Recently, I spent time with the Shaper Tools Origin. It’s a hand-held CNC. At first glance it’s router that thinks it’s a CNC. Or, maybe the other way around. Either way you look at it, it really works. A remarkable tool, well executed with serious possibilities for creatives and room to grow and enhance for the developer . For my Popular Woodworking Magazine, click here.
I did a minor tweak to the Shapeoko XL CNC. Cleaning up wiring, connectors, cable track to keep the dust away. The price of woodworking on a CNC is always lots of dust. I’d like to keep dust off of collections of fine cable, which the Shapeoko has plenty of. So, I covered them up. About 30 minutes with various sizes of split loom cable cover and it’s done. I did a review for the December 2017 issue of Popular Woodworking magazine. It’s a well designed and executed machine that a great place to start for new digital woodworkers and makers. And, I see plenty of possibilities for enhancements. Here’s a YouTube video of covering exposed wires.
I’ve been curious about laser cutters for a long time. Though, some things are similar to CNCs — the X/Y movements, for example, a lot of things are different. For one thing, with fewer parameters to set and control, they are simpler to operate. Most settings have to do with the power needed for a given operation, say engraving or cutting through something. But, thanks to good design they can be easier, yet.
I’ve had to pleasure to spend some time with the developers of the Glowforge, located here in Seattle. What the Glowforge is, is a laser cutter with all the hard parts removed for novice users. Indeed, it’s simple to use. I recently spent several hours using one and it only took a couple of minutes to learn how to use it. An elegantly done product that anyone can put to work instantly. I look forward to spending some more time with it in the coming weeks and doing a review at my Popular Woodworking blog.
The Shapeoko XL is a very interesting CNC. It comes in easy to build kit form, costs about $1500 and uses a trim router. Now, there are a number of inexpensive CNCs out there, especially for the hobbyist “Maker” market but I haven’t seen one that I thought was up to the heavy duty task of woodworking. This one is well designed, smartly engineered and just might be up for the job as budget friendly digital woodworking CNC. I’ll be doing a full review at Popular Woodworking later on, after putting one to a good test. In the mean time, here’s my build video on YouTube.
Digital woodworking tools are a challenging, sometimes frustrating and always a lot of fun to work with. But, it’s easy to be distracted by cool high tech hardware, computers, CNCs, laser cutters, digital routers and miss the most important tool of them all: CAD design software. Without it, you won’t get very far. But with it, it’ll take you and what you want to make as far as your imagination will go. If you take the time to learn how to use it. There’s no question about it. If you want to make cool stuff in digital woodworking, you’ve got to design it first. And, CAD is the place you do it.
Good CAD software is worth far more than whatever it costs. Actual price is not measured in dollars. It’s about the vast quantities of time you’ll spend learning it, using it and pushing it to the limits of your skills and imagination. Pro tip: don’t be cheap. Get the one that can take you where you want to go not just today, but tomorrow, too.
Think of CAD as an investment in your future. It’s the place you’ll be living in for a long time. Might as well make it enjoyable and productive. Divide the upfront cost over the many years you’ll use it and you’ll discover it’s a bargain. Invest wisely.