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Reed-Custer High School

CAD/CAM Elevates Woodworking at Reed-Custer

The Industrial Technology students at Reed-Custer High School in Braidwood, Illinois are encouraged to let their imaginations soar and their skills flourish as they learn how to create works of function and beauty.  Their medium is wood, and their audience is comprised of appreciative residents in the school’s community. Their teacher, Mark Smith, brings years of advanced manufacturing experience to the classroom.

Quick Facts

  • Product Used: Router, File Translators, Educational Suite
  • Industry: Woodworking, Education

Project Details

  • The Challenge: Combine advanced manufacturing technology with woodworking to bring a level of excitement to the classroom that will encourage students to open their minds to the benefits of a career in manufacturing while letting them enjoy the experience as they develop new CAD/CAM skills.
  • The Solution: Educational Suite, Art
  • Benefits:
    • Easy programs for students to learn
    • Promotes advancement of skill levels
    • Offers teacher assistance as needed
    • Widely accepted in industry

Beautiful custom cabinets designed, fabricated and installed in local residents’ kitchens and attractively milled and stained signs to proudly welcome visitors to a business or community are among the many projects successfully tackled by the students in Mark Smith’s Industrial Technology classes at Reed-Custer High School in Braidwood, Illinois. The work is done in exchange for the cost of materials and a small donation to the class for equipment and field trips.  

The Industrial Technology program at Reed-Custer High School in Braidwood, Illinois, which utilizes wood materials for all levels of instruction and production, covers a wide range of woodworking materials and equipment, including the latest for programming and CNC operations. The program is affiliated with the Woodworking Career Alliance to assure students an in-depth learning experience as well as post-graduate opportunities for both those directly entering advanced manufacturing industries and those going on to college.

“Students entering the program as freshmen or sophomores,” says Smith, “start out with Orientation to Technology.  They begin by using AutoCAD® to design a project in the CAD portion of CAD/CAM (Computer Assisted Design/Computer Assisted Manufacturing). Once they have their project drawn, usually a personalized engraving on a long board to capture their getting-started interest, I have them import the file into Mastercam® for the CAM portion. They could do both in Mastercam, but I like to expose them to as many engineering programs as I can, with AutoCAD and Mastercam being the two ‘biggies’ they’ll find in industry.  They’ll do any needed geometry cleanup and then create their toolpaths for machining their project.

One of the first Production Class projects this year was a 3’ x 8’ sign fabricated for welcoming visitors to a donating organization’s community in nearby Morris, Illinois. “It was all designed in Mastercam,” says Smith. “Then they programmed the toolpaths with Mastercam and cut the exterior-wood sign on our Thermwood CNC router, complete with stylishly engraved lettering. The toolpathing I concentrate on is primarily for contouring, drilling and engraving. We also fabricated some plaques, one for an administrator and another to be raffled off for a Senior Class fundraiser.” These projects led up to a major undertaking after that calling for Smith’s students to design and build a huge set of staircases for the school’s musical theater production of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.’ All toolpaths for creating these sets were programmed in Mastercam and cut out on the CNC router.

“Those staircases helped us gear up for a major kitchen cabinet job for a local resident,” says Smith. “While there is a certain amount of hand work, such as attaching the hardware, and a variety of measuring and production techniques for a project of this size, we use Mastercam toolpaths and the CNC router to make sure the shelf holes in the facing sides are exact. Faces and decorative features are also all designed and programmed in Mastercam, so everything is dead-on when the cabinets are installed. A series of checks make sure the geometries and toolpaths are correct. After program testing is done using scrap materials, we put the actual cabinet material on the router and cut out all the base and upper cabinet sections. This particular job has varying depths and heights to the upper and lower cabinets. There is a total of eighteen cabinets, and a large island completes the set.”

When Mr. Smith’s students graduate, they will have their Woodworking Career Alliance Sawblade Certificate attesting to their woodworking proficiency and many will have their WCA Passport, certifying their skills in the use of a wide range of equipment, leading to industry recognition of the individual’s capabilities when entering the job market, going for a pay raise, or applying to a college.

The WCA also provides training for teachers. “I went to Madison Wisconsin Area Technical College,” says Smith, “where I learned how to administer the tests for Sawblade and Passport Certifications. Our graduates will know how to use AutoCAD and Mastercam, as well as all the traditional woodworking hand tools. Next year, we’ll add even more learning experience to our program. Although we have been building acoustic guitars as part of our curriculum, DEPCO Enterprises, LLC has donated fifteen seats of Mastercam Art to the school that we will use to introduce 3D design and production of electric guitars to our STEM II class for the first time.”

Whether earning certificates while building cabinets for donating to customers or achieving skill levels while designing projects for their personal enjoyment, Mark Smith’s students seem headed toward a very satisfying future in advanced manufacturing.