Purchasing a CNC for our Small Business - Help us make a decision

We are looking at purchasing a CNC. Our business blew up and working 19 hours a day is insane! We have manually been making our knives. We are thinking of purchasing the foreman, mind you no experience at all. We have a laser and utilize that for engraving, but when it comes to CNC we are clueless. We want to make sure we buy everything we need and any tips for the best places to learn CNC would be appreciated.

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Andrea,

It would be helpful if you could describe what you would mostly use it for. For instance, cutting part our of sheet/panel goods or cutting single parts out of a smaller item (e.g., cutting boards).

Also, do you have any constraints (e.g., space, $, timing, knowledge of CNC in general)?

Thanks,

Jay

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1F is great for wood, non-ferrous metals/alloys like aluminium and brass but i think you will be pushing the envelope if you intend to mill steel.

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My neighbor (a very skilled woodworker) decided he needed a CNC router. It’s a 5’x10’ beast with a 15hp spindle and a 20hp vacuum pump (to hold the wood down). He’s had it almost a year now and just moved it to it’s second location. Anyway he still is struggling to do the cad part of it. Often he relies on others to do the computer work.

If you make the same part over and over again then a CNC is a great option. But if you have to spend hours on a computer to make what you want repeatedly your not going to save any time.

I’m assuming that you want the CNC to make wooden scales for your knives. I think you can get them close to cut down on time spent shaping them but you’ll most likely still have to fine tune them. If that’s your plan then give us some more details? Scales are small, why get the largest CNC, 1F sells? Is your plan to use a very large piece of wood (or other material) and make multiple scales at once? If so you may end up spending more time trying to make a large blank than if you just using smaller pieces. A 48"x48" CNC is going to need about 84"x84" of shop space (unless it’s mounted on a wall).

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We are cutting different sized width pieces of walnut, cherry, oak, maple for bread knives. Our constraint is after we plane our boards, we trace out the knives on the wood, cut them out with a jig saw to separate if more than one, scroll saw, and then spindle sand, wet and second sand. Then we also engrave if required. After that we oil and attach our blades. Space I am not worried about, we can make room. Timing would be soon, as we want to be knowlegable in CNC and have a process down and making stock prior to the 4th quarter. Money we plan on spending $5-6k from what I can see on cost. We will utilize the CNC for more once we are trained, he discussed making signs, etc.

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There is a ton of information available on youtube that can get you started, many made by Onefinity or owners of Onefinity CNC machines that would be directly applicable. There are paid learning plans out there too that would apply to any CNC operation that may include things that would not apply to your workflow but generally start from the beginning of learning CNC.

As far as which Onefinity is right for you? If you are using it to make scales which are relatively small, any machine will work, for sign making then you’d want to look at the larger machines based on what you anticipate making. In my opinion the Pro version with the Buildbotics controller is probably the easier of the two to operate but has less features that might become desirable in the future - such as adding a rotary axis. The Elite with the Masso controller is capable of many advanced features that may be useful as you gain experience with the machine.

Onefinity does make available the ability to upgrade from the Buildbotics based CNC to the Masso if you find the need down the road - but this is at a premium $$ over starting out with the Masso based system.

Creating a custom design and CNC toolpaths for each knife would be time consuming but over time you’ll be able to develop a workflow. I create many odd shaped one off projects that start with a picture of the wood blank imported and scaled - then start the design. It is more work but it is the level of customization and personalization that drives the higher selling price vs batching out 100 of the same part.

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Based on your description, let me make some comments.

  • You will want to machine multiple blanks at a time, so work holding and local coordinate systems will be important. For the coordinate systems you will want an elite.

  • I like the size of the foreman (I have one) with that you can probably 5 handles at a time (assuming front/back pairs)… Foreman is 4’x4’ machine area.

  • to keep within your budget likely to use a router and not a spindle. You will grow to hate bit changes and re-zeroing the bit. I have an 2.2 Kw with ATC but all in the system is in the $10k realm.

  • You are going to spend a lot of time in CAD/CAM learn it now BEFORE you buy a machine. Personally I use FreeCad and VCarve Pro.

