I have had a number of people asking me about CNC and Laser machines and their use in woodworking. I generally have answered these email individually and they are often long and probably as tedious to read as they are to write, so in this episode, with the help of my long-time friend Paul, we are going to provide an overview of both of these machines to give everyone a better idea what they can do and how they work.

You should also know that both these machines are Paul's and that he currently has many videos on his channel you can watch, including some Beginner videos on the use and set up of both these machines, his YouTube Channel is MakeTech Create. 
You check out his Wood Art Website Here.

Watch it on Youtube: https://youtu.be/0Ng_T179mKA

Subscribe to Paul's Channel: https://youtube.com/c/MakeTechCreate

To get this video rolling, I am going to start off with the CNC Machine ...

CNC Woodworking

CNC Machine

This particular machine is quite well known and is a very good hobby type of machine. If you are considering going into "production" which requires heavy use, there are other machines on the market more suited to heavy industrial use ... and they are priced accordingly.

After you have the machine home and assembled, and have tested that it works, next you will want to try out an actual project. This will require sending a digital file in the form of a "plan", so that the CNC machine will know what to carve out. 

Like all things computer-related there are different kinds of files and some CNC machines can use many different kinds while others are a bit more restricted. 
The "file" or "plan" is something that can be downloaded from various other websites, which means other people have created these files and put them out there for others to download for free, or in some cases a small charge.  These files are constantly changing so doing your own research will uncover what currently available for you to download to your computer, or if you need to create your own file. 

Before you jump right into making something, you will also need some information on the kinds of router bits you will need. There is a vast number of bits but many are similar, they just come in different sizes so it's not quite as complicated as it may seem. There are some bits that are used for carving out the wood, like ball bits and V-bits while others are only concerned with cutting out your project and these bits come in various sizes, brands, and qualities. Most of these bits come in either "hardened steel" or "carbide". Like all router bits, hardened steel is good but it gets dull quite a bit quicker than carbide. Carbide, on the other hand, stays sharp much longer, (and it costs more) but the disadvantage with carbide bits is they can snap or break if they are forced to travel to fast through harder materials like dense hardwoods, aluminum or some plastics.  

In our demo, Paul used a program called Carbide Create, a free program that comes in conjunction with the Shapeoko CNC machine we are using. He created a file that will create a couple of kitchen use, cutting boards and each one will be cut from the same piece of wood, like a small production run. 

We will be using 3 different router bits for this job.
The first bit is a V-Groove bit that will be used like a round-over bit by easing the top edges of the board  
The second bit is a round-nosed or ball nose bit that will be used to cut the juice groove around the inside edge of the cutting board.
The third bit is a down spiral bit to cut the cutting boards out of the main plank that they are being created in. The down spiral bit will leave a clean edge on top but will leave a bit of a ragged edge on the bottom of the cut, which we will clean up later with some sandpaper. 

Because we are using 3 different bits, we need to send three different codes to the machine so it knows what bit we are using and what path that bit needs to follow and we need to do this with each bit, and of course, change bits between cuts. 

One of the setup steps is to tell the CNC machine where the wood is on the base of the machine so it knows where to start cutting. This is called centering or homing the machine, plus the machine needs to know how thick the material is, how far above the base of the machine the material is and what the material is, such as Oak, Birch, Fir, Aluminum, Plastic, or in our case Pine.

CNC Cutting Board

One of the very useful accessories that can be used with these machines is Dust Collection Boots that help to minimize the amount of wood that flies out from the router bit as it cuts the wood. 

With all the setup work done, time to let the machine start the first cut which is with the V Groove bit which is going to ease the top edges of the cutting board.  

Once that has been done, time to swap bits and install the Ball Nose bit that will be cutting out the juice or gravy slot in the cutting board. Paul made the bit make 2 passes to cut the juice groove a bit deeper. 

The final step is to cut out the cutting boards using the down spiral bit, which will also leave the tabs that attaches the cutting board to the main carcass of the board. These tabs are what keep the wood from moving around during the cutting process. 

After the tabs are cut the cutting boards are released and all that needs to be done now is a bit of sanding and whatever finishing needs to be done, or in our case, taking these cutting boards to the Laser Machine for some further work.


Laser Engraving Machine

Laser Cutting 

To add some unique character to our cutting boards, Paul will be etched in the Woodworkweb logo with his industrial size laser cutter. These machines work very similar to CNC machines in that the laser heads need to be "focused" on the wood, that means the laser machine needs to know how thick the wood is, what type of wood it is and how much power needs to be used in the carving or etching process. 

The first step, just like the CNC is to Home or Center the machine so it knows where the object is that it needs to do the work on. 

Since we already showed many of the steps with a CNC machines that are very similar to what the Laser Machine requires, we have skipped showing that detail.

Laser Engraved Cutting Board

What we didn't have time for was to show more detail of what the laser cutter/etcher can do, such as actually cutting through thin materials, so using as cutting and not just as an etching machine. We also didn't get a chance to show how it can etch glass, and even drinking glasses that could have your business, anniversary or wedding event etched right into the drinking glass. 

In many ways these 2 machines complement each other and that they operate in a similar matter, use similar kinds of plans and files and produce both similar and complementary outcomes, such as those we showed in the video.

For those adventurous woodworkers who want to get into doing something different, either of these kinds of woodworking are now within the reach of smaller, hobbist woodworkers and the software, machines and how they work has been made so much easier to use than when I first started looking at these machines 25 years ago. 

Take a moment and have a look at Paul's YouTube Channel - MakeTech and see some of the things he has already created and he has some ideas for some very cool future projects too, so I'm looking forward to see what those are.

Many thanks to Paul for all his work and time in setting these projects up and showing all us and a whole new way of woodworking ... 

Copyright Colin Knecht

Laser Wood Cutter