Week 5: Let’s Update the Major Project

I tend to obsess. When I find a new interest or activity, I become enthralled in researching, watching, learning, and reading reviews on each and every part of the activity. Over the last month, this trend has reemerged as I envelop myself in the world of CNC routers, and the possibilities that come with them.

Over the last few weeks, I have gotten close, but have not been able to finalize my school’s purchase of a CNC router. Numerous emails, quotes, and discussions with CNC owners have been had over the last 6 or so months, but the largest block to overcome is always the most difficult, and in my case it’s our budget. Both my Principal and I remain optimistic about the purchase (and have meetings planned to discuss,) and in the meantime, I am doing everything I can to collect information in order to be prepared for any question that may come up. Additionally, I am educating myself as much as possible about the various machines and software. I want nothing more than to make an informed decision while also being prepared for when the machine arrives.

In the meantime, I have split my learning into three sections: Learning about the differences in CNC models, learning about the required software, and learning about Canva, as I hope to use it to create a resource for other beginners to use. Below are some of the updates in these three areas.

CNC Routers: Choice Aplenty

I have found CNC routers to be similar to 3D printers in a lot of ways (as I discussed in my initial post,) and a variety of choice is certainly one of these ways. Starkly different from the current smartphone market, the CNC Router space is made up of dozens if not hundreds of top brands. Prices fluctuate from under $1000- to well over $50 000. Selecting a brand was the largest hurdle that I’ve had (and continue to have.) A quick google search will give you a multitude of results, but some of the brands that I have looked into, or seriously considered are listed below.

One of the large portions of my ‘Beginner CNC Document,’ will be a table comparing some of the important features, one that I put together in order to try and make the most informed decision possible. Some of the features I included are:

  • Price
  • Bed size
  • Shipping cost
  • Cutting speed
  • Travel distance (X/Y/Z)
  • Construction material (Steel frames and lead screws can achieve more accurate cuts than wood frame/belt driven machines.)
  • Software requirements
  • Power requirement
  • Warranty
  • Accessories
  • If it has an included controller (Some CNC’s require a computer to be connected at all times.)
  • Fully built, partially built, or build it yourself

I’m an indecisive person on the best of days, so putting this large amount of information in an easy to compare table made me more confident in my decision, and my ability to justify my choice to my administration.

Software: The other half of the CNC

Learning new software is something I enjoy doing. Similar to the above, picking through a variety of options is not as enjoyable. Right now, I’m torn between a few. Easel, and Carbide Create appear like easy to pick up, straight forward options. Fusion 360, a robust software that I already have experience in using the design portion, may be helpful as well. The other, and possibly most ideal choice, is VCarve Pro, by Vectric.

My main choice comes down to price. Easel, Carbide Create and Fusion 360 are all free to use. VCarve, widely renowned as one of the top choices of CNC software, is a one-time payment of $1000 CAD. This obviously doesn’t make my budget concerns any easier. I’m currently in the process of exploring the demo version of VCarve and comparing it with the free downloads.

A screenshot of the trial version of VCarve.

It is very possible that we will not be able to swing the purchase of VCarve this year, so I want to prepare myself in learning other software and hope to budget for VCarve next year. Regardless which software we end up using, I am confident that acquiring various resources will give me a good understanding of how this type of software should work, as well as allowing me to pick out what I like and don’t like about my various options. One of the most straight forward resources I’ve come across, comes from Evan and Katelyn on YouTube. Their delivery and organization of the content is something I find very easy to pick up as a beginner, and something I hope to emulate when I create my ‘Beginner’s Guide’ document at the end of this course.

Canva: Let’s make my learning look good!

The last portion of my update, and admittedly the one that still needs the most amount of work, is my experience with Canva. So far, I’ve made an account, explored some templates, and experimented with the user interface. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’d love to be able to summarize my learning during this project with a concise, easy to follow, document that can give other schools, teachers, or hobbyists, a place to start when thinking about purchasing a CNC for the first time. Although my experience with Canva is extremely brief, I’ve had good conversation with Kelly on her blog Tech and the City and I feel confident that it will be an effective resource for what I want to accomplish.

A screenshot of a very preliminary look the resource I hope to create.

I look forward to continuing this journey, and hopefully I’m able to upload pictures of a CNC in our school in the very near future. As always, if anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear about them!

9 thoughts on “Week 5: Let’s Update the Major Project

  1. COLTON! This is so exciting. You did such a great job of doing research and presenting it to your admin. If you get the machine, I’d love a sign! Call it “practice” or “professional development”, but this is super exciting. This is like the Cricut machine on speed! Oh I am also super pumped about your interest in Canva. Although I am not an expert at all, I find it fun! So if you want some help, feel free to reach out. Curtis and Raquel also probably have way more experience than I do, but we can all help! That would be a lengthy conversation, that’s for sure. I am looking forward to following along on your journey. I sure hope that the machine pulls through and you are able to acquire one! 🙂 Good luck! Hopefully you will hear soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have such a great plan here Colton! Way to go for taking on something so big but that you are also extremely motivated to learn, teach and share. I am rooting for you as you make your way through the red tape towards your best purchase option! Fingers crossed that you hear something soon but happy obsessing in the meantime. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Colton! This is legit! I especially love the ravens logo.. however, that is the last team that I would cheer for 🙂

    This is totally out of my area of expertise, but I am excited to see this project develop, and I may contract you for a future sign/logo… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! I really hope that your school is able to follow through with this. To be able to utilize this tool in the classroom would be an incredible experience for students. I have zero experience with wood carving in general, but this looks interesting as heck! I do however have some experience with Canva. I started using it about a year ago just for odd projects, in my classroom and class assignments. It is a nice way to visually represent your ideas in a creative platform. I only use the free account, but if someone was going to use Canva for a business I would probably recommend the premium account. I created my podcast cover art using Canva just last week! Good luck with your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Whew, I am not going to lie I felt deeply overwhelmed just reading this! You have done so much reading into this topic I feel incredibly impressed – sometimes when there is so much to learn I just get overwhelmed and tap out (hence why I owned a Cricut machine for over a year before I even plugged it in). I don’t have any wisdom to offer when it comes to a CNC machine or its software – but if it is anything like the Cricut at all I just found that when I picked one project to research and master I learned all of the components and functions through that specific research. Then as I took on new projects I learned new skills (like mirroring) as I needed them. It was less overwhelming for me than trying to learn everything about the machine and all of its capabilities at once.
    I also love Canva – and am one of those annoying people with an educator account! I am no expert but I would love to lend a hand if you need it please don’t hesitate to reach out.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Colton, there is no doubting your passion and enthusiasm to this project! Nice work on the research. I am curious from a service standpoint, would there be any local or Canadian suppliers or companies that would be a benefit to working with? Thinking about the ability to service or offer support with the machine?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the reply James! Any yes, currently I am looking at a couple Canadian companies (OneFinity, and the Longmill CNC by Scienci Labs,) as well as in talks with a local hardware store that has CNCs available from well known (albeit more expensive,) brands. Unfortunately greater support often comes with a greater pricetag, but it will be one of the largest priorities in our decision.

      Liked by 1 person

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