The Sweet Smell of Sawdust

A welcome sign

On my last day of hiatus, I can finally say that I have finished my CNC router mill. Why the hell I would WANT to say that, well, that’s another story.

First, what it is. “CNC” stands for “Computer Numeric Control,” which at this point is an old-fashioned way of saying that it’s a machine that your computer controls.

Another word for this would be “robot.”

While it doesn’t wave its arms around and warn Will Robinson that Dr. Smith is feeling frisky, it still qualifies. There are special motors called “stepper motors,” one for each of the x, y, and z axes. Once you calibrate the table and tell the software just where everything is and how thick it is, you can convert your drawings and designs and the thing makes them for you. As far as I could tell, all the robot on “Lost in Space” ever did for the Robinson family was Jack and Shit, so I consider my robotic mill to be vastly superior.

There are other robotic similarities. When the stepper motors go to work, they move in very small, very precise increments, so it’s not a smooth motor action but a vibratory one. Thus, as the router is whirring at 3,000 RPM, the motors give out with an eerie, atonal song. As the thing cuts a circle and the speeds on both motors continue to change, they make a song not unlike the music from “Forbidden Planet.” Get it? Robby the Robot?

Okay, that was a stretch, but you have to admit this thing is pretty cool. I can download a Google Sketchup drawing of a desk, decompose it in EasyCad, turn it into g-code and the mill will make all the parts for me. It’s like an earsplitting, 10-hour-long, dusty trip to IKEA, all within the confines of my garage workshop.

There are still refinements to be made to the mill. First, I have to make a dustcatcher to which I can hook my shop vac. Next, I’m going to drill holes in the stage and attach another vacuum to that, to keep the stock lumber in place while it’s being cut. Think of it as a reverse air hockey table. That works at 140 decibels.

And finally, after I have used my precision machine to make built-in shelves for my wife’s home office, I will start learning the carving software, that will allow me to make 3-d representations of stuff I’ve designed on the computer.

But for now, I’ve basically worked my way up to cutting out complex letters. And while that puts me on a technological par with a sign making shop circa 1978, back in 1978 I used to think that sign making shops were awesome. Or maybe groovy, I don’t know, I don’t retain contextualized adjectives well.

So here it is, the debut project:

Sign Pro of Media, Pennsylvania, eat your heart out

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