FabLab Tacoma serves a community of students and entrepreneurs

FabLab Tacoma and Created to Create's collaborative group

FabLab Tacoma and Created to Create’s collaborative group

Founded in late 2012 by Stephen Tibbitts, FabLab Tacoma is a community-based prototyping and technology workshop that’s open to the public with a membership business model. I spoke with Stephen recently to learn more. “We opened up the FabLab to provide easy access to cutting-edge design and prototyping equipment, and to bring educational opportunities and a supportive community for students, inventors, artists, and DIY enthusiasts,” said Stephen. The location was strategically chosen to be right by the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus so that the educational community can take advantage of the FabLab’s digital fabrication equipment, classes, and prototyping services.

FabLab Tacoma is a member of the customer/fabber/designer community hub, 100kGarages.com. You can read the full story about FabLab Tacoma at the 100kGarages.com blog.

Woodworker Nick Buchholz’s ShopBot helps him explore new areas of design

This Art Nouveau building in Belgium is an inspiration for Nick Buchhholz

This Art Nouveau building in Belgium is an inspiration for Nick Buchhholz

Nick Buchholz has been an amateur woodworker for many years, maintaining a shop in his garage while working as a computer programmer for the National Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. He retired from his programming career in 2012 after 25 years with the Observatory.

“At that time I decided to purchase a CNC tool to add to my shop, and see what new projects and processes I could develop,” said Nick. “I purchased a ShopBot Buddy tool with a cutting area of 24″ x 48″; I would have liked a larger tool, but the limits of my garage prevented that!”

Nick’s design interests are varied, and he says he enjoys pursuing all of them. “My original intention for the ShopBot tool was to create art nouveau and art deco dollhouse doors and windows, as well as model railroad buildings in various sizes.” So far, Nick reports, he’s designed and built a door, several signs for local businesses, parts for a marimba, a lot of storage shelving (“That’s so easy with the ShopBot”), and has been delving into making wooden flutes in the Native American style.

“My goal with purchasing a ShopBot was to be able to do more precision work more easily, and to figure out ways to generally work more efficiently with materials. It’s a process, and I’m enjoying it,” says Nick. “I’ve found that with the addition of the ShopBot tool, I haven’t used my table saw in a while.”

Some examples of Nick’s work…

Sign for model railroad club

Sign for model railroad club

Framework for model railroad buildings on the ShopBot

Framework for model railroad buildings on the ShopBot

Model building frames

Model building frames

Finished Red Cross tents for model railroad scenery

Finished Red Cross tents for model railroad scenery

Nick has designed unique signage for local businesses…

yoga sign 1

“The casters and handle make it easy for the sign to be folded up at the end of the day and stored.”

Close-up of yoga studio signage

Close-up of yoga studio signage

“Lately I’ve been doing quite a bit of work making Native American-style flutes,” Nick said. “I’ve been using walnut, creating the flute in halves, and doing all of the hole bore work with the ShopBot. There are some very useful links to flute design plans that assist you with correctly adjusting the flute to make the acoustical physics work.” One such site is the Native American “Flutomat” online design tool.

Below are some shots of the flutes that Nick has been making. “I just love the calming sound of the Native American flute. I want to share it!” Nick noted that a friend of his hand carves the bird-shaped additions to the flute that you see at the mouthpiece end.”

flute 1


ShopBot precision helps Astor Bannerman meet the special needs of its customers.

VANNA height-adjustable bath

Astor Bannerman’s VANNA height-adjustable bath


Founded 20 years ago in the UK, Astor Bannerman is a company that designs and manufactures specialized furnishings — including baths, lavatories and office desks — for use by people with special needs and their caregivers. I spoke with Astor Bannerman’s Technical Director Peter Deverson about the unique challenges of their work, and how adding a full-size ShopBot Tool to their shop has enhanced their ability to serve the needs of disabled people.

