Tooling Up for a High-School Wood-Shop Program

Cabinetmakers advise a high school shop teacher on how to equip a new shop class program. July 11, 2007

I teach high school wood shop here in Las Vegas and I would appreciate your advice on what machinery we should acquire for a new school under construction. Unlike traditional high school woodworking programs, the focus of this new Manufacturing Technology Academy is to produce graduates that have a solid foundation utilizing CAD/CAM and the state of the art machinery and processes found in a modern production shop. We have about 4,000 square feet of floor space and a $500K budget. What equipment would you include on the "must have" list?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor T:
You can spend $50K real easy on software. If you buy $500K worth of equipment and it is used by beginners all the time, you will be spending half that maintaining it. There are probably shops in your area that would work with you on some kind of work experience program. Very little of what they learn in shop class will turn into profit for them or their employers.

From contributor S:
I read on the ShopBot website that the CCSD has Bots in high schools around here. I would say learning to program a CNC machine would be experience. I have heard of a need for people with that ability in the wood and metal industry around here.

From contributor C:
Gone are the days of the bulletproof cast iron machine stands and heavy duty knobs and wheels. I have seen the technology out-pace the learning curve. I would hope that the basics and theory are still the main goal of education. Giving them the education and teaching them how to learn will be better in the long run to help them adapt to the ever-changing real world. Anything you buy in the "high tech" area will become obsolete by industry standards very quickly. Possibly explore lease options including maintenance from major manufacturers. I can't see a machine intended for constant production sitting idle for 90% of the time. Just not cost effective, even for educational purposes. Perhaps teach the software and then take a field trip to a shop and have the parts cut and assembled. Arrange partners in the production business that will bring in speakers and allow for on the job training.

I admire the concept of vocational training, but this will be a tough project. This ain't teaching Drill Press 101. New and innovative production will require new teaching strategies and like business, maybe some outsourcing.

From contributor R:
I would recommend going to the EX-Factory website (or something like it), and contacting one of the guys or gals there. They are very helpful and aren't high pressure. Ask all the questions you want. They seem to be pretty straight shooters. The money you can save can sometimes be tremendous.

If you go out and buy some super high tech gadget, you might spend half your time on maintenance. I would start off easy with a proven tool that works, and see how far that can take you. If you need to spend the money, by all means jump in. Also the idea of partnering up with local shops is an excellent one. Your kids will learn more there than they ever will in class (no slam intended).

As far as software goes, try contacting some of the majors, like Planit or whomever. It's quite possible that they could donate or discount their product. We're all looking for the next generation of craftsman/technician and if we can stimulate them when they're young, it stays with them all their lives. Over the last 30 years I have utilized the local high schools (DECCA), and helped create cabinetmakers out of seat warmers. Many of whom have gone on to open their own shops.

Now for equipment: Since I'm a cabinetmaker, a cabinetmaking program is essential. You can do much more than just draw up cabinets. Planit has some good ones (they're the only ones I'm familiar with), but there are many more. I think one is for free online - E-Cabinets.

Tools: beyond the standards like a good table saw, chop saw, drill press, bandsaw, etc., (yes, we still use those every day), a CNC router would be the wisest move, but a good point-to-point wouldn't hurt either. Both are fun to program and use and to watch work. And that's what it has to be about for kids - fun. You never know what hidden talent lies within young people nowadays.

From contributor E:
It would be in your program's best interest to contact Woodlinks.

From contributor L:
I second the Woodlinks suggestion. I helped a high school here get into their program. There is an excellent industrial arts teacher here that has gotten a small CNC router and software for his classes. He also takes his advanced students on tours of our plant and an aviation interiors plant. I think SCM, Stiles, Weinig and some of the other big manufacturers can provide materials that would help with what’s going on in real life. Teaching materials and design considerations would be the first step, then processes. If possible, take your class to the woodworking show in July. It's right in your backyard. Have students enter their projects in the competitions for that show and IWF in Atlanta.

From contributor A:
What a great opportunity! I would try to visit vocational schools in Europe to see how they teach this curriculum. If you can get over to Ligna next month, you might be able to learn a lot there too.

I think software companies would be willing to donate some software. Trouble is, most of the software is hard to learn and use, and is limited in capability. Some of the new programs (Kab NX, Top Solid) coming out might be easier to use than the old AutoCAD-based programs and more flexible than the dedicated cabinet programs. I'm a big fan of SketchUp for design, and it's free. No CNC output however. But I digress.

To answer your original question…

For panel processing:
CNC machining center with a control that supports parametric part programming. This is a great way to introduce students to parametrics and for working with CAD/CAM. Weeke. 80k-100k.
Universal boring machine that can do both vertical and horizontal boring. Gannomat. 15k
Sliding table panel saw, Altendorf. 15k
Edgebander, Holz Her or Brandt. 25k
Castle pocket screw machine. 3k
Hinge boring machine, 3k

For solid wood processing:
10" table saw, Powermatic, 2k
jointer, planer, SCM, 10k
shaper, Martin, 20k
drill press, 1k
sanders, 30k

An assortment of hand held power tools, clamps and hand tools. 20k
Tooling, 20k
Work benches and shop fixtures, 60k

Finishing equipment, 80k
Dust collection, 80k

And that just about blows the budget.

From contributor D:
I concur - contact Woodlinks.

One other thought - look at a Sawstop for your table saw. I just ordered one. They are an extremely well built saw, and with the added safety features it is a must have, especially for a high school shop class.

From contributor M:
Good for you. Our industry is lacking skilled people entering our trade. Thanks for your help. Get as much donated as you can.

I would focus on teaching your students how something is made. Introduce them to different construction methods, and then how to produce their work. Automation is a driving force in our industry. Design software and router experience are essential.

