Review By Dean Bielanowski  Milescraft - http://www.milescraft.com


Milescraft Spirocrafter

Review

By Dean Bielanowski

If you find your projects are a little plain and ordinary and need that something extra to spice them up or add character, then perhaps the Spirocrafter from Milescraft may be what you are looking for?

The SpiroCrafter
This simple but interesting product allows to rout designs into your workpiece for that added extra detail. It allows you to cut designs all the way through the workpiece, and even cut out a wide range of templated designs for application to other items of furniture, or other projects. Even the kids can get some good, safe use out of this tool with a packet of pens or pencils.

What's in the Box?
The Spirocrafter comes with the 2-part black base plate (which joins together to form the base), 2 red templates to fit into the base, providing 10 template window shapes, a TurnLock Router Base and centering pin (for attaching to your router) and 2 guide bushes (to use with the TurnLock base). Instructions are also included to get you going.

So, to use the Spirocrafter, all you need to supply is a router and an appropriate router bit to get started. No router? No problem... If you have a Dremel (or similar) rotary tool, Milescraft also sell the "Plunger" - essentially, it turns your rotary tool into a plunge router and allows you to use the Spirocrafter product.

Setup
The TurnLock base is designed for use with many popular 6" routers. It has many pre-drilled holes and slots to adapt to a number of brands. Once fitted and centered on the base (using the centering pin accessory), it allows you to use the guide bushings supplied with the product quickly and easily. Unfortunately, the TurnLock base did not fit my particular router. If you're router comes with guide bushings supplied (or available as an accessory for your router from the manufacturer), the TurnLock is not absolutely necessary anyway, so this issue, fortunately, did not hold me back. So, armed with my small plunge router with its default guide bush and a straight cutting bit installed, I was ready to create some art.

How Does it Work?
The black base plate components join together (without tools) to form a one-piece base allowing the two red template guides to be used with it. Each red template has a number of fixed shapes (pattern windows) molded into them. By using a combination of shapes, and rotating the templates around the base plate, a large number of patterns can be produced. The included documentation shows how you can make a large number of designs and provides the instructions to do so. Designs range from floral-types to celtic-types, to more 'masculine' shapes. There should be something to suit most people, and most projects. Additionally, you can come up with your own designs if you wish. There are potentially limitless numbers of designs that could be made with a little time and effort invested in devising them.

To help you achieve this, or at least give the kids a really cool art-producing product, Milescraft include a small plastic pencil guide accessory. You slip a pencil through the middle of the device which, on one end, simulates a 17mm bushing, and on the other a 24mm bushing, and this allows you to test various designs on paper before you attack your workpiece with the router, or provide endless hours of creative fun for the little ones.

I actually found myself spending an hour or two discovering what kind of interesting and unique patterns I could come up with using the templates. A word of advice if you do this... Make sure you have a pen and some paper handy to write any combinations/designs you have created down for later use!

To give you a basic idea of the process of using the Spirocrafter, firstly, you decide which design you wish to use. A simple design uses only one of the pattern windows, more complex designs use multiple windows. With a simple design you align the small pins of the template into the appropriately lettered section of the template. You then rout that pattern keeping the guide bushing running snugly against the outside edge of the window, or if you are relieving the entire window area, move the router all the way around the outside, and then move inside until all material is removed. Once this is done, switch the router off, lift the template up out of the black base and rotate it around to the next assigned location (called a rotation interval). It may be 2 intervals, 3 intervals or 6 intervals, depending on the design. There are 24 interval locations around the base (marked A. B, C and D, and repeated 6 times = 24). The manual provides all the intervals and details for each pattern shown in the booklet to make your task easier.

Once you have made all the cuts at all intervals, the basic pattern is complete and you can remove the Spirocrafter and check your work. More advanced patterns may require more pattern windows set at different intervals, adding to the overall design.

That is, essentially, the basic process in words. Depending on the guide bushing diameter used, you can cut patterns as small as around three inches, or as large as about six inches, or sometimes a little large depending on the pattern and guide bushing/router bit combination. A smaller guide bushing makes wider patterns. Now, after cutting more than a few designs for our test, let me give you a run down on the performance and strengths and weaknesses of the product.

In Use... The Verdict
To begin with, all products did fit together quite nicely, and there were no major setup issues with the base and templates themselves. The first challenge you face is clamping the base and your actual workpiece down so you can work them with the router safely and effectively. The black Spirocrafter base must be held firmly to your workpiece, because if it moves in the process, your design will not come out cleanly or be very symmetrical. In actual use, I had no problem with it moving. I used a combination of F- and G-clamps in most cases. If you are working with smaller or thinner pieces, the Spirocrafter will overhang. You do need to keep your clamps over the workpiece section to keep everything secured and level, however, sometimes you have to reposition clamps so the router base does not come into contact with them and prohibit you routing out the full pattern window shape. The base plate does have provisions on each corner to mount with screws directly to your workpiece, however, you may need to cut out or fill those holes later. If you are making through cuts to actually cut out designs for application on another project, clamping the tool direct to your material is much easier (assuming your material is larger than the base plate itself). I used a small straight cutting bit for the first few designs and this worked ok, but personally, I thought a V-bit or round-nose gave cleaner results for relief (non-through cut) designs. A straight bit is needed for through cuts, naturally.

Milescraft do recommend the following grooving bits (not forming bits) for best results: Straight, Round Nose (or Core Box), V-Groove, Cove and Bead, Ogee, and Ovolo.


An example of some cutouts and applications using the Spirocrafter. Image by Milescraft.

A fair amount of concentration is required to rout out clean designs. If the guide bushing strays from the edge of the pattern window, it could ruin the job. With a little practice on scrap beforehand, and knowing the balance and tendencies of your router, you should do well. It is important also to visualize the design as you go. If you drop the template into the wrong slot by mistake and rout away, its very difficult to replace that material you just removed! So before routing out a new section, visualize the design and double check the setting of the template in the base and you can avoid a costly mistake. The lettered intervals help out greatly here.

The only weakness or issue I discovered in testing and use was that in some particular situations, the location and pressure of your clamps can cause a small difference in the height of the template against the base. This meant that the router base would sometimes slightly nudge against this raised portion prohibiting movement. I found that by checking everything was level, and repositioning clamps as necessary, or at least relieving some clamping pressure, it helped alleviate this issue in most instances.

Overall the Spirocrafter functioned well and provides routed designs not easily possible with anything but a CNC router, or complex user made jigs and templates. Given the cost of many creative wood cutting tools such as rosette cutters and the like, US$39.99 is a reasonable asking price for the product.

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Spirocrafter Photos
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The Spirocrafter!


Some of the supplied components.


Here is the main base plate and templates.


The designs booklet outlines instructions for creating many types of patterns.


The TurnLock base didn't fit either of my routers, so I fitted the standard bushing on my smaller router instead, and this worked fine.


The process is simple... set the template, rout away...


Rotate the template to the next interval, rout again, and the same process continues until the pattern is complete.


Here's a simple pattern that might enhance a small cabinet door or keepsake box lid etc.


Or mix in other patterns for different effects.


Close-up example of another created pattern using a wider round nose bit.

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