Machinist Interview #002, John Saunders of Saunders Machine Works

 

 

John was nice enough to take the time to answer a few of my questions regarding the manufacturing world. He replied to me in typical Saunders fashion with a Screencast-O-Matic video, which is awesome. My lovely wife transcribed the video below (Thanks hunny!). I hope you enjoy!

 

Give a quick, couple sentence intro stating who you are, what you do, and where people can find you on social media.

    My name is John Saunders (@saundersmachineworks). I run a manufacturing company called Saunders Machine Works where we make fixture plates, our Mod Vise System, as well as the YouTube channel NYC CNC, which is probably what most folks know us for. You can find us on YouTube, under NYC CNC, but you can also find us on our brick and mortar business, Saunders Machine Works. Our YouTube is called NYC CNC, because I got started in all of this when I was living in New York City.


    How long have you been in Manufacturing?

    I bought my first bench top CNC mill back in 2007. I was trying to bring a product to market, and didn’t know anything, didn’t know what an endmill was, and I wanted to learn, just to be conversational, just to be able to talk to machinists and engineers and I really fell in love with it.

     

    What is your biggest “Win” to date?

    Probably pretty early on, that product we were trying to bring to market. We spent a few years not working on it, my partner and I, kinda taking a break, rather from the formal business side, and just kind of learning and experimenting with machines for fun. We ended up getting back together and bringing that product to market and ended up selling them to pretty cool military and government users. That was a key thing to us because it showed us we could do it, we were relatively young, and we had come a long way in only a few years and we learned a lot of lessons along the way. Mostly good but some bad ones, but its important to live those lessons and learn them when it really matters, when it counts. So everything from how to deal with vendors, what to outsource, what to insource, what are you good at, what are you not good at and being brutally honest with yourself, but then also remembering what you’re trying to do, which is delivering this product to the customer and that’s everything from the packaging to the purchasing process to tracking to dealing with the government contracts and all aspects of a business.

     

    What is the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome thus far?

    I would say about 4 or 5 years ago when that business I just mentioned, my partner and I decided to go separate ways, so I was picking up some job shop work and had some products but nothing awesome. But I knew I wanted to pursue a full time career in manufacturing and I wanted to leave the New York City area so the biggest hurdle was convincing my wife that I should leave my day job, as should she, and move outside of New York City, and we ended up back here in Zanesville, OH, where I grew up. That wasn’t necessarily the clear answer at first. It became the right answer, but we weren’t sure of that at the time so a lot of factors there, of leaving a job, the certainty of a job, going full time in a career that I didn’t have formal training in, relocating your wife, asking her to leave her job, and we had a 6 month old at the time, but it all worked out quite well.

     

    What do you do when feeling overwhelmed or stressed?

    I really focus on trying to avoid that. That has become a very important thing to me, because if you are overwhelmed or stressed, it’s not good, and I think there’s too much correlation between people thinking that if you’re overwhelmed and stressed, you’ll be successful. So what I’ll do with it is, it’s very difficult to walk out of the shop, but I think that’s a good option, because if you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed you should try to take a break. If I can’t, I will try to go to a room and shut the door and close my eyes for 5 minutes. I hate to call it meditating, because I think that turns people off, me included, when I think about that, but just trying to relax. I also try to break down what I’m stressed about.  For example, if there’s a problem related to something you’ve sold, a shipping issue, a quality issue that really upsets you, try to think about what caused it, how do we fix what caused it, how do I fix it with the customers, how do I make it right with them and then how do you think that’s going to play out in the future. And a lot of times, when you boil it down, its kind of like the grieving process, when you process through it, we know we can get better at that, so we can put the systems in place to avoid that in the future. There’s always going to be things that creep up and things that happen, but we’ll get better at it and if I can do what I need to do to make it right with the customer, whether that be a refund, making it right, shipping it back to them, replacement, just absolutely without a question, trying to do what’s right, you may still take a little bit of a reputation hit, because darn it, you shipped something that had a mistake, or goof, or problem, but most people are willing to recognize when you go out of your way to make it right and in the end that works out. So if you think about it in the long run, its not going to affect my long term success, it’s not going to affect my long term happiness or the fulfilling nature I have with the business, it’s going to be ok.

