of ShopBot Certification training. The program is being rolled out in Texas: career and technical education professionals can receive Level I Teacher Certification during the TIVA Conference in Austin, July 13th – 18th. TIVA is the state’s professional organization supporting career and technical educators.

Conference and course registration information is available here.

The ShopBot Certification program offers 4 levels of certification: Basic (Level I), Intermediate (II), Advanced (III), and Production (IV). The Production level includes cabinetmaking and manufacturing specific curriculum.  At each level students will study, practice and develop CNC related skills in 8 areas: CAD/CAM Design software, ShopBot Setup and Maintenance, ShopBot Control Software, Tooling, Hold downs, Materials, Finishing and Accessories.

The ShopBot Certification class at TIVA will qualify teachers to certify their students at Level I.

Randy Johnson, ShopBot Director of Education Outreach, will lead the training and will be assisted by Brett Dickinson, Construction Tech Teacher – Georgetown, Texas ISD.

Brett is a veteran career and technical education teacher in Texas and is a strong proponent of using CNC as a teaching tool and as a way to make students career and college ready. He has been using ShopBot tools in his program since 2006 and has conducted a number of trainings in this area at TIVA summer conferences. Brett noted, “ShopBots are wonderful motivating and teaching tools. Students are learning skills in an area that are in high demand in industry. This equipment is perfect for teaching math and science concepts at which many students struggle by providing them hands-on learning through the designing and building of physical objects.”

Randy Johnson added, “At ShopBot, we want to do all we can to support the revitalization of technical education and manufacturing here in the U.S. We’re excited about ShopBot Certification because it means that we’re helping create well-trained, employable young people for 21st century jobs. Whether it’s training students for well-paying jobs right out of high school, or preparing pre-engineering students for college, this is a great way for us to help get American manufacturing back on track.”

Space is limited. Get more information and sign up for the Level I Teacher’s Certification Class here.

(Teacher certification for Levels 2-4 will be offered in the future.)

What can your students learn from making a sign?

If you’re a teacher making use of digital fabrication in your classroom, this may not surprise you. A relatively simple project can help you teach quite a number of topics. Check out Sallye Coyle’s blog post at, and you’ll see how making a lighted acrylic sign can help you instruct lessons about… CAD and CAM, the physics of optics, electricity and electronics, materials science, project management and documentation, and business topics such as quality control, cost analysis, market analysis, intellectual property….

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