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#18826 - 03/27/09 09:55 AM Will the CNC replace hand made frames ?
cedar Offline
Member

Registered: 12/24/08
Posts: 49
Recently I was at a Trade Show in my area for Timber Frame and Log Home Building. The Timber Frame companies who owned the CNC machines were pitching to the public. How much better they are over hand made frames. Does the recent proliferation of automation in the trade sound the end of the hand making of frames? Do the machines really save time and money for the clients and company producing the frames? Will good joiners be put out of work by the computer controlled equipment? The videos of these machines are impressive to the public. I am new to the trade and wonder about the future.

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#18831 - 03/27/09 11:01 AM Re: Will the CNC replace hand made frames ? [Re: cedar]
Gabel Offline

Member

Registered: 11/18/03
Posts: 687
Loc: Georgia
Originally Posted By: cedar
Recently I was at a Trade Show in my area for Timber Frame and Log Home Building. The Timber Frame companies who owned the CNC machines were pitching to the public. How much better they are over hand made frames. Does the recent proliferation of automation in the trade sound the end of the hand making of frames? Do the machines really save time and money for the clients and company producing the frames? Will good joiners be put out of work by the computer controlled equipment? The videos of these machines are impressive to the public. I am new to the trade and wonder about the future.


Good question. The advent and proliferation of automated joinery machines has already and will continue to affect the prospects of carpenters who build timber frames. The bigger shops who use these don't employ as many carpenters -- that's a fact. and the one's who are employed are required to do less carpentry (and more material handling).

I know there are different kinds of CNC companies out there and some of them use it as just another tool and continue to do cool and challenging things and employ skilled and creative people. But...

Some companies aren't that way at all.


So what does this mean for us carpenters?

I think the days of "production" hand cut companies who ship frames all over the states are numbered. If there is no discernible difference between what you're building and what the machine is making, then you are in a bad spot. You can't pay fair wages that someone can raise a family on, provide benefits, and expect to go toe to toe with the machine and win on speed and efficiency.

For our part, we try to do things the machine can't: work with irregular material, work with reclaimed buildings, work on old buildings.

We also believe that something made by a human is more valuable than something made by a machine. The carpenter companies need to get better at talking about this. We will never have the money to throw at customer education that the big CNC companies do, so I see our influence being limited to the local market and who we can talk to face to face. We can and should be talking to -- and therefore building for -- our neighbors.


I'm out of time for now, but I'm looking forward to this discussion because it is something I think about as a company owner and a carpenter in this trade.

_________________________
Gabel

www.holderbros.com

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#18832 - 03/27/09 11:55 AM Re: Will the CNC replace hand made frames ? [Re: Gabel]
OurBarns1 Offline
Member

Registered: 03/17/08
Posts: 570
Loc: Cumberland County, Maine
Good topic, cedar, and one that's a bit close to my experience.

I was a carpenter and woodworker/furniture maker for a number of years. But I came down with carpal tunnel syndrome, had to give up the career, and decided to go back to school.

Having a good knowledge of woodworking and carpentry, I wanted to stay in the profession (and I guess you could say remain in my comfort zone as well). In 2002, at 32 years old, I decided to go to college and become a shop teacher. I had visions of steady employment, indoor working conditions, a good retirement package, generous vacations and summers off. Plus, I'd be engaging a new generation in the art of woodworking. Cool, right?

I found the program at the local university was called "Technology Education." Automotive courses were no longer a part of the curriculum simply because the field had become too technical. Traditional woodworking was also being phased out, albeit more slowly. A new wing of the school, "the technology wing," was just in the planning stages in 2002. But CAD and robotics were definitely part of the curriculum. I suppose the University was being proactive as these are the "jobs of the future."

I soon realized, I would not be helping kids make bookshelves or birdhouses on table saws. High school students now work on projects where they insert a piece of wood in one end of a machine costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, plot their X & Y coordinates, walk around to the other end of the machine and pick up a finished cribbage board.

I probed one of my professors about my visions of a classic "shop teacher." He had been a high school shop teacher before going on to his Ph.D. and joining the University. He told me in Maine it depends on certain school districts--how much money they have, etc.--but that I would likely be teaching CAD and robotics on sophisticated machines and computer programs. I would be "lucky" to find a school teaching the difference between an eight-point crosscut vs. a ripsaw.

To make a long story short, I soon found through some of my other classes that I was much better at writing than mathematics. Plus, realizing that hand tools are really no longer taught to kids was a serious downer (heck, even a table saw is becoming kind of outdated!). In a crazy turn of my identity, I changed degree programs and became an English major. I now hope to write about traditional woodworking, including timber framing.

(I realize this is a long post, but bear w/ me.)

