Even More Than Sculpture

Machining is different from other types of manufacturing. It’s a subtractive process.


Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

Machining is different from other types of manufacturing. It’s a subtractive process. Instead of building up the work, machining asks the manufacturer to see what must be removed, with the engineer or machinist picturing the finished work within the raw stock. Machining is thus an act of sculpture.

Recently in MMS Extra, our e-mail newsletter, I relayed an anecdote that illustrated this to me. It was a small thing that happened some time ago, but I remember it well. A job shop owner was giving me a quick tour—pointing out this machine, that machine, how the shop is organized today versus the way things were before—when suddenly he stopped to pick up a freshly machined part off of a table by a CNC machine. The part, still sopping with coolant, was vaguely nautilus-shaped with elaborate channels milled into it.

“Now that,” he said, “is a beautiful part.”

He had an artist’s appreciation for what his shop had done.

The more I think about this, the more I realize that machining is actually something even more than sculpture. The work of a manufacturer is objective, not subjective. While a sculptor can follow inspiration, the manufacturer’s customer has a specific design in mind—specific to thousandths of an inch. In addition, the shop may not produce just one work the way a sculptor does, but instead produces many identical replicas. The process is as much a work of creation as the part.

In that same issue of our newsletter, I asked readers to show their sculptures. That is, I asked them to share photos of their impressive parts. I received many interesting replies—enough that it seems likely we will run a feature sometime in the future showcasing interesting parts our readers have machined. If you would like your shop to be part of something like this, please see the shaded box on this page.