By Gabrielle Fowler
With today’s convenience, it’s so much easier to buy something than to make it from scratch. However, sometimes the things you want are too expensive or simply don’t exist—enter the world of DIY enthusiasts. Jerry Moreau of Cypress Graphics in Prairieville is one such person. In addition to many other devices in his shop, he built himself a large, powerful, high-end CNC machine at an affordable cost.
The opposite of a 3D printer, a CNC starts with a block of material and carves it down bit by bit like a sculptor. Built for a fifth the market cost, it’s designed to Moreau’s specifications; right down to the drawer that holds the bits and tools.
“Building it myself, I didn’t have to compromise. I could choose the individual parts that I wanted for my needs.” This flexibility gives him the bonus of being his own tech support. “Anytime you build something yourself, you have a much greater understanding of how it works and the parts and how those work together.”
But just like any tool, the quality of the CNC’s work depends on the skill of the artist or engineer using it.
“We have a good, solid machine that’s very versatile but the most important thing is the staff to be able to run it and know how to use it to its full capability…just the brainpower to know what it can do and how to make it do it.” These high standards have earned Cypress Graphics clients such as Nike, and unexpectedly the movie industry, where they’ve been commissioned to make props. “They want certain little projects that machine shops won’t touch and other design shops won’t do.”
Of course, building it was no easy feat. The project started in January and took nine months to complete. Overall, Moreau estimates it took at least 500 hours to put the machine together – and it still isn’t finished. He plans to add a motor that will greatly increase the torque, allowing for better cuts, smoother transition, and more power.
Perfect or not, Moreau’s machine goes above and beyond the reach of other CNCs. The oversized flatbed is 5’x10’ with nine inches of vertical working area, which is much bigger than the average machine.
“We’re able to do very accurate work with it, very fine detail but we’re also able to do higher production, heavy cuts…we’re able to cut aluminum and three or four-inch material where other shops are afraid to go over a quarter of an inch,” he said.
This capability is impressive for a machine that requires a multi-skilled operator. Moreau claims it took him a year and a half to get accustomed to the work.
Using the machine, Moreau’s business has been able to complete big projects that otherwise would have been impossible. For example, the television show Sons of Guns once requested a replica hover car and ten robot mannequins, each with 30 or 40 pieces of plated armor ready for an episode in less than a week.
“There was no way we could have done that by hand accurately and cleanly…the machine just let us do it,” he said.
He’s even made parts for a full-scale replica of an atomic bomb for the World War II museum. But Moreau’s personal favorite was a real challenge in precision—a simulated sandblasted woodgrain sign he made for John Folse. But fabrication and sculpture are only a small part of what this technology is capable of.
“You have to have the dedication to doing it,” said Moreau. “It’s not so much a maker mentality; it’s more of a doer mentality. You do some calculations, but some of it is just seat of the pants and knowing this will work and that won’t. If you don’t have it and you need it and you don’t have the financial means for it and if it’s possible, just make it!”