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CNC in a high school woodshop

Matt Calnen

I have a question for business owners out there. My local high school just made a decent investment in a cnc machine($40,000) plus addition to the shop ($60,000) to house it and infastucure. My concern is, does teaching kids to use cnc for woodwork take away from learning to actually work wood? It seems to me that it would be better to have seniors make a project or part on a desktop cnc, so there somewhat familiar with what cnc can do. To me, cnc is best taught to kids in collage or trade school. It's seems to be nothing more than glorified computer programing. Am I a dinosaur in my thinking? Thanks for any input. I'm running for school board and this has been a subject of debate. Thought I'd get more points of view.

9/6/16       #2: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Paul Downs

There's value to traditional woodworking methods, and a kid who receives that education knows something. However, it's not what the current manufacturing environment places great value on. My observation, having run a CNC for the last 10 years, is that there's a good amount of knowledge required to work wood with one, and that knowing how to do it is a good step into an actual job. I imagine that the parents you are representing are quite interested in equipping their kids with useful skills. And the kids will be more excited to learn something which feels like the future rather than the past.

9/6/16       #3: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Mike Member

I absolutely agree, i graduated from my local tech school in 1975 and the work we were doing was mostly building projects with hand tools. The local community would pay for the materials and we would build. I learned a lot about woodworking in that short time. I went to the open house last year at the school and found 3 cnc machines, all the lathes removed and some other equipment to make room for the cnc's. On the kids work benches were all the same project a single door vanity made with all plywood and horrible joinery. It really looked like 8th graders were doing the work. It didn't seam this group of kids had any love for woodworking more like a fun way to get through high school. So now their prepared to run a cnc; i ask you all that have a shop with workers on payroll would you hire a high school kid to run your cnc! I was disappointed in what i seen.

9/6/16       #4: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Kevin Jenness

Website: http://www.kevinjenness.com

A cnc router is one tool among many, and a very powerful one, for working wood, and the ability to operate one is a saleable skill. If the overall program includes a balanced approach to wood technology, ideally including hand skills, classical machinery, building geometry and an understanding of the nature of wood and woodlike products, that would be a good introduction to becoming a real woodworker who could work in a modern shop. No doubt such programs are rare, but having a cnc as part of a good curriculum can only be a plus from my point of view.

9/6/16       #5: CNC in a high school woodshop ...

It's probably a good topic for debate as there really is no correct answer. I guess my view is that if your training kids to get employment then you want them to have skills valuable to an employer. CNC skills are probably the most valuable at least for larger shops.

I had more classical training in high school and my first job in the field required a full set of hand tools. However it was pretty rare that a plane ever came out of the toolbox. In reality I could have got by with a square, tape measure, and decent set of chisels. That was over 20 years ago....today probably don't even need those if you have CNC experience!

Ideally I guess they should split the time so that they get at least the basics of woodworking down. Whether or not they'll ever use them really depends on what kind of shop they land in....but again, if you have CNC skills, you might not need too much in the other area.

good luck,

9/6/16       #6: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Pat Gilbert

Nobody is going to come out high school with real skills.

The key IMO is to create interest. Nothing creates that like a cnc.

The future is always technology error on the side of technology.

However this from the BLS:


Workers use automated machinery, such as computerized numerical control (CNC) machines, to do much of the work.
Quick Facts: Woodworkers
2015 Median Pay $29,470 per year
$14.17 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2014 237,200
Job Outlook, 2014-24 -1% (Little or no change)
Employment Change, 2014-24 -1,400

The future jobs are going to be much different than anyone can guess, but I'm guessing that woodwork is going to be not so much.

BLS link

9/6/16       #7: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Matt Calnen

Just wondering, it seems to me that most shops I know of use cnc to whack out box parts and mdf doors. A guy in the office does the computer work and the grunts( low paid, unskilled workers) on the shop floor load and unload/ label parts. Am I wrong about that?

Sure there are some custom shops that might benafit from the skilled worker having cnc knowledge, to do radius and custom work, but this seems to me to be a very small portion of the shops that I know of.