I do not want to jump all over people for the paths they take, but it appears some pioneers of the timber framing revival are doing all they can to remove tradition from the craft.

Bensonwood promotes the efficiency and accuracy of machine-cut timber frames. Here is an excerpt from their web site http://www.bensonwood.com/engineering/cnc.cfm :

An important benefit to collaborating with Bensonwood is our CNC, computer numerically-controlled, German-built Hundegger cutting machinery. Customized to integrate with our CADWORK® software, we cut timbers up to 50 feet and joinery details within tolerances of 1/32 inch in one operation, quickly and affordably, with the highest quality and with a minimum of handwork. Our cutting and fabrication technologies were developed exclusively for heavy timberframe structures and are especially efficient if your plans require numerous repetitive cuts.


The phrases "quickly and affordably with the highest quality and with a minimum of handwork" speak to the future of this “icon of the industry.”

Will they lead?

Quickly and affordably is ironic. I don't think many people would qualify Bensonwood and affordability in the same sentence. Their clients are quite wealthy. But that is the path for them. They are contributing to the timber frame style, but certainly appear to be undermining its tradition...as well as traditional carpenters who "hand cut".

Gabel and crew have the right idea in sticking with older structures and restoration work as machines cannot compete well here. Like many fields, I think economics will play a large role in determining the future of traditional "hand cut" timber framing.
_________________________
Don Perkins
Member, TFG


to know the trees...



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#18833 - 03/27/09 01:30 PM Re: Will the CNC replace hand made frames ? [Re: OurBarns1]
Don P Offline
Member

Registered: 01/12/07
Posts: 217
Loc: VA
Several have expressed the feeling that a hand cut frame has intrinsic value. There will always be a segment of the population that agrees with that and is willing to pay for it. There is also a market for a more mass produced product. In fact the mass produced product exposes more people to TF so it acts as free advertising for those who hand cut their frames. You can tear at one another or realize you are not in competition and are in fact helping each other take away jobs from stick frame carpenters. But you probably don't care about that. What I have found at least in the log home field is that when the two factions fight or run each other down in public the public shakes their head and buys a modular smile

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#18838 - 03/27/09 03:40 PM Re: Will the CNC replace hand made frames ? [Re: Gabel]
bmike Offline
Member

Registered: 01/09/08
Posts: 918
Loc: Burlington, VT
Originally Posted By: Gabel


Good question. The advent and proliferation of automated joinery machines has already and will continue to affect the prospects of carpenters who build timber frames. The bigger shops who use these don't employ as many carpenters -- that's a fact. and the one's who are employed are required to do less carpentry (and more material handling).

I know there are different kinds of CNC companies out there and some of them use it as just another tool and continue to do cool and challenging things and employ skilled and creative people. But...





This is a half truth (in bold).
There are a few good companies doing CNC work that are able to have more timber framers and carpenters on staff. One company is able to support 10-14 timber framers - from apprentice to 'master', a crew of 8 carpenters from journey man to seasoned pro, and a complete custom cabinet and woodshop.

The race to the bottom in this (and any) industry will be through the customer's pocketbook - too much house, for too little money - be it a timber frame, stick, modular, or McMansion. Those that feed this troll will race to the bottom with the customers and the rest of the housing industry - those that adapt and innovate - be it by hand, with a computer, CNC, or by getting creative and gnawing mortises with our teeth - will be out front - and will likely connect with those clients that appreciate honest work for an honest home.

There are hacks and shortcuts and timber whores in ANY kind of shop - be it CNC, hand, or powered production - just like there are in nearly every industry.


And any company that relies soley on the 'machine made' is better argument to sell is misguided. People build timber frames - be it by programming and hand working, or by hand cutting the entire frame - just like people make mistakes, solve problems, and live in their homes.
_________________________
Mike Beganyi Design and Consulting, LLC.
www.mikebeganyi.com

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#18845 - 03/27/09 07:52 PM Re: Will the CNC replace hand made frames ? [Re: bmike]
TIMBEAL Offline
Member

Registered: 12/10/07
Posts: 1875
Loc: Maine
I am curious how the big companies are getting along in the economic times of today?

Tim

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#18847 - 03/27/09 10:37 PM Re: Will the CNC replace hand made frames ? [Re: Don P]
OurBarns1 Offline
Member

Registered: 03/17/08
Posts: 570
Loc: Cumberland County, Maine
Originally Posted By: Don P
You can tear at one another or realize you are not in competition and are in fact helping each other take away jobs from stick frame carpenters. But you probably don't care about that. What I have found at least in the log home field is that when the two factions fight or run each other down in public the public shakes their head and buys a modular smile




Who are you speaking to Don? What are you saying exactly? I have read this a couple of three times and am still decoding.



