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

A student named Ashley made this patio chair at Autistry Studios. The free plans are available at

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.

Facet Mutes puts ShopBot 5-Axis to work making fine wood mutes

CIOMIT owner and instructor Dan Parker

CIOMIT owner and instructor Dan Parker


Daniel “Dr. Dan” Parker is a master craftsman with 42 years experience in the musical instrument repair trade.  His clients include top professional musicians from around the world, and eight years ago he founded and continues to run CIOMIT, the Colorado Institute of Musical Instrument Technology. It’s a professional trade school which offers classes online and in-person in Colorado. Dan’s students leave with a highly sought-after skill that can serve them for a lifetime.

Dan said that CIOMIT focuses on training for repair of brass, woodwind, strings, and percussion. This includes oboe, bassoon, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, flute, guitar, violin, and more. He’s noted that technology is causing huge changes: “In the past few years, with CNC becoming a commonly used method in instrument making, I’ve seen some tremendous opportunities to make use of the technology in repair and in production,” said Dan.

Dan explained, “To become a master craftsman in repairs, part of your training is to be able to build an instrument from scratch. With CNC being commonly used to make guitars, clarinets and other woodwinds, as well as brass instruments, I felt it was important to add CNC training into my coursework.”

Students learning to repair a trumpet

Students learning to repair a trumpet


Making Mutes with the ShopBot: A Turning Point

The other opportunity afforded to Dan by growing adoption of CNC was in making and selling instrument accessories. In early 2014, Dan purchased a company called Facet Mutes, Inc., which designs and manufactures high quality mutes from fine woods, for trumpet, trombone and French horns. Some of the woods that are used are walnut, black limba (also known as corina), African rosewood, Spanish cedar, Sitka spruce, maple,  wenge and lacewood. In order to produce these mutes more efficiently and in preparation for selling them internationally, last November Dan made a purchase of a used ShopBot 5-axis CNC router.

To give you a sense of how these mutes look, and affect sound, here’s some video made by Facet Mutes artist Chad McCullough playing trumpet with various Facet Mutes. (If you don’t see the video below, you may need to click the link and watch it on Facebook).

Dan explained there were several reasons for integrating 5-axis CNC, and choosing ShopBot’s tool. “From the standpoint of production efficiency, I knew that using a 5-Axis tool was going to allow us to fully carve the inside and outside of a block of wood material all in one pass, rather than a more cumbersome process of the CNC lathe, where you have to flip the part as part of the process. The 5-axis tool has allowed us to triple the speed of producing the parts.”
Here’s video that Dan took of the ShopBot 5-Axis at work on a trumpet mute:

Along with efficiency comes greater safety for the tool operator. “In the past we’d have to hold pieces, some of them quite small, just inches from the blade of a table saw. Even though these are held in place by jigs, you want to minimize exposure to accidents as much as you can. The 5-axis CNC approach is a lot safer for the operator.”
So why did Dan choose ShopBot? “Well, from a bottom-line standpoint, there really was no choice. With some research, I learned that a pure 5-Axis CNC solution was going to be in the range of $250,000. This did not make sense for my business. I started learning about ShopBot’s 5-axis which offers what I needed for quite a bit less of an investment — a new tool costs about $40,000; as I was researching it I came across a post on their forum of a ShopBot 5-axis owner who was looking to sell theirs, and that’s the tool I purchased.”
And how has he liked working with the tool? “I’ve found that it performs well, and I’m seeing a lot of potential with it. One new item that I am introducing to my students is designing and making wooden bells for trumpets, using a solid block of cherry wood.”
Here are some close-ups of Facet Mutes:
"Bubinga" Trumpet Straight Mute. Great bright tone for the play it louder, higher faster type of trumpet players. Also known as an African Rosewood.

“Bubinga” Trumpet Straight Mute. Great bright tone for the play it louder, higher faster type of trumpet players. Also known as an African Rosewood.

"Limba" Trumpet Straight Mute. Good all-around tome made of Black Limba,  also known as Corina wood. Same wood used in the Gibson Flying V Guitar

“Limba” Trumpet Straight Mute. Good all-around tome made of Black Limba, also known as Corina wood. Same wood used in the Gibson Flying V Guitar

"CJP" This is the Orbert Davis Signature, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Trumpet Cup Mute. Walnut and Padauk wood combination. Tonal qualities are warm and full bodied with a nice staccato on the higher notes.

“CJP” This is the Orbert Davis Signature, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Trumpet Cup Mute. Walnut and Padauk wood combination. Tonal qualities are warm and full bodied with a nice staccato on the higher notes.

Facet Mutes being demonstrated at a recent music industry trade show:
demonstrating mutes at show
You can learn more about Facet Mutes here,  and about Dan’s CIOMIT school here.
Find out more about ShopBot’s 5-axis CNC here.

