A Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) machine processes a piece of material to meet specifications by following a coded programmed instruction and without a manual operator directly controlling the machining operation.
Modern-day CNC machines hold multiple tools and make many types of cuts. The type of cutting can vary from plasma cutting to laser cutting, milling, routing, and lathes. In the wood flooring industry, CNC routers most-commonly are utlizied for customized inlay work. CNC routers are used to cut large dimensions in wood, metal, sheets, composites, and plastics. Standard routers operate on 3-axis coordinate, so they can cut in three dimensions.
Czar Floors in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, is one company that utilizes CNC equipment. A frequent NWFA Wood Floor of the Year (WFOY) winner, Czar Floors won the 2021 WFOY for Best Use of Technology. (Read more about this project on page 72). Hardwood Floors caught up with Edward Tsvilik of Czar Floors to learn more about the company’s experience with CNC.
How were you first introduced to the CNC equipment technology side of this industry? My background is in electrical engineering, working with CNC equipment from the late 80s. I was installing and setting up CNC routers, primarily for metal. It started with my home remodeling project. I wanted something different for my wood floor. Visiting a local floor store shocked me. A small, primitive floor medallion would cost thousands of dollars and variety was very limited. Not everybody wants a compass in the house. I felt an opportunity right there.
When my business partner and I first got involved with floor inlays, our goal was to improve them, add more flavor, and make floor decorations more affordable and accessible. We inspected many products made by companies working with flooring inlays at a time. We looked at the potential issues with current methods and the cost of production. The majority of those products were made using laser cutting or by hand. Laser is a great tool, but has several inherent issues. Technically, it is a CNC as well.
The laser requires a lot of energy to generate a powerful beam. They have a limit on the wood thickness they can cut. Lasers burn wood – this often creates blackened/burned edges on all wood pieces. It makes for challenges in gluing the wood. We concluded that CNC routers were the answer, and built CNC machines with multiple router heads that could make four border sections simultaneously, reducing the cost and time.
How many of the floors that Czar produces include CNC machining? CNC production is not cheap. All curvy designs we produce are made using CNC routers. Parquet and geometrical designs are made on the other non-CNC equipment.
What skills are needed to understand and run this equipment that makes it different from traditional flooring tools? Those tools require an understanding of the relationship of router speed, table speed, thickness, and characteristics of the given wood. Through trial and error, one can learn that certain woods require slow cutting to avoid burning edges and destroying the router bit. Test runs are helpful to determine the best approach. Every piece of equipment is different. CNC machines need to be watched for overheating and excessive vibration. Periodic maintenance, replacement of parts, and recalibration are routine. Good electro-mechanical skills or a contract with an outside service will help immensely. The learning curve can be steep. As with many other skills, YouTube is your friend and I recommend joining CNC discussion groups online.
Are there ever challenges with aligning the intended floor design being programmed into the CNC vs. the final installed product? Often we need to make adjustments to the produced designs. For complex, large, whole-room inlays, we dry-assemble the floor in the shop to verify the fit and appearance.
Would you encourage other wood flooring professionals to utilize these types of advances in technology for their own installations? Our first CNC routers were built in-house. At the time, we could not find affordable machines that would satisfy our requirements. Today, the availability of affordable CNC machines can democratize this industry. Interfaces are much more intuitive and easy to understand. Cutting an inlay is almost as easy as printing shape to CNC instead of a printer. How often has the flooring installer wished they could easily cut a board around the curved stair tread or wall or engrave the owner’s family name on the board as a bonus? A small CNC setup can make one flooring company a step above the competition.