Everyday Woodworking Podcast Ep 6
Do You Really Need a CNC?
Hey everyone. I’m Ricky Fitzpatrick with Everyday Woodworking, your Podcast Home for tips, tricks and information on how to make the most of your woodworking time and money, every day.
Well welcome back to the show. If you’re a regular listener, you know we have been tackling a series about The Best Places To Buy Bargain Tools. I had left last week, unsure if I wanted to continue that series further. And I think I’m going to call it. (For now.) We may come back to it, but I don’t want to pick lame subject matter, just to keep it going.
But if you haven’t listened to that series, I think it really does have a ton of great info. My favorites were the ones that covered Home Depot and Harbor Freight. You’ll want to go back and check out Episodes 2 through 5, to get the whole thing. If you do, then let us know what you think. I’d love to know.
But today, and possibly for the next week or two, we’re going to talk about something that I know has been on my mind for a while now and I’m sure it’s something you’re hearing a lot about…CNCs!
Before we get started though…if you’ve watched or listened to us before, you know that I never record a show without having a cup of coffee in my hand. (Hello, my name is Ricky, and I am a coffee-aholic!)
I try to give a shout out to some our favorite people by using a coffee mug with their company logo or favorite saying on it.
Today I’m sipping my coffee from a mug from some folks who are not only great friends, and not only fellow followers of Christ, but owners of ETS Financial Services.
ETS is a team of Retirement Income Planning Specialists, owned and operated by Eric and Missy Scoggins. They are, no exaggeration, the best at what they do. And who would’ve guessed…they’re located right down the road from us in Hoschton, GA. I can tell you, as I’m seeing life through the eyes of someone in their 50’s now, I’m really beginning to see the value in what ETS does.
For me, I only feel comfortable with my money, when I’m working with people I know. And I know the Scoggins. Fantastic people. Amazing business. And I can’t think of anyone else I would trust to help me navigate the finances involved in the coming years.
I’ll be sure to leave a link to etsfinancial.com and to Eric’s book “Retire Strong!” in the show notes so you can check them out. Thank you Eric and Missy and the entire family over at ETS Financial for the awesome coffee cup!
And hey if you have a coffee cup with your company logo on it you’d like to send us, we’d love to use it and say a little bit about you and what you do. Check out the show notes for our mailing address, and you can send your cup along with a little info about yourself or your business.
Alright…so as I mentioned, we’re headed into a brand-new subject, and one that seems to be on the minds of every wood shop owner, whether you’re a full-time pro, a part-time builder, a weekend warrior or something else altogether. CNCs, and do you need a CNC for your shop?
Frankly, I’ll just tell you, when I started this, I knew next to nothing about CNCs. (And I don’t know much more now!) But I know a few of my friends have them, and I’ve been feeling the pressure to add one to our shop. So I wanted to look a little closer at the world of CNCs and try to give you a set of criteria for deciding if you need one.
Actually, I shouldn’t say “need”. Let’s say “want”. If you need a CNC for your shop, then you’re probably at a level that goes beyond the scope of this show. Everyday Woodworking is going to be more geared to woodworkers who are somewhere between a hobbyist and a small operation, like us. Apple Valley Farm is just me and I work out of my carport at home. If you’re much bigger than that, then you’re going to need a whole different set of criteria for selecting a new tool.
But one thing I found out as I started researching, is that there is SO much freaking information out there. So many models. Features. Price points. I mean, it’s almost overwhelming. So we’re going to TRY to keep it really simple, and I’m going to “disclaim” things here by saying, I am not an expert. I’m learning, just like you, so I can pass along what I find helpful.
Nevertheless though, there’s still a whole bunch of stuff to get into. So let’s do it. Here we go.
It’s funny how things change. When I was just starting to woodwork back in the mid 80s, the Radial Arm Saw was a must have tool for every shop. We had on, and everybody I knew who did any woodworking had one. It was the cutting edge and a super versatile tool that frankly, it was hard to imagine you could live without. But there were purists who thought it was a horrendous machine that was taking the “craft” out of “real” wood work.
