MIT HOBBY SHOP ASSISTING AND INSPIRING STUDENTS WITH A PASSION FOR WOODWORKING

By Maryann Valentine

We recently had the pleasure to speak to Coby Unger from MIT Hobby Shop, who was kind enough to sit down with us and tell us a little about shop. Stunned by Unger’s design website, we had to interview him to hear his thoughts about his very own Techno CNC. Coby Unger is a staff member at MIT Hobby Shop, the go-to facility at MIT if you have an interest in woodworking. The most frequently used CNC tool in the shop is the Techno CNC 4×8 router that they have had for over 5 years now. It runs every day on different projects by students, faculty, staff and other community members. The MIT Hobby Shop is one of three woodshops on the MIT campus, yet it is the only one that is not a part of a specific academic department. Basically, anybody with an interest in making things can go, and take advantage of the amazing tools and facilities this shop has to offer. The shop allows for students, faculty, and alumni to come, design, program and build whatever they want, with no additional costs. The shop charges a small membership fee, but the rest is basically free and Coby is your go-to man for guidance and assistance. He is there to make your project go as smoothly and safely as possible.

“Projects in the Hobby Shop are split between class assignments, research projects and personal work. Most students come in without CNC experience and it is our job as shop staff to help them get them from concept to finished project. The Techno CNC is such an easy machine to teach students how to use.” Unger discussed how the shop currently has 300 active members, and is constantly expanding. “We are the most flexible shop on campus. We have a full woodshop and full metal shop an very few restrictions on what members can build. About a third of the shop is CNC equipment and the other rest is manual tools. I find it really important to teach students to use both hand tools and the CNC equipment. Learning the manual way of working often reinforces the lessons learned about the CNC.  You will be more successful at designing and routing what you want if you already know how to make it using hand tools.” This was such a great tip for other woodworkers!

 

The students at MIT Hobby Shop designing a giant Weeble Wobble toy. They first cut the rings on the Techno CNC router. Then, they glued the pieces together, before putting it back on the router for the contouring. 

Coby talked about the 2 classes he and his colleague were teaching back in January. “I taught a custom skateboard deck building class, and he taught an eclectic guitar making class. The primary tool we used in both classes was our Techno CNC router, and it was great. The students were able to learn how to make a skateboard by first designing molds in Autodesk Fusion360. Next, we cut out the skateboard mold with MDF on the Techno CNC router. Then we used the vacuum bag to laminate the deck and put it back on the router to cut out individual curves for the skateboard. Each student then designed custom laser cut veneer inlay graphics for the bottom of the decks. Students learned not only how to run a CNC machine, but also how bent lamination works in a small scale production type environment.”

Some of the design and engineering professors at MIT specifically recommend the Hobby Shop to their students for class projects because of their versatility in materials and machines. One such class is in the Integrated Design and Management department. The final assignment in this class is to design something to be used in the kitchen and make 100 of them. Last semester one of the teams designed a case to hold a set of luxury chopsticks. It was the first time any of the students had used CNC equipment, but they were able to complete the project with the Techno CNC router. 

In another class, students were asked to design a challenge for an escape room challenge. One team including Hobby Shop members Emily Hanhauser, Michael Arnold, Carolyn Sheline, Sami Yamanidouzisorkhabi, Haluk Akay designed a giant sized Weeble Wobble toy that four players would use to simulate driving a spaceship once the thruster systems had stoped working. They used the Techno CNC router to cut rings in 5 sheets of plywood before stacking them and returning the assembly to the router for final contouring. It was a giant build, but it turned out to be a really fun game. 

For a personal project in the Hobby Shop, member Andrew Birkel designed a wooden case for his digital calipers and other measuring tools. Andrew programmed all the cuts in Fusion 360 and cut the piece out on the Techno CNC router. Now that he has the design, he is considering making cases for his friends too. 

Coby also discussed how the MIT Hobby Shop is different from day to day since most students come in with projects and ideas of their own. “The projects are always different which definitely keeps it interesting. Just yesterday we were working on making a trophy for the intramural sports championships here at MIT, last week a group of students were cutting parts for a pavilion they built outside one of the buildings on campus. Recently, somebody was making a knife block, while another student was designing some furniture, while another student was cutting out a prototype for an assembly line for their research project in engineering. Each project is unique, but the Techno CNC router makes it very efficient and easy.” 

While Coby discussed the successes of MIT Hobby Shop, I was curious to see why he enjoyed their Techno CNC router so much. “I really like that it is so easy to jump between designing a part in CAD, programming a CAM file, and then cutting it out. It is a really quick turnaround and it is such an easy machine to teach to the students that come into the shop every day. The shop has a few CNC mills and a water jet cutter, but I would have to say that the Techno CNC is the one that I find to be easiest to teach with because it is logical and works as you expect it to.” The goal of the MIT Hobby Shop is to allow students to learn to make in a flexible learning environment, and learn more about the interface between digital technology, the physical world, and how things are made to go together. The shop houses tools building things with wood, plastic and metal, for the students to use like, but the Techno CNC is focused around mostly the wood projects. Lastly, Coby discussed how much the Techno CNC router is used in the shop. “The machine literally is used, almost every day. We are all very satisfied. The quality is great. The finish is great. The longevity of the machine is great (the shop has had the machine for over 5+ years now… running it consistently!) The accuracy is great. I am very pleased with it. Overall, our Techno CNC 4×8 machine is a real asset for our shop.”

Here is a photo of a luxury chopsticks set that the students at MIT Hobby Shop have designed. They made 100 sets total on the router for a holiday sales gala last winter.
 

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