I’ve been dreaming of a CNC for years… I once bought a book on how to make your own CNC and even had some money set aside for the parts, but things got busy in life, we moved a fair bit and lugging around a piece of equipment that size just didn’t seem practical. Now that we’re settled a bit more, and my woodworking/design business is growing, my thoughts have been led back to the idea of a CNC.
I make a lot products that require precise repetitive cuts. To this point I’ve done this mostly by hand, drawing the parts out, cutting close with the bandsaw, and sanding to the line. For some items I’ve rigged up a jig for my router, but all of these would be simpler with a CNC. Some products have tested the limits of my current tools, while others just aren’t worth making due to the amount of time it takes vs. how much people are willing to pay. While a CNC would have an upfront cost, it would allow me to start it running and then work on other projects while it cut out parts. Three things have been stalling my purchase so far: 1-cost, 2-know how, 3-man vs. machine.
1- Cost: Fairly obvious one, these machines aren’t cheap. I’m used to powerful woodworking tools that have had little change in the last 50 years, meaning my 40 year old Unisaw is the same product as one bought today, except mine costs 1/10 of the price and all parts are metal instead of practice. There aren’t many used CNC’s around, and they are getting better all the time so newer IS better.
2- Know How: While I was once a computer geek, writing computer programs as a kid, I haven’t done as much of this recently, and it’s a bit overwhelming to figure out where to start, how to use the software, and which one to use. I see lots of people saying it’s pretty simple and you’ll learn fast, but I’m not convinced so far.
3- Man vs. Machine: I work with both hand tools and machines. I’m not partial to either, although hand tools are quite and generally make less sawdust which is always nice. I use the best tool for the job, and the reality is that often that is a machine because time is money, and this isn’t a hobby for me. But the other day I heard someone saying that if it’s made by a CNC, it takes away from the artistry of it. It’s an interesting comment, but if we look at painters, no one criticizes them for selling prints of their work instead of one off works of art. I see a lot of product descriptions of makers stating things are “hand carved”, “hand dipped”, “hand made”, etc. What is interesting is my wife runs a bakery, one of her best selling products are Macaron. In order to make these, you whip egg whites, which she does with a commercial mixer. Would people pay more if she whipped them by hand? Likely not, she’d probably just get huge biceps and a case of tendonitis. The truth is, my products cut by a CNC would be more accurate than me cutting them, so resulting in a higher quality item for my customer, so it seems like everyone should be happy with this?
Where am I going with all this? Well last night I stumbled across the Inventables website, they just came out with a new product called the X-Carve which is a CNC that you assemble yourself. They’ve really put some thought into this machine, enabling you to customize size, motors, and spindle all to your liking (and budget). There are reviews starting to come out across the net and they are very positive. It’s great to see so many actual woodworkers reviewing this product as it gives confidence to someone like me that I’m just as capable to make great use with this CNC.
It also addresses my issues…. The price is very affordable, especially since you can configure it to your needs, and the testimony from other woodworkers has really helped me to believe this is something I can handle and learn fairly quickly. As for the Man vs. Machine debate, the more woodworkers I see using this CNC, the more I feel it’s just another tool in my shop, one that has infinite possibilities for my woodworking business.
So am I buying one? Not sure on this. While it’s affordable, it’s still a fair chunk of change, and once it arrives I still need to assemble it and start learning how to use it. This might be a great summer project as my shop is not air conditioned and it gets really hot and humid here, so tinkering is much nicer than sweating buckets while making things. Summer is generally slower for my shop, so a great time to learn new things.
One other thought I’ve had is my 5 year old (seen above when much younger) loves to make things with me. I think this could be a real fun item for Sunday mornings, she can dream up something, sketch it on the computer, and head out the shop to make it. Just for that purpose it would be worth it in my books. I’ll keep you posted what I end up doing…