3-D printing and rapid-prototyping have allowed makers to easily manufacture one-off products that once were predominantly factory-made–anything from guitar picks to shoes. But there’s still a limitation on what materials you can use to 3-D print designs.
Chicago-based design firm Inventables is developing Carvey, a 3-D carving machine that is designed to make it easier for creative people to build store-quality objects from any of dozens of materials in minutes. “In the past few years we’ve seen an explosion in 3-D printing, and we believe that 3-D carving is the next step,” CEO and designer Zach Kaplan tells Co.Design in an email. Carvey is a tabletop machine that lets you click “carve” the way you’d click the “print” button to create a document from your computer–only instead of loading paper into it, you might load a sheet of metal or a block of wood.
3-D printing works by building up digital cross sections of an object layer by layer. 3-D carving, on the other hand, is subtractive rather than additive. “Carvey the opposite of a 3-D printer; not in concept but in the technical sense, as the user is ‘carving’ away at their creation rather than building it up,” Kaplan says. Typically, a 3-D printer only lets you print in particular materials, like plastic or rubber. You have to buy a separate device,like a CNC Miller , if you want to create objects out of wood. But Carvey can speedily create objects from a wide variety of materials–it’s an all-in-one shop.
Here’s how it works: Using an extremely sharp rotating bit, Carvey instantly cuts the material with great precision into the shape you want. For example, Carvey can create a woodcut sign from a solid block of mahogany, a working circuit board for electronic devices, or a monogrammed silver necklace. Processes that once required specialty knives and serious whittling skills, or soldering irons and rubber goggles, now take place in an aluminum-cased box small enough to fit on your desk. “We’ve designed Carvey for makers and design professionals of all levels,” Kaplan says, “from artists and teachers to architects and engineers.” Their main goal was to make it easy to use.
Carvey comes with free design software that runs in a web browser and controls the machine. The software is called Easel, and it lets you design in 2-D an object you want to carve in 3-D–for example, you can draw a lightning shape for a necklace pendant. Then, you choose your materials: Easel lets you preview your project as it would look in dozens of materials before you carve it.
The machine also allows for more freedom with materials than 3-D printers, which are generally limited to one or just a few materials each–you need to buy multiple printers to be able to use different materials. Carvey lets you make objects from hard woods, like mahogany, walnut, and maple; softwoods like pine and balsa; metals like aluminum, copper, brass, silver and gold; cork; foam; wax; linoleum; and plastics. Say you want to carve your lightning bolt in silver–you load a silver sheet in the machine, click “carve,” and Carvey slices away, creating your necklace pendant in minutes.
“People we talked to at events, as well as our friends in the maker community, said they wanted to be able to use technology in way that let them focus on their creative ideas and not require them to dig into technical settings and configurations,” Kaplan says. “We saw that there isn’t a 3-D carving machine out there that is easy to use, a compact size, and allowed people to make an object in five minutes. We want to bring out the maker in all of us.”
Carvey is currently raising funds on Kickstarter. It’s available for pre-order for $2,000 here. If funded, it’s estimated to ship out in September 2015.