Peter has a background as a mechanical engineer, and his business partner James Stuart-Smith holds an engineering degree as well as a degree in patent law. “From early on, we focused efforts on designing and building baths that raise and lower easily,” said Peter, “as we wanted to be able to meet the changing needs of a growing child, as well as to do everything possible to provide a comfortable and respectful setting.”

“We are very aware of how the equipment we manufacture affects the lives of the people that use it,” said Peter.  “We have very high standards in both design and customer care, and due to its versatility, the ShopBot assists us in achieving our goals.  It’s important to us that we achieve a beautiful looking product, a comfortable product, and one that exceeds standards for safety.” Peter explained that they put their new baths through a rigorous testing regimen of up to 100,000 cycles. “We punish the baths pretty harshly, opening and closing the moving parts, and raising and lowering the baths,” said Peter, “as we don’t want any patient to get hurt using our baths.”

One of many unique products is the company’s VANNA height-adjustable bath:

VANNA height-adjustable bath

VANNA height-adjustable bath

As noted on their site, “This bath gives the client and the care giver much greater freedom and control through day to day life. With its simple elegant design and convenient side door, the VANNA allows for easy access in and out of the bath. The height of the bath can easily be adjusted at the touch of a button and also allows for the powered door to be opened and closed for quick and easy transfers. The VANNA bath gives both clients and the care givers the control to do more at the touch of a button.”

To get the best sense of its capabilities, particularly how it moves to accommodate helping the client get in and out of the bath with minimal difficulty, watch this short video:

Peter explained the various ways that the ShopBot Tool was critical to their ability to bring this design to fruition:

Section of VANNA assembly

Section of VANNA assembly


“This image shows how the base, door, door top roll, side wings and returns are all made from the same sheet of polypropelyne plastic by using fretting and controlled routing using a ball nosed tool – all of the material highlighted in green is the same piece of plastic. You can see that along with fretting, we use a 90° tool to produce 90° ‘corners’ in the material which allow us to fold the material through 90°. The two 90° folds allow us to locate the material into the back face of the door which helps during manufacture and produce a strengthening beam along the length of the door. This image also shows the door closing mechanism incorporating a slot to prevent damage to the bath if someone were to sit on the door before it was fully lowered.”

Peter emphasized that the precise hinge cuts that they achieve with the ShopBot Tool enable them to create a water-tight bath, with ‘soft corners’ rather than sharp edges that could become uncomfortable for the bather, and help ensure maintenance of the bath’s hygiene.

Overview diagram of VANNA bath

Overview diagram of VANNA bath


Peter said, “This diagram gives an overall impression of the bath and also gives a better impression of the engraved company name and logo on the front door. The engraving of our company logo is performed on the inside of the door so that the outer face of the door remains smooth. It’s illuminated from behind by a couple of green LED lights (which the customer can switch on or off as they wish – there’s nothing worse than a green light keeping you awake!).”

Peter explained that the “open door” image below indicates how the door opens and one can see the ball nosed routed paths that make up the hinges.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 2.36.04 PM










“The illustration shown below of the sectioned end box / fretting shows how we use fretting to make up the radii of the bath from a solid 12mm thick sheet of polypropylene (PP). There are a couple of reasons for this, the first is to help protect the client (the person in the bath) if they have a tendency for spasms or flailing about, the other is hygiene. By having radius edges we avoid overhangs and hidden corners where pathogens can hide,” explained Peter.

Sectioned end box - fretting

Sectioned end box – fretting


End box of VANNA design

End box of VANNA design


“This end box image (to the left) shows how by using the router, we create a path into which all of the components fit. This has two benefits: it allows a convenient reservoir for the adhesive we apply to all the joins and also helps with assembly as the components are held in position rather than requiring expensive jigs to hold it all in position. Once the adhesive has set we apply a plastic weld to all the joins; this is a belt and braces approach to bonding the joins and also produces a better aesthetic while also making it easier to clean and reducing hiding places for pathogens.”

