Thoughts on CNC Woodworking

Recently I saw a guy who had invented a handheld CNC Router. Basically there was a small DeWalt hand held router linked to a laptop and a small video screen attached to the top of the router with a secondary subbase. The router subbase had two small motors linked to the laptop. The operator watches the video screen, holds and moves the router subbase so that the router moves roughly along a fuzzy line w/ cursor on the video screen to follow the outline of the part to be made. The laptop/ software knows where the cutter is in relationship to the mapped part. The two motors control fine X -Y movement and cut out the precise part outline.

There is making love, there is sex with a condom, there is pleasure in front of the internet and then there is Woody Allen’s Orgasmatron. This kind of woodworking is the last. It is silly. The operator is completely removed from the process, and is anything but smart.

The operator becomes completely unskilled in this operation. The process is boring. David Pye’s Workmanship of Risk 1   becomes a McDonald’s hamburger slinger workmanship of certainty.

A few years ago, I had a short conversation with Roy Underhill, the longtime host of PBS’s The Woodwright’s Shop. We were talking about CNC Woodworking in a world of environmental collapse, overpopulation and increasing human obesity. He said: The technological solutions to environmental problems “may be no more complicated than a bicycle”. 2

What will people do for work when the population is ten billion? Scroll their phones? Do processes physically and intellectually removed from the tactile pleasure of doing skilled handwork?

1.  Pye, David, The Nature and Art of Workmanship, London, Adam & Charles Black, 1995.

2.  Underhill, Roy, Personal Conversation, Pleasant Hill, California, June 27, 2009. Roy is host of the PBS show The Woodwright’s Shop, is an author and is also the former Master Housewright at Colonial Williamsburg.

© John P. McCormack 2018