To CNC or not to CNC…. That is the question…

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.

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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.

cnc carved dish walnut1- 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?

x-carve CNC inventible

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.

cnc rocking chair kids

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…

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In the beginning…

tmp_20140217203515_1-813495107I’m away from my workshop this week doing some coaching, so I thought I would share my furniture beginnings….  The picture above is of the first piece of furniture I ever made.  I did it in shop class in grade 7 or 8, don’t really recall to be honest!  I had finished making all the projects in the curriculum so my teacher said I could make whatever I want. My dad suggested a bed side table, and I think he helped with the design.  its made from plywood and maybe poplar?  I hated putting finish on even back then so I think my dad put the stain and poly on for me.  There was supposed to be a drawer but I ran out of time and while I made the piece for the drawer front, 20 years later I still haven’t made the drawer for it…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table Saw push stick

Surprisingly, I don’t actually have a push stick.  All these years I’ve usually just grabbed whatever scrap was lying around.  For awhile I had part of an old hockey stick that did a pretty good job… but today I figured why not make one, probably safer than what I’ve been using!

 

Pretty simple design made out of scrap 3/4″ plywood with about a 3/8″ lip at the back to grip the wood.  How does it work?  Well I had nothing that really needed cutting so I didn’t try it out, but I’m sure it’s just dandy…

Bent ply bike seat

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I made a wooden push bike for my daughter last year, but I kept the seat very simple, using just a small piece of flat plywood. I wanted something nicer but I was low on time, and she was still too little to ride it, so I figured it was better than nothing.

Fast forward one year and she is eager to learn how to ride and a new seat was needed. I’ve been keen to learn some bent ply techniques, so I thought this seat would be a good small project to start on. The seat is made of three layers of 3mm Baltic birch which I sandwich between a wooden form in a large vice. Layers were glued together using epoxy, and the final shape was cut out on a bandsaw. I’m really pleased with how it worked out, next step would be to cover it with some type of padding, but the neoprene I want to use is packed away in a box with the rest of my things and might not be found till next spring…

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Playgoda – If you really loved your children, you would buy them one…

 

How awesome is this climbing frame?  All flat pack birch plywood, put together without screws or glue.  If you really loved your kids, you would buy them one… or you’d head out to the workshop and make a custom version for them…

 

Check out more of Gregg Fleishman’s creations (especially the furniture!)

 

 

 

52 Create – Chalkboards, Chalkboards, Chalkboards!

52 Create – my weekly creative output for 2011.  I made some chalkboards for my own wedding last summer, and I was recently commissioned to make a bunch of them for another wedding this summer.  These were to be decidedly more “rustic” in appearance and also cost was a factor for the client.  They are made from 1/4″ douglas fir plywood with a 1/4″ dowel out the back to support them.  They will be used for table numbers for the dinner. It was a fairly quick job and made me realize some of the benefits of organization when doing larger production runs (ie. 20 chalkboards – 2 didn’t work out…).

My other 52 Create Projects.