|A little background on how the
Copy Carver came about.....
Years ago I had decided to seek out a way to
duplicate my carvings to fill the Christmas wishes of my family and
friends, as well as try to satisfy the local galleries that were beginning
to ask for carvings faster than I could produce them. I needed a way to
reduce my time dramatically and still produce a decent replica of my
I decided to investigate the options of
purchasing a piece of equipment vs. having a millwork company do the
duplicating for me. After a long search I found a few
companies offering a duplication service . The problems were many
and the costs to get them started were high. Many of them needed a
500 piece order to stir an interest and all of them required me to cover
the costs of creating the wire frame computer file that would run their
CNC machines up front.
In addition to the upfront costs they all charged
considerably more for basswood than I was presently paying and the turn-around
time was several weeks to several months. Then there was the high
cost of shipping, each carving had to be wrapped in protective materials
to prevent breakage, driving the costs even higher. After I put a
pencil to the figures and arrived at a final "per piece" cost I
discovered my duplicates would cost me more than my originals were selling
for at that time! I could buy my own carvings from the local gallery
to give away at Christmas cheaper than I could have them replicated for!
My search then switched to purchasing my own
equipment on a smaller scale to duplicate my carvings myself. I
purchased a simple router duplicator from Sears and headed for home with
images of me standing knee deep in exact duplicates by dinner time.
After all, the box had a picture of a person using it for exactly what I
was going to use it for. How could it not work? And the price
was right, $250.
Speculation developed quickly as the stamped
steel parts were removed from the box and assembled per the instructions.
Two hours later I was ready to "mass produce" my first run of
"1." Setting up the original to rotate in unison with the
wood blank was much more difficult than the instructions had explained.
Once the router was turned on and the stylus was tracked over the
original, the real problems began to surface. The steel frame was
flimsy and the frame was easily distorted. As the router cut into
the wood blank the vibration from the cutting action shook the entire
frame of the duplicator causing it to dig further and further into the
wood blank, ripping chunks of wood from the blank. Soon the wood
blank looked nothing at all like the original. An hour of set up,
another hour making small passes over the original removing small amounts
of wood trying to keep the vibration in check resulted in two wasted hours
and no useable product. Time and time again I set up the machine to
achieve the same results. The duplicator was disassembled and
I searched the major woodworking
suppliers and decided I needed to invest more money for something a little
more heavy duty. I wanted something semi-commercial. I found a
three spindle furniture duplicator at the American Woodworkers Show.
They demonstrated it at the show and
I was convinced it would work for me as easy. They duplicated round
chair legs, vases, lamps and some flat relief work all from pre-cut maple
blanks. The setup again was involved....but I now had three
duplicates instead of one to show for my time involved in the set up,
so that didn't seem so bad. I ordered a machine for $3600 and with
hope once again to begin mass producing my originals.
When the machine arrived weeks
later it was very large, taking up half of my garage. I
uncrated it with great anticipation and began assembly. I did
a few dry runs to get the feel of the machine. It had an awkward feel to using it, but I wrote that off to
being "heavy duty" and moved forward. Set up was easier
than the first model but it required me to precut the blanks to a
"close shape" because the rpm's of the machine were not high
enough to quickly remove excessive stock. So I had to draw out
patterns, bandsaw blanks with a top and side profile. Then set them
all up so the cutter touched each one at the same time and the same place
as the original, no small task to say the least.
Each spindle was connected to the
others via a sprocket and chain. The chain had a little play that
could not be adjusted out totally, so when you rotated blank #1 a small
amount, blank #2 and #3 sat motionless. A little more and blank #2
began to move yet blank #3 still didn't. So when you tried to
duplicate a fish carving one of the three duplicates would have the eye
holes in the correct place, the other two duplicates would have the eyes
higher on one side than the other. And the fins, well one had them,
the other two didn't. I found time and time again the duplicate on
spindle #1 was a close copy, spindle #2 resulted in a sometimes
salvageable copy and spindle #3 consistently produced unique firewood.
So after I figured out the set up time for three duplicates that resulted
in one useable copy, my set up time was now much longer than it took me to
carve the original, and to make matters worse there was still the issue of
investing $3600 in this operation .
I decided after one week of using
the machine it had to go back. I called the company and they said I
was not using the machine for what it was intended to be used for, yet the
salesman told me differently. They said had I been carving
"round things" the play in the rotation linkage would not be a
factor. That I later learned is why they choose chair legs and vases
to demo the machine. They just went beyond the starting point on the
original to allow duplicate three to catch up, since the pattern was
repeated on their carvings it didn't matter where they stopped.
Perfect for chair legs and vases. And since I had no plans on
carving either any time soon it was time to give up. So, after three
weeks of time and hundreds of dollars of wasted wood I came to the
decision carving originals one at a time wasn't so bad.
My neighbor, Mike Olson, who is a mechanical
engineer decided to wander over one afternoon and observe what was causing
all the bad language in the air. I was taking the machine apart to
return it. I explained all I had been through with both machines and
what type of results I had expected. He looked over the three
spindle machine and just confirmed everything I already discovered.
He said he could probably design something I could build myself using the
same principles cheaper than I could redesign this machine. So he
headed to the drawing board and weeks later the plans for the first "Copy
Carver" were ready. We gathered the necessary materials and built
the prototype. It actually worked! The set was a snap and it
felt solid as it cut wood from the blank, we were onto something.
The drawbacks were few, but serious enough it needed to be revised.
