Simon Skelton spent his time during lockdown learning how to use a CNC plasma cutter, and is now creating intricate metal artworks of forestry machines. Here, he speaks to Fraser Rummens about his venture.

THERE can be no shortage of people who entered into the various levels of lockdown that defined 2020 with grand ambitions. They were going to do get started on that project they had been putting off, finally learn to play chess, finally read or even write that book. And for one reason or another, those plans never came to fruition.

However, one man who certainly made the most of the lockdown period is west Kent-based Simon Skelton. Furloughed during the early part of 2020, Simon was wondering what to do with his new-found free time and decided this was the moment to finally make use of the plasma cutter he had bought some years prior.

This venture has led to Simon – who has a background in heavy goods vehicles, machinery and quarrying –being contacted by people from all over the world, from Canada and the United States to Scandinavia and beyond, interested in his wares.

Plasma cutting is a process that cuts through electrically conducive materials (typically steel, aluminium, brass, copper or aluminium) by means of an accelerated jet of hot plasma. A CNC cutting table allows a computer to control the torch head.

Forestry Journal: Simon Skelton with his John Deere 1270G forwarder piece, which is roughly 47 inches wide and cut from 2-mm mild steel.Simon Skelton with his John Deere 1270G forwarder piece, which is roughly 47 inches wide and cut from 2-mm mild steel.

“About two years ago, I purchased an Xtreme CNC plasma table with the intention of using it in the cellar,” Simon told Forestry Journal. “Have you ever lit a Roman candle indoors? Because it’s the same effect as having a plasma table in a cellar! It was then that I decided to turn the plasma table into a storage bench.”

Simon made the decision to build a new workshop dedicated to the plasma table. After purchasing around £2,000 of wood, he took to YouTube where he watched a four-hour video detailing how to build one. Twice.

READ MORE: Komatsu launches new harvester head for demanding operations

“I had no idea how to do CNC plasma, I had no idea how to draw and I had no idea how to build a shed, for that matter.”

Made from 4x2 treated lumber, 19-mm flooring and 19-mm roofing, the workshop is “sound as a pound”, he said. Now with a dedicated place to work, Simon again turned to YouTube, and watched every video he could about plasma tables.

Simon explained: “To create my artwork, I use a programme called Inkscape. For me to get the best results in my artwork, I need to have a picture with a high resolution so I can zoom in on every detail that the image can offer.”

Using what’s called the Bezier pen tool in Inkscape, a dot is placed at either end of an image – the start and end point – and the mouse is dragged to conform to the lines of the drawing.

Forestry Journal: “I draw every single line myself. that way I can capture every single detail to give my artwork realism,” says Simon.“I draw every single line myself. that way I can capture every single detail to give my artwork realism,” says Simon.

“I draw every single line myself. That way I can capture every single detail to give my artwork realism. Several people have commented that I must have been drawing for years to achieve the level of finishing that I put into my work. When I tell them that I have only been drawing for about four months, they don’t believe me.”

It was suggested that Simon share his pieces on the Forest Machine Operators Blog. “I put up one of the saws I made with a guy chopping a tree down and it went wild,” he said. His next piece was a John Deere 1270G forwarder, and that’s when things really took off.

“I initially put up that I was going to draw it and asked, ‘what do you guys think?’ There was no intention of selling the thing initially, it was just a case of getting feedback to see if it was worth doing.”

Forestry Journal: Simon’s John Deere harvester commission.Simon’s John Deere harvester commission.

This led to an offer to buy the forwarder artwork, and a request for a harvester. Simon also created a Forest Machine Operators Blog logo for founder Mark Curtis, as a thank you for allowing him to show off what he was capable of on the Blog.

“In the near future I will be drawing Komatsu, Ponsse, Tigercat and many more,” he added.

Explaining how the whole process works if someone is interested in commissioning a piece, Simon said: “If someone wants a specific model or a specific brand, what I do then is I go online and try and find the absolute best, highest-resolution image with the most detail I can zoom in on to capture everything. I’ll find the image, send them the image and if they’re happy with it, they pay 50 per cent of the cost up front, and then I send off a picture of the render that I’ve drawn. If they’re happy with the picture, they then pay the remaining 50 per cent of the amount plus postage, packing and insurance. I send all of my stuff out on plywood backing boards, so it has less chance of getting damaged. The customer is kept informed all the way through.”

Forestry Journal: Simon’s pieces have proved very popular on the Forest Machine Operators Blog.Simon’s pieces have proved very popular on the Forest Machine Operators Blog.

Simon was also full of praise for the firm he purchased his plasma table from, Gloucester-based Xtreme Precision Engineering. “Anyone that wants to start out with plasma cutting, that is the company to speak to,” he said.

Going forward, Simon said he is keen to get sponsored because doing so would allow him to “take it to another level”. To say he has been blown away by the reception to his pieces would be an understatement. “It’s an amazing feeling to think you have created something and someone appreciates it,” said Simon. “It’s a roller-coaster ride.

“I’m just a little bloke sitting in a wooden shed that I knocked up out of two grand’s worth of wood and someone in western Canada wants to buy my stuff! Now that means something, for somebody out the blue to actually like that you’ve taken a plain piece of steel, taught this machine to do its marvellous mechanical dance; and what you get from it, these people are actually happy to part with their hard-earned cash for!”

Forestry Journal remains dedicated to bringing you all the latest news and views from across our industry, plus up-to-date information on the impacts of COVID-19.

Please support us by subscribing to our print edition, delivered direct to your door, from as little at £69 for 1 year – or consider a digital subscription from just £1 for 3 months.

To arrange, follow this link:

Thanks – and stay safe.