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 originals.  

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 returned.

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.  

A 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.  

As 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.  

After 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 are endless.

If you are interested in building your own Copy Carver 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 hardware/lumber store.  

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.

Ed Walicki

 

 

 

 

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