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Autodesk helps to make the maker (pictures)

Take a workshop tour with Autodesk CEO Carl Bass, whose company is known for making design software for engineers, architects and animators.

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James Martin
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1 of 22 James Martin/CNET

Saws over suits

Autodesk is likely one of the largest multibillion-dollar companies most people have never heard of. It makes more than 100 software products used by millions of engineers, architects and animators. These products have been used to design and model some of the world’s biggest bridges, buildings and roads -- along with movies, videos games, planes and cars.

Now, under CEO Carl Bass, the company is pushing into the consumer realm -- bringing affordable software to the masses -- with the goal of helping makers and other do-it-yourselfers create.

Bass himself is an dedicated maker, who spends hours each week in his wood and metal workshops. Rather than looking like a buttoned-up executive, he's more likely to be found in Carhartt work pants and with a saw in hand.

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2 of 22 James Martin/CNET

Bass' wood shop

In his wood shop, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass is at home. We visited the massive Berkeley workspace, where Bass showed off tool after tool -- chisels, CNC routers, sanders and saws.

Bass set up this and his metalworking shop down the street to serve as a hobby spaces, but they also act testing grounds for Autodesk.

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Prototypes

A scaled prototype for one of Bass' wood projects.

Autodesk is most widely known for its flagship product AutoCAD, the design software standard used by engineers to conceive everything from airplanes and cars to buildings and hovercrafts.

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Set of chisels

Bass recovered this worn set of decades-old Stanley chisels on eBay, which he then refinished and now uses regularly.

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Unique designs

Scattered around Bass' shop are dozens of prototypes and projects, like chairs built from a single piece of wood, a series of baseball bats and several types of tables.

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Collection of wood

Bass stops in a corner of the shop to show us stacks of wood, some new pieces, and some of which he’s carried around for years.

He says he held on to a piece of maple burl he had for 25 years before finally carving a bed frame from it.

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Sander from Lucas Film

This 1940-era drum and disk sander -- which is now part of Bass' collection of machines -- is from Industrial Light & Magic. It was originally used in the special effects studio that built models for the original Star Wars films.

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Metal and wood

Bass shows off one of his in-the-works projects that fuses both his wood and metal working passions, a 2,000-pound industrial table and bench set.

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Jeff Tiedeken's Gravity Bike

Bass shares his metal shop in Berkeley, Calif., with maker Jeff Tiedeken. Here Tiedeken shows off his Gravity Bike, which has reached downhill speeds of more than 50 miles per hour.

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Autodesk HQ

Autodesk unveiled its workshop at Pier 9 in San Francisco last year. It's a 27,000-square-foot mad-scientist-like toy shop where no idea is off limits.

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CNC router

One of the Autodesk artists-in-residence uses the massive DMS five-axis router at Autodesk's Pier 9 workshop.

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Martini making

Autodesk's Pier 9 is full of creations, like this martini-making machine.

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Parts destined for the ISS

This machine at Autodesk's Pier 9 workshop is being used to make highly accurate pieces, like a small part for a lunar lander.

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Inside the metal shop

At the back of Pier 9 is Autodesk's metal shop that's filled with drills and bits to make just about anything.

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Fire-breathing skeleton

One Autodesk artist-in-residence at Pier 9 came up with the idea to make this fire-breathing machine.

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USS America plaque

Around the world, construction companies, gadget makers, aerospace engineers and artists use Autodesk software for their creations.

The US Navy’s first 45,000-ton USS America amphibious assault ship was built with Autodesk’s ShipConstructor program.

This commemorative plaque  for the USS America was also designed and built using Autodesk's tools.

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Meeting room swing

Known for its playful atmosphere, Autodesk's Pier 9 conference room comes complete with a swinging boardroom table and chairs.

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Autodesk DLP 3D printer

Bass chats with Eric Wilhelm who founded the how-to website Instructables. Autodesk acquired Instructables in 2011 and it's now housed at Pier 9.

In the foreground of this photo is Autodesk's first foray into hardware -- it's desktop 3D printer dubbed Ember.

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Printed speakers

Bass built this set of 3D-printed orb speakers as a Christmas gift for Autodesk board members.

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3D printed flexible square

This 3D-printed object, which was made at Autodesk's Pier 9 workshop, appears to be a rigid structure, but the flexible squares can easily collapse and then return to their original shape.

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Autodesk's Pier 9 offices

Bass stands on a raised walkway on the second floor of Autodesk's Pier 9 workshop.

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Spin the lunch wheel

The Pier 9 workshop is  filled with all kinds of quirky projects like this spinning wheel for lunchtime, which makes picking a spot to eat more like playing a game show.

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