9/6/16       #8: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Pat Gilbert

"Am I wrong about that?"

Not in my opinion.

9/7/16       #9: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
james mcgrew Member

teaching traditional methods will teach safety, shop and material stucture.

teaching CNC will take that and show them how to make money and earn a living.

to me they must be synonomus

9/7/16       #10: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Gary Balcom Member

Website: http://www.Atlantacabinet.com

Interesting...Do many of you allow anyone in your shop to run the CNC? In ours, I really only want people we've trained very well to run it. This equates to the higher tier of the shop wage.

9/7/16       #11: CNC in a high school woodshop ...

I've literally seen shops that would not let anyone touch a CNC unless they were overqualified by a factor of 3, (they had to be able to program, run, and repair the CNC) to those that only used multiple temps with little or no experience, and have one to load, one to bring up a program, and one to unload. No rhyme or reason for some things...

9/7/16       #12: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
james mcgrew Member

We train most all in the shop with basic start file run and stop operation, any of them who want to learn to produce files are encouraged to learn, I will also help with fun private projects to encourage interest.

At the outset i went with newer tech and easier to teach than the higher end and cumbersome controllers, after reading some of these responses I am glad i did that. !

over half of my crew can enter and run code on cabinet parts.

9/7/16       #13: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Clint Weyer Member

IMO, there should be a seperate class teaching programing and a class teaching woodworking. If they take both, great.

I know everyone thinks cnc is the only way to go, but there is other other ways of doing things.

Just an example- i currrently work for a 300 million dollar company that doesnt own a cnc. They found more effient ways to process wood, and they use probably close to 500 different wood parts.

9/8/16       #14: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Pat Gilbert

It is giving the kids a bum steer to encourage woodworking as a trade.

At the very least they should be shown the facts that it is not the most remunerative trade to learn.

Between technology and off shoring the share of the pie left for domestic producers is shrinking to say the least.

The above reference to the BLS indicates the there will be a 1% shrinking in cabinetmaker jobs for the next 8 years.

Compare this to electricians who's rate of growth is estimated to be 14% per year.

Or Carpenters at 6% per year.

This will probably ruffle some feathers but advising the kids to go into this industry is a bum steer.

9/8/16       #15: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
rich c.

If you can get kids today to make ANYTHING, there is nothing wrong with any way you do it. The real purpose of teaching is to light a fire in the student. They'll learn the rest on their own if they want to.

9/10/16       #16: CNC in a high school woodshop ...

Unfortunately, having fancy shop equipment in high school situations is as much for bragging rights are learning.

The most important skill is in layout and file building. You don't need to invest $100k in a cnc to teach the skill, just a couple of computers and the proper soft ware. As we have all seen, just about any town idiot can slap down a sheet of plywood and then pick up the cut parts.

9/10/16       #17: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
rich c.

Sea444, We have more than one town idiot here, should I buy more CNCs to grow my business?

9/11/16       #18: CNC in a high school woodshop ...

I think a CNC would be a great addition to a high school shop like others have said as long as manual skills are emphasized first. I would also add that it might be beneficial to have a course in hand drafting proceeding to autocad or cabinetvision or whatever you crazy kids are using. Design is half the battle !

9/12/16       #19: CNC in a high school woodshop ...

Rich, apparently you missed the point. 95% of the cnc skill is in developing the cut file. This can be taught on a desk top computer, just like most shops use. The actual cutting machine us not necessary to develop the skill. Additionally, a cnc machine will tear through huge amounts of material at a big cost that is totally unnecessary to learn to program.

9/12/16       #20: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Amateur 101

I'm of two minds here.

I spent 50% of my junior year in high school making 2 solid-walnut pie-crust tables. No CNC. Pure enjoyment, just me and the wood..

I made a jig to repeat the outside and inside router cuts 6 times around the perimeter of the tops after turning them to size and interior depth. 2 passes to form the rounded exterior edge and 2 more to form the interior edge on 2 levels.

Any CNC could have done this with minimal effort.

I hand-cut 6 ball (sorry, no claws, I wasn't crazy) curved legs/feet blanks.