Another example of Astor Bannerman’s use of the ShopBot tool in production of their designs is the Syncra:

“The Syncra Standard Modular bath is designed to offer comfortable and safe independent and assisted bathing,” said Peter.  “The fully powered transfer seat and bath are operated at the touch of a button, allowing for quick, comfortable and easy bathing for all mobility levels.”

The seat can easily be detached from the bath by the means of the optional transfer frame enabling easy bedroom to bathroom transfers.  The Syncra standard bath allows the care giver to perform any assisted bathing routine effectively and efficiently. Here’s video that helps paint the picture of its capabilities:

“We used the ShopBot router to produce the moulds for the seat back and base and also the mould for the long side panel,” explained Peter. “We did this by creating a 3D model in Solidworks, importing the model into Partworks 3D and producing a programme for our ShopBot. There was a little hand finishing of the moulds, but in essence the router was capable of producing what we needed in a sensible time frame.”  (See picture below:)

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 2.58.16 PM













“The challenge here was, we needed to react to the National Health Service’s requirements for a larger bath — there was a poor supply of these sizes,  and frankly it was the ShopBot that allowed us to re-engineer one of our baths to a larger size in just two weeks  -there’s no way we could have done that without the ShopBot,” said Peter.

syncra assy 2

“The picture above shows how the bath incorporates a few other items that we manufacture on the ShopBot,” said Peter.  “I’ve removed the seat back so that you can see the hook assembly and the relevant components are highlighted in green. As part of the hook arrangement there are two guide blocks, one on either side, another at the base and a cover to the rear. None of them are very complex, but the ShopBot allows us to make small quantities in-house rather than investing in tooling and large batches of moulded components. That’s particularly useful to us as we effectively make bespoke products so it makes no sense to invest in large batches of components as they may remain on the shelf for years.”

Peter mentioned that when it came to deciding on a CNC tool, cost was part of the equation as Astor Bannerman is not a large company. “We did our web research, and we also came over to the US to visit ShopBot in North Carolina, get a tour and participate in their CNC training.” These activities impressed Peter and James such that they purchased their ShopBot PRSalpha back in 2005. “I also wanted to mention that tech support has been very helpful to us,” noted Peter. “We haven’t had to use their services much, but they’ve always been there for us when we needed them.”

Learn more about Astor Bannerman at their website. See more about ShopBot’s full size tools here.

Using ShopBot CNC to make art: the work of Erwin Redl

CNC PALIMPSEST PRINTS (August 11, 2014) 3 Monoprints, Hand-burnished on Fabriano Archival Paper with Oil Based Ink 5 x 10 ft 152 x 305 cm Artist Studio Bowling Green, OH ,USA

3 Monoprints, Hand-burnished on Fabriano Archival Paper with Oil Based Ink
5 x 10 ft,  152 x 305 cm,  Artist Studio, Bowling Green, OH ,USA

Quite often, artist Erwin Redl makes use of his ShopBot PRSAlpha 60″ x 120″  CNC tool to cut pieces of material such as plexiglas, soft metals, MDF, and wood, in the process of making his art. And occasionally, the CNC itself becomes part of the art.

Redl’s recent print series, CNC PALIMPSEST PRINTS, is his investigation of the artist’s digital production technology. The printed pieces are created using the recessed marks of the mill bit on the large horizontal bed of his ShopBot CNC tool.

If you’re familiar with a CNC such as the ShopBot, you know that each time that the tool makes a full cut through whatever material is being produced, the milling path of the drill bit results in layers of marks on the machine’s bed (also known as the spoil board). The frequent use of the tool results in layers of marks creating large, abstract patterns.

As Redl described it to me in a recent phone call, “Linear time becomes compressed into a singular two-dimensional image.” As he noted on his website, paramedia.net, this work is “a contemporary palimpsest documenting the digital production process over time.” (The term palimpsest in art refers to the use of previously used artwork to create a new piece of art — erasing the old while also acknowledging it in making of the new.)

