Lee and Max Simmons opened Automated Artisans on North Main Street in Gallatin, MO, in the fall of 2016.
The shop features carvings and signage and will eventually offer furniture and jewelry boxes. The wood crafts will be ready for a sidewalk display during Chautauqua in September. The showroom itself will be ready by the end of October. The first floor of the McCluskey Building, formerly housing Three B Silversmiths and Woodruff Ice Cream, now houses the Automated Artisan sales room. The second floor is the shop.
The crafts are made from scratch in the shop. Lee explained that after gluing together planks, the wood blank is taken to the planers to achieve the right thickness. Next it is run through a table saw to square it. “Our first designs will be cabin décor,” said Lee. “We are making a lot of wildlife scenes.”
The designs, such as the catfish Lee was working on Monday, are all original designs, rather than patterns, and for this reason the process is time-consuming.
A computer makes a three dimensional model. “The computer uses the same principle as sculpturing by hand,” said Lee. “It starts with a round ball.”
The model takes from 10 to 18 hours of design time. The computer calculates a tool path and sends it to a CNC machine. The Compute Numerically Controlled machine converts the design into numbers. Lee’s catfish design had 103,000 lines of code. “I think it would be fair to call us computer nerds,” he said.
Once the CNC machine has finished the carving, it is stained, then taken to the lacquer table where it gets several coats for a glossy finish.
“We usually average two or three prototypes before we get the design right,” Lee said. “Our catfish needs a better background and the lettering is too small. My father is the master designer and he is very picky. He won’t quit until it’s perfect.”
Soon, five more C&C routers and a laser machine will be added to the shop. At present the shop is able to produce two three-dimensional carvings a day and about five engravings. Each of the new machines will double that amount of production.
Max Simmons, Lee’s father, said he removed about 200 yards of debris from the downstairs. He took out walls, concrete, and even a couple of old freezers from when the building was owned by Woodruffs. “I found a corn cob in one of the freezers and gave it to my father-in-law for his 80th birthday,” Max said. “I figured it was older than he was.”
After housing Tate Motor Company from 1917-1920, the building sat vacant a few years, then was the home of Woodruff’s Ice Cream from about 1925 to 1975. Some of Max’s other finds include a work order from the Tate Motor Company and a ledger book from Woodruff Ice Cream. The ledger was given to Frank Woodruff. It contained his great-grandmother’s signature.
Max added floor joists and new beams; rebuilt structure posts; and jacked the upstairs floor about 18 inches. The upstairs was also re-decked. Eventually it will get new windows. It took about eight months to do the work.
The Simmons also purchased the Hunt Apartment building, a brick building next door on the north. It is too far gone for repairs and, since it poses a liability to the shop, most probably will be torn down.
Lee will create designs; make sales; and work the floor. “Our main market will be Kansas City,” he said. “Gallatin is a good spot to ship to K.C.” Max will also create designs and will handle product management.
— written by T.L. Huffman for the Gallatin North Missourian