Making the Crucible Improved Pattern Dividers

Posted on 13 October 2016


When Raney Nelson explains to me how he makes dividers on the CNC mill, he makes it sound like he’s just doing some laundry: loading items into a machine, pressing a button and walking away for a couple hours.

But after spending a day in his Indiana shop and reviewing hours and hours of process videos that Raney shot, I know he’s downplaying the skill and precision required to make these dividers. In fact, the whole process makes me wonder if we’re charging enough.

Check out the short video that compresses an entire day of machine production into less than 3:00. To avoid boring you too much, I cut out a lot of the additional details that go into the machining, from knocking each part firmly into its fixture to the multiple fixture and tooling changes throughout the process.

Note that we will begin selling the dividers for $120 (domestic shipping included) on Friday at noon Eastern time. They will be available via this link.

— Christopher Schwarz

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  • Ted Lolley: October 19, 2016

    Looks like the move in worked well

  • Dave Hart: October 15, 2016

    Awesome video. Reminds me of my short stint in a CNC machine shop before heading off to USAF Navigator Training. AND these dividers are reminiscent of the ones the German AF students used when I returned to the Navigator school as an instructor. Definitely on my tool wish list.

  • Goerge : October 15, 2016

    I’m absolutely fascinated – don’t really know how to say how much! Makes me feel like watching a sushi Chef? More like a performance, not merely work? The groove Raney is in while moving around? So cool!

  • Raney: October 14, 2016

    Gavin – Yup. Beaumont horizontal. Awesome machine – wish I’d known how much I wanted one years ago.

    Nick – thanks. The hammering is not to set the parts – it’s the last check to make sure everything is secure. The difference between ‘locked down’ (thud) and ‘not so firm’ (clang) is what I’m checking for there.

    As for the ball-locks: they’re fantastic. Lockdown repeatability is under a thou in every axis, and I can swap three vises for fixture plates in about 5 or 6 minutes, soup to nuts. The vises and ball-locks are all from Orange Vise, and I can’t say enough good things about them all around. Sol is a wizard.

    Simon – I think you’ve said what you intended very clearly. I’ve got a bit different take on it, myself, but I totally get your sentiment. Personally, the technology is not a problem to me — but the way it’s usually employed drives me nuts. I just think that over time, we’ve gotten so far into designing to suit the manufacturing process, that we’ve lost immense amounts of the ‘humanity’ behind the products, not to mention the quality. Square things, straight lines, and maybe a fillet or two here and there (see: apple store, in toto) are just not, to me, remotely near the ideal for the human body or eye. So why is everything shaped that way? Because the machines like it. So it’s fast, and cheap.

    part of the impetus behind Crucible all around was to see if we could make use of some of the technology, but AVOID all those pitfalls. So we design it the way we want it – before we ever consider how it’s being made. Once we’re clear what we want, we figure out how we can make it as cost-effectively as we can without making changes that make it worse. We aren’t purists – we’ll make concessions to manufacturing along the way; but only changes that don’t make the product worse. If we can’t make it how we want it, we put it on the shelf to come back to later.

    It’s way too easy for a good product to suffer death by a thousand revisions as it winds through the engineering, materials, supply chain, management, production, operations, and Legal departments.

  • simon: October 14, 2016

    nice :)
    however it made me think about handwork and the use of advanced machinery, since your tools are for people who like to work (wood) with their hands and not with a cnc, so seeing this video (even though I already had a pretty good idea how these dividers must be made), seeing the actual process (I do have some experience as a machinist, so this process was nothing new to me) kind of brought me back to reality, the reality that even hardcore artisans (at least that’s what I think you guys are (in the best way possible)) will use a cnc to produce a tool for other people who will take a moulding plane over a electric router almost all of the time. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this makes me sad, but it doesn’t make me happy either :)
    Just to be clear, this is not a criticism at all, since I think you guys are doing so much (also with lost art press) for artisan craftwork, it is just that I yearn for a slower where more things are made by hand and are valued more than that Full HD tv that you bought 3 years ago and now “have” to replace again by a 4k model.
    I hope this doesn’t sound too negative, it really isn’t meant that way. I just wanted to express a personal feeling. h

    I hope I found the right words, as English is a second language to me.