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I think making single/bespoke knife handles by hand is by far faster by hand than by CNC. Maybe engraving is different.

Only if you start making series of knifes it becomes economically viable, and even then only after a few years.

Don’t forget you have to spend hundred of hours learning the process and software, time you could be productive. You will have to pay the machine, spindle, tools, shopvac, many more accessories you don’t even know you need. I think 5-6k is doable, but more realistic is 10K if you want to use it professionally. If you calculate the cost of your time learning the technique you will probably arrive at a number far exceeding $20k.

If you plan on using the CNC professionally DO NOT GO WITH THE BUILDBOTICS CONTROLLER!

Thing are different if you manage to make small series, 10 plus of the same product, then it can pay off over time. Things also change if you are young and regard the use of a CNC as an investment over decades.

I totally agree with CandL. Get some CAD programs first and spend a few month learning those before buying the CNC. I use Rhino and VCARVE. Rhino is a very powerfull 3D design program, Since version 7 they have SubD’s which once you master it will be great to design knife handles.

Can you elaborate on this?

At my work I have access to a professional Roland CNC. The problems I encounter on a daily basis are specific to the buildbotics controller, the Roland CNC never ever had any software bugs at all, so I am very frustrated with my buildbotics controller. It is truly a hobbyist controller not worth wasting your time if you want to use it to earn money. I really hope the Masso is better, I got my upgrade yesterday

Here a link to one of my previous posts.

Interesting, I have run over 2000 hours on the buildbotics controller for my production shop and although it has it’s limitations it has not given me issues (I run it on 1.0.9).

I have since upgraded to a DIY Masso G3 controller on my Onefinity frame and although it’s a much more capable controller there are some features of the Buildbotics I miss - namely the web interface and joypad for jogging in multiple axis. Nothing more frustrating than having to carry my work on a USB thumb drive to my Masso (I refuse to install proprietary software of unknown security disposition on my computers to transfer files).

The Buildbotics that came with my Onefinity has now been repurposed to another smaller “home made” CNC that I use for roughing out wood parts before drying and then finishing with the Onefinity + Masso. It runs every day.

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Hey Derek,

you could go to Tom @Geige’s profile, click on “Activity” and find that Tom put the machine Original/X-50 machine into service as it was delivered, and many posts of mine mentioning flaws of the machine that I would first eliminate before putting a $500 wood blank into the machine. I work with expensive wood blanks too.

I also mentioned there that with the move to MASSO, there will be some problems with the machines that will remain.

The issues mentioned are, however, if looked at in detail, are not the Buildbotics’ fault, but I don’t think that you Tom @Geige will come to like the buildbotics-derived Onefinity controller again because you give him the fault for destroying workpieces and your nerves, and it is now obvious that you simply hate it now :slight_smile:

Hey Derek, hey Andrea l Wellman @bluewater, hey all,

I summed up some important differences in this posting the other day, maybe of interest for the original poster:

PS: I stick with firmware 1.0.9 too since I have not seen anything important for me in the Release Notes of the later versions, at same time it seems to me that they bring more problems.

Hey Andrea l Wellman,

the Foreman is the biggest machine Onefinity offers, it has a workarea of 120 cm × 120 cm size (48" × 48"). And this is just the workarea, the machine itself is much bigger. I imagine that a wooden knife handle you make is, as usual, between 8 and 15 cm long, the question is do you make them one by one because they all differ, then the Foreman would be WAY too big, I would buy the smallest machine then, the Machinist with 40 cm × 40 cm workarea size (16" × 16"). On the other hand, if you make dozens of wooden knife handles at a time, you would benefit from a big machine because with your CAD/CAM software, you would create a 3D model that includes dozens of wooden knife handles in one single toolpath, and attach a lot of fences on your workarea, to position all the wood blanks at the same time and mill them all simultaneously in one toolpath.

Same goes for lasering or engraving – if you make dozens at a time, you can buy a big machine, but if you make individual things one by one, no need for a big machine.

The Foreman, regarding its size, is a monster, and you should consider that in order to reach and clamp things on the rear end of the workarea, you will need space behind the machine too, a corridor to walk behind the machine. Leaning over the workarea from the front is difficult with a machine of this size.

