A Car Camp Company Story: The Maslow CNC Router Experience, or, Is This Purgatory?

Phase 2.

What a serious-sounding thing. Phase 2 for The Car Camp Company is the idea of mass-producing kits with the intention of boxing them up, selling them out the door, and allowing new owners to put the kit together themselves. You know, kind of like IKEA.

To achieve this, through conversations and research, I had two options.

1. Go to Southeast Asia and establish a relationship with a wood production house and hope US customs is...cool?

2. Buy a machine called a CNC router that can cut wood for me without much supervision.

The problem is an industrial router costs upwards of 15k dollars. That's not in my current budget, to put it lightly.

So when I came across the Maslow CNC router, I was inspired. This vertical version would take up less space than its lay-flat more expensive cousin, and at $500 was attainable after profits from my first few orders. I ordered it. The (small) box arrived with all the chains and electrical components, but before unpacking, I needed to build the frame to support the various engines, chains, and pulleys that make the Maslow tick. 

Something that's been nice about getting into this "wood cutting" world is there's no lack of folks chatting about best practices across the web, so when I went to look at frame options to mount my Maslow on, I was supplied with four different choices.

I ended up going with a fairly simple frame design that only required some 2X4s and wood screws. The build took a couple of hours of concerted effort and seemed easy enough. This would be the last part of the construction process that would be "simple".

Something I've realized in the overall Maslow experience is that most things I've created in my life (this build has caused some deep, personal reflection) either fall into the digital or physical world. The Maslow exists in both as it takes a computer (and programs) to run the very physical operation of moving a sled around that has a spinning router bit attached to it.

The simple tech behind all this is called an Arduino (Are-Dweeno) and to get it to function requires a couple of programs and constant updating. After all that, the machine still needs to be calibrated so it knows where the drill bit is and where to move. Basically, this has not been a plug-and-play operation as I was hoping.

With most aspects of the Car Camp Company getting ramped up, I've been on my own - that wasn't going to work with this. I have a creative brain that likes to work in the grey - good for finding the right amount of salt to use while cooking but not ideal for the mechanical world.

I'm lucky enough to have two friends who are engineers and their assistance with the actual mechanical aspect of the Maslow has been amazing. Building the Maslow has required exacting execution and strict adherence to process - something I struggle with but that they live every day in their jobs working on electrical conductors and rockets. Simply put, and as we've said many times to each other through this process: "The more brains the better." They've been paid with cheeseburgers and beer.

My mechanically-minded father was also nice enough to come in for a couple days to supply some extra hands while putting together and hanging the temperamental sled. He was paid with tacos, bbq, and beer.

Naturally, there's still been plenty of calamities. The chain system that the Maslow uses means there are heaps of opportunities to sabotage the all-important calibration. During the simplest of processes, the chain will often pop-off violently. When that happens, you have to reset everything and calibrate again. See also:

  • The chain gets caught on itself while rotating. Reset. Calibrate again. 
  • Gears aren't set to a vertical position before calibration. Reset. Calibrate again.
  • Took your eyes off the machine and cracked a beer at the wrong time. Reset. Calibrate again.

There have been so many steps between frame build to the Maslow actually cutting an accurate line that wasn't part of the story. The way they make it seem before purchasing is that once it's all put together, chains linked to the cutting sled and all that, it will be away you go! Not the case. For those entertaining the idea of jumping into this world - it's harder than it looks.

Still, like with my Nintendo long ago, hopefully working through these kinks and finding the shortcuts and sweet spots will prove fruitful in the future.

If not, it's been one heck of a lesson in patience.


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