Detoured: Inside MachineHistories

When designers and architects need a fancy centerpiece, a design element, or even some wall sconces, they don’t head over to the machine shop by themselves. They get someone else, who owns some fancy machines, knows how to use those fancy machines, and can create anything out of wood, foam, or metal to do the fabrication for them. Think of these companies as artisan contractors, capable of turning whatever an architect thinks of into a real, tangible object.

One of these such companies is MachineHistories, a joint venture between [Steven Joyner] and [Jason Pilarsky], who work in the medium of computer code and CNC programming. As part of the SupplyFrame Design Lab’s Detoured series, lead Staff Designer [Majenta Strongheart] takes us along for a tour of MachineHistories to figure out how this collaboration actually works.

This collaboration began at the ArtCenter College of Design where [Steven] and [Jason] spent most of their time working in the shop. Eventually, they realized they didn’t actually need the ArtCenter and decided to sign a lease and strike out on their own. The first tools in their new shop were just a 3-axis CNC and a laser cutter, but MachineHistories gradually expanded to enormous five-axis machines and other incredible tools. These machines are put to work creating works of art for architectural and design installations, ranging from futuristic chairs, fine furniture, to sculptures and even new designs for simple home items.

The skill and craftsmanship that goes into these works of art are beyond compare, but this is a great insight into how all those manufactured panels, design elements, and artistic accents are created, and one that shows you can do anything, provided you have the right tools.

18 thoughts on “Detoured: Inside MachineHistories

  1. “The skill and craftsmanship that goes into these works of art are beyond compare, but this is a great insight into how all those manufactured panels, design elements, and artistic accents are created, and one that shows you can do anything, provided you have the right tools.”

    And lots of $$$$$. Like browsing the Sears Catalog of old, and dreaming of what one could have.

    1. I don’t even get what’s so demanding of skill and craftsmanship, though I think that’s mostly the fault of the crappy video editing and unknowledgeable interviewer. Who are they, aside from their names and job titles? What is it that they do? What is novel about it? What are some examples of their works?

      They appear to be making procedurally generated heightmaps and then cutting them on CNCs. To which I say: And So what’s the skill? What’s the craftsmanship? Why is this on Hackaday? Everyone who gets a CNC router messes around with that sort of thing.

      Being handed a shitload of money to buy equipment isn’t craftsmanship (the bullshit generation capability to get the money, well…that might be a skill!) CNC operation CAN be a skill, but it’s not craftsmanship…and I don’t see any particular skill here; there’s no talk of how they use specific tooling or toolpaths to get a certain result, like you see in NYC-CNC’s videos and visits.

      Vacuum forming it to something isn’t craftsmanship. It’s barely a skill. Nor is taking a heightmap and wrapping it around an object.

      Now, if they had sent the NYC-CNC guy, THAT probably would’ve been interesting, he would’ve known what questions to ask…instead of a graphic designer who dressed up in coveralls to look “blue collar” and was like “OMG 5 axis, I heard that’s super cool, I totally wanna see a 5 axis. I know a lot about CAD/CAM and CNC.”

      No explanation of the name, even. And when I went to their site, I saw this:

      “MachineHistories is a design collaborative focusing on using the margins of mass production along with locating sentimentality, incorporating difference, involving mistakes, and applying technology.”


      Then there’s the cringey humblebragging that pervades their social media:

      1. How much trouble would it have been to pan the camera to also show the stuff they were talking about? I feel like the video was shot by a walking tripod with no clue about the subject matter.

        It’s like watching a video of two people talking about a gorgeous sunset without ever showing the sunset.

    1. A lot of promotional videos try to tell a human story, since that’s what healthy normal people are interested in. I’m with you though, I want to watch some ‘bots.

  2. Even though they were machining a foam block, that guy standing 3 feet from that running machine should at least have had on safety glasses. High speed tooling and bearing can always fail, as can the controller which might send the spinning tool into something very hard which could shatter it into tiny bits. (Shrapnel) Other than that, it was a very interesting piece.

  3. What is it with all the safety nannies on here of late. People should be able to weigh the risks and use appropriate protection as it is needed without the peanut gallery yelling “that is not safe! – don’t do that!”, in short “Stop telling me how to live my life MOM, I’ll be a Darwin award candidate if I want to”.

    1. i think that because there are several people who come to this site to learn new things it is important to reiterate safety warnings regularly. This is not because some people might not care if they are Darwin award winners, it is because some may not know better. A possible solution that might satisfy you is if HAD had a safety section and referenced the relative subsections in the posts? thus people learning about these methods could learn about them if they choose to and there would be no reason for the safety conscious to be making posts. What do you think? a fair compromise?

      1. Sounds fine to me. Interesting some think the warnings are all about them though. What do they hear in their heads, “they just trying to keep me from enjoying life”?

    2. Well, since you are an expert I guess that means I was not talking to you. I only have 20 years as a machinist and like to maybe save the sight of some newbie that has no clue how dangerous certain situations are. You must remember, no one is forcing you to read every posting so please keep that in mind. Also, I agree with you that you have every right to win the Darwin award. I wish you a lot of luck in doing so if that is your goal.

      1. Well I’m not an expert with your machines or theirs and I do spend more time in E-Hazzard steel toes and safety glasses then not during the week then not so I do believe in safety when it’s appropriate, the guys the article is about know their machines well enough to have made a major business using them so I’m not going to second guess their safety policy same as I wouldn’t question yours if I was in your shop.

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