I made the plunge. I ordered a CNC router. It’s not here yet so I’ll keep you updated. I’ve looked at these things for years. Back in 2006 when they first hit my radar I wanted one to play with. A big boy toy to make RC airplane parts with and maybe a cutting board for mom on Mother’s Day. With the improvement in machine technology, linear motion components, stepper motors, software, and electronics, the potential for a mid-line machine for ordinary folks like me (working out of a small basement shop) has moved from simple play thing projects to building cabinets, furniture, signs, and art! Now I see more potential to use it to make a little money with too. I have some ideas!
Now I’m not going to pretend to be an expert. I think if I were classified as a “CNC newbie” that would be generous. I have a steep learning curve to climb. Getting into a CNC machine is not for the faint of heart. Aside from the cost, there’s software to learn (yes, the software is expensive too!), tooling to learn and understand, concepts of feeds and speeds to grasp, electrical and mechanical engineering, linear motion disciplines to learn, and on and on. Did I mention the expense?!!!
I ultimately decided on a semi-DIY machine from CNC Router Parts. I say semi-DIY because their kits come in a ready to assemble type format. I have to “build” it, but I don’t have to fabricate it. They also have a plug and play electronics kit. I am weak in my knowledge of electronics so that option is what I chose.
I went the semi-DIY route for a couple of reasons. First, I could not justify or afford the expense of a Shopbot or a Laguna “ready to run” machine. Honestly, I was at my upper end of “justification” with the machine I ordered. No regrets, but I really pushed the envelope of what I can afford. Second, CNC Router Parts has a great reputation in the DIY CNC community. It seems to me to be well earned because I’ve had great response and attention from them so far through the process. Finally, I want to “build” this machine so I can gain an understanding of all of its components and the areas of technology that are foreign to me.
I wanted to get the most machine that I could afford and I ended up going with their Cadillac, the PRO 4896 with V-Con linear motion parts and NEMA 34 motors. It’s a big machine! But I will be able to cut cabinet boxes for my buddy’s cabinet shop and make a few bucks on the side that way. One of the things that cracks me up when I read these CNC forums is all the, what I call, “CNC Technophiles” who spend endless hours dialing in every setting so their machine will cut to ridiculous accuracy. I am not criticizing them. I’m really not. God bless them, but I don’t have the knowledge or the patience to do that. I want to make stuff as soon as possible!
And with that, I have reached the moral dilemma. Don’t worry, it’s just another one of many in my life. I’ve gotten used to handling them over the years. Ha! Seriously, is a CNC machine for a woodworker the ultimate sellout of a craftsman? I don’t think so. No more than the router and table was to the craftsman of 100 years ago. It’s just another tool in the toolbox as I see it. Furthermore, I have never been what I would consider a “fine woodworker”. The things I make do not require super meticulous attention to detail and old school joinery. There again, patience is the issue for me. I think learning and retaining those skills is important. You ought to know how to set up your saw for a dado or cut a dovetail or do a mortise and tenon. But the truth is, technology is making those skills less and less relevant, just as a power planer made the hand planer an artifact. I’m probably pissing off some folks here. Sorry.
This machine will not be the end all one stop tool in the shop. I realize that, but I do recognize that it will allow me to cut some interesting profiles with much more accuracy that I could ever get with a bandsaw. I’ll be able to save time on large repetitive cuts and dados. And I’ll be able to make the mundane time consuming tasks/cuts just a little more interesting.
So, CNC sellout? I don’t think so. BTW, most furniture and cabinet manufacturers are using them these days……