After a certain period of time using the CNC tool, the density of the marks on the spoil board creates an uneven surface which makes it impossible to further cut additional pieces precisely. In order to continue producing, the machine bed needs to be resurfaced. “Before resurfacing the bed,” Redl explained, “I take several large-scale prints. I apply layers of ink on the CNC bed, place archival print paper on the wet surface, and burnish the paper.”

After making the prints, the CNC bed is milled flat to continue production. The palimpsest has been erased and another palimpsest cycle begins.

close inset of CNC Palimpsest

close inset of CNC Palimpsest


Redl spoke of his inspiration for this artwork: “Well in one way, I just love the pure aesthetics of the patterns. I also wanted to preserve what had gathered over time onto this bed; I like the way that it functions to preserve a period of time in one image.” As to people’s responses to the work, Redl notes they are unsurprisingly varied. “Some people have commented that they first interpret it as some sort of architectural drawing. Others see a kind of representation of electronics.”

Art being in the eye of the beholder (and I suppose because I recognized that the print is “pulled” from a CNC bed) my response was to think it was pretty cool to blend the messiness of colors with the precision of the marks — human meets machine.

What do you think?… Leave comments below….



Other Works by Erwin Redl, Making Use of The ShopBot Tool…

DIAMOND MATRIX, 2014 410 suspended light panels with acrylic and animated RGB-LEDs 50 x 54 x 24 ft ft 15.2 x 16.5 x 7.3 m Building architect: Perkins+Will New York Police Academy Queens, New York, USA

410 suspended light panels with acrylic and animated RGB-LEDs
50 x 54 x 24 ft ft;  15.2 x 16.5 x 7.3 m
Building architect: Perkins+Will
New York Police Academy, Queens, New York, USA

For this installation at the New York Police Academy, Mr. Redl CNC’d pieces of acrylic that became framed and lit by LEDs. Some other views of this installation, highlighting various color configurations:

diamond 2diamond 3diamond 4

A Case of Reverse Engineering? Redl has transformed layers of (human-made) masonite to create woodlike pieces:

Wall Relief (wave diagonal concave) 2014 Masonite 30 x 30 inches

Wall Relief (wave diagonal concave), 2014; Arthur Roger Gallery
Masonite, 30 x 30 inches


Erwin Redl Wall Relief (cylinder concave) 2014 Masonite 30 x 30 inches

Wall Relief (cylinder concave), 2014; Arthur Roger Gallery
Masonite, 30 x 30 inches


Wall Relief (cylinder convex) 2014 Masonite 30 x 30 inches

Wall Relief (cylinder convex), 2014; Arthur Roger Gallery
Masonite, 30 x 30 inches

Mr. Redl, who purchased the ShopBot tool in 2010, spoke of his experiences with ShopBot. “I like to use the online Forum, because usually if I put up a question, it invariably generates a lot of useful answers in only a couple of minutes. I also enjoyed attending a Camp ShopBot in Detroit, where I had the opportunity to share my experiences using the tool and learn from others who use CNC on a regular basis. It’s wonderful to see what everyone is making.”

See more of Erwin Redl’s work at paramedia.net. You can learn more about ShopBot’s full size tools here.

Autistry Studios helps teens with autism and other learning differences

Janet Lawson, Dan Swearingen and Ian Swearingen

Janet Lawson, Dan Swearingen and Ian Swearingen

Autistry Studios in San Rafael, California, is a unique non-profit organization that helps teens and adults with Autism, Asperger’s, and other learning differences become successfully independent by building on each student’s interests and talents and creating a supportive community. Autistry’s founders, Janet Lawson and Daniel Swearingen, are the parents of Ian, a teenager with autism.

I caught up with Dan recently to learn more about the workshops they run and how they are putting their ShopBot tool to work in the program.

