Real People. Real Stories. - In Conversation with Alex Hardie

Our mission here at Tormach is to empower people who make things, and what better way to do that by sharing the stories of the Tormaker Community - people just like you.

Alex Hardie teaches CNC machining, but he wanted a challenge. He purchased a PCNC 440 mill and used it to make his own bike stem, and he says it's "the best thing" he's ever made

Q: What Tormach Machine do you use?
A: PCNC 440 Mill


Q: Tell us more about your craft and what it is that you make?
A: I’d actually been thinking about buying a Tormach machine for 10 years and the one I wanted finally went on sale during the COVID shutdown so I thought, “time to pull the trigger”.

I actually teach CNC machining, so machining is a career, but I bought my Tormach machine thinking of it as more of a hobby. I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself to make money from it. Whereas a lot of people buy a Tormach to learn machining, I kind of did it the reverse way. I already knew machining and I just wanted something that I can experiment with.
I’ve always been into bikes and I make bike parts a lot, and I just make a lot of other random stuff too. Growing up I would read bike magazines and that’s what got me into CNC machining. I just thought the parts looked really cool. I went on to study mechanical engineering and we had some really small desktop machines there that I got started on, then I worked at a bike company and did a lot of machining there.

Q: What has been your biggest success with your Tormach this year?
A: I made a bike stem - it’s the peeve that holds the steer to the handlebars. It required a lot of setups, so I had to reorient the part a lot of times and re-find the origin on the machine. Every time you move a part in the vice the hardest part is finding where you are again on the part.

I wanted a challenge and that was my first really hard part to create. It turned out really well - I mean it’s not 100% perfect, but with these machines, the limitation is you can’t put a really big end mill on there to cut a whole part. You end up using smaller end mills a lot of times, and then you must move the part around, but to me, that’s all part of the fun. It’s a challenge to try and make parts that you wouldn’t think could be made on a machine like this.

Q: And with all the good there is some bad...what's been your biggest failure in your shop?
A: I’ve stalled the spindle a bunch of times so when you’re cutting the spindle just stops. Luckily, I stopped the machine really quickly and in the 9+ months I’ve had the machine that’s only happened 3 or 4 times. There are ways around it; you just have to learn the machine and where it’s limited then find a way to work around it.

Q: How would you describe your Tormach in 3 words?
A: Thrilling, Useful, Fun.

Q: What would you say has been your best creation to date?
A: The bike stem is definitely the best thing I’ve made. I’ve also made a work stop on the side of the vice that holds the workpiece in place. It’s a reference on the side of the vice to put your part in; it’s something that you place your part against so you have some repeatability when you put the next part in. I made that out of steel - everything else I’ve made using aluminum and I was worried about cutting steel, but I had no problems at all!

Q: What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone starting out with a Tormach machine?
A: I've seen other people that can successfully run businesses with the PCNC 440 machine, but personally I think that it's easier if you don't put that kind of pressure on yourself. If you buy it with the expectation of it being a hobby machine, and then if you can make money on it, that'd be awesome. So, I'd suggest purchasing the machine with that kind of mentality.

Also, if you are learning CNC machining the Tormach is really the way to go because when you get bigger machines, and you have any problems, it's extremely expensive and you have to hire somebody to come out and fix it for you. With a Tormach, if you’re somewhat handy with fixing stuff you can usually fix it yourself. It's maybe like a few thousand (or less) rather than $60,000, you know. It's quite accessible financially and in terms of actually handling the machine if you're pretty new to it.

One thing that drew me into bicycles is you can customize your own bike and swap parts out and do stuff that you want to personalize it, and you can really do that with these machines. That's what I really liked about it. There's this community where you can see how people personalize their own and you can personalize your own the way you want it. Whereas with an expensive machine, you're just going to buy it and then hire a technician to work on it for you.
Q: How would you rate Tormach out of 5 stars?
A: I give it 5 stars. The pre-sales team was super helpful, and they gave me a bunch of good advice on what to get and what not to do. I've been involved with the social media communities of other Tormach owners, and then there are even Tormach employees on there that are working with us. If they see that people are maybe struggling with a machine or having some issues, they want to know how they can improve the experience instead of jumping in to defend the company. They're working with us to make things better, so I think they have a really good attitude towards involving the customers as part of the community.


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