CNC wins again.

Lots of work on the lathe for the tops and the intricate columns. Lots of hand-carving of the inside curve-junctions of the pie-crust edges of the tops -- 24 each on 2 levels each, and to get everything down to the main table surface. Lots and lots of sanding on the curved legs/ball feet.

A CNC (not even available in 1968)?

Yup, that would have made it easy to get the tops and legs/feet within 98% of where they needed to be. Writing the code to do it would have been great fun. Probably would've saved 100-150 hours of work.

But, CNC or no, still a lot a of hand-work, With no room for error -- this was $10 worth of solid walnut, a big deal back then to a high school kid, which is worth, what, maybe $200 today? No screw-ups allowed.

A CNC is surely a great thing to have and opens up possibilities for all kinds of stuff beyond the usual. I sure wish I'd had access to such an animal back in the day.

But, I don't know.

Might encourage some to be creative and take the next step. Others not to bother with basic skills.

Might or might not be effective in today's HS wood shop.

20 years from now? It'll be standard equipment everywhere, completely unexceptional, whether anyone thinks it's a good idea or not.

9/12/16       #21: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Pat Gilbert

Technology is increasing exponentially.

In the not to distant future items will be made by nano bots to an accuracy of +/- a few molecules.

Skills have to be relevant to the technology, as stated above the cad file skills are relevant.

Not to discount 101's accomplishments which are impressive for high school.

IMO the primary skill to acquire is the ability to learn and apply and exchange ideas.

Otherwise you might be admiring someones ability to make a buggy whip.

9/14/16       #22: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Amateur 101

Hey, Pat, I have to agree with you.

Making pie-crust tables IS straight out of the era of the buggy-whip. Well, except for the hand-held router part. They're both 18th century stuff. Part of the beauty of the whole deal. It was great fun.

Anyone can make a tool chest in high school shop -- I did that the previous year -- 8 sub-divided drawers, hinged top compartment, the shop teacher entered the damned thing in the Minnesota State Fair without my knowledge and it won a grand prize. Sorry, no money involved, just a nice ribbon.

My motivation for making buggy-whip era pie-crust tables was 1) it wouldn't be easy, and 2) to make fools of the educrats who decided that "total independent study" was a good thing.

How else could you arrange to spend half -- HALF -- of an entire school-year in the wood shop?

With the other half spent in the "debate" room where we debaters hung out doing absolutely nothing? These guys were real geniuses.

I left with my tables and an early admission to the U of M.

I would have loved a CNC. Programming was already my forte on a teletype hook-up with punched-tape. To Pillsbury's (or some large corporation's, I forget which) mainframe.

By the time I got it right, I might have had 10 or 15 junk-wood pie-crust table tops and twice as many curved legs/ball feet, all slightly defective.

You're right -- writing the code is all that will matter in the future. And even that will become increasingly automated and passe. Even curved stuff in 3 dimensions.

The ability to originally design and convert that unique design into code will likely still matter, at least for a while.

Beyond the few who can do that, finishers and installers probably have the best chance of not being automated out of a job.

Looking at pie-crust tables for sale on-line, turns out that some manufacturers (gosh, could they be foreign?) are faking the pie-crust edge by wrapping plastic "pie-crust" appliques around a standard table-top blank.

Fake pie-crust is apparently cheaper than doing the real thing in real wood with a CNC.

Sad, but so it goes. I wouldn't have it in my house. Unfortunately, 99% of the public wouldn't know the difference, or care.

9/14/16       #23: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
Pat Gilbert

I'm not trying to make less of these type accomplishments, they are certainly real accomplishments.

I built a recurve bow in HS, it was pretty spiffy compared to my uncle's straight bow, he made in HS. Purely a matter of technology.

I read where Steve Jobs attributed some of his success to a class in calligraphy which he went on to apply to the Macintosh.

I suspect that the skill/discipline you learned by building these projects served you in other endeavors.

