This project was a very interesting challenge to figure out how to accomplish. The client was interested in a naturally scalloped 3D surface deeply carved into prepared Teak wood blanks to resemble something that would have been done with an adze – a traditional wood carver’s hand-held, ax-like tool used for shaping and hollowing out large billets of wood and tree trunks. To be able to make this work properly, all of this needed to be controlled and repeated but still result in a hand-made appearance. It took a few tries to write the code to create the form; once the solution was reached, I needed to make about 350 of them in a big hurry and they would need to be further worked on by another vendor to add LED lighting elements, room numbers, and buttons for door buzzers.
Like many of the projects I work on, it’s not enough to simply program the computer or run the CNC machine. It often requires an intimate understanding of the original processes that would be used to create the part and the actual tools used by the craftsmen originally, for testing in studio if there is to be a hope of creating a finished product that has the proper attributes of what the designer has in mind.
Most of the time, the robotic machinery is best thought of as a digital praticien – simply an aspect or part of the process of making; something that can be carefully managed in a way to reduce the physical or manual labor of the craftsman; an augmentation or amplification of the craftsmen’s physical effort. And it is a spectacular tool, but seldom does a part or a workpiece come off the table that doesn’t need more hand work to complete an acceptable deliverable.
In the case of these door panels, the objective was near-perfect uniformity and perfection – the panels were designed to be installed into an elaborate door casing that would need to be built to receive an amazingly expensive and elaborate construction after the rest of the installation was complete.
Using the CNC process, I was able to mill the surface to within mills of tolerance, but the tooling marks needed to be sanded out, and the sharp scalloping that one would expect from a blade of an adze needed to be carefully profiled in the sharp, top peaks of the scalloped angles. There really were no tools made or available to purchase to perform the intricate profiling needed to sand out and finish the surface of the teak wood panels. One of my specialties is figuring out how to improvise and solve problems. I was able to create a means of sanding that allowed for the massive amount of specialized grits and intricately small sanding drums needed to properly get down into the bottom of the scallop troughs.
Dust was also an issue – breathing wood dust, especially when working for hours and days at a time sanding with fine-grit paper is dangerous. Specialized filtration systems needed to be designed and deployed in the studio to collect the dust and filter the air during the final stages of sanding.
They looked great leaving the studio and even better when completed by Martinelli’s studio in San Francisco, prior to their journey to Hawaii for the new Four Season’s Hotel.