Dan spoke about the founding of the program. “About eight years ago, looking ahead for our son and what his life would be like after high school, we were very unhappy with the lack of appropriate services, work choices, and living situations available for Ian and others like him. So in small steps we started working to fill this gap in services.”

Dan (a former senior level computer programmer and manager) and Janet (also formerly in IT, and now a fulltime psychotherapist) were able to take over the 10,000 sq. ft. site of a former kitchen remodeling business to house the studios. Here they offer a variety of activities, from Build Stuff workshops (cue the ShopBot), Filmmaking workshops, Theater classes, and College Support workshops. Dan emphasized that there is no “one size fits all” approach to working with these teens. “Each person is unique in their learning differences and their interests. You have to begin with the individual and what he or she gravitates to.”

For example, a 15-year old named Lauren joined the program at about the time that the studio’s full-size ShopBot tool arrived (thanks to a grant from a local foundation). She was definitely “into” all things mechanical and making, so Dan asked Lauren and some other students to help him finish the assembly of the tool. Here’s some video of that exercise:

Since then Lauren has displayed an affinity for sketching in CAD (computer aided design), and making projects with the ShopBot. She’s been expanding her PC skills, and is on a path to successfully entering college.

Dan noted that the students are on the full range of the autistic spectrum from non-verbal or low verbal, to highly verbal children and teens. “We meet each person where they are and help them succeed. In terms of building with the Shopbot, we generally begin with a simple project of carving your name into a plaque. From there we’ll move on to relatively small woodworking projects, using plywood. We’ve found that the PartWorks program is a hit — it’s been quite easy for the kids to grasp and use.”

lauren's sign

Lauren helps other students run the ShopBot

Lauren helps other students run the ShopBot

Dan also emphasized that the relative ease with which students can take their sketches into CAD software and then bring them into CAM (computer aided machining) software has meant they’ve raised the bar for the kinds of projects that they make — and this is tremendously meaningful to each student, inspiring confidence and providing great satisfaction.

Student readies a gear design project for cutting

Student readies a gear design project for cutting



A full-size garden shed in progress

A full-size garden shed in progress


Working on the shed

Working on the shed

Almost done...

Almost done…



When asked if he had been inspired by similar workshops, Dan mentioned that he thought that he and Janet had created something unique with Autistry Studios. “It’s really a new kind of program, because it’s so focused on the individual and what activities will best serve their interests. Now that we’re eight years into this ‘experiment’ we’re thinking of ways to formalize our processes so that we can share what we’ve learned with other communities.”

A student named Ashley made this patio chair at Autistry Studios. The free plans are available at http://shopbottools.com/mSupport/projects.htm

A student named Ashley made this patio chair at Autistry Studios. The free plans are available at http://shopbottools.com/mSupport/projects.htm

Autistry's ShopBot briefly at rest...

Autistry’s ShopBot briefly at rest…

Learn more about Autistry’s work at the Autistry Studios website. You can find out more about ShopBot’s full size tools here.


ShopBot Fabricam

We’ve got some guests in the shop this week…Anne Filson and Gary Rohrbacker from AtFab and Anna France from MakerMedia.. I’m collaborating with Anne and Gary on a new book called “Design for CNC” for MakerMedia, and they’re in the shop to fabricate and photograph the furniture that illustrates the projects in each chapter. We’ll be making lots of different pieces from their collection of Open Source designs…chairs, tables, shelves, and other pieces…and setup a webcam to show the process. The video shows a day and a half of cutting compressed into 2 minutes and 20 seconds!

On the first day we cut a Cat in Bag table, a Cellular Screen, two 90 Minute Lounge Chairs, an Open Cabinet, and a new Credenza design. On the second day we finished up by cutting  two 5-30 Minute Chairs,  a One to Several Table, and finished up with doors for the Credenza.



