Category Archives: CNC

CNC Improvements

I bought a small CNC in maybe December of 2021, and in a month or so later I bought a proper CNC machine.  Basically, I knew nothing about woodworking or CNC operations.  But I taught myself.  One small lesson at a time.  Since I’m retired and in no hurry I decided to tackle skills one at a time.

So here I am just a few months later and while there is still lots to learn………….I’m cranking out beautiful pieces of woodworking.  A couple of which have impressed my own self.

Probably the first Maker Machine I ever bought was a vinyl sign machine.  I learned quickly that it isn’t only the ability to successfully make something it also includes the ability to NOT WASTE MATERIAL.  Maximizing your stock is vital in becoming a skilled artisan.  Here’s the most recent things that I made, and I have to say, to me, it is beautiful

CNC Sushi Tray

It actually is a simple make. There are two bits used and three operations.

First a 1/4″ Upcut bit is used to rough clear the material.

Then it is followed up by a tiny 1/16″ bit that carves the details.

Then finally you put the 1/4″ bit back in to do a profile cut around the outside of the tray.   Do some sanding and then oiling and you are left with basically a piece of artwork.
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Wood Working – I Surprise Myself

I may have written this in another blog or two but it bears repeating.  I have never really worked with wood in my life.  I have however used my laser on pre-made wood blanks from hobby stores and people close to me know I was doing this.

On Thanksgiving of 2021 my wife’s sister and her husband came over to the house and brought me a full sized Milwaukee router from a garage clean out from someone who had passed away.

The next day I took a rectangle of wood and put a routed edge on it and I think I probably giggled for 30 minutes.  I was tickled at how good it looked and how easy it was to do.

Since then I have bought several woodworking tools and a CNC machine.  I generally prefer to make things that are useful and not just trinkets and this blog will showcase a few of those projects.

Here’s thing number 1.  We renovated our bathroom upstairs.  My wife said she wanted some towel hooks on the back wall but said she wished it were on a board and not just the wall.  I decided to take a stab at it………………..
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Some CNC Projects

I’ve been busy learning my new machine and more importantly the software, Vectric VCarve Desktop.  There are lots of choices for CNC software but Vectric Software is POWERFUL.   There just is SO MUCH you can do with it.   The last week or so I have been making Inlays.  That’s where you put, and glue one material inside another.  Here is what I have done so far:

CNC Inlays (click pics to enlarge)

But wait, there’s more!
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CNC Router Bits – My Take

I’ve recently began making things on a CNC machine.  Anyone can buy a CNC but the learning curve can be steep especially as it relates to bits.  There is SO MUCH to know.  What bit do you use for what type of cutting action, what speed, what feed?  What the same bit in different materials will do.  Screw up your cuts and you will snap a bit in a heartbeat.  Or you can dull a bit.  Even the right bit with the wrong settings can burn or tear at your substrate.

To further exacerbate the situation ……….. BITS ARE EXPENSIVE.  Snap a $40 bit and it hurts more than your pride.  Also, because of the high cost of bits, at least initially, you’ll probably only have one of each type of bit.  Snap that bit and you’ll have to wait a few days to get a new one.

I started this journey with a Sainsmart 3018 Prover machine.

Cutting with 1/8th bit

In this pic I used a 1/8th end mill to cut out my name in a semi-3D relief manner.

Took quite a while to make this small design.  To speed things up, many CNC operations require the use of multiple bits during a single design creation.

Cut, change bit, cut, change bit, etc.

I probably could have cut this out much quicker by using a larger bit to clear the big empty spaces and then coming in and cleaning up around the name.

That sure is easy for me to think about now but when I made that John sign I didn’t HAVE ANY BIGGER BITS.  My machine only came with engraving bits and then I went on line and bought a little bit set that really wasn’t money well spent.

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Diamond Drag Bit Settings for Vectric


I recently bought an MC Etcher Diamond Drag bit from Carbide 3D .  I opted to get the 90° bit.  What a diamond drag bit does is to gently etch the surface by dragging across it and scratching the substrate.  The diamond bit uses compression (spring loaded) and does not spin during cutting operations.

Diamond Drag bit

This results in a very NARROW line that shows incredible detail especially compared to a rotating engraving bit which produces a much thicker cut line.

Where a laser may slightly burn the surface the drag bit scratch also produces a clean, white line that exposes all the detail or it can of course be used to fill in vectors or text.

One downside you’ll see when researching these bits is that they CAN wear out quickly, however I suspect that many wear out or the tip breaks due to improper settings or excessive pressure.

Here’s how I set mine up in Vectric VCarve Desktop.   First of all if you download the latest tool library there will already be a Diamond Drag bit listed in the Specialist category.  All we are going to do is to alter those settings.

Let’s get to it.

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More CNC Beginner Stuff

I have been having serious fun with my Next Wave Shark HD500 CNC since I got it.  Prior to Thanksgiving I had essentially done no woodworking in my life and in just 6 weeks or so I’m really getting the hang of it and making some decent creations.

And I keep learning stuff.  And I like to keep notes when I learn stuff so I can save that information for posterity because I have a terrible memory.   Here’s the latest batch of stuff I have learned.

