Friday, May 13, 2011

Al English - Cutaway Master

For "Friday Cut-aways" I have a special treat, this week... The real deal! REAL cut-aways! Not drawings or sketches. The real thing.

I ran across Al English on the HAMB earlier the week and he was kind enough to forward me a ton of pictures of his work as well as some information on his works.

Al English did the REAL THING for 15+ years! Stunning! I don't know about anyone else, but as a gear head and someone that REALLY likes learning how things work, I think it would be awesome to have something like this on a stand in my house! HAHA! (I'm sure my Wife wouldn't agree, but...) :)

Big THANK YOU to Al for helping me with pictures and a short document about himself. I hope you guys enjoy reading it as much as I did!


"From a young age I was fascinated with how and why things work. As I got older I spent a lot of time working on bicycles, model airplane engines…. pretty much anything I could get my hands on. Some things I fixed, a lot I just took apart to see how they were made and how they worked.

During high school I had a job at a gas station, and at a cemetery where part of my job was keeping the mostly worn out equipment working. I was a mechanic in a Ford dealer, Cadillac dealer, and Ferrari dealer; and a mechanic in two independent shops that specialized in foreign and sports cars at a time when overhead cams, independent suspension, and FWD were noteworthy. I was a mechanic at a Ford experimental garage and a mechanic at two prototype shops. In addition to the mechanic jobs I have been a machinist; a prototype fabricator; and for several years I worked for and helped manage a shop that specialized in pre-war Roll-Royce restoration. I also spent several years building test fixtures and testing parts in Ford’s durability test lab. I have also been around or involved in assorted amateur and pro racing efforts, Beyond that are many personal automotive projects of my own or others. For someone who likes cars and machinery I have had some interesting jobs.

The cutaway work began while I was working for a prototype shop. The owner had been doing a little cutaway work on his own, and then with a helper. The helper left, the cutaway work grew beyond the time the owner had to do it, and two of us from the shop were picked to be the cutaway guys. For me it was perfect. I had always been detail oriented and concerned about quality, and in one way or another all my previous
experience dovetailed into making cutaways. It turned out the two of us were better at making cutaways than the owner. We got more work and bigger jobs, and hired help to get the work done. The owner of that company sold his interest to his partner. We stayed with the partner. For a variety of reasons my co-worker partner and I eventually left that company and went to a company called Cars & Concepts. I was pleased and a little surprised when the cutaway department employees, and all the customers except for a couple of the owner’s customer/friends, moved with us. That made the move much easier than starting from scratch. Cars & Concepts did a variety of things. They campaigned a very successful GM sponsored road racing car driven by Tommy Kendall. They manufactured and sold aftermarket sun roof kits. But mostly, Cars & Concepts did prototype work and limited volume production jobs. They are best known for the Mustang convertible program. I went to Cars & Concepts with the understanding that at some point I would be leaving to start Cutaway Services. When I did that 2 ½ years later all the personnel but my original partner came with me, and all our customers too.

The Cutaway Business

There aren’t a lot of businesses making cutaways. Even fewer do it
full time as we did. Some companies make their own cutaways in-house. Like most things, the quality of work being bone varies a lot. Like most businesses, finding people with the aptitude, skills, and temperament is a major challenge. As hard as it is to find good employees, it is even harder to find people to make cutaways the way we did. At one time there were a number of companies making good quality cutaways. Due to a lack of skilled craftsmen all those shops have all closed. There is presently no one doing the quality of work that was once available.

My Shop

Although it sounds self-serving to say, Cutaway Services had a reputation for being the best in the field. That wasn’t fluke, it was earned with lots of effort and commitment. We never had a dissatisfied customer; we never failed to meet a customer’s delivery requirement; when our work was compared to a competitor’s, ours looked better and was more durable. Cutaways typically have portions simply windowed out and/or are cut in a two dimensional manner. That type of cutaway is not very interesting to look at, and it doesn’t flatter the product. On a good cutaway all the sectioning work is complimentary, and is sculptural in nature. Our cutaways were sectioned with no consideration of what was quickest or easiest. Rather than being limited by the capabilities of a saw, milling machine, grinder, or sander, the sectioning work we did was guided by the design of the parts, how they interact, and how people will see them. Much as a machinist 150 years ago would have done, that approach requires a lot of skilled hand shaping and contouring with hand tools, and lots of old fashioned filing and sanding.

The cutaways we did were usually a centerpiece at an introduction, show, or in an advertisement. First impressions being as they are, that means everything has to be right. If there is a perfect wall with only the slightest smudge or nail hole, attention is naturally drawn to the imperfection. Any lack of harmony on the sectioning; treatments that result in improper contrast or emphasis; or imperfections in finishes; detract from that first impression and divert attention away from the story being told by the cutaway. On one level a person with no mechanical knowledge needs to be impressed that they are looking at a quality product. At the other extreme, an engineer needs to be impressed by features like bushings, bearings, oil passages, and overall design."


Anonymous said...

I've known Al English for years, and one can't fully appreciate the quality of his work unless you actually see it in person. He is an artist as well asa a machinist.

I am glad to include him in my circle of friends.

Jake Sheehy

Dan Eastwood said...

I too have known Al for many years and he is really fun to talk with and be with - very humble, yet a gentleman and a scholar on many subjects. His cutaway work is pure genius - There's been no one better in 3D before or since.

- Dan Eastwood