'Tin Town Metal Works' helps prepare Union students

Jamey Cyphert uses CAD software to guide this plasma cutter in creating a myriad of items for sale. The implementation of technology like this has become prevalent at his full-time job as Union School District's educational technology specialist.

SLIGO - Sligo resident Jamey Cyphert is something of a hobbyist. The Union School District educational technology specialist has raised honeybees and operated a 370-tap maple syrup farm on his 100-acre property for several years.

Since the syrup outfit needed a "sugar house," Cyphert received help from former Union custodian and friend Ron Radaker in building the structure.

Now, Cyphert remembers how he delved into woodworking, which eventually developed into another hobby.

"He said, ‘Hey, you're building a house, why don't you just build your own stuff. You'd save a lot of money,' Cyphert recalled."

Cyphert did just that, procuring table saws, planers, shapers and learning whatever he could along the way through watching YouTube videos.

After dabbling in woodwork, Cyphert saw expansion into small part fabrication and metal cutting as another worthwhile interest.

"I'm a big believer in figuring out how to do stuff yourself," said Cyphert, noting a neighbor, who is a steam fitter, also helped guide him in what and how he would need to cut metal.

"I'm an autodidact sort of learner. I don't like learning from books as much as I do hands-on which is coincidental because I work in a school district," he said.

In time, Cyphert created Tin Town Metal Works, LLC, which became official in July. For around an hour or two a day, Cyphert works on the creation of wooden and metal signs, parts and markers.

Cyphert deals in artistic and practical projects, from cutting metal flag designs to plate components for rotisseries.

Typically, Cyphert is informed of what an interested individual is looking for. He draws a design and sends it back to them for approval. If accepted, Cyphert incorporates the design onto computer-aided software such as Inkscape or SketchUp. Then, Cyphert helps to guide the plasma cutter to make the design a reality.

Depending on what is being made, turnaround time on projects can range around a couple of weeks or less.

Cyphert said his custom projects allow fabricated items to follow the patron's exact specifications without them having to shell out nearly as much money when the project is finished.

Cyphert recently purchased a new plasma table, replacing his old one, which had limited cutting capabilities.

"The bigger table will open up a lot more opportunity," he explained. "I'll have a lot more cut capacity. Right now, I'm maxed out at half an inch, so I'll be able to cut probably three quarters to one inch pretty easily."

While he admitted that figure is not necessarily large when it comes to plasma technology, it does advance Tin Town Metal Works' role in the market.

"Larger companies can probably cut eight inches thick if they wanted to, but for what I do and what they don't have any interest in, it's a pretty good niche," Cyphert said. "It's too small for them and just right for me."

His work could continue to grow. Cyphert said if the operation becomes large enough, he could begin to order full 4-by-8 sheets of metal to keep up with demand.

"It probably won't be too long until I'm ordering some from Pittsburgh on trucks," said Cyphert.

Taking it to school

While the operation acts as a small business, the tools and ideas applied at home also make their way to Cyphert's full-time job at Union.

Along with Union High School physics teacher Brad Kirkwood, Cyphert has been able to introduce the integral elements of his business to students.

Union's fabrication lab utilizes 3D printing, lasers, a computer-controlled cutting machine and a new virtual reality system allowing students to explore their own creations in order to visualize what a design could look like. The school also has a plasma table, although it currently requires repairs.

Cyphert said he has talked to Seneca Woodworking founder Ryan Wenner to gain guidance on what students should know in his line of work.

"He has tens of thousands of dollars' worth of machinery that he's going to partner with us and help guide us on what he needs in employees," Cyphert said. "That will hopefully give our students a shoe-in on opportunities to kind of work with him and hopefully prepare them for either jobs with him or with people just like him."

Cyphert said feedback on the tech-design based activity at the school has been positive.

"It kind of takes some energy out of the idea that all of the kids are in front of technology too much," said Cyphert. "It reminds them that this is where the world is going and that they need to know this stuff. At the same time, they're able to be hands-on and able to fabricate."

Cyphert noted a mandate from the Pennsylvania Department of Education is tasking schools with providing career-oriented training to students. He hopes the pairing of work at his shop with what goes on at the high school lab can serve to meet that end.

Cyphert explained, "We focus on the student being able to run the entire business and know every step, rather than just training one particular thing. Now that you know how to use this CAD program, what can you build with it?"

Cyphert concluded, "We're trying to transition students from looking at it as a cool new bright thing in the room to something that they're going to be able to profit from after graduation."