A couple of months ago I purchased a Compucarve computerized wood carving machine. I had been wanting one since they had been marketed by Sears sometime around 2005. The purchase price and the bad press they had received due to mechanical breakdowns, had caused me to put ownership on the back burner. I continued to follow the machines progress, and even looked into building my own computerized router machine, or as they are known, a CNC machine. The idea of creating something on a computer and having your vision realized by a machine, intrigued me.
Recently I was perusing Craig’s List when I found a machine for sale in my local area which was reasonably priced. After I got the machine home and started to tinker with it, I found that it only had 17 hours of carving time on the odometer. The original warranty period was 200 hours or two years whichever comes first. I estimate my machine to be about five years old. It is a Craftsman Compucarve, and is classified as an “A” Model. This means it was one of the original designs offered by the company. The most recently made machines are classified as “C” Models, and have quite a few upgrades to the original. My older machine can be upgraded to the new version with some after market parts. As I mentioned earlier, Sears Roebuck and Company originally sold this machine in their stores, and as with any Sears Mechanical Product, they sell the parts through their online source searspartsdirect.com.
My “A” Model Machine has a “Quick Change” router assembly and as the name implies the router bits are popped in and out quickly by the use of bit adapters fastened to the bit. This feature, although very handy, was the cause of many of the “A” Models mechanical problems, and I believe ultimately forced Sears to quit selling them. There are two after market improvements to this defect that can be purchased reasonably and are also easily installed by the user. One is called a “Rock Chuck” and the other is called the “Carvetight” System. Both are options I have for the future for my machine. When I purchased my machine, it came with a complete set of router bits with the quick change adapter. If I were to upgrade to a different router assembly, I would have to also purchase different router bits which are very costly. For this reason I will stick with the “Quick Change” system on my machine until I am forced to quit using it due to mechanical failure. I will write more details about my Compucarve in future articles, but this blog post is about The Tehachapi Loop Trivet I created with it.
The machine also came with computer design software which allows you to create just about anything your heart desires. After I learned some of the design features I was itching to create something with it, and I came up with the idea of a 140 year commemoration of the building of The Tehachapi Loop(see photo). The Loop as we in Tehachapi call it, was constructed beginning in late 1873, and was completed with the passing of the first train in 1876. The Loop connects the San Joaquin Valley, and the Mohave Desert through the Tehachapi Mountains. A 4000 foot long passing train will cross 77 feet above it’s rear cars in the tunnel below. This spherical helix allows a heavily loaded train to cross the Tehachapi Mountains in corkscrew fashion gaining altitude as it goes. It was one of the greatest engineering feats of it’s day, and today, has remained virtually unchanged from it’s original design. It has been revered by train enthusiasts worldwide. My shop is only a few short miles from the loop in the Old Town of Tehachapi or Williamsburg as it was called then.
My design is a circular shape about 9 inches in diameter with the words The Tehachapi Loop at the top and 140 Years at the bottom(see photo). It features a carving of a train going through a tunnel. The dates 1873, and 2013 depict the span of service of this very famous local landmark. I had originally tried to have train tracks going around the perimeter of the disk to illustrate the looping feature of the tracks, but after fumbling with this idea for quite some time, I abandoned it and went with the wording in circular placement. Maybe a future version will have this looping feature if I can work it out. The train picture in the center was also quite difficult to get right. I found an acceptable photo of a modern diesel train emerging from a tunnel on the internet and had to tweak it several times with photo enhancing software to get the image just right. I also had to draw lines in the photo to enhance the lines of the train and to highlight the background and tunnel. The wording was also difficult to get right so I had to go through several trial and error fonts before I finally settled on the final version. Now that this creation is saved on my computer hard drive I can change different aspects of it, and create a totally different end result if I want to.
The Compucarve uses a memory card reader, and card, to transfer the data to the machine without having to have the computer in the dusty environment of the workshop. I create and save at my computer at my office desk, and hand carry the memory card to the machine. The carving process causes a lot of sawdust in and around the machine itself. I can imagine what a laptop or a desktop computer would look like after carving a few items while attached to the Compucarve. I also had to create a sled that the wood to be carved travels on through the machine. I have the sled set up for the ideal sized wood piece of 11 inches by 11 1/4 inches. This allows the piece to stay under the rollers of the machine while the carving process takes place to avoid snipe. During the carving process I have to change bits several times, and have to flip the wood piece over so my Old Town Woodwork logo can be carved on the back. I will eventually offer this trivet for sale on my etsy site, but for now, it is not offered for sale until I get the entire manufacturing process perfected.
As I mentioned earlier, I will write more about the amazing Compucarve Wood Carving Machine in future articles. In the mean time I will continue to create items from wood and other materials with it. I have learned a great deal about the maintenance, and upkeep for these great woodworking tools that I want to pass on to my fellow woodworkers. The design software has a big learning curve as well, but once you master it, you will be truly amazed at what you can create with it.