The math on this is that the demand for electricians is projected to rise 14% a year for the next 8 years. The number of electricians will almost double in the next 8 years. The number of cabinetmakers will shrink by 1%. Which is really something considering the demand for housing will skyrocket next decade.

The future will probably be highly mechanized smaller shops with fewer employees. Finding niches between imports and bigger companies.

9/14/16       #24: CNC in a high school woodshop ...

I don't think any high school class/subject is going to get a kid a good job. Proper education should be about learning to think. It is possible for shop classes to help teach that if they are done as problem solving exercises.
I just had a high school shop class tour the shop today. They have an excellent teacher that gets them doing many different projects in addition to some of the basics. They have a very small CNC router, software and all the rest of the shop tools. There are many problems to be addressed by those new to CNC to actually get a product produced. I don't think any of them will qualify as an operator or programmer when they graduate. But the experience of figuring out how to make the system work is the benefit.

9/14/16       #25: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
jonathan mahnken

I would have loved one in my highschool! but back in 98-2001 cnc was still kinda for the big dogs

9/15/16       #26: CNC in a high school woodshop ...

I think its great. We have a pretty good tech program in the hs here. Several classes on design and you proceed to running small parts on a cnc mill. They go hand in hand. Will they leave school ready to be a cnc operator? No, but they have been exposed to qhat the possibilities are and will have a general sense of how things work.
I encourage everyone in the shop to be trained on operating and maintenance of the cnc and bander. We have SOP sheets on how to do basic things like surface the table and change tools. It takes more skill to unload parts than it does to run the cnc.

10/14/16       #27: CNC in a high school woodshop ...
mike  Member

Website: http://www.lustigcabinets.com

I taught HS for 12 years, with and without CNC. It took me 6 years to get one, as soon as we did it opened up another avenue that would challenge and interest more kids in design more than woodworking alone. My approach was I taught traditional woods 1, with the final project as an intro to the cnc and software. I also taught the drafting/design classes.
After teachers discovered we could produce product in less time. They all wanted something. "Can I get a plaque designed and made for a contest i am having". " can your class help with set design?"
When I bought my company 8 years ago, we were completely traditional without a cnc. In the last 2 years we use the cnc as a main tool to product parts, We are a 100% custom shop, but we can product in 1/2 the time that we would have 3 years ago. I had one guy quit because of the CNC and how he thought it was the end of woodworking. We also used mortise and tenon before the CNC as well. You can't get any more traditional than mortise and tenon and table saws.
The problem was when the boxes were cut and assembled they were superior and quicker than he could produce.

1) no tearout on dado's
2) square boxes-his faceframes would not fit without alot of fighting with the box.
3)less lifting for my guys-one of my other guys is over 50 and 2 knee replacements.
4)less waste- scraps and dust collection have been cut in 1/2 at least.
5) safety-crosscut and dados are dangerous on a table saw. I personally saw an unfinished side get thrown when a dado went crooked on a tall cabinet.
6)installation- we install smoother and quicker than ever before. We don't use filler strips, we scribe to the walls. But the boxes, framed and especially frame-less, fit better and tighter on the installation.

all things said, traditional woodworking in not dead in a custom shop. We build custom hoods, furniture and anything else that could be made from wood.

One the most valuable skills in the shop is an with an employee that can sand correctly and has attention to detail.
The CNC is just a tool, it has made our shop way more efficient and our product has never been sacrificed. Teach the kids the attention to details, multiple machines and the process from concept to final product for the most well rounded student, not just a skilled woodworker that can't sand, finish or install. our work is on our webpage and we guarantee our product above and beyond the competitions box cabinets because of our materials we use and our attention to details, but I could not do this without the CNC and software. I truly believe the shop would have suffered and I would be out of skilled talent if I had to rely on only traditional building. Now I can bring in a younger guy, and teach him all the skills of becoming a woodworker.
I have a 24 year old that has been with me 6 years and is one of my best employees, because of his versatility in the shop. He can build, finish, install hardware and install cabinets as well as run the CNC.
Sorry for the long post, but I have been on both sides of the fence, in schools and in business, and the idea that CNC work is inferior is a total crock of crap.

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