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Making with Machines

This is a guest post by Nick Sowers, Registered Architect™.

Baran Studio Architecture is located in a creative light-industrial pocket in North Oakland. I find it inspiring to be amidst people making things at all scales. In our building alone we have a furniture maker, a hula-hoop fabricator, an installation artist, a 3D sound artist, a jewelry maker, and a stop-motion animation studio. Up the street from us there is a hacker space called Ace Monster Toys, of which I have been a member for 3+ years. I have been using the CNC mill to design and construct a number of plywood creations.

The CNC router in operation at Ace Monster Toys
CNC closeup

The CNC wood router at Ace Monster Toys


Through a process of quick iterations and testing ideas, I have learned the nuances of using the CNC machine. The design files output tool paths which the machine reads and translates into its three axes of motion. When the din of the router cuts out and the sawdust settles, there’s a certain excitement in a raw sheet of plywood transformed into an array of parts. I brought the cut pieces to our recently opened Annex space, and assembled them with our team.

Behold Baran Studio’s new conference table:


The Finished Conference Table

The Finished Conference Table.



The finished table is made from 2 1/2 sheets of plywood, costing $140 total.

The finished table is made from 2 1/2 sheets of plywood, costing $140 total.


I am especially interested in the process of making using simple inexpensive materials and my own labor and abilities to transform them. The machine is an essential component of this process, extending my hands to shape materials. The design itself is guided by this process, knowing what the machine can and can’t do. Plywood, for example, works very well notched together. Grooves can be cut with such a precision by the machine that joined pieces are held together with friction. These sorts of joints are achievable by master woodworkers without computers and advanced tools, to be sure. But doing it by machine and being able to do it yourself vastly expands the world of what is possible for designers and thinkers.

What I am suggesting is that an interesting form of collaboration between groups of people and groups of machines are becoming possible. The open desk project is one such example, which takes designs by the community and makes them available as open source. You can cut them yourself, or have a local fabricator make the design of your choosing. It’s a similar synergy of people, machines, and design ideas that exists here in North Oakland. Keep following to see what else we are making.

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