Salvun started in a small garage in Belgium when I thought that it’s going to be a great idea to get a CNC milling machine. I was thinking of things to make, and a great opportunity arose when I broke my keyboard during a move.
From that, the AMK series of keycaps was born. Of course, it’s not as easy as just plugging in the code to the machine and go have a coffee. It’s been a painful journey of blood, tears, crushed keycaps and general distraught as well as some terrified friends.
Since starting making artisanal CNC machined products, I have near perfected the process of machining, finishing and anodizing, giving you, the end user, a bespoke piece of timeless art…literally, these things are made of metal…smash them against the floor and they’ll still be fine…I tried.
*DISCLAIMER* While the following section does have a fair bit of sarcasm and light-heartedness, the majority of it is true. Using this type of machinery, be it CNC Milling machines or even 3D printers, is a very time consuming, expensive and relatively stressful process. It requires an in depth understanding of the machine and all possible things that can go wrong. No, your grandmother cannot do it (unless she's a trained machinist and in that case, what do I know).
"Machining is easy! My grandmother can do it, just connect the CNC to your computer and you're good to go!"
-People who have no idea about CNC production.
Yes, from an outside perspective, it may seem that all that is involved in using computer controlled machining is throwing a CAD model into it and it's just going to do the rest. As much as I wish this was true, unfortunately, it is far from it.
1 - CAD (Computer Aided Design)
The first step to any project, is to get the CAD done. Using Fusion 360, a model of the product is made, then re-made, then tested, and then remade another one or two times, until the dimensions and shapes are just right.
2 - CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing)
If you put the CAD model into the machine, it will have no idea what on earth to do with it. So, I need to sit for about an hour or two, essentially breaking down the model into how and where the machine will cut into it, and what tools it will use for what operation. It is a very time consuming process and has many a time brought me one step closer to insanity.
3 - Machining (The exciting part)
If CAM brings me closer to insanity, the machining usually takes me over the edge. This is probably the most stressful part because you have an extremely sharp and expensive tool, spinning at thousands of RPMs, ready to rip apart the metal and potentially any appendages you have inside the machine at the time it starts working. This is also the point where my CAM skills are tested. If anything was done incorrectly in the previous step, I either end up with a broken €100 tool, or a mangled up work-piece.
4 - Finishing (I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!)
Assuming that I haven't lost any limbs and the finally machined pieces are approved by my primary quality control, I will start to finish them. This step is relatively easy and benign on my psyche. I throw the machines piece into a rotary tumbler, with some secret sauce for about 4 days and when I take it out, it's beautifully polished.
5 - Anodizing (Oh no, that light was actually the gates of hell!)
So, full disclosure, this process has resulted in many a crushed cap in the beginning, while I was still learning, now that I'm actually competent at it, it's relatively easy. This step involves a series of acid baths, scolding hot dyes and toxic sealants, real nasty stuff, it does however give the final product a gorgeous protective coating.
6 - Final QC
This is the last step of really any manufacturing process. Here, I scrupulously check every cap for any possible surface defects, bad finishing or imperfect anodising and either it goes out to you, or it meets my dearest friend; Mr. Hammer.