Thursday, February 22, 2018

Dan Willoughby, owner of Dan’s Custom Designs west of Hardin, removes one of 300 cups he engraved recently for Hardin High School. Through adjustments to the laser, Willoughby said, the engraving time per cup has been shortened from a possible nine minutes to two minutes each.

Investment in engraving pays off for Dan’s Custom Designs owner

One year ago, Dan Willoughby of Hardin needed to make a decision. He could continue working on a farm and driving a truck – which, due to an injury in 2005, would require multiple surgeries – or he could find another line of work. Willoughby picked the second option, and it involved engraving with CO2 laser beams.
His business, Dan’s Custom Designs, evolved from an interest in gunsmithing – a wooden sign in his shed touts the importance of Second Amendment rights. What began as a search for a method of engraving guns expanded as he visited online forums and talked to “friends in the industry” on the process of engraving in general. With support from his wife, he opened the business in January.
“It was a really big investment for me to make, to roll all the dice here in Hardin,” he said, “but we knew that…the Internet and opening up stores online would broaden [our opportunities].
“It was scary the first three months, but it’s gotten better as time has progressed.”
Using a machine from Universal Laser Systems recently, Willoughby worked from his shed to engrave a decorative letter “H” onto an order of 300 orange, stainless steel cups for Hardin High School. The machine – which looks a large printer – sits next to his laptop computer, which helps him with mathematical calculations.
“I measure the diameter of the cup, enter that into the computer and it tells the rotary attachment what it should do,” he said as he placed the cup into the machine. “I take the artwork, place it on the computer and it tells the machine how much of a distance it should rotate to put the graphic on the cup.
“The laser is going to stay stationary,” he continued as the machine whined to life, “and the object is going to move.
According to Willoughby, “it’s easier for me to tell you what we can’t do because there’s so much that [we] can do.” Among his engraving projects were buffalo skulls, cow hides, windows and signs.
As an added bonus, Willoughby enjoys the flexibility his job offers for him to be with his wife and two children.
“Being in agriculture, you never had that option,” he said. “It was always work, work, work and family came last.”
More information about Dan’s Custom Design may be found on the business’ Facebook page or by calling (406) 439-0609.