Engraved on the CNC Shark Pro, using a Carbitool laser bit (solid carbide, 15o). 250mm diameter, 45 minute machining time. Finish: Festool Surfix Oil System
Yesterday got a bit busier than I was hoping, so last night I worked on the computer for a while to fine-tune a couple of vector designs ready for the CNC machine.
The first is a traditional Japanese dragon design, which needed some cleaning up (the benefit of having a reasonable understanding of Adobe Illustrator)
So this morning, I sent the files across to the PC laptop I am using to drive the CNC Shark Pro to get it working. I had it set to pretty light passes – perhaps a bit slow, but off it went.
And while I was ‘woodworking’, I also managed to do the dishes, cook two cakes with my daughter for her Nana’s birthday, shop for dinner, cook dinner (slow cooker), force feed the cat (long story), and respond to some comments on the blog. And all the while, the constant buzz of a noisy little router buzzing in the background.
It’s woodworking Jim, but not as we know it.
CNC machining is quite incredible, and opens up all sorts of possibilities. Not only in what I have been playing with so far in carving and patterns (wooden signs seems to attract a lot of buyers), but also in part fabrication, and repeatability. A CNC can easily become a cottage industry (as many have discovered).
If I had one of my own, I’d potentially see how far I could head down that track myself, but not to the detriment of my actual woodworking. This is fun, and the results are mindblowing, but it isn’t an end unto itself for me. I would see it being an incredible tool to supplement the others in the workshop without question. Some things can be done easier on a CNC machine, some thing can be done on the CNC that I have no experience in at all, yet it allows me the ability to incorporate them into my projects anyway.
I had the machine running much of the day on a few projects – swear I can still hear the router!
The first came out pretty well – the resulting dragon.
My initial reason for using it was the flatness – carving intricate designs needs a very flat surface, otherwise detail can easily be lost.
There were some replication errors – I don’t know enough about CNC to know if the machine deserves the blame, the controlling software, or the V Carve program. Not too big a deal, but I wouldn’t want to see too many errors creep in if I was looking at selling items.
Onto the second program, and this one was a serious workout. The Mayan calendar. Took about 4 hours.
Not the best material for such an intricate design, nor the best cutter. It came out pretty well considering, but the combination of cutter and machine, and it pushed it a little beyond its limit. Probably needed to be done in stages, as it developed a bit of a calibration issue as time went on. There are a number of lines missing, as the CNC shark seemed to forget exactly how low zero was on the Z axis.
It really needed a method to self-recalibrate during the run. I suspect that a more recent model would have produced a better result (and the high definition CNC Shark even better again). Carbatec now have a newer model (and there was also a high def version – not listed on their website though). Again, such an intricate design being done in 2-3 parts would have helped in this situation, rather than one long (400,000 steps) run.
A better cutter wouldn’t have helped the creep in the zero point, but could have produced a sharper image. I will go into that in more detail soon, but just as a heads-up, the In-groove set from Toolstoday.com will make a real difference to the finish.
So what am I going to try next? Not sure yet, but looking forward to it never-the-less! Could be 3d carving, could be cutting out parts – I haven’t begun to find out all the ways the machine can be used.
Given we are still here, guess that yet another “End of Days” has quietly slipped on past. However, the Mayan calendar (or is it Aztec?) is still one of the challenging images that are sent to CNC machines all over!
I’ve been playing with this one today:
It is quite a challenge for a CNC machine – results in around 1/2 a million lines of G Code to produce all the required cuts. I started off cutting it into pine, but the initial size chosen (200x200mm), the depth of cut and the crapiata used, the results were not worth pursuing, so I cancelled it after about 45 minutes (so at least I could get a good idea how it could look).
Given how packed the garage is waiting for the new shed, working on a CNC machine is almost the only way I can actually manage any woodworking at all! Note the precarious location for the laptop, so it is somewhat out of dust range from the router.
I then decided to find something more suitable, and this laminated electrical board was eminently suitable, given the lower layer is a significantly contrasting colour, so the pattern shows up exceptionally well. Again, this was only a test cut on the underside – this was scaled to 300×300, and would have taken 4 hours to complete. I stopped it after an hour, again as it was only a test, and a couple of settings I chose were causing some issues.
The other side of the board is a shiny surface, and should look pretty spectacular. However, I plan to make it near the limit of size of the machine (a 580×580 calendar). I didn’t start it today as I wanted to get a better idea of the settings before getting it underway. It will also take 14 hours(!!), so I need to get some noise control in place before trying it on. I might drop it back to 500×500, which will probably be closer to a 12 hour machining.
