Moving into the 21st century via CNC
Mike Farrington hopes that his new CNC will help his woodworking business be more profitable and allow him to explore a few artistic avenues.
Recently the random path that is my career has lead me to the base of a mountain. The signs marking the path all point up. Unfortunately the path looks really steep and I can’t see the peak because of a low cloud cover. This path is marked CNC… Thats right; I bumped into a good deal on a large format CNC router. The bed size is 5’ x 9’ so I can cut full sheets of 4’ x 8’ plywood as well as 5’x5’ baltic birch plywood.
Needless to say, I am pretty excited but also a little stressed out. For almost 2 decades now, I have worked hard to avoid working with computers. I have nothing against computers; I just like working with my hands in the shop. Well, time marches on–as does technology –and now I’m forcing myself to make a change. It’s a change that should help my woodworking business be more profitable and allow me to explore a few artistic avenues that would be impossible without the efficiencies that technology can bring.
Lets take a few steps back. I’m completely familiar with how a CNC router works and what it can be used for in the wood shop. Very early in my career when I had no money and no tools, I would often contract with a local shop that had a CNC. I would have them cut all kinds of stuff for me. It was a way that I could produce big work out of a small shop with few tools. I built many kitchens using this exact model. Back then even cheap CNCs were 6 figures and I wrote off ever owning a CNC. I never wanted to grow my business to that point, and as a one man shop, I would never have the workload to justify the payment on a machine of that cost. Well, leave it to the market to come up with a CNC that a very small shop like mine can afford and one with performance that is acceptable.
As of right now, I have really no idea how to operate this tool. I have loaded some software onto my laptop to include Mach4, VCarve Pro, Fusion 360, and SketchUP. On the plus side, I am pretty good with SketchUP, the others not so much. Over the winter I am going to take some time each morning when it’s freezing cold to stay in the house and teach myself these programs.
I am going to process as much plywood as possible with it. Rather than horsing 4×8 sheets over my sliding table saw, then laying out and drilling for hardware holes and joinery, I would like to do this in the design phase, and have the tool do all the work at one time. I think this method will be less physically demanding. After 2 decades of working in the trades, all the aches and pains are starting to mount and anything to ease my workload is welcomed.
Some of my other hopes for this CNC:
- I have a handful of jigs and fixtures that I would like to develop and, if there is interest, bring them to market. In this case I will do all the prototyping and maybe make the first couple hundred, and from there turn over production to someone else.
- I have a few ideas for artistic projects that I would like to build on a speculative basis. While these ideas could be done by hand, the time involved would make them extremely expensive. I’m hoping I can build and offer these projects with the help of my new robot at a price that the market could bare.
- As a custom woodworker I bump into jobs that require odd angles, curves, radiuses, etc. I think I can save lots of time using this CNC to make bending forms, custom clamping jigs, templates, mockups, and the list goes on.
- Oh and let’s not forget remaking parts. I can remake a single part for a job if it’s damaged, or I can remake an entire job much more easily than I can the old fashioned way.
I’m excited at the prospects that a CNC router brings to my business. This new challenge has brought some extra enthusiasm to my work each day. I think this is a natural reaction anytime one finds themselves at the base of a mountain looking up at the path. So I drop the laptop into my backpack each day and try to climb a little higher.
If you would like to see the CNC in action I’m planning on using it in upcoming videos on my YouTube channel and showing a few small tidbits on my awesomely incredible Instagram feed. Stay tuned!
One last thing, if you have any suggestions as to how to better learn the software mentioned above or CNC in general, please let me know. Maybe you know of a particular tutorial, website, or video series that you found helpful, let me know in the comments below or contact me directly via my website.