A & M Woodcraft – Clocktopus Catch-all Tray

We love to hear what makes you tick and why you love woodworking.  Perhaps your bug started as a hobby making things for friends and family, you love educating people on socials, or you turned a skill into a new business. Whatever the journey, it’s no surprise that as we engage our muscles and minds into activities we enjoy, our brains release dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, giving an addictive boost for our mind, body and soul.  For this month’s story, we chatted to Alex Rodriguez about what inspires him, his construction background and how he incorporates Design & Make clipart into his exotic hardwood end grain projects.

Alex, it’s always great to see your amazing projects shared on Instagram. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into woodworking.

I am 33 and this year will be celebrating my 15 year anniversary with my amazing wife.  I wasn’t raised by any woodworkers or computer gurus so my craft happened by near accident but I grew up working with my father’s construction company so I’m pretty comfortable with various trades.  I am a Jehovah’s Witness and was raised with many bible principles, one being “you receive free; you give free” and I am grateful to say I have found this to be true in my life. This belief has allowed me to give back to various communities, volunteering my time and resources to help out where there’s been a need.  As well as New York, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming and my home state Idaho or as us locals call it ‘Idahome’, I volunteered in our disaster relief program and after quitting my office job, I used my construction skills rebuilding homes in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Dorian and Maria, followed by St John and St Thomas. I then went onto rebuild homes several times in California after the Paradise Fires as well as in The Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian hit.  Us JW’s love people and it’s been a true privilege to help others, especially those less fortunate who’ve lost absolutely everything. My making journey started a few years ago when my wife asked me what I wanted for our anniversary.  I love playing chess so I told her I would love a beautiful chess set - real wood with hand-carved pieces and board.  We ordered the pieces from India and I loved them but the chess board was real wood without any protective coating, so I tried doing it myself with polyurethane and the squares on the board began to wrinkle and peel off and I found the board was veneered with pencil-thin real wood on top of cheap particle board!  Veneer work is a great craft but I wanted a solid wood chessboard gift to keep forever so I got chatting to a good friend who is over twice my age and loves woodworking. My grandmother who helped raise me had also just passed away during Covid so my friend told me it would be a therapeutic, pleasurable experience to build my own and what a great idea! I already had the basic tools to get started and only needed a few items to complete it, and I was amazed with how much I loved making this chessboard! My first ever project was a Walnut and Oak chess board and I enjoyed it so much I immediately made 3 more afterwards. Having a giving spirit, I was looking forward to gifting these chess sets to friends and family.

When did you start A&M Woodcraft, and how long has your business been operating?

I started the business in 2021 during the lockdowns and the A&M is mine and my wife Melissa’s initials. We’re a fledgeling business and building up our shop on Etsy for various craft events.

What CNC setup do you have and when / why did you start using Vectric VCarve software?

I have a Onefinity CNC Journeyman X-50 with a cutting area of 48" x 32" which lets me cut full sheets of wood but it can also cut plywood, MDF, plastics, foam, brass, aluminum. With it I have a Makita compact trim router head plus a touch probe for my axis dimensions, topped off with VCarve Pro. This is my first and only CNC, ever! VCarve Pro is my first software too and I bought both of these purely because I believe you get what you pay for. I have to enjoy my work so I needed 3 things right away from any purchase. Reputable, reliable and quality. 

We’re blown away by the quality of work you have created so quickly. How do you find your inspiration for the unique finishing detail, when did you start experimenting using mixed woods and where do you get ideas for the unusual wood being used?

Since my first woodworking project ever was intended for myself as a keepsake that I could be proud of, my project inspiration is to achieve beauty that would speak for itself. I had the mindset that I would never rush at the cost of quality; that I would always enjoy the process of creating. Whether it takes a week or a month, that’s fine with me as long as I can say that’s the best I can do. I’ve kept that mentality ever since.

It’s great to see you turning clipart into such masterpieces. When did you decide to start using Design&Make clipart with your projects?

I bought my Onefinity and VCarve Pro software at the same time in May 2022 and my CNC came in the mail so I immediately put it together then didn’t touch it the whole summer!! I spent the summer playing golf and working so didn’t post or even attempt to work on learning about the CNC until September. To be honest it did intimidate me as I don’t consider myself a tech genius and this was something 100% new to me, plus I didn’t personally know anyone with either of these set ups. One day at the end of August I grabbed an ice cold beer and told myself “I am not leaving the shop until I figure this out” and several YouTube videos later, I was milling out one of my favorite scriptures with juice grooves cutting my first piece of wood on the CNC with VCarve the same day!!! Within 2 weeks came the ‘Clocktopus’! Looking back I am still jaw dropped at how user- friendly the software truly is with a bit of sincere effort, and maybe the cold beer helped too. It wasn’t that long ago so you could say my CNC journey is just getting started!!