Our interest here, timber framing, is particularly unique in that it's highly pertinent to the whole tradition vs. technology debate. TF today is medieval construction techniques designed w/ (and sometimes even cut w/) computer equipment.

Cedar posted this thread to talk about the possibility of CNC eroding the future of hand-cut frames, and those who practice like skills.

Bensonwood's position (pro-CNC) is a fine example of modern TF and how it's being practiced by some big players today. We shouldn't feel that we can't name these folks when it's pertinent to a forum discussion.

I'm not jumping on Bensonwood for their position, merely pointing out said position. I said "...that is the path for them. They are contributing to the timber frame style, but most certainly undermining its tradition."

True enough, no?

_________________________
Don Perkins
Member, TFG


to know the trees...



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#18850 - 03/28/09 03:23 AM Re: Will the CNC replace hand made frames ? [Re: OurBarns1]
Ken Hume Offline
Member

Registered: 03/22/02
Posts: 934
Hi,

I don't think that its either - or - its both.

The Automated joinery making machine should be able to afford customers great economy for the manufacture of their timber frames but currently this benefit is not flowing because there is no incentive for automated joinery manufactuers to drop their prices. There are still too many hand cut frame manufacturers who keep frame prices artifically high. Those choosing to adopt the automated route face high initial investment costs and this has to be recouped and then of course there will quickly follow the perceived need to purchase an additional new super improved machine.

Its easy to loose sight of the whole process i.e. when a timber frame leaves the workshop (or is that factory) it still has to be delivered, raised, closed in and fitted out and so the perceived benefit of adopting an automated approach can simply move the bottleneck from manufacture to construction. Provided the construction teams can be adequately fed by a hand cut frame shop combined with the absence of a cost differential in the total finished product price then some very big players have deliberately chosen not to adopt the automated route becuase they perceive that the bottleneck lies elsewhere.

There will always be room for marketing differentiated products in the timber frame arena. Simply do what you do well and customers will place a value upon that quality approach.

Regards

Ken Hume
_________________________
Looking back to see the way ahead !

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#18853 - 03/28/09 07:10 AM Re: Will the CNC replace hand made frames ? [Re: OurBarns1]
Kevin L Offline
Member

Registered: 08/17/05
Posts: 23
Loc: Clayton Ga
It is like what manufactured trusses did for stick framing. It lowers the skill level of the person on the ground building the house. It is hard to find a young carpenter who can frame a compound stick built roof.

Now with the advent and popularity of the CNC timber frame shops the people on the ground are not as skilled as they once were. If an on site problem arises then who has the skills to correct it. I know the argument will be that "Well my guys can fix it" will be the current response from a CNC shop, but twenty years from now once the current crop of carpenters retires what will they say?

Kevin

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#18855 - 03/28/09 08:42 AM Re: Will the CNC replace hand made frames ? [Re: Kevin L]
bmike Offline
Member

Registered: 01/09/08
Posts: 918
Loc: Burlington, VT

Have you worked with a crew from a CNC shop?

The CNC shops that I know are doing good design build work - I don't feel that this statement is accurate.

There are probably shops out there that design the joinery as the machine can cut it, that radius the timbers to they plug into anything the CNC router cuts... and yes, they bring down the value of our craft.

There are also hand shops that cut corners, fail to house joinery when it makes the most sense (housings take long to cut!), lag bolt things where no-one will see them, pass off 'post and beam' as timber framing... etc. etc.

There are crooks and whores in any business.

And there are honest people making use of technology to advance their vision of the craft and tradition of home building - often with timber framing at its core.


The loss of the iconic carpenter of yesteryear is a fault of any number of things... least of which should be 'manufacturing'. How about a lack of traditional carpentry education? Lack of respect for people who work with their hands? Push in high schools to eliminate the arts and vocational programs and push to science and math...

Respect and a decent wage would go a long way to bringing young people to learn framing - be it with timber or sticks. The CNC shop that I worked for and managed the TF Design group at is doing just this - promoting a sense of community, bringing good jobs and benefits to a depressed county, supporting not only a pack of timber framers - but house builders, office staff, designers and architects, woodworkers, and has expanded to start this on the west coast too.

It is true, that when you walk in the door with minimal skills you probably won't be able to hand layout a compound roof system - but if you stick with it, in a better company - one that is investing in its future - you'll learn those skills and more.

And the notion that the timber magically flows from machine to forklift to jobsite is utter nonsense. There is A LOT of planning, thought, and HAND work that goes into timber framing with a CNC. Its just a complicated mortise maker and end cutter. It removes some of the 'brute' work in a production environment (when the client wants S4S material)... and it takes skill to operate - from the top on down to the summer labor that hand oils the timbers and sweeps the floor.



_________________________
Mike Beganyi Design and Consulting, LLC.
www.mikebeganyi.com

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