Lines of expression

By Lynn Stanley

Above: The Stierli CNC horizontal bender provides repeatable bend angles while reducing processing time and boosting throughput.

Metal fabricator uses CNC-controlled horizontal bender to expand capacity and achieve perfect bends

Decemberr 2021 - “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”  The familiar phrase was penned by John Keats in 1818 as the opening line to his poem “Endymion.” John Woolworth is also making things of beauty using stainless, aluminum, bronze, brass and steel. He established Pfunder Metalwerks in 2015 to design and fabricate custom products that range from lighting fixtures, table and bench legs to retail store display cases and structural parts. The company name is a nod to his family’s German heritage.

Woolworth’s eye for detail and his knack for combining function and quality with exquisite lines have boosted growth for his Sonoma, California-based business year over year. When a commercial property developer in Fairfield, California, commissioned Pfunder Metalwerks to contribute to the design/build of 14 tables and 28 benches for a new coffee shop’s interior and exterior spaces, Woolworth went shopping for a new CNC horizontal bender.

An internet search led him to Boschert USA in Butler, Wisconsin. The company is a distributor for Stierli-Bieger bending/straightening machines. “I always wanted to be able to make complex shapes,” Woolworth says. “I looked at several manufacturers’ horizontal benders, but I wasn’t sold on any of them. None of the benders had a backgauge and you couldn’t program bend angles. I was intrigued with the Stierli. Its CNC-driven horizontal bending capability met my immediate needs with room to grow.”

FFJ 1221 bending image2

John Woolworth, left, and Alex Nolan use Boschert’s Stierli 220-ton CNC horizontal bender.


“We feel the line of Stierli bending/straightening machines allows Boschert to lead in quality and flexibility,” says Greg Hoesly, president of Boschert. “The control is custom-built for Stierli. It’s powerful, intuitive and accurate. It’s also easy to use. In addition, we offer a variety of tooling options to support different applications.”

Pfunder Metalwerks installed a Stierli 220-ton CNC horizontal bender in 2021. Stroke length and bend angle can be programmed into the machine.  Full control of the optional 1-, 2- or 3-meter backgauge provides fast, accurate positioning of the workpiece.  For Woolworth and his coffee shop job, the Stierli horizontal bender proved to “be a game changer.” He explains why.

The project called for the tables and benches to feature bent steel bases that could support tops made from Ipe, or Brazilian walnut. The dense wood is harvested from forests in Central and South America for its beauty and durability. To create the legs, Woolworth turned to Euclidean geometry to produce a CAD drawing that specified a trapezoid shape with welded radius corners using 3/8-in. by 4-in. steel flat bar. The legs would then fasten into a plate on the undersides of the benches and tables. Each bench and table leg had to be bent perfectly to achieve a clean weld and precise hole alignment.

“The angles had to be right as well as the cut lengths. The parts also dictated a beveled edge,” Woolworth says. “With the Stierli, I was able to program my CAD drawing requirements into the machine’s CNC and run the parts”—58 bench legs and 36 table legs. Bend angles were consistent and repeatable.

“Each piece met up perfectly, and I was able to weld without clamping. When you do that kind of work manually, the angles and lengths are never exactly the same,” he says. “But to achieve the aesthetics you want and the functional performance you need, the pieces have to provide a firm, level foundation. The Stierli helped deliver that.”

FFJ 1221 bending image1


Prior to installing the CNC horizontal bender, Woolworth made table and bench legs manually. His process started with cutting four parts. He chamfered the parts to prep them for welding. That required Woolworth to use a fixture to tack the parts together, weld and then grind the welds down. He used a Scotch- Brite pad to finish the parts, followed by powder coating. One table leg took roughly 90 minutes to complete.

“Now, I can cut one piece of material and run it through the Stierli horizontal bender,” Woolworth says. “The machine has cut my processing time down to about 25 minutes to complete a leg. Higher throughput and shorter turnaround times allow me to pass cost savings to the client. And it’s really awesome to be able to do that.”

For production runs like the table and bench legs, Woolworth can save program settings and call them back up for future jobs. In addition to fine work with high aesthetic appeal, Woolworth also produces industrial parts like electrical enclosures for municipal applications. “People need that type of work too,” he notes.

FFJ 1221 bending image3

Woolworth’s ability to communicate with customers and his attention to detail keep jobs pouring through his front door. These qualities are also what sets Boschert’s service apart from other equipment suppliers. “Although Boschert services me from another location, I have access to remote support and troubleshooting,” he says. “They have been really responsive. Even the president of the company flew in and conducted the demonstration run once my machine was set up. That surprised me.”

“Increased productivity has opened the door for me to take on jobs that normally I might not have taken,” he continues. “User-friendly programming and repeatability and the CNC’s interface with that programming are what I like best about the machine.”

For now, Woolworth is busy building his business with a short-term plan that includes some new equipment so he can transition into more production work.  The metal fabricator is looking at producing parts for the renewable energy and solar markets.

“I’ll still continue to do the fine work,” he says, “but I want to add employees and evolve into more of a pillar in the community. California is one of the most expensive places for this type of work. We can’t keep outsourcing everything. I want to be part of the next chapter of manufacturing here in the U.S.”  FFJ


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