Gary Campbell

As a carpenter and woodworker starting in the mid 70’s, I had an opportunity to apprentice under a master cabinetmaker in the early 80’s.  He was never as famous as some, but the traditional methodology he learned in the 1920’s and quality of product that he instilled in me has a value that I was never able to thank him for. His poor health and subsequent passing forced the closing of his shop and my employment shift into custom home building.

During the next 15 years I mixed cabinet making and home building in Northern Michigan (The Upper Peninsula, U.P. aka “Yooper”) with a crew of up to 15. We specialized in higher end homes with extensive interior millwork.  We were fortunate enough to work on a number of homes that were published in various home magazines including Architectural Digest.

In the late 90’s, with my longing for Florida’s weather and a dozen published homes in my resume, I was able to secure a position as a project manager with an exclusive contractor performing work in the Town of Palm Beach, FL and the Palm Beach Polo Club. We built homes for many Fortune 500 CEO’s and notable sports figures, most between $5M and $40M.

This position allowed me to observe and manage some of the finest craftsmen, methodology and products available anywhere. After some years of this, I found that the paperwork, scheduling stress and city driving were not a viable replacement in my psyche for hands on woodworking, which is very relaxing and satisfying to me.

In 2004, my 3rd son, Gary Jr., and I had been working together for a couple years. We decided to move to the Florida Keys and set up shop. We incorporated, and Islamorada Woodworks, Inc. was born.

It was at my son’s insistence that we purchased our first CNC machine.  A ShopBot 5 by 8 PRS Alpha.  Fighting the decision to purchase at first, I had no idea how well I would adapt to CNC woodworking.  Over the next year we were able to shift nearly all of our cabinet making processes to our CNC.  My son as the designer and myself preparing toolpaths was not the plan in the beginning, but it worked very well.

A few months into that first year it became obvious that we needed a panel drill to augment our cutting operations.  There was not an OEM version available at that time and with some baited prompting from my son, I was able to design and build one that worked pretty well.  That led to an improved version that worked very well and along with the two mounted on our machine, we sold 30 more to other cabinetmakers.  And that is where my vision of and love for “the machine” began.

A few more additions to the machine made it much more productive and we moved into production cutting to augment our custom woodworking in 2008.  We were starting to enjoy the fruits of our labor and were ready to sign a regional agreement with a national brand in 2009 when my son became ill.  In 2010 we sold that first machine to one of the shops we had been cutting for and together we moved back home to Michigan for my sons final year.

We purchased a ShopBot ATC machine and continued woodworking and commercial cutting on a part time basis, and I also started doing a few service trips for ShopBot in the region. Fortunately I was able to schedule both the trips and cutting around the ever increasing care that my son required.

After my son’s passing in 2011, and after 35+ years in woodworking, it became increasing more difficult to go to the shop I once shared with him.  I was fortunate to be offered and accept a position with the ShopBot Team in Durham, NC.  There I developed and managed the Production Support department and had a seat on the R & D committee.  I was able to work on a number of fantastic projects with some of the finest people around.  I found out that my real love was building and modifying CNC machines and training operators in their use.

I was gathering parts for a highly modified machine that I planned to build at home and even had some good progress on the frame when I received a call from a friend.  He had another friend that was looking for someone to take over the production management at CAMaster and share in the redesign of the control and motion systems of the existing models and assist in the development of new ones.  This seemed to be the opportunity of a lifetime.  I love machines, and the prospect of overseeing them being machined and assembled seemed like a dream job. I had a chance to make a difference.

When I accepted the position I had no idea how hard it was going to be to leave my friends in Durham.  They were much more like family than coworkers.  Fortunately, new friends and challenges at CAMaster kept me both busy and challenged.  The tasks at hand were difficult, but due to the commitment and diligence of the staff, real progress was starting to be evident.

Production was stabilized and newly designed models were through the testing process and being delivered to customers.  I started building a few custom machines in my home shop in my spare time.  I also helped initiate CAMaster’s Training Program and am in instructor to this day.

We were just getting into development of the second phase of product improvement at the beginning of 2015 when it became evident to me that I needed to spend more time with my family back home in Michigan.  After 8 months of internal turmoil I moved to Michigan.  Along with spending much more time with my family, I now have time to build retrofit & upgrade parts for older machines, design custom machines and CNC control systems as a hobby, using the proceeds from one to finance the next.

I was able to find an 80’s vintage Bridgeport and did a complete CNC retrofit on it.  It’s my daily driver that mills parts for the other projects, which include a custom 2 by 3 gantry machine and a couple wood lathes with CNC control added.

My quarterly trips to teach at CAMaster’s customer training sessions have sparked a bug to pay it forward.  The joy of seeing the excited but perplexed look on the faces of new owners is surpassed only by an almost parental pride when those students post pictures of recent projects.  Thus begins the journey into CNC training.

I hope to see you at the next one!

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