But soon, the RAS was replaced by the Table Saw. And rightly so. Safer, more compact, more affordable. It had everything going for it. And of course, the same folks who complained that the RAS was going to ruin woodworking, bemoaned the demise of our craft because of the evil table saw. The table saw is currently the primary tool in my shop.
Now fast forward to today, and the CNC (which stands for Computer Numerical Control) is fast becoming the darling of the industry. And as expected, it has lovers and haters.
CNC is actually a generic term that can cover virtually any computer controlled machine. It may be a drill, a lathe, a saw, or a router. It may cut metal, foam, butter, meat, stone, or wood.
Even 3D printers are technically CNCs. The Cricut or Silhouette vinyl cutter that a lot of crafters use…that’s a CNC. A player piano is a very basic CNC.
What we’re going to be talking about though is more of a Personal Sized CNC that is basically a router that carves into and/or cuts through wood.
The Personal CNC machine is what the overwhelming number of hobbyists and small shop owners are adding today. The costs are relatively low, shop footprint is small, but features and versatility can be limited.
But as the industry continues to evolve, quality and features are rising, and cost is falling. Which is partly why it is so appealing to have one!
I’m going to get into 3 machine types. We may expand this later, but for now, we’ll stay small.
Before putting this episode together, the term “CNC” brought one thing to my mind…a big, expensive, computer-controlled machine that any dummy could use to make something amazing. And I really don’t mean that to sound completely negative. But it just seemed like overkill for guys like me.
I’ve got a good friend, Greg Stewart who owns a cabinet shop down the road from us called Stewart Custom Cabinets. They have a dozen or so employees in a 10K sqft shop, and let me tell you, they are crushing it. Their work is amazing. And to me, they are the pinnacle of what a small cabinet shop can be.
Stewart has a whopper of a CNC. A Homag Centateq P-110 5-Axis CNC that helps them with cutting cabinet and door components, carving, shaping. There’s almost nothing that thing can’t do. It’s pretty incredible. But a machine like that can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most of us can’t afford that kind of bling!
So when I see the industry stats talking about things like 75% of woodworkers either have or are planning to buy a CNC, I’m wondering if I’m falling behind. And if I am, I’m wondering how I can possibly afford to keep up.
But it isn’t exactly as it may seem. Not everyone is buying full-featured quarter million dollar machines.
For one, there are Hobby CNCs.
Hobby CNCs are everywhere. Small. Compact. Lightweight. Easy to operate. But very limited. They usually have very small work areas…like 6X6 inches or less. But if you want a CNC that can carve names in a Cutting Board, or add a quote to the handle of a hammer or cut out plywood ornaments…hey, this is right up your alley.
Hobby CNCs are totally affordable. You can find them (in varying levels of quality) on Amazon all day long for just over $100.
One that jumped out to me was the Mophorn 1610 3-Axis CNC. Takes us less than 1 sq ft of space. Weighs 12 pounds. And Amazon has it for just $129. - https://tinyurl.com/3kmagj24
Makes it hard to say “no”.
Just above that are Small Shop CNCs.
Like the Hobby CNC, the Small Shop CNC is small and takes up little shop space. They can handle a bigger work area, like 12-24 inches or so. And if you employ tiling, you can get some pretty wide ranging jobs done.
Still, the Small Shop CNC isn’t going to have the muscle to power through all-day cabinet boxes. But it will definitely handle smaller, less intimidating pieces, pretty well. IMO, they’re great for cutting very precise MDF patterns for future projects. They’re also really well-suited for cutting a lot of thin scroll work that’s so popular right now for door and wall hangings.
These guys will set you back somewhere around the cost of a good table saw or above. $500-$2000, give or take. Personally, that’s my threshold.
An Amazon example is the BobsCNC Evolution 4. It has a 24X24” work surface and runs just $1,230. - https://tinyurl.com/z0zilv0h
Finally, though there are the what I’ll call the “Moderate Sized” CNC Machines.
This is a machine that really pushes the boundaries of what folks like us can afford or justify, but they’re a “gateway” CNC to the world of professional cabinetry. We’re talking something like the $5-8K range. But some can handle full sheets of plywood and can easily handle most furniture components, maybe a guitar body or those cornhole boards you’ve been thinking about, and of course just about any small project you can dream up.