We had used a full size router and the large diameter of the case caused
problems. Finding a secure mount for the large router that would
hold up in use prevented us from making any deep cuts in the duplicate
using normal wood router bits.
little poking around the tool department at Sears produced a small case
router by Ryobi that is used to trim laminates. It still had the
power of a 3/4 HP full size router. The lower half of the case
slipped off once you loosened the wing nut exposing an aluminum motor case
with no obstructions around the router cutter, and a very small diameter
motor housing, it was just what we needed. I bought one and dropped
it off at Mikes where he changed the plans to use the smaller router.
We made the new changes to the original proto type and fired up
Copy Carver II for testing. It worked perfect. The little
router performed effortlessly. And due to the small diameter of the
motor case we were able to secure the router with ordinary 3" muffler
clamps for a secure mount that was not effected by vibration. The
smaller head also allowed us to get into smaller places that the other
router could not.
After a few duplicates were made I realized most
router bits are made to be used for cutting on the side of the bit rather
than the flat face. The tips of the router bits were beginning to burn
and dull quickly. We decided to redesign the swing box, raise the side rails 3.5" and
increase the pulley size from 2" to 6" giving us about 10"
of height over the table. This did two things, it allowed for larger
carvings to be duplicated and most important, it changed the cutting angle
of the machine so the router bits always contacted the wood on their edge
where the cutting action is the greatest.
After the changes we tested the new Copy Carver
III and found the changes were just what was needed. The router cut
away wood like a chain saw, throwing large chips twenty feet away while
leaving a clean smooth cut on the blank. The operation of precutting
the blanks was now unnecessary. The cutting action was very fast
allowing us to rough out the blanks in less than a minute on each side.
It was exactly what I had hoped for. I used the Copy Carver III for two
months with fantastic results. I had the setup down to a science and
could replicate my carvings one-to-one in nothing flat. I was down
to twelve minutes a fish for a roughed out carving. I began
producing large numbers of rough-outs to use in class, sell at carving
shows and some to finish out by hand and paint for customers, friends and family.
I had big plans for this machine as time went on and it got easier to
crank out a few dozen fish in an afternoon.
I spent more time using the Copy Carver III I realized it was a little heavy to
support at the stylus for long carving sessions. Mike and I reviewed
the carriage box to see what could be done to reduce the weight. We
decided to make a new carriage and swing box from 3/4" birch plywood
instead of the 1/4" steel plate we had used originally. This
change would do two things for us, one it would reduce the weight and two
it would also reduce the vibration I felt while running the router in wood
at the stylus.
The Copy Carver IV version, now made from wood was a huge
improvement. The vibration was no longer there and the weight was
reduced by 80%! By switching to plywood we also reduced the tools
needed to build more of them and it reduced the cost of materials by 50%
or more. What was earlier welded in place could now be glued and
screwed, making assembly easier.
a few hours of use the weight forward feel of the machine returned.
It proved to still be too heavy for my arms and shoulders to deal with
after an hour or two.
We decided to install a counter
balance to offset the weight of the router and the forward portion of the
swing box. We installed a 3/4" pipe flange and a short piece of
pipe at the rear of the swing box. We began adding barbell weights
until the stylus was weightless. After a few test runs I determined
it was better but still not right. At times it felt balanced and
other times it was heavy or light due to a teeter totter effect of the
long swing box arms.
We recalculated the length of the
arms several times and built several new swing boxes until an ideal arm length and
angle was achieved. The new arms allowed us to reduce the
counterweights and operate the machine at all angles with zero weight on
the stylus. Now it required just two fingers to operate the machine
in any position. With your index finger and thumb you could now
guide the stylus over the original and the router removed any and all
unnecessary wood in its path. The new revisions were all that was
necessary to transform a machine that worked great into one that was a
pleasure to operate. I convinced Mike we had something other carvers
could benefit from, a duplicator that anybody could build and operate at a
fraction of what a commercial machine would cost. And best of all it
set up was a snap and the machine worked perfectly.
So, since neither of us had a desire to quit our
"day jobs" to build Copy Carvers to sell, we decided to
develop a set of easy to follow plans that would help other carvers with a
little woodworking experience and a table saw, build one of their own.
We began selling the plans at carving shows and in 1994 offered them on
the internet to carvers from all over the world. To date there are
hundreds of Copy Carver users. And till this day nobody has
recommended one single change to the Copy Carver concept. Proving we did
our homework in the earlier models.
Over the last two years I have
received hundreds of letters and photos from the many users that have used
the Copy Carver for duplicating gunstocks, wildlife carvings, human busts, totem
poles, furniture, cabinetry, antiques, guitar makers, violin makers,
fishing lures, airplane propellers, custom pool cues, model boats and
cars, knife handles, signs, lamps, prototyping, sculpture, bird feeders,
relief work, and the list goes on and on. And that's just in wood!
I have received mail from many others that are using their Copy Carver for
carving the same things in stone and other materials. There are
three companies to date that use this machine to quickly cut out
plastic vacuum formed parts from sheets of plastic. The possibilities
If you are interested in building your own
you can purchase a password to download a complete set of plans for $20,
or order our "combo" set for $26 by calling 248-880-1468.. A password will be given
immediately for you to download the plans today for your review while the
pre-printed version is on the way to you via US Mail. All of the
materials used in the construction can be found in most any well stocked
You have my word as a friend and a fellow carver
that this machine is easy to build, easy to set-up, easy to operate and
will produce accurate results every time. A true carving machine
that will pay for itself in less than a hour.