"One Perfect Part at a Time"

Everything Under Control

Good news for me is 2008 is a great new year. I have been struggling a long time on how to combine my many technical and mechanical interests into a retirement business venture that first of all I can do (with my CMT disability), second enjoy some creativity, and lastly bring in some income. The shining light of opportunity has been with me all along. I experienced an epiphany when I started doing simple wood carving. The revelation is computer controlled carving and engraving.

I have been literally playing with a lot of variations and combinations of my skills with computers, metal fabrication and woodworking for many years. I love them all but how can I do them all? I have been blinded by the obvious. What happened is I took some quite time off at Christmas to look within myself and seek guidance. I remembered God’s Son was first a carpenter, but that was not His only mission. A bigger goal was waiting. Early personal goals when reached become turning points to other and sometimes greater purpose.

I looked beyond the tools and the processes and thought about what it is I want to create. I have preached that concept to hundreds of people and every visitor to my web site. The message is to do long range thinking and planning, set a goal, and then do everything required to reach it. The secret is setting a main goal first and then plan intermediate goals and turning points along the way. Somewhere that main goal may be replaced, but the key word is replaced, not forgotten.

From my machinist web page many people ask me what machine tools they should purchase. My first reply is, “What do you want to make?” Most replies are, “I don’t know yet.” They have no major goal except to purchase machine tools.

I believe many people struggle so much with the “here and now” they do not truly set long range goals. My life is a journey with a far destination always the goal. I am blessed to live in a country where I am not oppressed and can have those dreams and set those goals. To me future retirement is not a destination. It is just a new road in my life’s journey, but enough preaching!

Back to CNC carving and engraving

I have a great running Taig CNC mill. It is totally operational for anything that can be programmed into its numeric code. I have done serious machining, some engraving and simple carving with this machine and its controller. They will produce a perfect end product. The only problem is the very small size.

I also own a tiny home-brew gantry style CNC engraving machine. I am currently designing and building a new router spindle support for this machine. The first spindle support was very temporary. The original goal in building this machine was to see how inexpensive I could build a workable CNC machine. The second goal was to learn from the build experience. I succeeded on both counts. In fact, this machine I created from scratch is a nice serviceable albeit very small (7″ x 6″) engraving machine. That is why I am improving the router mounting. I will put this machine back into service as a completely finished and useable engraving machine. The plan is to have a machine I can use rather than modify.

This little machine requires a new stepper controller/power supply with which to operate. To swap it back to its original controller I now use for the Taig, requires internal adjustments to the controller settings. So I have begun to assemble parts to build version two of my original controller. This new controller will provide about 35 volts DC rather than the 45 volts of the first controller. The lower voltage will have no noticeable effect on the stepper motors and be more within the design limits (voltage) of the controller. The intention of this new stepper controller/power supply is not to use it just with the small homebrew engraver. I have bigger fish for this new controller to fry.

The New Goal

To be a serious participant in the CNC carving/engraving business, small home machines just won’t cut it. That is a literal statement. The serious business systems handle a full sheet of plywood on the table. That is just the starting point. The start-up costs for these big machines and the shop space to run them are very large, so this is not my immediate goal but is out there as a long range possibility.

About a year ago I spent many hours investigating what is required to become involved with laser engraving and cutting business. In the past I have made several references to this research. The main requirement is a lot of start-up cash or instant business income. Another limit is the very small bed size of the start-up class of machines. There is also a limitation with what can be done with low power of fewer than 100 watts. My epiphany occurred when I realized the older rotary procedures are not dead. Lasers are in fact a sideline to the mainstream work CNC rotary machines can and have been doing for a long time. I was somewhat blinded by the gee-wiz technology of the coherent light beam and couldn’t see where they fit in the scheme of things. The advantages of the laser are fine line engraving and cutting if you can afford the entrance fee. The rotary based CNC type business model is alive and well.

I have the limitation of the home based location. Full size business operation and its inherent noise are not permitted within residential zoning. So I intend to start with what is considered a home workshop sized machine. It will serve as my start-up design and production unit until business development forces me into a full blown commercial location. Latter it can become a second-ops machine.

I have the option to purchase a commercial small CNC machine or design/build my own. Some of the commercial machines enjoy a cult-like user base that fully supports that particular brand. Of course the manufacturer loves and promotes this kind of loyalty. Repeat business and continuous customer contact keeps them in business. I think this is necessary on the large high speed machines where professional business depends on a fully functional machine with lots of great support and spare parts. I will do that when the time comes.

For me I think I can copy/design a suitable quality and size gantry machine for use with a stepper control system. There is a point in control systems where the speed advantage of servos and the ease and cost of steppers are at a trade off. If you have ever read the Tormach CNC Mill philosophy, that is exactly what I am thinking. I have a full machine shop for making the necessary machine parts so I am not incapable of getting the machine built to a high standard.

What follows from here is subject to change, but my thinking is to construct a gantry style milling, routing, and engraving machine with a working bed area of around 28 x 40 inches. That will enable 2 x3 foot raw material size. This is also in-line with many large format laser machine sized materials and projects. This is big enough to be serious for production but small enough for running smaller projects. It remains a home shop size machine.

There are also a lot more spindle options available on this size machine. The table size justifies a quality spindle and electronics upgrade if the machine is needed for high speed production. I am not going in that direction out of the box, but a well designed and maintained machine can last a long time.

I intend to run small projects on the baby machines while developing the larger machine. This will provide the experience with using the software and provide samples of the work in which I am most interested in producing.

I have two goals, first to develop a product line of engraved materials and second, design/build my first professional CNC machine. My time is cheap right now. I can enjoy the process. Everything is under control. Let’s see if I can cut it…

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