ShopBot’s 5-Axis is key to Moore Brothers’ outdoor gear start-up


Oliver and Sam Moore of the Moore Brothers Company have a passion for everything outdoors. Oliver (who earned his BA in Physics from Williams College) and Sam, who earned his degree in engineering from the University of Vermont, love the water (and the slopes), and have a background building high-end racing boats.

Before starting their own company, Oliver was employed at Hall Spars, a company that focuses on manufacturing high-performance autoclave-cured carbon fiber spars for custom and production sailboats. Oliver spent a year in their engineering department gaining an in-depth education in “old school” machining as well diving into composite work with the help of Visual Mill, SolidWorks and Rhino CAM.

I caught up with Oliver earlier this week. He said, “Around Thanksgiving of 2013 we decided that we’d waited long enough and it was time to start doing things our own way.”  Since launching the Moore Brothers Co., they’ve been doing engineering assignments from cutting out flat panels and decorative signs to full carbon foil packages for A-class catamarans — all with the help of ShopBot’s 5-Axis CNC and 3-axis PRSAlpha 96 x 48 gantry tool. Oliver noted that “we really needed a 5-Axis solution, because a challenge in boatbuilding work is having a high enough Z-Axis to be able to machine a large item like a 5′ x 2′ dagger board.”

Now the brothers are hard at work in preparation of launching their own line of tailored skis.

Oliver said, “We’re super charged about the possibilities for ski design and manufacture. Our goal is that by the end of 2015, we’ll be set up to design and build skis tailored to the customer.”  Here’s the 5-axis machine being used to carve poplar ski cores:

5-axis of poplar skisOliver summed it up: “We chose ShopBot’s CNC tools because of their value proposition — high performance tools at reasonable cost. Now we have the resources in technology and experience to vertically integrate precision design and fabrication with traditional wood and composite craftsmanship. We’re capable of turning ideas into concepts, concepts into prototypes, and prototypes into products on a rapid time-frame.”

You can see more photos and videos of the Moore Brothers work on their Facebook page. See more information about ShopBot’s 5-Axis CNC here.

Adventures of a High School CAM Class: Episode 11

My name is Lexus Pickett and I am with the Renaissance Academy Woodworkers. I am currently a senior who is interested in computer aided manufacturing.

We’ve recently been using our ShopBot CNC machine to cut out cutting boards made of Corian. O’Keefe Inc. is a local cabinet shop in River Falls, WI, that makes some of their counter top products out of Corian, and they were generous enough to donate scrap material to our school. Since we receive the Corian free of charge, we have been able to make and sell numerous items made of this material. The money made from these sales has helped us make money to feed back into our school. We have sold some of the cutting boards at the school district craft fair, and others have been sold to people who want them. These people could customize their cutting boards for an additional fee, by adding text such as family names or drip trays.


We’ve learned a lot by working with Corian in terms of cutting it the right way with the right bit and feed rate. After numerous times of cutting the material we realized we we’re cutting it too fast because the chips were too small. By using the chip load calculator we found the correct feed rate, allowing us to cut the material more efficiently. After the boards were cut out, we finished with Trizact that 3M had donated to our school. We used 4 different grit types on our boards, each finer than the last.


By working with businesses in our community we have been able to use our ShopBot to not only learn about 21st century manufacturing and marketing skills, but to make money for our school.

ShopBot Camp at FSU in Tallahassee 2015

FSU’s Theater Tech Department hosted a ShopBot camp in February for over 40 people. Here’s a snapshot of the event.

ShopBot is a member of USITT and will be attending and speaking on a panel the USITT Conference and Stage Expo in Cincinnati, OH, along with FSU’s Theater Tech Department.

Images from ShopBot Camp Austin, TX 2015

Some of the great work shown at our recent camp in at Wayne Locke’s shop in Austin, TX. We had a great turnout with over 60 attendees. We are still adding images to this gallery so make sure to check back.

Check our events calendar for upcoming camps and events near you.