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:
- 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
- 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.
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.
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!