In 2015 I decided to add a new dimension to my woodworking capabilities and shop, by adding a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) Machine. I researched available commercial and hobbyist platforms, as well as evaluating home built options. After examining all options, I decided to build a custom machine from plans readily available on the internet. My article detailing the build titled Home Built CNC Router is included in this blog.
I enrolled in an online Google+ class to build a CNC from scratch. The plans were distributed through Google+ and I paid a fee for the class which consisted in a detailed copy of the plans in Sketch Up. In short order I had a CNC Router that could be controlled by a computer. I also had to master the software that designs the piece, and controls the machine. After ironing out the bugs and learning how to design and create wood items from my CNC I eventually produced over 100 pieces.
After producing so many items, which were mostly Cribbage Boards, I began to notice little imperfections in the pieces. The first evidence was slightly out-of-round circles, holes drilled were oblong rather than round, and shapes cut out required more and more sanding. While watching the machine closely I began to notice flexing in several of the axis which resulted in error. I quickly realized that the problem was getting worse and even though I reinforced certain areas the error was getting more pronounced. The problem was in the design of the machine, and I soon realized that I would need to construct a new machine or purchase a commercial one. I had invested large sums of money in the hardware and the software to create my old machine, and I wanted to reuse as much as possible of it for the new one. That left me few options.
The reasonably priced commercial machines were extremely limited in hardware or software choices. One of the reasons I decided to build my own machine in the first place was because the commercial ones were so limited. I had, and still have a Carvewright, manufactured by LHR Technologies but every aspect of it’s use is dictated by the manufacturing company. The proprietary software package to design items and run the machine has to be purchased only from the company. The bits for cutting and carving have to be purchased from the company, and all repair parts have to be purchased from LHR. The basic design software that comes with the machine is severely limited. You can buy costly add ons to increase the complexity and capabilities of the software but the total package is very expensive. In addition, I have upgraded the electronics and drive system numerous times including my last upgrade which consisted of replacing the sandpaper drive belt with a rubber one for $175. The machine has always been glitchy resulting in numerous projects being ruined. If the machine stops due to an error during carving or cutting it usually results in having to start the project over again, and it frequently results in wasted wood and time.
The Shark CNC System by Next Wave Manufacturing was another one I evaluated. When you purchase one of their packages, you also are locked into proprietary software although they provide a copy of Vcarve Pro by Vetric Software which is an independent company’s design software. This design software is the same one I already own. If I were to buy a CNC Package from them the $700 design software I already own would be wasted. The control software I already own is called Mach 3 from Newfangled Solutions. All of the Shark packages are very expensive, and I would not be able to use the software that I have already invested over $1000 for in the past.
Stay tuned for future articles of the new machine that I am getting ready to build. I believe it is the best choice for me to replace my old machine, and I will be able to use most of the hardware, and all of the software I already own.