Methods & Technologies

The following methods of creation have been used over the past twenty years by wood working artists to expand their craft. As Anne Carlisle writes in her essay, “These new tools not only make project execution more efficient, but where applicable, render unnecessary the hours and years previously required to master the skills of manually manipulating wood. Rather than deciding whether the new technology is superior to the old, the new tools might be better considered as additions to existing skill sets. After the next big thing arrives, what will remain is an increased index of possibilities and capabilities.”

 

NC | NUMERICAL CONTROL

Numerical Control or NC describes the process in which a machine’s actions are dictated by the input of numbers and programming languages. Similar to systems used in player pianos and jacquard looms since the 19th century, the first NC machines were developed by the US military in the 1940s and 1950s by modifying existing tools with motors to follow points fed into the system on hand-punched tape. 

 

 

CNC | COMPUTER NUMERICAL CONTROL

In the late 1950s, MIT, the US Air Force, and several private sector companies developed Computer Numerical Control, or CNC, a system of programming capable of creating the punched cards or tape needed for Numerical Control, without human guidance. The introduction of the microcomputer and the microprocessor in the 1960s and 70s further reduced the time needed to complete precise, multi-axis milling, cementing CNC’s role in industrial manufacturing.   

 

 

PHOTO: COURTESY OF ADRIAAN de GROOT AND FRIEDMAN BENDA, NEW YORK 

PHOTO: COURTESY OF ADRIAAN de GROOT AND FRIEDMAN BENDA, NEW YORK 

CAD | COMPUTER AIDED DESIGN

Developed at MIT in the late 1960s, CAD enables designers to create vector graphics within a given software application. Vector graphics is the creation of digital images through a sequence of commands or mathematical statements that place lines and shapes in a given two-dimensional or three-dimensional space. Over the years, CAD programs have evolved to allow for the freehand drawing of designs using a mouse, trackpad, or stylus. Within the last five years, advances in three-dimensional freehand design have given designers the ability to “sculpt” space through haptic feedback from a specialized digital stylus or wand. 

 

 

PHOTO: ADRIEN SEGAL

PHOTO: ADRIEN SEGAL

CAD/CAM | COMPUTER AIDED DESIGN/COMPUTER AIDED MANUFACTURING

In CAD/CAM, drafting software converts the images into numerical information using a programming language, which in turn controls the machinery. By 1970, several firms in the US had developed CAD/CAM software for commercial use. The increase in small-scale CNC manufacturing is largely due to the release of Enhanced Machine Controller or EMC into public domain in 1989. EMC software enables CNC operations to be carried out on a personal computer rather than larger, industry-specific hardware. 

 

LASER CUTTING

The term laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. The laser beam is a column of high intensity light of a single wavelength or color. 

Laser cutting has been used in industrial settings since the mid-1960s. Today, relatively inexpensive small-scale cutters are widely used for a number of materials. While limited in terms of thickness, lasers are capable of extremely fast, intricate cuts. CO2 laser cutters (most commonly used for woodcutting) usea wavelength in the Infrared part of the light spectrum, which is invisible to the human eye. Controlled through CAD/CAM, the 3/4-inch beam is bounced in different directions by several mirrors or “beam benders” before being focused through a nozzle with either compressed oxygen or nitrogen.