SolidWorks, FabLabs and ShopBot

Santiago with Desktop at SWW2015Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS Corp. offers complete 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software that engineers, designers and other technology professionals use to create, simulate, publish, and manage their data. The FabLabs are an international community of over 300 fabrication laboratories, complete with an array of digital fabrication equipment, electronics components and molding equipment so that the community members can “make just about anything.” If there is a CNC machine in a FabLab, it is often a ShopBot. SolidWorks and the FabFoundation are committed to supporting the next generation in STEM (or STEAM) education, and announced a partnership at the Fab10 meeting in Barcelona.

To help celebrate the partnership, SolidWorks invited the Fab Foundation to bring a FabLab to SolidWorksWorld 2015 in Phoenix Feb 8 – 11. The SolidWorks Showcase (see video here) is the centerpiece of the Partners Pavilion at the annual meeting for those who use SolidWorks. In addition to the FabLab, participants in this year’s Showcase included  Myo, a motion control and gesture control armband that uses arm muscle activity and EMG signals to control digital devices. Pivot cycles use SolidWorks in the design of their performance bikes.  Advanced Manufacturing and Metals brought their flight simulator and a tag along camping system that can be pulled behind a small car, or even a motorcycle. GoldiBlox encourage girls to become engineers by combining stories and reading with building tools which expand their spatial skills.Flight Simulator Pivot Cycles

The FABLAB Display

A full FabLab provides a number of digital fabrication tools to allow people to make just  about anything, including laser cutters, CNC machines, 3D printers, vinyl cutters, plus an electronics lab and mold-making materials. While examples of items that had been created in a FabLab were on display, the only active machines were a Roland vinyl cutter and two smaller ShopBot CNC machines: the Desktop  and the Handibot.

Roland Vinyl CutterHandibot at SWW 2015 preview


SolidWorks Designs to 2D Drawings:

Designs created in SolidWorks can be exported or saved as 2D drawing files or 3D models/components. Kelly Zona from TIES imported 2D drawings created from SolidWork designs and cut them on the Roland. Many of the male engineers were familiar with the concept of a vinyl cutter because their wives/girlfriends had consumer models, but were surprised to learn that you can use the Roland to create soft circuits from copper sheets or stencils for etching circuit boards.

Kelly Zona designing for Roland Vinyl Cutter  Soft Circuits and Vinyl Cutter

Sallye Coyle from ShopBot created some examples of how SolidWorks designs can be prototyped and manufactured using CNC equipment. One design, a chicken pull toy with an internal cam to make its wing flap as the acentric back wheel turns, was machined using profile and drilling toolpaths that cut to one depth. The Solidworks files created beautiful parts, assemblies, and videos on how the project fit together and moved. After saving the design as 2D drawings (.dxf, .eps, .ai or .pdf format) Sallye used the CAM features in VCarvePro  software shipped with a ShopBot to set the origins, define the depth (thickness) of the material, chose the tool (router bit) and the strategy to create the parts. ShopBot Control software will read G-code, and many CAM softwares such as MasterCAM have post processors that will export to ShopBot CNC. Assembling the Chicken

During the machining and assembly of the chicken pull toy, Sallye discovered that what looks great on the screen sometimes needs some allowances and tolerances in real life (also true of 3D printing.) In assembling the chicken, Sallye used wood glue to hold some parts rigid (the dowel axles in the wheels and wings) and a bar of soap to reduce friction where things needed to slide past each other (the acentric wheel driving the cam to flap the wings.)

SolidWorks Designs to 3D Machining:

In many cases, the same SolidWorks file that can be sent to a 3D printer can be machined on a 3 axis CNC machine. As an example, Sallye took a propeller design created in Solidworks, and did two sided machining on the ShopBot to create the part in maple. Sallye used Vectric’s Aspire 3D CAD/CAM software to lay out and toolpath the 2D and 3D parts of the design. With each side only taking about 30 minutes to rough cut and finish cut, she was able to experiment with toolpathing strategies to achieve the smoothest cuts. Click here for more details on the process.  Also on display was a sample created with a Rotary Indexer, using DeskProto as the CAM software. Rotary indexer

SolidWorks Propeller Side 1   SolidWorks Propeller Side 2

The HeartFest

Before the show, the plan was to demo the 3D capabilities of a CNC tool by machining a 3D heart on one side of a laminated HDPE (white/red/white) material    then flipping the file to personalize the heart and cut it out for attendees. hearts 3D sheet preshow

During the first evening of the event, the ShopBot happily machined 26 3D hearts in about 22 minutes before the sheet was flipped for personalization. That level of complexity was abandoned after Marie Planchard, Director of Education for SolidWorks, introduced the partnership of FabLabs and SolidWorks during the General Session on Day 2. She spoke of fostering the next generation of engineers, and the need to bring more women into the fold. She then held up her personalized heart and announced…if you need a heart for your Valentine, stop by the FabLab booth.

