What happens when a business leader with the core of a true maker and engineer gets his hands on the resources to build whatever he wants? No, I’m not talking about Elon — I said, “true maker and engineer”. We’re talking about Carl Bass and his wood and metal shops. They’re stocked for projects requiring some serious heavy lifting. See the video below for the tour of both!
Note about the video: apologies for the wonky camera angles. If it looks like a tiny, chimp-like creature was trying and failing at working a giant into a shot, that’s because it was that exactly. Carl is a very big man, and I am a rather small woman.
What “Retirement” from Autodesk Looks Like
Carl Bass did the 9-to-5 thing for decades in various leadership positions at AutoDesk, including CEO . . . or whatever hours a CEO pulls to run a company successfully. Autodesk is, of course, the company behind AutoCAD, the technical drawing software most engineers have had to at least touch at some point in their career.
Last year, he stepped down as CEO, but he didn’t slow down at all. While other former executives might spend their retirement golfing at a resort, Bass decided to pack his free time with even more work. He tells me the most significant difference in his life now is the flexibility of his schedule. Bass now has the freedom to apply himself to what he wants whenever he wants.
Some of Bass’s activities outside metal and woodworking are serving as an advisor to every freaking company and organization I seem to come across lately. Remember Circuit Launch? That was the electronics hardware coworking space we recently toured HERE. Yep, Carl is an advisor. The self-driving car company, Zoox, was in the news lately, and Carl stepped up to give them some guidance, too. Bass was particularly happy about his involvement with Planet, the company that launches its satellites to provide a kind of live Google Earth. The products coming from this company are pretty neat, but I think Carl really liked that rocket launches were a part of it all; rockets are cool.
In all these advising activities, Bass is rarely given a chance to get his hands dirty. In spite of his technical background that includes software, physical design, and bridging the two worlds, he guides different machines in his advising. Engineering the invisible gears of a company itself and tricky people dynamics as companies scale are more likely topics.
Luckily, Carl built his own metal and woodshop playgrounds, so he can still play in the dirt all he likes.
Carl Bass’s shops are more than just places for him to build neat physical objects. He also continues to play around with invention there. This was apparent with the first project he showed us: a MIG welder turned 3D printer. Whut?
MIG Welder 3D-Printer
Looking at the expensive metal 3D printers coming out now, which use processes like laser metal sintering, Bass thought he could put together a cheaper method. He described the realization of this invention simply as throwing together a MIG-welder, some sensors, and a neural network. Easy peasy. I’m sure it was a bit more complicated than he made it sound.
Here’s an example of the 3D MIG print/welding:
Demonstrating the most massive scale object he’s created with the MIG-welding 3D printer is this polished chair. This was 3d-printed. Unbelievable.
Other toys include a water jet and a press brake which he built his stairs with. Every cart in the shop was also built in the shop.
Autonomous Go-Kart Because Why Not
When Carl’s son wanted to build a go-kart, he decided to crank it to 11 with some other people and make it autonomous. His son wasn’t too impressed, because the fun part of a go-kart is being able to drive it. What’s important, though, is that all the other fathers must have been super jealous.
Electric Cobra Kit Car
A Cobra kit car which Carl decided to redesign as electric was in progress at the shop. They’re currently figuring out where to stick all the non-combustion components, machining a bell housing, and fabricating heat sinks and battery boxes.
One of the adjustments beyond the drive was extending the space for the driver so he could fit in the thing. As mentioned, he’s a pretty big dude, and Cobras are tiny cars. This will be fun to see Bass driving around the Bay area one day, and also the track, I’m told! He’s hoping for something like 0-60 mph in a few seconds.
A short drive from Carl’s Metal Shop is his wood shop. Here, we got to see the in-progress canoe he’s building with his son.
Carl played around with a new way of aligning the individual planks of the canoe when forming the shape. He told me traditionally, you fit the ends of each strip to a larger piece when you’re trying to put them all together. Then, that larger piece needs to be, kind of, whittled on the fly to get it all to connect well. It’s tricky because the angle each plank needs to end at on that large piece is different.
Instead of hacking away at it by hand inch-by-inch this time, he tried to model that connector piece and cut it beforehand digitally. Luckily, he knows a little bit about 3D modeling. It turned out to be a big success, which Carl says isn’t always the case when you try to do something digitally that’s normally done by hand. Those planks laid down like butter, and it made the whole process much faster than the last time he built a canoe, 40-ish years ago.
5-Axis CNC Machine
Most of the tools in the woodshop are your typical woodworking gadgets, but the gargantuan 5-axis CNC machine was noteworthy. I asked if one could build a dinosaur with this thing, and Carl confirmed that yes, yes you can.
The downside to working with this big guy is just about each thing you cut also needs a big, custom fixture to be built to hold your part. That’s what makes up the storehouse of wooden shapes you see behind the CNC.
Carl loves making new things, but like most humans, he gets bored of the routine tasks involved in that work which don’t require creativity. Sanding wood is one of those tasks. It’s also time-consuming and hard physical labor. That’s why it’s on his automation hitlist! Hopefully, we’ll see news from Carl Bass of a robot that sands wood in the future.
See What Carl Makes!
Carl created a bunch of gifts for friends and family over the years, and he’s getting around now to displaying them on his website, CarlBass.com. The website is one of the 3 million projects he’s working on, and might always be a work in progress. So, don’t judge, but do check out his works! He’s shy to consider himself an artist, but as you’ll see, Carl’s work is strikingly beautiful.
I’m hoping in the future he’ll consider adding knowledge to his site, too. His inventions for metal and woodworking are certainly interesting. He also sometimes geeks out on craftsmanship, too. For example, when Bass came across a woodworking process where multiple techniques were touted as “the best” he decided to buy each tool for each method and compare them all. That would all make for a valuable read! Please encourage him if you agree. (Carl, if you haven’t the time to write these things up . . . call your other friends or me at SolidSmack.)
For other, more frequently updated peeks into these projects, you can check out Bass’s Instagram handle: carl.bass