Real People. Real Stories. - In Conversation with Kevin & Tracie Smock

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.

Kevin and Tracie Smock are a husband and wife duo who use their Tormach 770M to create custom knives. They bought their machine back in 2019, and in their first year of running the CNC saw and 437% increase in sales compared to making their products by hand.

Q: What Tormach machine do you use?
A: I have the 770M. It’s my first Tormach machine and I’ve had it since March 2019. It’s only really been running this last year because I had to wait a little bit to stop working on my business and learn how to use it.

Q: Tell us more about your craft and what it is that you make?
A: We make a couple of different things. I did a collaboration with Spyderco, which is a very large company, and we did a design with them. They produce and sell the knife, and it comes with carbon fiber handles on their scales. I wanted to offer custom scales because they’re replaceable so I started to make titanium, copper, and brass scales that people could then purchase and put on their Spyderco. It’s called the Spyderco Smock, and we do monthly drops of those - 20 to 40 sets of scales and every month is a different design. We use the Tormach to cut these scales out, do the design work, the engraving, etc., and then we finish them by hand.

The main thing we do is make custom knives. The company is just me and my wife - previously my wife Tracie was the manager at a grocery store but with the pandemic it was getting kind of scary for her to go to work every day and mix with a lot of people. I needed help with the workload, somebody to do computer stuff and help run and babysit the CNC when it's running so I can be doing other things.

We get everything in big sheets and then we have a waterjet to cut the handles and blades down to size. The CNC then serves two purposes - I make fixtures for the CNC for them to bolt onto, then we CNC the handles, pocket clips, back spacers, bearing cages for the bearing on the inside of the knife. I CNC my logo on the blades and then all the finishing work is done by hand.

Q: What has been your biggest success with your Tormach this year?
A: The first was being able to program the CNC to have it cut a set of handles instead of me doing it on the manual mill, but even bigger than that was being able to get a pallet system that’s enabled me to make a knife in a day instead of it taking one to two weeks. If I had even more manpower I could do it even faster than that. The CNC can now outrun me so now I’m the weak link!

We had the CNC running for all of 2020 and our sales increased by 437% versus the previous year when it was all being done by hand. I think as a small maker that proves the capabilities of the machine once you’re able to program it and get it to do what you want to do. And that was even before we switched over to the pallet system and making 6 at a time.

Tormach has given us the ability as a small garage custom shop to up our production levels, expand our business, reach more people, and make consistent products. I was hand grinding all the edges of everything myself before now, but now it’s much more consistent. Before we got the Tormach I might go through 400 steps to manually make a knife but now once all the programming is done, I can hit run and my wife can keep an eye on it to make sure nothing goes wrong, then I can go and work on other things. Plus, we’ve upgraded to a pallet system so I can make 6 at a time now too.

Q: And with all the good there is some bad...what's been your biggest failure in your shop?
A: I converted a manual mill to CNC. Spending over $6000 and 2 years, and it still did not do what I needed.

Q: How would you describe your Tormach in 3 words?
A: Game Changing Machine.

Q: What would you say has been your best creation to date?
A: I just recently created a custom knife model and I’ve always wanted to do a contour textured pattern. It’s contoured and it’s textured, and I was really impressed to be able to achieve that using the Tormach. The end mill is really small, and I honestly didn’t think it was going to be able to do it. It took me several tries to get it right, but I don't have any accuracy problems with it at all. I did a very meticulous set up when I did it to try and get rid of any backlash so the Tormach could run as true as possible. There’s still a little bit of play in the system - it’s not a $150,000 Haas but that’s not what it’s meant to do. I’m seriously impressed.

Q: What's one piece of advice you'd given to someone starting out with a Tormach machine?
A: Firstly, have someone help you get it into wherever you’re putting it.

Also, if you’re not familiar with the software of Fusion 360 get some training on it. It’s very user friendly but if you’ve never done anything like that before it can take a while to learn the software on your own.
A lot of people say just get the base model - you don’t need a tool changer; you don’t need the enclosure. I think that’s kind of a mistake. I think it’s a good idea to get the enclosure, so you don’t get coolant going everywhere. The tool changer is a must. If I’m going to stand there and switch out tools manually, I might as well be doing it on a manual mill.

Q: How would you rate Tormach out of 5 stars?
A: I give them 5 stars. Their service when I got the machine was amazing. I had some set-up issues and they’d spend half an hour on the phone with me walking me through getting things right. I’d probably say the best customer service out of anything I’ve bought in my entire life. For the amount I paid for it, the customer service and the machine has exceeded my expectations. For what it is and what it’s capable of - I love it. I want a couple more actually. Part of my goal is to actually have a shop filled with more Tormach stuff - surface grinder, 15L Slant-PRO, PCNC 440’s or a 770M/MX, so that I can have multiple things going on at one time. I see us having to expand the building and add more Tormach machines someday.


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