The martial arts are more frequently associated with breaking boards than milling them. But Mike Lee, the owner of Lee’s Country Woods in Wood Lake, Minnesota, has managed to combine both worlds, with the help of a Laguna Tools Smart Shop II 4 X 8 ATC.
Lee’s Country Woods is a CNC routing, milling, woodworking and custom sign shop. The self-described “old world” shop has built a reputation for quality and craftsmanship, along with a personal touch that is often found in a one-man operation.
Owner Lee, a Grand Master in Tae Kwan Do and a holder of black belts in other disciplines, taught and traveled for years as a martial arts instructor. But he was also an accomplished woodworker whose interest in the craft began in his teens.
“I began working with wood when I was 17,” says Lee. “Even when I was traveling full-time, I always maintained a shop at home. I primarily made high-end signage for businesses, homes and boats. You can see my work all over this country and as far away as Europe.”
Everything changed for Lee in 2005 when he decided to expand his shop’s capabilities and bought a commonly-available CNC unit. “When local businesses found out I had CNC capability, it soon became the mainstay of my operation,” recalled Lee. Still Lee’s first CNC machine was less than a perfect fit for his needs.
“I bought the machine largely based on price,” said Lee. “I even saved some money initially because I didn’t know what tooling I would use most. But as I became more familiar with what the unit could do, I realized I was losing productivity because of the time it took to set up.
“I was still touring as a martial arts teacher when I found Laguna Tools online,” said Mike. “Working with them couldn’t have been easier. They even coordinated their delivery schedule to fit my travel schedule. I’m also impressed by Laguna Tools’ approach to customer service. During the shakedown phase of the new machine they consistently worked to my advantage, rather than their own.
“I soon realized that the Smart Shop II was the unit I should have bought the first time. In fact, when I totaled up the add-ons I bought for my first CNC unit, I realized the built-in capabilities of the Smart Shop ATC would have been less expensive.”
The Smart Shop II also saved time for Lee. “The old unit was cumbersome and time-consuming to use,” he reports. “I needed a separate program to zero each tool. With the Smart Shop, you just zero it once and use the proper tool for the job, such as its four different cutters.”
“It not only works faster, but it gives me the precision my manufacturing clients typically specify. Both my quality and productivity improved almost overnight.”
“The automatic tool changer isn’t the only feature I take advantage of with the Smart Shop II. The vacuum table saves me an enormous amount of time during a production run. Instead of constantly installing and removing fasteners while the machine is cutting I let the vacuum table do its work, hit ‘go’ and start entering a different program. I don’t have to watch the machine work because everything stays where it’s put. Before I had the vacuum table, I had to screw all the pieces down and handle them two or three times before they were done. Now I just take them off the bed of the Smart Shop and wrap them for shipping.
“The Smart Shop is a good fit for my shop. You design differently because it does so much,” says Mike. “It’s ideal for the short-run niche I typically fill. My normal production runs top out at about 100 or so pieces. I also do a lot of prototyping work where my output goes to a die cutter.
Although Lee still does some sign work, most of his shop time is devoted to CNC machining for manufacturing requirements. He uses the Smart Shop II for up to 4’X8’sheet PVC, high-density Polyethylene (HDPE), high-density foam and wood products. The Smart Shop II allows him to work to tolerances of +/- 5000ths of an inch.
Today, Mike works for companies as varied as manufacturers of all-terrain wheel chairs, packing crates and the massive electronic scoreboards seen at stadiums. “The Smart Shop II ATC has given me the opportunity to grow along with my clients,” concludes Mike. “I estimate they’ll have to expand several times over before I have to think about changing anything.”
Lee’s Country Woods
- Smartshop II 4×8 CNC w/B&R Controller
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