Wow, you have learnt so much in such a short space of time! Can you talk us through how the ‘Clocktopus’ catch-all tray came about?

On my Instagram page you can see some of the “chaos” end grain boards I make and those glue ups are a ten day process with 10 separate glue ups to get those angles.  I have to start off with a large batch of wood but after all the milling and cut offs, I’m left with a much smaller percentage including many cut offs in the process. I try to reuse as much as possible and put those together then I randomly decided to look at the Vectric Design&Make clipart store and saw the Steampunk edition Clocktopus and just had to have it. Bought it and didn’t even try a test run – just straight into cutting using a .25 downcut bit for the roughing then a .25 ball nose bit for the finish. I plan to make more Clocktopus and next time I will be using a 1/8 ball nose bit for the finish. It will look even sharper next time! One of the many things I love about VCarve is being able to do a virtual test run - it’s amazing!  I bought it and within 15 minutes I was milling on that gorgeous end grain chaos wood. Posted the pics and video and it was sold.

It’s fantastic to hear you’re building confidence with each project. How did you achieve the beautiful wood finishes?

The Steampunk octopus was made from Padauk, Walnut, Purpleheart, Cherry, Maple, and Maple Ambrosia and sanding is crucial; prep work is everything. Sand to a minimum of 240 and if you really want to make an impression, go to a 1000 grit. Many makers will say you don’t have to do this which is right but when you go that far, the wood will speak for itself. It’s the same as brand-name mineral oils which are expensive and people use sparingly. I use commercial grade mineral oil and I make it rain on my boards - sometimes saturating and using so much my shop floor looks flooded - so don’t skimp on the mineral oil!

Do you produce any custom work for your Etsy shop or is most of your work off the shelf?

I am very new to Etsy and still learning their process but I do it all from custom engraving, color requests to work off-the-shelf. The majority of my sales are through DMs, collaborations or local contacts and word of mouth.

That’s great you’re getting work by recommendation and networking. Which part of the process or which product do you enjoy creating most?

Something I hold dear is that my wife and I have a personal ratio of gift to sell so I don’t allow my sales to exceed how much we gift first. I don’t live off my earnings from woodworking so when someone is widowed, ill or going through a tough situation... or they’re just awesome and deserve a pick-me-up, I love that VCarve allows me to personalize a precious handmade gift to brighten up someone’s day!

You’re a very compassionate woodworker. Is there a really unusual project you’ve been involved with?

That’s easy! A famous Instagramer named Ryan from @feldthousefamilywoodworks who is well known for his unique style of weave called ‘The Feldhouse Weave’ made a Feldthouse weave contest to incorporate their intricate design in any way possible.  Two of my best friends who live in my town are Blacksmiths: @WilburnForge AKA Aaron Wilburn (a Master Smith) and his son Rocky Wilburn @Wilburnforgetherock. I went to them with this idea of making ‘one of a kind’ Damascus Wood Chisels so I made the wood handles with the weaves and ended up in their shop working together on the chisels, and they came out amazing! I also helped my older woodworking friend to make 2 matching wood mallets with the same weaves which look pretty amazing.

Those Damascus wood chisels and mallets look incredible! Having a maker cooperative or community collaborations really helps bring together fresh ideas and different crafting techniques. Is there anything you have adapted or done differently since producing your first project?

I used to ‘babysit’ my projects as I was a bit nervous something could go wrong but some mills can take several hours, so I now use double-sided tape and clamp my projects down to assure they will stay and place. You can even add cameras to watch if you feel the need. I’m not recommending this but I personally feel comfortable leaving the setup alone now to work its magic, as long as my speed and feed rates are appropriate. 

Do you have any top tips or tricks for other Vectric makers interested in home decor projects, unusual woods or epoxy resin techniques?

Definitely use your resources! I’m finally online and on social media and there you’ll easily find so many makers who are as passionate as you are about this work... or they will find you! Get to know them, ask questions and share the learning. In this day and age there are many instructional videos online and chances are there will be some with your exact set up. View them and show them some love online with a subscribe and a ‘like’ so they will continue to teach us online. I learned what I thought was impossible by doing just that and I am still learning everyday by doing so. Every day is a new learning day and that’s what I love.

Alex, thank you so much for sharing your look down memory and inspiring more people to start making. Check out the project gallery showing the variety of work Alex has created and keep an eye on his Instagram page for more chaotic styled  butchers blocks, knife stands and other exciting home projects.

AM Woodcraft - Idaho Falls, Idaho, USA



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