But they take up a lot of floor space and they require some planning and learning to install and operate. This is getting into the serious.
An example of this is something like the Laguna IQ. It runs about $7K. - https://lagunatools.com/cnc/iq-series/iq/
So after learning all that, HOW DO YOU DECIDE?
This is going to be quick. And not just in the issue of time. But because this is so easy and logical, we really don’t even need a podcast to help you decide.
But armed with a little knowledge about the different types of CNCs out there, then the basic questions you have to answer are:
What do I need/want it for? And why?
Make sure it will do what you want it to do. Do your research and ask around. Don’t just buy what’s popular. Buy what works for you. And then ask WHY. Do you want it to make you faster? To make your work more precise or more consistent? Or are you just a “new thing” kind of guy who loves having something cool and new?
Do I have the space? – And along with that comes possibly, the dust collection and electrical support. A larger CNC is going to need a 240 for power.
Can I afford it? – Either cash or credit. Be careful. Spend your money slowly.
Can I justify the cost? – This goes back to the “why”. If you’re in business, will a CNC make you money? If so, how. And do you have a plan?
Will my wife kill me? (The most important)
I can’t tell you if you need a CNC in your shop. I can tell you what I’m deciding though, at least for now.
My answer is “no”.
I don’t need it. I could use it, but I don’t need it. I could speed up my component processing, but that means a CNC that’s going to cost me $5 grand or more. It’s hard for me to justify that, working out of my carport.
Are CNCs amazing? Well yes! Of course they are. And one day, I may be in a different mindset, but for now, I’m going to pass and keep my production lower, my hands busy and sell the fact that we cut and measure every piece and bring them together into a crafted whole.
Now I know what I’ve said today is going to stir somebody up! And that’s OK. Like I said, I’m learning. So if you have CNC info to pass along to me, then by all means, do! Help me! And I’ll make sure to pass that along to our listeners.
And if you have questions or comments about anything I’ve said, then let it fly. I love to get different points of view, so definitely let me know what you think. There’s a very good chance that you could change my mind.
As always, I know it was a lot and I know it’s a lot to digest. You can’t possibly remember it all. But go to the show notes or our Everyday Woodworking blog and you can go over it at your own pace.
Hey, be sure to join us on the next episode where we start our look at How To Set Up A Small Shop. You never know how in-depth this might be. My plan is to hit the high spots and have you in and out in around 15 minutes or less, but we’ll see. If we really get into a lot, we’ll stretch it over two weeks.
I can’t wait. Going to be fun! And I hope you’ll join me right here on Everyday Woodworking.
One last thing…if you enjoyed this episode, please take a second and leave us a great review. And, wherever you’re listening, we would love it if you subscribed to our podcast and became a regular listener.
Also, if you’re watching us on YouTube, then obviously we post a video of each Podcast Episode on our Apple Valley Farm (our woodworking business) YouTube Channel. Definitely like, comment and subscribe to us there as well.
And finally, if you’d like to learn even more about us, you can check out the show notes and head over to www.applevalleyfarmga.com for things like our store, our woodworking projects and lots, lots more.
That’s it. Have a great day. Thanks again. And I’ll see you next time…on Everyday Woodworking.
Apple Valley Farm YouTube Channel - https://www.youtube.com/c/AppleValleyFarmGA
Everyday Woodworking on Anchor.com - https://anchor.fm/everydaywoodworking
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/AppleValleyFarmGA
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/applevalleyfarmga
ETS Financial Services - https://etsfinancial.com/
Retire Strong! On Amazon - https://tinyurl.com/ETSFinancialServices
Homag Centateq P-110 CNC - https://www.homag.com/en/product-detail/cnc-processing-center-centateq-p-110
Stewart Custom Cabinets - https://www.stewartcustomcabinets.com/
We also couldn’t make the Everyday Woodworking podcast happen without a LOT of help from our friends behind the scenes.
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And Infinite thanks to the Audacity family. For helping us put it all together in the greatest audio production software on the planet. - https://www.audacityteam.org/
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