While a piece of metal or wood might not look like much to most, to Milner CNC it's an opportunity to personalize and explore the possibilities. From metal signs and art, to wooden business cards or log furniture, this Paonia business can engrave, cut, or design most materials and ideas.
"Customizations are my specialty," said Josh Milner, the owner and creative behind the business.
To define what Milner does is a little difficult, since his skills are diverse. Some might classify his career as metalwork or woodwork. At the core he's a graphic artist.
"Most of what I do is design and assemble pieces together to make art," he said. "I can make or build just about anything in my shop."
A Video Changed
Milner doesn't describe himself as artistically gifted, claiming he can't even draw a stick figure. He went to college in Denver for computer programming, not design.
After graduating in 2008 and seeing the declining tech industry, he decided to continue with the job he began in college.
"After 10 years I was just in a rut and didn't enjoy my work anymore, even after being promoted to logistics coordinator," he said. Then, one day a YouTube video changed Milner's plans.
At shooting practice a friend showed him a video of a man who built his own steel shooting gallery. "I thought I could enjoy designing things like that and figured I might find at least a few people to buy similar projects here and there," he said.
What followed was selling everything he could, saving and moving.
Thankfully, Milner had extra income from helping his dad flip houses. He explained, "Once I made good profits on two houses I was working on, the rest was a matter of budgeting to build my business."
Having been born and raised in Paonia, it made sense to Milner to return to his roots and save money by being closer to family. With about $70,000 Milner renovated an old barn shed into his shop with an apartment loft and purchased all of his machinery.
He now has no debt, and few bills.
Previously, the shed was used for storing hay, according to his grandmother Barbara. With help from his dad Milner was able to move back in May 2017, finish the renovations and start his business in October -- less than a year after viewing the YouTube video.
"It's been difficult, but I enjoy working for myself," he said. "I like having my own place and free will as I craft."
Looking back, Milner is surprised at the difference between what he thought would happen to where he is now.
"I thought I could be somewhat retired by not having so many bills and make enough money from selling at five or six trade shows," he said. "I try to customize what pieces I bring to shows, like dog-oriented ones for a dog show, but it's hard to estimate what people will buy."
Instead, he receives more requests after shows, enough to sometimes result in six-day work weeks. Custom orders also take longer than he thought, usually fitting in five a week.
For a project Milner will easily spend three hours on the design, and another three hours finishing it. Of course, this also depends on the size and scale of the project.
While Milner wishes for more complex designs and challenges to build intricate orders, he admits a good chunk of his time is spent with engravings.
"I find it humorous that so many people want their names and designs on cups and mugs," he joked. He reasons he gets requests for these projects because he doesn't charge an art fee like others.
He enjoys crafting the designs and doesn't mind making modifications for clients later on or allowing them to use his art for other projects, like graphic t-shirts.
Milner has also given clients the extra metal scraps after a project is finished. For example, one customer requested a sign that required being cut out from a large piece of metal. Milner gave him the scraps and the client put the extra inverted sign on his fence with some welding.
The Creative Process
To start a project, Milner said clients usually show him a picture they've seen as an idea. From this picture he works with them to identify what they want changed or enhanced and Milner designs it on his 70-inch monitor.
"With my computer I feel like I can do anything," he said. "The creativity comes from the design."
Then, depending on if it's a laser engraving or cutting, or plasma cutting and metal fabrication depends on which machine he'll use. Both operate similarly, using blacks and whites to determine what is cut/lasered.
The engraving machine, an Epilog Helix 50 Watt Laser, operates on a grayscale, allowing him to also make laser designs of varying depths depending on the darkness of the black.
His Lincoln Electric Torchmate 4800 is a computer numerical control (CNC) machine, which is where Milner gets the CNC in his business' name. Simply put, this means that after he has designed the project he uploads it, adjusts the servos of where to start and the machine takes care of the rest.
Milner pays close attention to detail to ensure pieces are inside an object or else they fall through. Creating clean lines is also key.
Once cut, Milner will clean up the project and add finishing touches like paint or bluing. Bluing is a signature look of Milner's where he uses heat to add colors such as purple, blue, orange or white.
The plasma cutting machine Milner uses did require a three-day training but otherwise he is completely self-taught. He credits YouTube and Google as helping him learn this process.
"Once the design is made, it's simply about sending it to the machine," he said. He credits being a gamer toward helping him understand the design process.
Milner also advertises being able to make rustic log furniture, but he finds himself staying too busy with the other projects to push that part of the business.
As the business continues to grow, Milner wants to streamline the production process and expand his shop. "Having designated areas for painting and crafting will help reduce the time," he said.
After Christmas he hopes to get into hydro dipping -- applying printed graphics to three dimensional objects.
Milner hopes others see the value in his personalized approach to metalwork and design. Creating art using machines and tools means the possibilities are endless.
"The sky is not the limit," his website's 'About Us' says. "your mind is."
To collaborate with Milner, he can be reached at 303-618-3002. He's also been at different shows like Paonia Cherry Days, the Delta County Fair and will be at the upcoming Mountain Harvest Festival and AppleFest.
Pictures of Milner's past projects, and a list of services are available on his website at www.milnercnc.com.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Delta County Board of Commissioners called a special meeting to consider the board's response to the Bureau of Land Management's preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) concerning the lease parcels proposed for the December BLM sale.
Several people from the North Fork were present to provide input.