From Gears to Golf Clubs – Customized Production with a Tormach PCNC 770

Manufacturing customized or short-run parts can be expensive, which is why the old models for production relied on easily repeatable parts and cost-reduction through volume. We’re now in an era where customization and personalization are less luxury and more expectation. This opens a new opportunity for small-business shops and many are taking advantage of short-run and customized products market via Tormach mills.

[Not a valid template]Reinhard Valle designs and fabricates custom putters for golf enthusiasts with his company, Reinhard Putters. Valle says, “I have been a golfer for 25 years and a ‘club-maker’ for 20 + years.” He explains that the term, club-maker, is misused to include someone who buys pre-made parts and assembles them for the varying golfing styles or physiques, and also includes repairing damaged clubs. “A proper term would be ‘golf club personalizer.’”

Valle’s experience started while experimenting with gear mechanisms on circular and non-circular gears. After drafting the gears using AutoCAD, he would cut them out using carpentry tools. “Eventually, I learned about and got into CNC, and I improved effort and precision with a small three-axis gantry CNC mill. At that time I was still using CAD to draw up the gears – circular gears are easy, non-circular gears are very difficult – drafting mating curves and teeth.”

Valle asked his son, who was studying programming at the time, to develop the non-circular profiles. “He developed a program where I could draw the original gear and teeth in AutoCad and his software would calculate the mating gear and teeth, including undercuts.” Using his son’s software, Gearify, drove Valle to look into cutting metals, but the gantry mill had a 1/8” maximum end mill and struggled to cut aluminum. “Tool breakage was common as well, so it was time to upgrade the equipment.”

After spending more than a year doing online research, Valle finally found a machine that he could afford and fit into his basement. Since he was fairly new to the world of CNC, Valle knew the learning curve could be steep. “My CNC learning curve had a lot of bumps and bruises.” After getting poor support with his previous mill, access to support was a high priority when searching for an upgrade. “My research showed me that Tormach had extensive support services; support from other companies was very limited,” Valle explains.

The ability to take the PCNC 770 apart for transport was also appealing, since he needed to get the machine into his limited-height basement. “Taking 300 lb parts down wood stairs was not easy, but managing a one-piece, 600-800 lb machine would have been monumental,” he says.

Now, Valle uses his PCNC 770 to produce high-end, customized putters. “Before I got my Tormach, I figured that I could be a ‘real’ club maker and make putters from scratch. I tried some models, but working with 1/8” end mills for roughing and finishing did not work well. So, Tormach made custom putter fabrication possible for me.”

Most of the pieces that Valle mills are irregular in shape, so he uses tabs, rather than a vise, to hold work pieces in place. “My challenge now is to learn how to best use the Tormach and how to obtain the best quality and finish possible.” Valle has done numerous tests using SprutCAM’s various finish operations as he searches for the best route to get the parts he wants.

Designing a quality putter is a challenge in and of itself, but Valle develops custom designs for his customers. Everything from a name or logo being an integral part of a putter’s shape to geometric designs that are just eye-catching.

“As more and more computer-knowledgeable, non-traditional-machinists are getting into CNC, Tormach is making their ideas and dreams possible by being affordable, take-a-partible for tight spaces if needed, and by providing access to much needed support services,” Valle says. “Add to that the extended capabilities of Tormach’s other equipment, like the lathe, the grinder, and numerous other accessories – and the affordable SprutCam software. I believe that Tormach is focused on making quality machines, and is equally interested in keeping their customers happy.”

This video shows the gear creation process from Gearify’s design interface, to milling the gears with a CNC machine and finally testing the resulting gear shapes! Gear was milled using a Tormach Mach 3 CNC Machine and a 3/16″ end mill. The gears are approximately 4 inches in diameter and a 0.002 inch offset was used (the offset was applied in CAD but it could have been done in Gearify as well).

Chris Fox

Chris comes from a publishing background with years of experience in science, technology, and engineering publications. Previously an editor with Product Design and Development and Gizmag, he has a keen eye on the maker community and the changing landscape of the world of prototyping, product development, and small-scale manufacturing. Chris has been working with clients to create Tormach's customer success stories since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheChris_Fox

Chris Fox