It’s all about the setup with CNC.  Vectric Vcarve software is outstanding in how it can simulate the Toolpaths you generate and show the cuts.

Vectric Simulation BMP

Provided you set up your project with the right size and thickness the simulation is darn near spot on.   Once you get your Toolpath generated then it is a matter of transferring it over to the machine.

This is where you channel your inner German old man machinist persona.  Think about where the the wood lies on the CNC bed.  What direction to set it in.  How to clamp it.  The simulation will show you on your properly sized workpiece where the bit will run to.  Set your clamps up accordingly.  Secure the piece, then test it to see if it moves.  Check it again, and then do it again.

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CNC Musings

So, I have had a Sainsmart 3018 Prover for a few weeks now and I just got a NextWave Shark HD500 a week or so ago.  Prior to this I have had ZERO experience with CNC machines.

My learning curve actually wasn’t as steep as I thought though since I have had a vinyl sign cutter for well over 15 years and have been 3D printing for about 7 years or so.  I have a grasp on things moving round on an X, Y, and Z axis.

Ultimately, it ends up being about the software with these things.  Sure, you need some hardware knowledge but once the machine is built and is sound it ends up being about the design of the file, and the sending of that file to your CNC via Gcode.  Gcode is what tells the machine how and where to move from start to finish and everything in between.

The Sainsmart 3018 Prover doesn’t really come with software, except for Candle which is only a Gcode sending program.  So I guess I meant to say it doesn’t really come with DESIGN software.

The Next Wave Shark HD500 comes with Vectric Vcarve Desktop which may be among the best in design software.  But know this:

  1. First you draw a design
  2. Then you generate a Toolpath to carry out that design.
  3. Then you send that Toolpath via generated Gcode to your machine.

It is possible that those 3 simple steps each require their own software.  Some software can do all, some can do 2 of those things, some can only do 1.

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Next Wave CNC Shark HD500 – First Impressions

I bought a super cheap Genmitsu Sainsmart 3018 Prover CNC machine.  It is amazing how capable that inexpensive machine is.   It lacks a few important features though.  Size, speed, and it comes with entry level software.  Almost the first thing I learned about this machine was that I was going to outgrow it fast.  Don’t get me wrong, it can do amazing things………..But it is the lower end of the CNC spectrum.  And so was the software.

So I took a step up and bought the Next Wave Shark HD500 CNC.

With consumer CNC machines it seems the next jump up from a lower tier one financially is a mighty one.  In fact it is AT LEAST a 10x’s or more jump.   But with that jump comes a lot of improvements.

Next Wave Shark HD500 CNC

With the Next Wave CNC you are going to get a much larger working surface, improved bed and securing system. Also the axises move via lead screws instead of belts and the gantry moves instead of the table.

Accuracy and precision are improved, as is speed.  Best of all it comes with Vectric Desktop software which is definitely not an entry level offering.

In short, this is a big boy machine replete with lots of bells and whistles.

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Selection Considerations for a CNC

Disclaimer:  I’m by no means an expert.  Yet.  And your mileage may vary.  These are my considerations.

UPDATE:  I had to update this post as I had previously selected and ordered a Shapeoko 4.  Their lead time indicated shipping in 5-6 days.  After 10 days of hearing nothing I cancelled my order after hearing on a forum that others who ordered days before me were told (after they had trouble getting an answer out of anyone) that their units MIGHT ship in a week or two.   John don’t play that shit.  It’s one thing to have a shipping delay but it is an entirely different thing to have a delay and not inform someone who has dropped a couple of thousand dollars that there has been a delay.   I simply CANNOT recommend to anyone to buy the Shapeoko machines.  What if there is a problem?  If they can’t deliver on the front end, they might not be able to deliver on the back end. 

Well I bought a Sainsmart 3018 Prover CNC and while it is super cool about the first thing it revealed to me was that I was going to outgrow this thing FAST.  I want to make big signs and in some respect I can do that now with simple wood working tools and my CO2 laser.

Larger Sign

This is John 3:16 on about a 19″ piece of cedar.

Simple routed edge, then lasered, then wiped down with Butcher Block oil.

Looks magnificent.  No complaints at all.


But I can CARVE exquisite details with a CNC.  But how to choose which one?  Let me tell you my choice and how I arrived at it.

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First Observations With A CNC Machine

Like the title says……..these are just my first observations.

I have been cutting vinyl signs for 15 or more years, 3D printing for 7 or so years, and using lasers for a couple of years, so I have some experience with computerized things moving along 2 or 3 axises.

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control which just means a machine is automated by a computer.  I started this because I was making cool stuff in my laser but was limited by my woodworking skills.  I was given a real life wood router which really picked my game up and keeps me from spending extra money on pre-routed wood blanks at the hobby stores.  Anyway, I caught the woodworking bug and invested in an entry level CNC machine.

Enter the Sainsmart 3018 Prover.  I must have caught it just right on a Black Friday Sale or something because I paid around $250 and the price immediately went up about $50 – $100 depending on where you buy it from.  Before I talk about the machine I’ll throw down some general impressions of CNC.

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