What does Smith Factory specialize in?
Smith Factory operates one of the largest, most powerful state-of-the-art laser cutters available to the public in New York. We specialize in bringing all types of projects to life for artists, architects and designers.
Where are you located?
We work out of refurbished shipping containers in a 5,000 sq. ft. space in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The studio container is located on an outdoor lot without other structures which gives us unlimited head room for building when the weather is nice. We were previously working out of a much smaller office space nearby, but within less than a month, it became clear that we needed more space and that an open lot was the best way to go. We’ve been here since about June 2014.
What materials do you work with?
We primarily work in combinations of wood, fabric and paper. With our laser cutter we can work with any material that the laser can cut or mark, so long as the material doesn’t release any noxious gasses (like certain metals that contain chlorine, for instance) we can work with it. Aside from the laser cutter, we also run a complete fabrication shop. We have welding equipment, metal cutting equipment, an acetylene torch, grinders, and drills on site. When we don’t have the tools that we need to work with certain materials, we can find them through our network of local artists and craftsmen. Our equipment and network allows us the flexibility to work with almost any material that our clients want to work with.
What special capabilities does your equipment have?
This laser cutter is much larger and more powerful than other laser cutters out there, which makes us competitive in terms of scale, speed and precision. We have one of the largest laser cutting beds in the city, at 3 ft by 4 ft. Most other laser cutters are almost 12 inches smaller than ours. In terms of power, we’re running our laser at 120 watts, which means we can finish large projects very quickly. To put the power of our laser in perspective, an average tabletop laser cutter runs at about 30 or 40 watts.
Our laser is also incredibly precise. It has the capability to cut plywood within a 1/10th of an inch, in quarter-inch plywood, which you just can’t do with other equipment or by hand. A project that would take days to complete by hand can be done within 5 minutes in our studio.
How did you get started?
My partner, David Smith had previously owned a furniture manufacturing company in Brooklyn called Strawser + Smith. After David sold Strawser + Smith in 2013, we started thinking about collaboration, taking in account our individual strengths and capabilities.
Prior to moving to NYC, I had worked in the wearable technology fashion industry in San Francisco and had been working with Adobe Illustrator for almost 20 years. As a result, I have a strong understanding of design and of how Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines work. David, on the other hand, has experience and capabilities in 3D- modeling and architectural layout. So, we decided to open a fabrication shop where we would both design and manufacture in collaboration with other artists.
Smith Factory was launched in NYC just last summer. The work we do is wildly varied, from small shelves and iPhone wallets, to large-scale art installations. We work with a lighting company to make very complex wooden lamps and an LED artist on giant light sculptures. Our work runs the gamut which is what we love about it – if you have something that you want to make, we can figure it out.
How many employees do you have?
It’s just the two of us, and we bring in production assistants as we need them. Because of David’s longstanding reputation in the city in fabrication, he knows exactly who to call when we need specialists, like a welder or an electrician, for instance.
What are the benefits of operating your business in New York?
David’s connections and access to skilled artists and workers is one of the reasons we decided to work in New York City. We could go anywhere and do what we do, but ultimately it was David’s connections that kept us in Brooklyn.
How has your industry changed since you got started?
Laser cutters haven’t been readily available until very recently. Ten years ago, the machine that we have was completely unaffordable for anyone working on a small scale. As laser cutters become more readily available, people are more likely to know and understand the laser cutter’s capabilities and seek out our expertise. CNC technology has increased our capability. When working without this type of laser cutter, time constraints and precision can create challenges. With this technology, the artists’ only limitation is the tensile strength of the material, which is really incredible and so different. You can’t use a skill saw for the intricate work that we do. In terms of technology, we’re really ahead of the curve.
What do you attribute your company’s success to?
Our optimism and our willingness. We have the ability to look at what someone is trying to make, recognize how challenging it is , and then find solutions. Our client base, for the most part, are people that have visions and ideas, but aren’t sure how to execute the vision. Our backgrounds and production process allow us to test and execute people’s visions.
What should people know about our company?
That we exist! We’re tucked away in Bushwick – our front door looks like an empty lot. The previous user of this space was a dump company. The fact that we’re so hidden is great to us, but we’d like to get the word out that we’re capable fabricators. Right now, we rely on word of mouth and our website presence to get the word out about our business.
With laser cutting, you can easily fall off into high manufacturing. There are people that contact us to engrave serial numbers into 50,000 products. However, we don’t want to do that work. We prefer to stay in the artistic realm – the most important thing for us is to be interested in what we do. Coming up soon, we plan to launch a line of wooden lamps, which is a side project that I had been working on back in San Francisco. In addition, we’re working on a very large scale art installation project with an artist, which should provide us with new challenges and expand our understanding of our work.