From Firearms to Dental Devices: Bootstrap CNC Evolves into Viable Business

A self-taught machinist without any formal CNC education, Kyle Hale used his Series II PCNC 1100 to turn a hobby into a business in the span of less than six years.

“About five and a half or six years ago, my cousin and I bought ten AR-15 lower receiver forgings and finished them on a small drill mill. It was a small mill with a DRO and even though it took a while it was fun and they came out great. I was getting my masters and thought, ‘I wonder what it would take to make money doing this.’ I looked at a lot of mills and knew I didn’t want a manual mill because I recognized the needed to have consistency. I looked at a Tormach and read all the reviews and after a few months of going back and fourth I ended up going with the PCNC 1100 mostly because it had square columns and looked beefy. It wasn’t that much more than the others; and all kinds of people were saying it was a great low-production machine,” Hale recalled. “But basically I bought the PCNC 1100 without any formal machining education and no CNC mill experience. I think the first cut I took with the Tormach was with a ½ inch roughing end mill to make a billet lower receiver for an AR-15. I took a ½ inch plunge at about 45ipm. Needless to say that $150 rougher didn’t last but ¼ of an inch in. That was my first cut and I won’t forget it,” Hale said. Over the course of the following year and a half, Hale’s on-the-job training was a real life education in learning how to use the Tormach. “A lot of that time was spent yelling and screaming and crying and learning not only what I was doing wrong, but how to do it right. Now I am able to help people on a couple of the CNC forums with their Tormach. Usually what people are struggling with is something I already overcame.” Fast forward a few years. Hale’s wife was accepted into dental school and things were ramping up with the gun business. “By this time last year I had finally reached the steep part of the learning curve and had a good method for producing lowers on the PCNC 1100. I was finally at the point that running the machine meant making money. However, I soon realized that the Tormach really couldn’t meet the demand for how quickly the business was growing. Now most of the gun parts are made on a large industrial-sized milling center, and the Tormach is back in my garage.” “In August of 2011 one of my wife’s dental professors found out that I have a machine shop. He called me in and said, ‘We’re spending the entire first day of class trying to wrestle with an old solution for mounting typodonts (model teeth) to an adjustable articulator (artificial jaws that students can study),’ and he asked if there was something I could do to help.” Hale continued, “I’d never done any hard engineering/designing before, but I told him I’d give it a try. And by December, after a few prototypes, they accepted what I made and loved it. I used Alibre to make everything, including all the renderings I did for the assembly to check clearances and then I used SprutCAM to make all the code for it.” Filming the PCNC 1100 with ATC and power-draw bar, 6" 4th Axis with 5C collet and 3-jaw chuck, Hale’s You Tube video shows the production of one of 100+ assemblies. “Each assembly has five machined aluminum parts and two custom-made washers that were stamped and then machined for chamfers,” Hale said. “Chatter was a big problem and was fixed (in most cases) using the Tormach Tooling System 17mm center cutting end mill. I just can’t believe how much metal the cutter can eat. I wish I’d heard about that a long time ago. It’s really cranking through the material and I’m really impressed.” Hale is now working on a new design for an adjustable articulator that will hopefully replace the dated model used at the dental school. “I went to college and got my bachelors in biology and my Masters in Public Health. The business education from my masters got me thinking that making guns might be profitable, and I took some time off when I was learning the machining. In the mean time, I also applied to dental school and got in. So, this August I’m actually selling my firearm shop and possibly keeping the Tormach in my garage. I really enjoy the machining and all the problem solving. It’s kind of a weird way how things are working out.” To learn more about Kyle Hale and his CNC machine shop, visit his website. Hale will be adding photos and information on the dental articulator project in the coming months.