Phoenix Craft Creations – Garden Gonks

Personalised décor is a big part of a home’s personality and Craig from Phoenix Craft Creations knows the joy that a perfect piece of custom made woodwork can bring to someone’s house. As a sole trader making furniture and crafts, Craig's work really is his passion, whether it’s a nifty space-saving piece, a tiny jewellery box, a frame for a treasured memory, or a pride of place table or chair.  Craig’s mantra is to share the love of shopping small and specialised rather than buying mass produced pieces from big stores, and just knowing something he’s made can be cherished by his customers still gives Craig a buzz even after four years. Let’s find out how he used Design & Make clipart to make these groovy Garden Gonks to make something fun and quirky for people’s gardens.

Craig, thank you for sharing your gonk project with us. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into woodworking.

I worked for the Post Office for 30 years, starting out as a part-time counter clerk serving customers and finally ended up as a Senior Property Project Manager. I took voluntary redundancy with no idea of what I was going to do next but I just knew I wanted a complete change. After helping renovate a property, I decided I wanted to learn a trade and make things, so after some research I enrolled onto a 2-year Cabinetmaking Furniture course at my local college, where I passed my Levels 1 and 2 in Cabinetmaking and Furniture Crafts. Woodworking was not something I did prior to attending college, it was not a hobby, and I didn’t do any DIY at all, so it was a genuine leap of faith for me. I watched a few videos of various trades on the Warwickshire College Group website and found one on Cabinetmaking – I liked the guy presenting the video (Jamie Ward) and thought I would give it a go, I spoke with Jamie, explaining my complete lack of skills and experience; to which he said “if there’s any talent in you for woodworking I will get it out of you & show you the beauty and passion in creating things from wood” – he was not wrong, and I loved it from day one and I still love it.

It’s brilliant that you got the bug from another woodworker’s love of making and his positive energy. How did that turn into Phoenix Creative Crafts?

I really enjoyed making as a hobby so it just felt like the most natural next step to start a small business and run with that. I started Phoenix in September 2019 and have been designing and making furniture for nearly four years now. I love it so much and it doesn’t feel like a ‘job’ coming into the workshop each day!

We’re so glad you’re enjoying your newfound skill and growing it into a maker business. What type of projects do you create?

I produce lots of of different types of woodworking projects for customers including bespoke signs and nameplates plus home décor like jewellery and blanket boxes as well as pet beds, then there’s the larger items like furniture and cabinets, coffee tables and bookcases. I also love making products to support wildlife so I make and sell hedgehog houses, bird feeders and nesting boxes, plus garden furniture like planters, benches, and tables.

We love that you’re giving nature a home with your hog houses and that’s a fabulous idea to add some wildlife products to your shop. How long have you been using CNC?

I would still consider myself an ‘experienced beginner’ when it comes to CNC work – there’s still so much I haven’t learnt for it yet. I had used a CNC at college so I knew what they did and how they could be used but could not justify the large expense of one or the space they occupy in the workshop. After a lot of exploring the internet for suitable machines I finally found the Ooznest Workbee in 2020. It had good reviews and the footprint was reasonable for my mini workspace but they also offered several sizes and most importantly the price was within my budget, so I bought the 750x1000mm footprint along with Vectric VCarve Pro software. With hindsight I wish I had bought bigger and probably higher quality machine but it’s the best purchase I have made by far!

What part of the process do you do in-house and what work is outsourced?

Everything is done in-house by me from the software design to cutting and finishing the item. Design is something I have loved for many years especially software based; I was accustomed to using CAD as part of my Project Manager role, so I found learning the basics of VCarve quite simple.

We love your Garden Gonks and the paint finishing really makes them pop. What made you choose these characters?

I saw the gonks on the Vectric D&M Instagram page and just thought they looked cute. I knew these cute guys had a popular appeal to them and as I hadn’t done too much 3D work, I felt this was a good opportunity. I’m always on the lookout for something different and a bit quirky! What I love about D&M is the models are clean, carve well and are on the reasonable price scale. There is also a good flexibility with many of the packs you can buy, as the models separate so can be used with different models to create your own design.

Is this the first-time you’ve used Design & Make?

I’ve used D&M several times for small decoration items on pieces and to create a 3D heart shape for an ashes urn, but this was the first time I had bought a model specifically to make an ornament. The experience was excellent, the model was downloaded after purchase with a few minutes I was able to pay using PayPal – which is great as the price is in US dollars, so the exchange rate is fixed for that day. The model extracts straight into my D&M folder on my PC and can be used straight away with my VCarve Pro software.  I find the whole process of software design especially 3D models fascinating, but I did use the Moulding toolpath for the plinth for the first time, once I understood the mechanics of it and how the software interpreted the toolpath it was fine.

Wow that’s great to hear the gonks were your first foray into a 3D ornament. How did you create them?

I sized the model at 300x350x30mm and the plinth at 100x350x30mm, then added The Gonks plaque underneath using Eagle Lake (14) font. I used a piece of reclaimed oak block worktop which came in handy then cut and finished to size: 285x325x24mm. From start to finish the cutting process took about 4 hours; first with a roughing toolpath:

0.375” Ball Nose Whiteside bit with a 0.1” cut pass depth, 30% step over. Then finishing with a 3.175mm Tapered Ball Nose with 1mm tip with 8% step over.

I then gave the critters a light sanding which is all they required as the finishing toolpath is a detailed step-over which takes longer on the CNC but is far less to sand (Top-Tip!!), so 180 grit bristle brush in my Dremel gets the burrs off, sand out the tabs from the edges.

For the painting, I generally mix my own colours using standard blue, red, green, yellow, black & white to get the desired colour – all water-based acrylics. I do use an Airbrush on some areas but mostly hand painted using standard artist brushes of varying sizes. The bare wood has Danish or Lemon oil applied 2-3 coats, sanded with 600grit in between coats. Finally, a lacquer or clear varnish applied – 2-3 coats. Tip tip: try not to sand too much in between coats as I have found you can sand the paint off!

That sounds like a fairly quick process. Is there anything you would do differently next time?

I’ve produced 5 garden Gonk ornaments for customers and family, and I’m fairly process driven anyway so I like to get things right first time. I spend time designing and checking toolpaths will work prior to starting – these are lessons learnt over years of project management and using the CNC machine for all types of projects. I think the biggest learning points would have been checking any gaps between models & model heights. Run that simulator toolpath within the software & check it looks good on the PC first before you start cutting!

If you were to suggest D&M to another person, what would you say to them?

Just buy it – you will make your money back on the first sale if it’s for a business. Models are very professional, carve well and you can produce excellent items.

Thank you Craig for giving us a little insight into your life as a new maker business using VCarve and Design & Make clipart. We hope this has given our makers the inspiration to practice more techniques and try your hand at different clipart projects to add to your shop

Check out Craig’s project gallery then head over to his Instagram page to see more of his work:

Craig Knowles - Phoenix Craft Creations


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