View Full Version : Desktop CNC Router Pattern Cutting for the Home Workshop

07-19-2013, 08:38 AM
About seven years ago, I spent a few days at a big woodworking show in Atlanta, where I was mesmerized by the CNC machines. Full sheets of plywood would slide in one end and cabinet parts — complete with joinery cuts, holes for shelving pins, pilots for mounting screws and even decorative grooving — would emerge on the other. Of course, many of the machines were bigger than our factory and cost more than our house. Over time, however, I’ve found some manufacturers, notably ShopBot, making downsized machines. The cost of even these smaller machines, though, was still out of my reach.

Then along came desktop CNC routers. They cost way more than top of-the-line router tables, but half what low-end ShopBots do. So now, you can buy a turn-key package, bolt the parts together in an hour or so, load a program into your home computer and, by the end of the day, start doing some real CNC woodworking.

The Money Question
If you are at all interested in this technology, I’m sure the question you have now is: “Well, buddy. Which one should I buy?”

As evasive as it may seem, I’ll reply that it depends on what you expect to make with it.

If your interest is simply making signs, carving and/or cutting small parts in 4/4 stock, I’d consider the CW. The software is less daunting to learn, and the machine more or less “talks” you through project setup. The manufacturer has tons of carving patterns and projects on CDs.

On the other hand, if your interest is in the realm of furniture making, I think the Shark is your machine. It certainly has more appeal to me.

Work I currently do using templates could be done more quickly and accurately (and safely) with CNC. If I want to contour the bottom edge of a table’s apron, I first use CAD to draw the contour. Then I try to duplicate that line on a piece of MDF, saw the line, sand it and, if it looks right, trace along its edge on each workpiece. I saw the work close to the line, attach the template to the workpiece and carefully rout.

With CNC, I could draw the line in CAD, calculate the toolpath in CAM, and cut the workpieces with the CNC. No sawing and sanding and sawing again. And if I wanted to save the template to use again in the future, it’s on my computer’s hard drive. No clutter of dust-collecting templates in the shop.

Moreover, the techniques and tricks I learn using the Shark will apply should I move up to a larger machine. I can use the VCarve software with most any CNC router. I have to send both these tools back, but if I could keep just one, it’d be the Shark.