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As I understand you are looking for a machine to cut blank knife scales. You are not looking into cutting the metal and you are not looking into finished (sanded, etc.) knife scales.

As others have pointed out, a CNC is a time saver only if you have a good workflow for making the CAD/CAM models. Everything you make on the CNC as to be modelled first. I would recommend a 2D CAD/CAM such as Carbide Create. Don’t go the 3D route (e.g. Fusion 360, Vectric), it’s overkilled for what you describe (and take more time to learn).

However the question remains whether a CNC would be a time saver for you. Typically you would want to manufacture the same part repeatedly such that the time invested in modelling “pays off” over the production run.

If you can standardise on a small number of scale templates/blanks, then a CNC makes a lot of sense. The CNC can plane the boards, drill holes for the rivets and cut “blanks” for you. You would fit the blanks to the blade by spindle sanding.

You could go with a sophisticated machine (Masso, spindle) but, sorry for being a contrarian, I don’t think you would need one. The Buildbotics and Makita can easily cut scales provided you are happy to let the machine run for a long time and so long as you are not trying to produce finished parts.
I would use 6mm bit (1/4 inch) to face the board and cut it. Changing bits with the Makita router takes a lot of time. Yes the machine is slower than when using a surfacing bit but if you’re busy cutting blades in another corner of the workshop, does it matter to you?
If it does, go with a higher end machine. If not, go cheap and let it run.

Unfortunately if your knifes are of very different lengths and sizes then the time spent on creating a different model for each one will probably negate any time saving. It helps if you think of a CNC as a mini-factory: it’s more efficient when to produce the same parts again and again.

This is already a long post but… one option that may be worth investing… I have recently acquired a Shaper Trace and this is a great tool to quickly convert a shape into a 2D model.
I would not recommend a Shaper Origin for your needs (it’s not an autonomous CNC) but the Shaper Trace is really good at making accurate 2D models of parts by simply snapping a photo with your iPhone.

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Here’s my advice. Unless you just want the largest size possible I would go with the woodworker or maybe the Journeyman. I would base it on the length of the scales you make. If they are 10" long then 32" Woodworker would work well. If they are slightly over 8" then 48" Journeyman could be a better fit. Here’s why. You aren’t going to have a 4’x4’ wood black to make scales from. To get a blank that big you would have to glue boards together. You don’t want glue seams in your scales.

Secondly I would invest in a 3d scanner set up on a booth so you could scan each knife’s tang and make a scalable file, like and SVG. With that you could easily import it into your CAD program and extrude it into a 3d model without too much work. You could also increase the size, say 5% or 10% to give you material to sand. You easily could mirror the blank and radius some of the edges to reduce the amount of sanding needed.

It’s all about workflow. Finding one that works for you and your needs is key. I think the process I laid out wouldn’t take much time to learn. From there you can learn more as needed.

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V1.3 Hit STOP in web interface, can't load a new file, I lose zero - #7 by Geige

This is discouraging to say the least and tbh, I have my machine and writing on setting it up (the pro version:BB), and im just like, “what have I done”. Where can I get shielded cables with the correct connectors to protect my wiring?

Hey XstormX,

This could be related to firmware version 1.2 or higher. As far as I remember, it was not reported for (very) stable firmware version 1.0.9.

Nowhere, except if someone manufactures them for you.

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I think 99.9% of users do not have shielded wiring.

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I’m pretty confident he can easily cut out 100-200+ handle blanks at one time on a Foreman. If only cutting out 5, it’s WAY faster to do by hand with a scroll saw or band saw. Any CNC capable of fitting large sheets only makes sense for 1 purpose: nesting a LOT of parts.

Conversely if you only want to work on 1-5 parts a small machine is better - less movements to make, more rigid. So engraving on metal falls here. Small machine.

For Bluewater, the OP: A Foreman is going to cost about $10k when fully set up. You might be able to come under this if you already have dust extraction and some other necessary accessories. You’ll want a 2.2kw spindle at the very least, and you should be buying something that’s straight plug and play. If you’re doing anything other than profile cutting and need to change bits, then start right away with automatic tool changer (ATC).

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