     

    What is the best shop purchase you’ve made in the last 6 months for $500 or less and why?

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    Without a doubt. It’s my rolling desk. Its from U-Line. $244. It’s a smaller desk, so it gives you less room to have junk on it. I have a little monitor mounted on an arm, so it doesn’t have monitor base on the table and its on wheels so I can move it around the shop to where I’m working, that means I don’t need to have a second computer next to a CNC mill, two computers is just more hassle. More updates, more files, the same quick processors, If I need to wheel it into another area to be quiet for the voiceover, I’m able to get it around, and it just makes me happy. I love it, its where I spend a lot of my time, and it’s my little home in the shop.  Find it here.

     

    What is your favorite, or go-to, cutting tool?

    I love making a good chip. There’s a Lakeshore quarter inch endmill that we love for aluminum, its just become a go to tool, it’s a beast, it lasts a long time and its at a really good price point. I like the Lakeshore engraver as well, the 20 degree ball endmill. 27 bucks, double ended  20 thou ball end mill, we use it to machine engrave our fixture plates because it holds up a long time, tends to not raise a burr, gives it a really crisp look, and works well on a lot of different materials, it makes me happy and I have confidence in it. There’s some Helical stuff we’ve been using lately, that’s just beast mode.  We just tried a Niagara Stabilizer 2.0, slotting in steel that blew my mind. Tools are really fun so I’m copping out of a specific go to on that.

     

    What is one tool or piece of equipment in your shop that you couldn’t live without?

    The microscope. I'd say pre-setter but that’s kind of a new luxury and the microscope, its just to be able to see whats happening. A flute, a chip, an edge, being able to zoom in on it is an awesome tool that I wouldn’t want to be without. Honestly for a long time we got away with 45X loupe. It was under $10, that’s not that bad to use in lieu of a multi hundred dollar, or even thousands of dollars for the microscope.

     

    What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone just entering the manufacturing industry?

    If it’s just one piece of advice, do your best, take pride in every piece of work you do, even every email you write, absolutely try to avoid or minimize what is inevitable, which is at some point, you’ll be tempted to compromise, we all do and you’ve got to make ends meet, whether you’re an employee or starting a business. You have to do stuff, you have to ship products. We live in a world where there’s some form of compromise, but try your best to put yourself in a situation where you minimize that compromise, you’re always happy. You know if you think about it, it’s hard, if you’re about to put a piece of packing tape over a shipment and you think you know I just wish it was a little different, I wish it was a little better, see if you can make it better, see if you can say no, we can do better than that. Likewise, on an email, write an email, reread it, think, should I say this differently, are there mistakes in it, should I say it with fewer words, can I do this better. Take pride in your work. I’ve never once met somebody who does that and says no I should be sloppier and if I was faster id be better off in the long run. Now doing all of that takes time and can slow you down and it may seem counterproductive, but it’s not.

     

    What is one thing that most people may not know about you?

    I really like contemporary and minimalist art. And it ties in with my story because there’s an artist named Donald Judd, after whom my dog is named, Judd. And he made these structures that I think are beautiful and first saw these when I was in New York and I was just blown away. So some of the first things I tried to make back in new York back in 2007-2008 were little fake replicas, or versions of these things and I always have to laugh because there’s one in an art exhibit and the label on it mentions that it was baked enamel on aluminum and for months I tried to figure out what is a baked enamel paint and its just a fancy way of saying powder coating. But there was machining, fabrication, grain structure and brushing on aluminum and powder coating and industrial fasteners and to this day I have a soft spot for what Donald Judd has made, he’s since past. Unfortunately, his art work is hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars, so I don’t care about that aspect of it whatsoever, that’s why I’ve actually made a number of my own at this point and really enjoy it and hopefully it speaks a little to the fact that there’s more out there. It doesn’t just have to be all about manufacturing, it can be a form of industrial beauty of aesthetic to it.