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CNC Router Shoots Production
Accuracy and Speed
Shuster says a desire for a faster, more accurate carving process led him to look at other options, including CNC machinery. After visiting a woodworking trade show, Shuster purchased a Techno four-axis router with a 5-foot by 6-foot table, big enough to handle even the longest butt stocks. According to Shuster, the Techno CNC router is capable of carving the cutouts in about one-fifth the time it took to do them by hand. The router also automatically repositions a part and cuts all sides in one operation, enabling it to run unattended. Shuster says he required a router with four-axis capability because cuts are needed on all sides. A four-axis router has dual spindles, one that holds the part and one that holds the cutter. The cutting program directs the x, y, and z motions of the cutter as well as the positioning of the part. After one side has been cut, the part can be rotated, for example, to allow access to the other side.
"With a four-axis router, repositioning happens automatically, so the cutting goes faster and it's completely unattended," Shuster says. Using the four-axis router, it now takes Ironwood Designs only 3 minutes to cut four butt stocks, compared to 15 minutes needed with the pantograph. The CNC router is located in the shop near the Zuckerman copy lathe; one employee runs both machines. "We now produce 100 pieces in four hours. Previously that took us two days," Shuster says. The quality of the cuts is also improved. "There is less tearing of the wood because the spindle is spinning at 18,000 rpm," says Shuster. "Also, if a cut is off by 0.010 inch, I can modify the program and easily fix it. "Now we can produce factory-quality pieces. You can't distinguish our stocks from the original military production except that we use a higher grade of wood," he continues.
New Business Opportunities
The combination of higher-quality parts and faster production has led to an increase in business for the company. After finishing a large, 2-½ year contract for one gun manufacturer, Shuster has now programmed the CNC router for a new product, replacement stocks for the Belgian FN-FAL rifle. Designed in the 1950s, this rifle had been out of production for years. But surplus versions are being imported and new ones are being manufactured in the United States from old military specifications. Ironwood Designs now offers replacement parts to manufacturers, who will resell them as accessories. The parts are also sold to smaller gunsmiths who build FN-FALs for customers, as well as to private owners of the rifle who wish to retrofit it with a nicer wooden stock.
In addition to this new product, for which Shuster anticipates a big demand, Shuster says he plans to use the CNC router for other projects. For example, plans call for offering replacement stocks for common guns, such as hunting rifles, which will be easier to install than those currently available. Most replacement stocks, he explains, come semifinished, i.e., the sides are carved but not sanded, so tool marks are visible. This requires the gun owner to fit the rifle to the stock, a process than can take hours of filing. Shuster says he plans to cut these stocks on the CNC router for a level of accuracy that has been previously unavailable. "My kits will be innovative because they give you drop-in fit," he says. "We no longer advertise and yet our volume keeps increasing," says Shuster. "With the four-axis CNC router, we're now able to produce replacement stocks for anyone who wants one."