I would also focus on solid wood and finishing. We can train an employee to babysit a machine in a few minutes. But it is the person that I can give a complex task that is most valuable to us. We fight over the people who need little input or supervision because they have experience building things with many steps and pieces.

Some of the equipment that I would suggest would be:
shapers with powerfeed (one tilting)
insert tooling
hand routers
construction boring machine
vertical panel saw
widebelt sander
table saw
spray booth
AAA spray setup
pressure pot sprayer
suction and gravity feed spray guns

drying racks
various sanding tools
nail guns/staplers
various clamps
air compressors
dust collector(s)
computers with large monitors
printer and plotter
and if there is any money left over,
a panel carrier.

If your students can use these tools well, I can use them.

From contributor J:
As far as your table saw goes, I would suggest a SawStop. The cost is a little over 3k, but well worth it.

From contributor X:
Visit some of your local shops and see what they are using. There is also a very large machinery expo in Vegas that you should visit. Cover the basics, teach them how to draft, how to saw, drill, etc. Make them useful.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to all of you who have replied. For those of you familiar with Las Vegas, you know what a boom town this is. Thousands of upscale homes are being built, not to mention the multiple mega-casino/resort projects and other commercial buildings under construction. Our skilled labor shortage is critical and many builders have already teamed up with the school district with the goal of trying to fill the labor void.

I really appreciate your input because you are the guys and gals who know what is needed. We don't want to create another shop class that teaches, as pointed out, little that is profitable to you (although I currently teach a traditional furniture and cabinetmaking program and I hope that my kids learn something that employers can capitalize on). Our objective for this new school is to recruit higher caliber students and put them through a rigorous engineering program that puts them on a pathway to becoming layout specialists, designers, CNC operators, plant managers, etc. Needless to say, basic cabinetmaking will still be an integral part of the curriculum.

Schools in our district do have ShopBots. In fact, I was the first to get one 6 years ago. We use it weekly and for all kinds of applications. How widely used are ShopBots in industry?

Thanks again to all who provided ideas and websites. Your professionalism is outstanding!

From contributor Z:
Glad to hear that you are starting this program. The CNC side of it is certainly the way things are moving and although machinery will change and become obsolete, the basics will be needed for the advancements to be understood. If there was a local CNC training program for adults in my area, I would consider upgrading my skills although I don't know where I would find the time. As a shop owner of almost 30 years, I do use software to design and optimize, but am not ready for the leap to CNC for many reasons. However, at age 56, I can see that my future could be working for a larger shop in a supervisory capacity and this education would be valuable. Hats off to you and all of the vocational schools that are willing to invest in our youths' future. There will be an estimated 20 million trade jobs available by the time we baby boomers are in our diapers again, and somebody has to be able to do it. Besides, I have made a good living for many years as a shop owner.

From contributor R:
I'm 53 and just made the move to CNC about a year and a half ago. The first thing I bought was an optimizing beam saw. Man did that ever make a difference. No more pushing stuff through a table saw. With the increased production it created, I went out and bought a used point 2 point. Equally wow! The tools proved to be the difference. What was always face frame became frameless, and off we go. These two tools have given me the extra drive and dollars (not in that order), to look at more things. We were nailing and screwing our boxes together when I looked at doweling. Just bought a new Accusystems HPJ and used case clamp. Now things are really humming. This stuff is pretty much paid for already.

I guess my point is, it's never too late. I was looking to get out and be done with this "no end in sight - drain on my entire life" that you all know a cabinet shop can be at times, and now I have a whole new outlook. That's my "rah rah" speech for the day.

From contributor V:
Besides being a serious woodworker, I work with industry designing training programs and analyzing training needs. It seems to me that your equipment needs should all start with the skills that you want the students to learn. What exactly does "a solid foundation" mean? Until you translate that into some specific, measurable objectives, your goals will remain fuzzy.

Contributor T makes an interesting point about getting work experience in the workplace. There are lots of ways to gain hands on experience. A huge investment in a shop full of machinery may or may not be the best way to achieve it. Since you are trying to prepare students for the workplace, you have come to the right place to ask questions.

From contributor L:
Contributor R, good to hear the move to CNC story. I made the move a little over 10 years ago and it has really changed our operation. We have doubled our dollar volume with the same number of employees. We increased the bottom line several times over. It's easier to recruit new employees with a bright modern shop. Easier to get bigger jobs when the customers see our facility and talk to our existing customers. The other big improvements were going to conveyors (and other handling equipment to make the work go easier) and new software. Too bad I keep seeing so many negative comments about those "new fangled ideas" (CNC, outsourcing, frameless, etc.) But each to his own; at least those shops will never become my competitors! Maybe it’s fear of G-code?

From contributor R:
Walking potential customers through our shop is (almost) the best part, especially when the tools are running. They come out wide eyed and asking if we would consider taking on their job. Hmmm, let me think about it...

I feel my next step is to go to conveyors, at least in part. I haven't given it too much thought yet though. There's some logistical stuff that still has to be worked out. We too have greatly improved our production and income with the new tools and with the same employees (and now with no OT).

Years ago I heard the same things about those "new fangled things" like microwave ovens, answering machines, computers, and, oh yeah, cell phones. :-) You're right, what they don't know won't hurt me.

From contributor K:
I've been working with a local shop teacher here in Dallas, Tx. His class is based on drafting and CNC tech. Our shop is a large one by most standards. I think the kids need to learn CNC, point to point programming, and computer aided drafting in order to succeed in this industry. I've hired three kids from his class straight out of his high school. All of them have a pretty good edge over other new employees because they have already been taught the basics of the highest paying positions in the shop. At risk of ticking off the old school custom carpenters, I'd say - stay away from the old manual operated machines and focus on the computers. That is were this industry and many others are going!