Sherry Lassiter, Executive Director of the Fab Foundation, and Sallye went into production mode: redesigning the files, add more hearts to a sheet, taking lists of names. Attendees got into the act, helping to cut out the heart machined in red/white/red ColorCore. By the second day of the heartfest, two computers were running simultaneously: one for putting names in the hearts, one for running the tool. Once one sheet was filled/cut, the computers would be switched around to keep the design and fabrication process going. Rumor has it that there was a farm of 6 – 8 MakerBots  3D printing out personalized keychains, but they probably didn’t do as many samples as quickly, and with as much excitement, as one DeskTop CNC machine.


SolidWorks, FabLab and ShopBot in the Real World

Attendees to the conference included engineers, educators, and artists. Exhibitors in the Partners Pavillion: demonstrated using SolidWorks in their business. One company, Driveworks  has an interactive software for designing furniture and products, as well estimating material costs and creating quotes. To make customers more comfortable trying out their product at the show, the Driveworks crew created a high display table and an interactive terminal for their booth. They designed their show furniture in SolidWorks, and cut it out on a ShopBot PRSalpha at the FabLab in Manchester, England.

DriveWorks table

Driveworks terminalDriveworks back of terminal




While most attendees were working engineers, the final day had its share of future engineers visiting the show. SolidWorks and FabLabs are perfect partners for encouraging STEM (or STEAM) education at all levels, from early education through graduate programs. Local High School students visited SolidWorks World 2015, and Educators/Administrators from all over the country picked up information on creating a FabLab in their schools. Students were able to design their files on screen, then observe them being machined immediately. A few students went home with an unexpected prize…the remainder of the ColorCore sheets after the hearts had been cut out. (P.S. For those concerned about sustainability, the waste from cutting process and leftover sheets that don’t find another home can be recycled.)

Future engineers at SWW2105



Appalachian Signs’ 3D Artistry is Enhanced with ShopBot

airplaneSarah Evans and Laura Shoemaker are the owners of ten-year old Appalachian Signs in Boone, North Carolina. Appalachian State University is where they’d both earned undergraduate degrees in 2000 — Sarah in music and business, Laura with a fine arts degree in sculpture. They loved the area and wanted to find a way to start a creative business there, and by 2005 they’d opened up Appalachian Signs.

The company designs and builds a variety of custom signs, from combination CNC’d and hand-carved wood signs, to custom-cut lettering and logos, to printed vinyl signs. They split the responsibilities to a degree, with Laura handling customer service and administration (as well as most of the printing), and Sarah running their ShopBot CNC and doing most of the hand woodwork as well.

I caught up with Sarah recently to learn more about their work. “To us, this business is about art and design,” Sarah said. “Our job is to express the essence of a unique company. We strive to make things of beauty as well as functionality.”

By about 2008 they knew they wanted to be able to do more creative and technically complex dimensional work for their customers — this meant stepping up and purchasing a CNC tool. To Sarah the ShopBot was the natural choice because of its smart design and reputation for reliability. “We knew ShopBot meant quality — it’s kind of like, if you want an iPhone, you have to buy an iPhone.”

Sarah said that they didn’t have much knowledge of working with CNC at the time of purchase, but with a background in vector drawing and working with plotters, things came together quickly for them.

“The ShopBot tool has met and exceeded expectations,” noted Sarah. “You really find that with CNC, the world is your oyster — the possibilities are endless. For us working in the sign world, CNC allows you to come up with whole new engineering concepts.”

“Even at a basic level, it’s a game changer for us. For example, a lot of customers will come to us looking for sandblasted signs; they really like that look. Well with the ShopBot, we can program the tool to essentially cut so that it creates a sandblasted look without the intense labor of traditional sandblasting technique. This is just the beginning of the tool’s capabilities for us — and we’re also creating non-sign work such as cutting out guitar bodies, making massive Christmas yard decorations, creating all kinds of materials for carpenters…and we even built a whole new kitchen using the tool.”

So yes! Sarah and Laura are big fans of ShopBot. Here’s some of their eye-catching work:


Carved and sandblasted


lettering and logo

Custom lettering and logo


bread company

Carved and sandblasted


vinyl sign

Vinyl printed with dimensional accents


wood and blasted

Hand painted

To learn more about Appalachian Signs and see more of their work, visit  You’ll find more information about ShopBot’s full size tools here.

Adventures Of A High School CAM Class: Episode 10–STENCILS

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 have currently come up with a simple method to make any type of font into stencil form on the Aspire program. We had the idea to do this because we needed a stencil but didn’t like the stencil font Aspire had. The original format of this font wouldn’t work for a stencil because the middles of open letters have the inner shape, and if we were to cut it out like that it would just be solid, and not bubble-like.


The first step is to create the text you want with the desired font.

Then, using the draw line tool, we had to draw lines through the letters that wouldn’t originally work in a stencil format.

After we have made the correct lines, we needed to make sure all the vectors were connected. To do this we selected all text and lines and clicked the weld selected vectors tool. To do this the text needs to be converted to curves.

Finally, when all the vectors were connected, we used the trim vectors tool to get rid of unnecessary lines.

Then the stencil is complete!