The CNC Shark range can be sourced from Carbatec, and seen in operation on Stu’s Shed
This was a first go with the CNC Shark Pro. I must admit I didn’t watch any instructional videos or read instructions- I tend to jump in and work things out for myself!
Once I have a bit of a concept about how it works, then the instructions make so much more sense (if needed ).
This was a simple text file made in VCarve, without any defaults changed. It is a bit rough, partly the program, partly the timber, but it was certainly exciting to watch never-the-less!
No photos yet (will take some this afternoon), but I’ve successfully run my first couple of jobs on the CNC Shark.
It was remarkably easy, at least in the sense of creating a basic design in VCarve, saving it as a toolpath, then importing it into the Shark Control Panel.
It is a shame the software only works on Windows, so I dusted off an old laptop to use. Then dusted it off again a few times while the Shark was cutting!
That is what the Jog tab is for. You can move the cutter manually (via the computer) to the start point, and set it to touch the work. This is then set to be the zero point. (0,0,0) Run the file (which will not actually start until you confirm the router is turned on).
Off it goes, on its pre-determined path, opening a new path for woodworkers. I certainly do not see this replacing more traditional forms of woodworking, and this will not be everyone’s cup of tea.
To parallel this with another experience – I was a very active photographer back in the days when photography was solidly in the realms of chemistry and traditional methods. I was also very comfortable creating and manipulating images with PhotoShop and the like. But when the two worlds firmly met, and the chemical photo world was swept away under a tidal wave of digital cameras, so did my undeniable passion for photography. I still take photos, but at a rate only a fraction of that before. Part is my remaining disappointment in the current cameras – the quality of the build, their longevity, but also how every man and his dog suddenly thought they were photographers because of what the camera was able to do for them, and not their real knowledge, skill and fundamental understanding of the principles of photography.
I don’t see that woodworking is at that point yet, and inherently it will never fully get there – photography can fully translate and remain in the virtual world. Woodworking, whether from the outset, or after some computer work with CNC programs, has to put tool to timber in the end.
People look at photos. They touch, hold and handle the end result of a woodworker’s efforts.
I will be very happy to incorporate CNC into my woodworking. Not to replace other methods, but to add an additional tool to the arsenal. And a powerful, versatile tool at that.
The CNC Shark range can be sourced from Carbatec, and seen in operation on Stu’s Shed
I managed to convince Carbatec (thanks Tony, and Carbatec Melbourne!) to lend me one of their (older) CNC machines, for my first hands-on experience of computer controlled woodworking.
I have no idea what the latest manuals (etc) are like, but the instructions on the Next Wave website (the manufacturer) are pretty agricultural – very 90s/early 00s. However, as I have a good grounding in IT, I had no problems getting the software downloaded and installed. I had to dust off an old(er) Windows laptop to make use of it – no such thing as Mac compatibility here.
It was a bit of suck and see really – got to the point that the actual machine needed plugging in and everything seemed to work. Took it for a bit of a jog (as in along its three axis) just to prove I had control over it.
It can be a bit overwhelming, the possibilities of a CNC machine, and I can understand that some people once excited by the idea of getting a CNC machine could easily find it sitting idle once the reality sets in. Like very idea they originally had about what they were going to do with one that drove them to finally buy one, goes out the window when it is a reality.
Given I only have the machine for a couple of weeks, motivation to jump right in isn’t a problem – finding the time to do so is a bit, but I’ll work around that!
You can design a pattern directly in the VCarve Pro software, or import a file from Illustrator or similar program. You can also take in a graphic and use VCarve to vectorise (is that a word?!) the image.
I can see the future, and it involves a bit of experimentation, and sawdust!
Came across this on YouTube – it is a homemade CNC machine the person has built for their Festool router (and ensured that the unit is all in the same colour scheme- imagine if Festool had a CNC machine available (but them imagine the price!))
What I found particularly interesting is the addition, and design of a pen holder – very nicely done. The second video is too long to bother watching all the way through, but worth watching the start to see the concept in action. Could prove a useful mod for other CNC units, such as the CNC Shark.
I was sent an interesting link to an article today about whether CNC machines were ready for fine woodworking. It got me thinking about another technological advance that occurred a few years ago, that lead to many a heated argument in magazines (the internet was around, but a lot less prevalent at the time), in club meetings, between those most passionate about their pursuit. More on that shortly.
