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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Secret Weapon Revealed Part I: Cunning and Deception

A new tool has been added to the shop, well, added last fall actually. This is a CNC router table. 'CNC' stands for "computed numeric control". It is basically a computer controlled router table that can cut pieces designed in CAD. It can cut your basic two dimensional shapes and do some three dimensional stuff with the necessary software.

I built this last fall using unistrut, MDF, UHMW plastic, steel and aluminum extrusions, and a number other parts all easily sourced from your local Home Depot/Lowes and the Internet.


A few years ago, within the first year we acquired the Westsail as a bare hull, the admiral and I attended the IBEX marine builders trade show in Miami. There were numerous companies showing off their production quality CNC cutting machines. I was drooling. My wife kept hitting me in the arm and saying "we don't need one of those!!" With average prices starting around $45,000 she was right. Nevermind that we would not have the floorspace for one of these things. But still, I was drooling. Over time, I kept looking at these machines. I came across a "hobby grade" machine,, but the prices were around $20,000. Still too rich for my blood.

Cunning and Deception

Then sometime last year, whilst browsing, I learned of a DIY CNC table design called "Joe's 4x4 Hybrid CNC". The plans could be purchased for $100, and, the more critical custom parts could be purchased for $400. With that you got access to the Joe's CNC forum were other machine builders describe their tips, tricks and modifications. The trick here was how to sell this to the wife (here comes the cunning and deception bit). I started with purchasing the plans to research what the machine could actually do and how it could be applied to the known remaining boat construction projects, with which I would occasionally mention "You know, a CNC machine would really help with 'xxx'" But I don't think she bought those arguments. At the same time I was slowly selling stuff on eBay that was piling up in the garage that I knew we would not be using, to help pay for machine build costs.

As I was quietly accumulating the necessary hardware to at least start the base table, one week while my wife was out of town, I started assembling the base table out of unistrut. Of course I got an earful when she came back when, despite my assurances that I was trying to control costs as best as I could, she pretty much resigned herself and said "well, you are going to do what you want anyway". I felt really guilty, but I knew this machine, when complete, would be really handy for stuff. I just could not prove it.

So, for about two months I acquired parts,selling eBay stuff and paying cash all long the way (as best as I could), and spent every other weekend assembling, squaring, aligning, gluing, sanding and painting (with some unplanned dis-assembling and re-assembling), all under the suspicious eye of my wife. Just before Christmas 2009, I had a machine ready to be fired up. Total cost: about $3000.

It's Alive!

I connected up the electronics, fired up the software and did some initial calibrations. Movement! Shortly thereafter I had the machine doing some test cuts on cheap plywood. Soon, I had the machine cutting the final parts, that would ultimately be used the machine. After witnessing this, my wife later came up to me and said something like "Wow, thats pretty cool, can it cut a 'XYZ' part for one of MY projects??"  I took that as evidence as she was finally sold on the idea.

Yes, we are still married.

Next in Part II: Tour of the machine.


The Incredible Hull said...

That is just depressing, I'm not reading your blog anymore. I spent a week procrastinating before I bought this POS;

You just spoil everything.....:-(

Tom said...

I agree with TIH, very unfair, ooh well, I'll just keep using the router freehand against a ply template cut out with a jigsaw.