  • Nick Dombrowski: October 14, 2016

    Well done, of course. How do you like the ball lock couplers? I’m thinking of tooling up my mill with them. Also, you may want to limit hammering on the parts when held with talon grips/pitbulls, Mitee-bite says it will chip the teeth off.

  • Gavin Rondeau: October 14, 2016

    Is that a Beaumont horizontal grinder? Looks like a nice one, regardless.

  • Raney: October 14, 2016

    Hey Eric,

    It’s an oil hardening steel – O1 tool steel – but we do not harden it.

    Annealed o1 hits just the right balance between toughness (so it holds a point well) and ease of sharpening t renew the points.

  • Eric Brown: October 14, 2016

    I see where it is mentioned that the steel is oil hardened. How are you doing this and what steel is being used? Thanks.

  • Raney: October 13, 2016

    Couple quick responses- not sure why the video isn’t working for some people – we’ll try to look into it, but so far it works on all my devices here.

    The reason we are using bar stock instead of ground flat stock is simply cost. Bar stock is the most common form from the mill in this size. Buying ground flat stock, you’re basically paying someone to machine it for you. So in our case, a foot of 3/4" bar stock cost 1/3 as much as a foot of 3/4″ × 5/16" flat stock. — even though the bar has roughly twice as much material in it.

    In most cases, it would be cheaper to buy it flat because of the massive time savings, but in our case the economics are different because excess machine time doesn’t really ‘cost’ us much.

    As to lubrication/coolant – again, since we aren’t running the machine 24/7 like a machine shop would, traditional flood coolant becomes a real hassle. It develops biological problems, can cause allergies, and is generally messy as sin. Plus, I just hate it.

    So we opted for an MQL system. MQL (minimum quantity lubrication) atomizes oil (usually something canola based, or something else quite biologically safe) into an air stream at a rate of something like a few drops per minute. It fulfills the need for lubrication very well, though it doesn’t really provide any cooling, or do a whole lot for chip clearing (flood coolant does all of the above). We also have a separate air blast integrated in to help clear chips, and we can forego cooling by using tooling with heat-tolerant coatings.

    Less mess, much shorter MSDS sheet, and much less hassle for me. Trade off is its a bit slower for some operations (drilling, especially) and tooling is a bit more expensive.

    Nothing about the way we are setting up to work, and manufacture, is very typical – so we also have a lot of atypical tricks and processes along the way.

  • Marshal: October 13, 2016

    Amazing. What a contrast to the holdfast manufacturing process! Can’t imagine the hours of planning just to figure out how to make that first simple cut.

  • Tea Sawdust: October 13, 2016

    This is a dumb question from a non-machinist, but why start with round bar stock instead of square? Unless I’m missing something, it doesn’t look like anything in the final dividers is using the radiused surface of the bar stock.

    Nice video, and nice tool!

  • Bill Anderson: October 13, 2016

    mind boggling! So much planning and thinking ahead of time to get the whole process done. Hard to imagine.

  • Steven Kirincich: October 13, 2016

    Man on a mission!

  • John: October 13, 2016

    Beyond cool! I’ll order mine tomorrow!

  • Adam Dixon: October 13, 2016

    Works on my Mac.

  • Andrew Hansen: October 13, 2016

    Vid works just fine on my Mac, Don. Try again perhaps?

  • Dumont69: October 13, 2016

    Made by Raney, worth every cent. Awesome.

    Can I get one engraved with “be nice to mommy… kosher salamis”?

  • Scott Beckstrom: October 13, 2016

    Same issue on a PC – video won’t play

  • John Griffin-Wiesner: October 13, 2016

    Video just played fine for me with my Mac and firefox.

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