Must-Have CNC Machine Tools

CNCtools

Now that I’ve been working with our CNC machine for a little while, I’ve begun accumulating various tools to make my various jobs easier. I’ve tested a lot of different types and makers of bits, experimented with a bunch of different ways to mount work to the table, and here are several things that I use every day:

  • Freud Straight Flute bits: great for thinner sheet plastic
  • Countersink Bolts + Wingnuts: for attaching jigs
  • MDF & HDPE: cheap machinable jig material
  • 25ft Tape: for measuring big things
  • Ruler: for measuring small things
  • Calipers: for measuring tiny things
  • Pens and Sharpies: to write on everything
  • Notebook: to write down everything
  • Wireless Keyboard: Remote control of terminal

To be perfectly honest, the most useful things on the table are those last two. I really needed a notebook to keep track of all my settings and measurements, so I could flip back a few days to see what depth I was cutting this jig at, or what that toolpath was supposed to look like, or what feedrates I’ve already tried with a certain bit – without taking the time to load up the files on my computer.

I also wanted to drive the machine without walking back to the computer. There are several options for professional CNC remote controls, but this $15 keyboard works great – once you memorize the key commands for Shopbot’s software. Now I can move, jog, and calibrate the machine from anywhere in the shop. Anyway, all of these little things things have sped up my workflow enough to have time for side projects like this:

IAsign

Two young people from our church are getting married this weekend, and here’s a quick sign that I whipped up for the wedding. A nice v-carve bit and a few simple toolpaths made this a five minute job. Painting it will take more time than cutting it. When I first started messing around with this CNC machine, it seemed like everything it did could have been done faster by hand. Now that I’ve figured out my process a bit better, it’s obvious that the bottleneck was me.

ampersand

I’m going to keep posting about little things that I’ve learned and tools that are especially helpful, but probably not without getting too technical. I’m hoping that my readers will start chiming in with recommendations, questions, and suggestions for cool new side projects!

  1. “Quick”, “simple”, “five minute job”? Wow! What are the main steps in getting a design from concept to machine instructions?

    - Luke Myers
    1. I’m using Aspire, which is pretty simple for text layout. When I’m doing more complicated stuff it involves jumping through a few more hoops, and interface feels like Abode Illustrator back in 1998, but it’s generally doing what I want. Sometime this month I want to download a few other program demos and test those out.

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