The latest addition to our creative toolset is a CNC router. I've been thinking about this technology for a long time. Back in my AutoCAD dealership days, I wrote some programs to create the NC codes (G codes) from drawing files to produce sprockets and drive a punch tool. I'm fascinated by the ability to control precision machinery, much in the same way I have a keen interest in computer programming. In fact, this is just another type of programming, with a different output device. More information about CNC routers can be found here. After some research and a recommendation from a trusted friend, I placed an order for a kit from CNCrouterparts and my brother and I started assembly on January 5th. The entire machine was delivered by UPS in 14 boxes. Assembly was fairly straightforward and we made steady progress. No special tools were needed, just some careful interpretation of drawings and reading of the online "tips". Part of the reward is knowing that you assembled something yourself. Rarely do we have to put anything together anymore except for the occasional bookcase from Ikea. We were thrilled when we were able to get the machine to move. Then we wrote our first program to welcome the machine to the world.
When I made my post to Facebook announcing the arrival of our new tool I received a lot of inquiries on what I was going to do with it. Honestly I don't have any specific plans other than a gut feeling that this may change the direction of my art. I didn't need to know anything other than that. Sometimes you just go with an instinct, especially if the stakes are high. First step is to acquire some basic skills. There is a steep learning curve, but then the possibilities open. I think we are given these moments of inspirational opportunity, and we need to learn how to take them. I'll see how successful this move becomes. Worst case I'll have a big piece of equipment for sale on Craig's List. Best case...well maybe my life will change. I'll take those odds.
Initially I'll be exploring what I can do with various materials. Wood, acrylic, Sentra (expanded PVC board), Dibond (aluminum bonded acrylic), and corrugated cardboard are all materials that can be easily handled by this machine. The bed is 4 x 8 ft, so I can handle some big pieces. I don't know exactly what I will be printing but I'll try some simple textures and outlines all derived from photographs. I'm going to be looking at this as another type of printer. In order to create a piece, you start with a "vector" representation of the object. Everything is 3D and objects derived from photographs need thickness. Then you define the toolpaths and tools to make the specific cuts. This is the "programming" step. After that another program creates the actual codes that are fed to the machine. Stay tuned for progress reports.
What are you going to do with what you have?
01/09/2015 - My brother and I finally got the CNC router table to come alive. Still lots to figure out but we're over the hump. Looking forward to making something!
01/10/2015 - Our first program...in "Sharpie" mode, we programmed our first toolpath using VCarvePro. Yay! Actual runtime is 2.5 minutes so you're getting a fast forward version.