The current situation that is still in its infancy is the rapidly increasing impact of CNC machines in the home workshop. Once, home CNC machines were reserved for the very small number of highly technically competent individuals who could take a bunch of parts from scanners, photocopiers, printers and electronic supply stores and create their own machine. Increasingly, commercially produced machines are becoming cheap enough (and are being targeted to) the backyard workshop.
Some, such as the CarveWright that I came across a little over a year ago look like glorified printers, and can be operated as easily to produce stunning results.
Another, the CNC Shark (and CNC Shark Pro) are at a price point that can be considered, and again are easily controlled from a home computer with some pretty simple software.
So what is the impact of such machines, so easy to operate, on the future of fine woodworking? Will they mean that anyone with a bit of cash available will be able to produce works to rival the most skilled carvers, who have honed their skills over decades, even over generations? Will they make the years of honing fine woodworking skills simply a waste of time? Or are they just another tool in a capable workshop, able to take the focus off some mundane tasks allowing more time for the woodworker to really produce beautiful works?
Back to that previous digital technology that caused such incredible amounts of anxiety and concern amongst another group. Photographers.
Back in the late 90s (actually for about the whole of the 90s), I was heavily involved in photography, and particularly competition photography (and I wasn’t too bad at it either, if I can say that). I was awarded Associateship of the Photographic Society of New Zealand in 1999, and even then the discussions had started in earnest. Digital photography was coming, and it was going to be a tsunami that was going to sweep all traditions away in the fury. At the time, we were submitting competition entries in prints, or slides (transparencies) and those who could afford to used slides that were then printed in Cibachrome (among others) producing incredible prints. Many, many (many!) hours were spent in darkrooms, developing films, producing prints, making multigrade prints, split tone printing processes. The image was king, and you’d dedicate entire days to achieving the one perfect print of an image.
Digital photography threatened all that, and even though initially the cameras had low resolution, small colour gamuts, and a very poor ability to get the image out of the computer, it was coming, and being IT, coming fast. Even now, cameras have leapt from 3 to 5, to 6, to 8, 10, 12 megapixel in consumer models, and yet Adobe are already preparing Photoshop to be able to handle the first generation of the gigabit cameras that are just around the corner.
The concern was, with the introduction of digital cameras, and digital (computer) ‘darkrooms’, everyone will be able to produce images indistinguishable from highly skilled traditional (chemical) photographers, and years of skill will be swept aside, not by the masses, but by a few very skilled programmers putting these amazing programs in their hands, and on their computers.
And yes, to a certain extent this is exactly what happened. It can be argued that a skilled/talented photographer will be able to take the same tools to a much higher level, but significant numbers of photographic enthusiasts were swept up, overtaken by the digital age. Around 2001 I begun the transition to digital, first scanning images in from film and then working in the digital darkroom that is Photoshop. By 2005, my film cameras were retired, replaced with a digital SLR, the chemical darkroom (including a $1000 colour enlarger) sold.
I don’t think my photographic passion survived – it is a ghost of its former self, and I lament the loss. Perhaps that is why I have poured so much energy into woodworking – a return to “doing things for ones-self”, instead of watching a print slowly emerge in the chemical bath, I watch a piece of timber slowly transformed into something with aesthetic appeal.
So now, as CNC machines are becoming mainstream, will they also prove to be the death of the passion for many woodworkers, or is there a fundamental difference?
As I see the development of CNC machines, they are going to become increasingly common (although perhaps not as much as retailers of these machines would dream of), they, I believe, are destined to become another tool in the workshop, not the only one. A CNC machine will work cooperatively, symbiotically with the other tools in the workshop, and not like what happened with digital photography, replacing the old technology completely.
But it won’t be completely without pain, or feelings of immense threat to some who have worked so hard to become as skilled as they are. The furniture, such as seen in the Fine Woodworking article will raise eyebrows, and result in many discussions. Woodworking competitions particularly – will a piece that incorporates CNC machining be allowed to compete alongside more traditionally produced items?
I look in my workshop, and consider what would be the implications for me (personally) if I added a CNC machine? I see no change out there – a CNC would become another tool available, replacing none of the ones already there. It would increase what the workshop could produce though, and some projects may be completed in new ways because of a CNC machine being available. But woodworking as a whole is still safe – it is still too much of a tactile pursuit to have all direct interaction with raw materials handed over to a computer controlled machine. Traditional (non electrically powered) woodworkers (dark siders) would argue that interaction was lost years ago with the introduction of power tools.
So would I welcome a CNC machine into my workshop? Absolutely! But don’t expect me to give up a single other tool already out there – they all have their particular strengths, and every one complements every other. A CNC machine would do the same.