MONROE — PCM High School senior Chase Kuecker spent his first period shop class March 23 sanding and polishing his latest project — a wooden cutting board.
On the work bench nearby, while he buffed the board’s rounded edges by hand with oil, the shop’s manual lathes sit idle.
A lathe is a standard piece of equipment in any wood shop. Kuecker has used them to make pens, bowls and legs for an end table. But lately the talk around the shop has been about something a little more high tech.
PCM High School Industrial Tech teacher Tim Crowder proposed the purchase of the computer numerical control router at the February school board meeting. He saw a demonstration of a similar router at his Alma-Mater Des Moines East High School.
The computerized router/lathe combo would allow Mustang shop students to cut projects on four different axes, making their intricate computer-designed projects they’re already doing come to life.
“You just throw a piece of wood in there. You have to have a picture to follow,” Kuecker said. “It would be cool to see how the computer finishes the design. I think you should be able to do it both ways (manually and with the computer).”
CNC routers are starting to pop up in some 4A high schools in Iowa, but, according to Crowder, many institutions don’t have this technology.
Crowder said the piece of equipment would go a long way toward PCM’s goal of making students college or career ready. It will give Mustang shop students who are planning on trade school, or going straight into the workforce, prior knowledge of equipment widely used in areas of the manufacturing industry.
“We want to teach the industry standard as much as we can,” Crowder said in an interview on the shop floor March 23. “If they can learn how to design and turn around and learn how to use this machine, and if they go to Vermeer or Pella Corp., they’ll already know how to use the equipment. If (the students) know a program going in to it and how to use it, it will help them a lot.”
Hanging in the shop are examples of wood pieces designed by East High students carved by the computerized router — a baby’s portrait and a lion’s head with both height and depth.
The shop purchased a 3D printer this year, which can create small pieces from specifications designed in AutoCAD. Roughly 90 percent of PCM students taking computer aided drafting are also enrolled in shop. Crowder said the CNC router would allow AutoCAD and shop students to work in conjunction or let a student who is enrolled in both see a complex project through from start to finish.
“It will give the kids the opportunity to learn how to use the computerized equipment. It will give the AutoCAD class the opportunity to design something and hold it,” he said.
A CNC router with all the bells and whistles costs $34,000. The shop program has the money in its budget to buy a base model from the Texas-based ez-Router Company.
Since the February meeting, Crowder has applied for a $5,000 CenturyLink grant to help pay for the remaining cost. He will find out if PCM is awarded the funds by the end of April.
The ez-Router’s working surface is 4-feet by 4-feet, allowing for lager projects up to and including tables and a grandfather clock. It comes with a factory-designed computer system loaded with a $2,000 design program which communicates with the router.
The table will also be upgradeable, equipped to install a $6,000 vacuum system later when more funds become available. Crowder said the vacuum’s suction will hold a board in place, allowing for more precise cuts. Many of the table upgrades are factory-only, but this project could be done at PCM High School.
“You have to be good at designing to make that work, but its function is more than having the two individual tools because you’re combining them and what you can do,” Crowder said. “You can do flat and round work at the same time.”
Just the prospect of getting the router has already sparked students imaginations. Crowder said a few shop students hope to make an acoustic guitar body.
“Depending on how good of a programmer you are, you could make (a replica) of your entire head,” he said. “There are so many cool things they can do.”
Contact Mike Mendenhall at email@example.com