CNC Machines: In The Beginning / Is Your Wood Shop Ready?A CNC machine has been on my radar for the past year and a half or so… ever since my company left the early, “let’s just find work” stage and entered the “how can we do this better” stage. Now that I am seriously considering one of these massive machines, I wanted to document the entire process, from the beginning stages of research, all the way through to the purchase, installation, and utilization stage.

I always thought purchasing a CNC was just some crazy dream for a small shop owner like me, but times are changing, and they are becoming almost as commonplace in small shops as the sliding table saw.

Early on, I figured my business would need to grow to a certain size, maybe 4 employees, before a CNC in the shop would make sense, but after talking with several shop owners, I am starting to reconsider. No matter the size of the business, they talk about their CNC machine as an indispensable part of their business, whether it is utilized for 6 hours a day or whether it sits idle for 6 hours per day. The flexibility, speed, and accuracy that a CNC machine brings to their shop is unmatched using conventional tools. That is a sentiment I can understand, since I feel the same way about the edgebander we purchased a year and a half ago. Some weeks it is used every day, other weeks it is used twice, but I can’t imagine my shop without it.

Of course, all of that awesomeness comes with its own set of challenges, namely the cost, both of the machine and the software necessary to run it. CNC machines are not cheap! $70k-$120k is what is required to purchase a machine that will be robust enough to work smoothly for decades to come and be large enough to handle any project that I may decide to throw at it. That kind of price tag equates to a large monthly payment, somewhere between $1,500 and $2,300 each and every month, for the next 5 years, whether or not you are utilizing it.

My whole decision making process gets hung up right here. I don’t need to be convinced that the machine is a worth-while purchase. I just need to make sure that my business is in a place where we are busy enough to justify a CNC machine, and that my cash flow is healthy enough to handle the monthly payments.

In closing, another sentiment I have heard from shop owners is to remember that no matter how amazing a machine is, it is not a silver bullet for your business, and unless it is helping crank work out the door, it is a liability to the company, not an asset. If you purchase a CNC before your business is ready, it could become a gigantic boat anchor, requiring a monthly payment each and every month whether the cash is there or not. But, if you take your time, and wait until your business is healthy and ready, a CNC will be the key to taking it to the next level.