Watch these robots measure and saw wood

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A lot of the joy of carpentry is doing the work of feeding the saws and planers and so forth. Why deprive us of this joy?


Remember, measure twice, cut once.

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Or feeding various body parts into the saw. :scream_cat:

The world needs more robots with saws attached to their arms.


I don’t see this replacing hobby carpentry. Knitting has been automated since the 16th century, yet that doesn’t stop knitters from doing their thing.


The thing is, carpenters who work in production have used non-robotic ways (fixtures and jigs) to automate the measuring of wood pieces in their saws for decades. Perhaps this is why this is only being examined now.


One of my scariest moments was when I nearly cut my lower left arm in half with a miter saw. Fortunately I saw my mistake before I started the cut! Still gives me shivers to think about it.

First carpentry… then our freedom!

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Like a lot of digital fabrication ideas, this is a combination of promising and stupid. The broad point – that robots can amplify what non-expert DIYers can handle – is absolutely correct, but the understanding of exactly how that might work is, um, not incisive.

If you need two(!!) robots to pick up a piece of timber and move it across the room, then you are almost certainly never going to undertake a carpentry project. The level of automation required for that sort of end user, i.e. a machine where you push a button and furniture pops out, is both too difficult and too pointless to be interesting.

But if you want to do projects, and just don’t have the specific skills / tools / confidence etc., then a little bit of the right kind of automation could go a long way. Like, I can imagine a shoebox-sized machine that will say things like “feed me a 1x8 board that’s at least 200cm long”, and then spits out drilled, cut, jointed parts and tells you how to screw them together, based on a parametric design you customised on your phone. That would be useful.

It’s like those dopey futurism videos from the 90s. PC vendors got that their technology would make a big difference, but they were trapped by the idea that this would mean everyone needing huge amounts of PC-vendor intervention in our lives, paying Microsoft for software to decide when to turn the lights on and so forth. What everyone actually wanted was for vendors to supply minimal, reliable tools and then go away.


Here’s one that climbs trees wielding a chainsaw.


(Click link and scroll down to see larger version.)


This had me chuckling for a full minute. Too true, but hey, it’s a symptom of living in an advanced age where inventing anything is hard.

I’m no expert woodworker, but I’ve recently been introduced to pocket hole joinery, and it’s completely changed how I think about constructing things. Spring for the fancy ~$130 jig and the process of knocking something together with 2x4s is both nearly idiot-proof and finished by the time you’ve finished your first gorgeous sunrise dovetail joint. Your robot wouldn’t make building such things considerably faster, and if cutting with a simple pull saw, you’d have to be a world-class klutz to injure yourself. The software you’re envisioning is the wildly more useful element here - even Sketchup Pro in “woodworker” mode feels like trying to use AutoCAD to model a furry animal, yet it’s apparently the most efficient thing you’ll find to create simple wooden designs.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a Y Combinator pitch anywhere in here, because the second you have IKEA to compete against, the practicality of personal sawbots and AI-enabled woodworking software is no longer promising, it’s just the other thing. The creation of furniture is already heavily automated and digitally designed, it’s just done at scale. Rich people buying fine furniture are never going to go with the machine-built option while a human woodworker still breathes, and 99.9% of most other furniture needs will be met by a shit-cheap MDF thing in a flat-pack catalog.

We effectively already have the robot you describe. For better or worse, it’s called capitalism.


My first pocket hole project was a fairly ambitious plywood bookshelf; around an hour all told, including cutting but not finishing; that was with the small $30 Kreg jig. However, you have to be a bit careful with pocket hole joints, as they are not strong in all directions.

“That table looks janky as hell” is what I said at the end of the video.



I think we’re talking about two separate things here, though. There’s acquiring objects – which is industry’s wheelhouse, and always will be – and there’s being the author of your own environment, which a significant minority will always want to do, once they’ve tried it for the first time. (And of course there’s people who make fine joinery purely for its own sake).

I’m always evangelizing Enzo Mari’s book Autoprogettazione?, which is a wordless bunch of plans for furniture using only square-cut boards and nails. The style is pretty particular, but it makes a strong case that if you have a saw and a hammer, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from furnishing your entire house with stuff you made yourself. The genius of it is how it blows away the question of where to start; if you’re creating something out of thin air, it doesn’t have to be in the Chippendale style, so you don’t need the skills and tools to work in that style, so the question is what skills and tools you do have, and as long as you can check off “basic sawing” and “hammering” then you can just go from there.

Most people will want a slightly bigger vocabulary than that, but once you’ve grokked the basic point you’re off to the races. These CSAIL bozos have not grokked it. They’re thinking a carpentbot must be able to do anything, but (a) that’d be hopelessly complicated and expensive and (b) it would make the very first step so much harder, because you’d face a paralysing choice of what to make. They are looking at DIY as just another way to sate consumer desire, and it’s wrong because advertising will only ever tell us to desire things that advertisers are the best at making.

But I do think there’s a place for cheap, compact carpentbots that can make Enzo Mari-style carpentry easier and quicker. The product is the bot itself, not the things you can make with it.


It would take a robot akin to the mars rover to traverse the terrain of my woodshop.


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