How Woodshops Buy First CNC Routers

By Bill Esler | Posted: 03/06/2014 4:14PM

 

click image to zoomEastern Millwork toolingEastern Millwork KC Woodwork & Fixture added its first CNC router in January 2014, a Multicam 5000 with extended gantry and a 12-tool rotary automated tool changer – among numerous other options. Producing projects mostly for commercial customers, the six-employee Tulsa, OK, firm was at work simultaneously on projects for a library, school, and a church when we talked.

“It’s much more efficient and timesaving,” says shop manager Kyle King, just returned to his shop from an installation site when we spoke. “Our productivity has gone up, and we will show a tremendous profit for it.”

For a first-time buyer of CNCs, a deal takes lots of research, education, and guidance from suppliers and peers. The path isn’t always straightforward, and it can be long.

“It’s a process that has been going on for 10 years,” says King. “And sure, the cost is a big investment. But it’s definitely something that was needed. I wish we would have done it 10 years ago.”

click image to zoomLaguna ToolsLaguna Tools King and his father vetted a number of suppliers, doing all their analysis right in the shop through a series of sales presentations.

“The reason we chose Multicam is because they were out of Dallas – 3½ hours means we could get parts the next day.”

Another first-time CNC buyer was DODOcase, which sells millions of dollars worth of bamboo iPad and smartphone cases, precision routed on CNC machines at its San Francisco production operation. Co-founder Patrick Buckley began in 2009 leasing CNC time at the local TechShop. As the iPad took off, orders flooded in, so he bought a CNC.

“We first bought a used Scm Routech for a killer deal,” Buckley says. “It was actually a smaller machine. We found we needed more capacity and also wanted a back up, so we got a second larger router.” This was a more automated Scm Pratix. “For ease of maintenance and technical support, we wanted to stay with the Scm line of machines. The [larger] size of the Pratix machine lowered the machining time per piece by amortizing the tool change times over a larger number of finished parts.”

From Board Hooks to CNC Woodshop

Surfboards and their close cousins, paddle, skate and snowboards, are often works of art as well as platforms for a ride. Board owners enjoy displaying their boards as well as riding them. John Perone saw the opportunity, and launched onthewallracks.com producing clear acrylic wall racks to save floor space and protect the boards they hold, as well as display them. Perone subcontracted them originally, but supply was inconsistent. So he added a Laguna Tools SmartShop I CNC router for his San Juan Capistrano, CA, shop.

“People liked what I had done and started asking for the racks,” Perone says. Working out of his home shop, “I had a lot of people cutting plastic for me,” he said. “But the clutter turned my house into a factory. So I turned to CNC machining and outsourced a supplier.

“That worked for a while. But I wanted the control that my own shop would give me. So I moved into a 1,000-square-foot facility and started looking for a CNC router.”

Perone says he researched about a dozen different manufacturers. “I asked every company where I could see one of their routers in operation. That cut my list of prospects down quickly. Some companies expected me to buy from them sight unseen.”

Since he lived near Laguna Tools’ Irvine, CA, showroom, Perone drove over for a live demonstration. He was able to run several samples of his products. The demonstration, and availability of a nearby training facility, “is what finally convinced me,” Perone says.

 

Cambridge Patterns, which builds models and prototypes from wood and other materials, was experiencing problems hiring enough skilled employees. They knew they needed to become less reliant on manual labor. So Cambridge added an AXYZ 5012 CNC router about a year ago, customized with a larger work area and higher gantry to add capacity.

“We’ve increased our output in certain areas of our product line by 10%,” says Ian Goodhand, owner, who says the CNC “also provided us with an increased customer base in certain markets which were not possible prior to the purchase of the machine.”

Software First?
In 2004 furniture maker Lucien Casartelli began taking classes in software applications, which gave him the skill to operate a Komo 4-axis CNC router.

As his software skills developed, Casartelli added a Thermwood 5-axis CNC router.

Paul Downs Cabinetmakers also added a Thermwood CNC at its Bridgeport, PA operation. Downs will keynote the Cabinets & Closets Expo 2014 April 9-11 in Somerset, NJ.

David DiRanna opened a custm woodworking business, DiMac Designs, as a second career. “While our offerings were very well received, I found the cabinetmaking process a bit tedious and repetitive,” DiRanna says. Then he won a bid from a local school district for 195 classroom white boards. DiRanna produced them, and an order followed for 450 more.

“Business was booming, but creating the product was rather cumbersome since I still had to cut each piece manually using a template,” DiRanna says. “It was clear we needed to tap into CNC technology.” About two years ago, DiRanna added a Laguna Tools Swift model CNC. He says the reduction in labor and waste justified the machine within five months.

Redbook Help
How do you choose your CNC? The Red Book Best Practices Guide, published (like CWB) by Woodworking Network, gathered input from several manufacturers, based on questions put to them. Stiles Machinery notes: “The most common question we previously heard was, ‘Do I buy a pod and rail machining center or a flat table router?’ Now we are most commonly asked: ‘Do I buy a pod and rail CNC machine, a flat table router or a vertical machining center?’

See more CNC advice in the Redbook Best Practices Guide.

 

About the Author

Bill Esler, Woodworking Network, WMS

Bill Esler

Bill Esler, Editorial Director, Woodworking Network Bill is responsible for overall content at WoodworkingNetwork.com Woodworking Network magazine, and related newsletters. Bill also manages event programs for Woodworking Network Live conferences at the Woodworking Machinery & Supplies Expo in Toronto and Cabinets & Closets Expo. He developing audience engagement programs using custom digital printing, live lead-generating events, custom websites, and custom digital and print content. Read Bill Esler's woodworking blogs. He can be reached at besler@woodworkingnetwork.com or follow him on Google+.

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