The new Shapeoko 3…

CNC Mini Routers are all the rage these days.  Whether you’re talking about inexpensive kits like the Shapeoko or finished ready-to-go-to-work units like the Nomad, there are a bunch of choices available to makers and CNC enthusiasts looking for a good way to start out with CNC. I got to see and hold the new Shapeoko 3 when Edward and Robert were recently in the SF Bay Area for the Maker Faire, and I can tell you it is very solid and well built for a machine in its price range.  You could definitely do some very fun things on a machine like this, and they’ve promised to hook me up with a Shapeoko 3 kit, so I’ll be writing about it when I get the chance.

For this article, I wanted to find a set of projects that could be done on a mini router that would be inspiring.  I’ve got something of a continuum that goes from extremely doable for most to those that are going to call on the best skills you can bring.  They’re doable, but definitely not beginner projects.  In addition, each one is a video, just for maximum enjoy-ability of consumption.  So grab your cup of coffee, pull up a comfortable chair, and check out the possibilities these little machines bring to those who dare to try.

Inlay with a Shapeoko

Inlay is a perfect thing to do with a CNC Mini Router.  To get fine detail you’re going to wind up using the little micro-milling cutters that are the stock-in-trade for these little machines anyway.  Check out this video from the Drunken Woodworker that shows how he does inlay work with a Shapeoko:

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Inlay with a Shapeoko…

Some things to note:

–  Inventables didn’t create the Shapeoko, Edward did.  They were just selling it, and it is now being sold by Carbide3D.

–  The Easel 3D Software is from Inventables.

–  He’s using an older incarnation of the Shapeoko in the video.  The Shapeoko 3 is the latest and greatest.

You can see how easy it is to do the inlay work and gather the potential for fun projects–jewelry boxes, inlaid clock faces, and all sorts of other things.

Intricate 3D Carvings

Inlay is largely 2D work.  For a step up in complexity, try some complex 3D carving–what’s often called bas relief.  Bas reliefs are carvings that don’t have full depth, but that do have considerable 3D relief.  They’re found on antique furniture and artwork of various kinds.  To do bas relief work, you’ll need something more than carving software like Easel.  A true 3D CAM Software package is what’s called for.  We offer a package called MeshCAM that we think is the world’s easiest to use CAM software that can do this kind of work.  You’ll also need 3D CAD to do the design work.  Here’s a great example of a dragon carving being done with a CNC Router:

[youtube width=”800″ height=”540″][/youtube]

Intricate 3D Dragon Carving…

Obviously doing the 3D modelling work for something like the dragon is going to be beyond many of us.  But there are other approaches possible.  There is software available that can create a 3D model from photographs, for example.  Also, any large repository of 3D models will have its share of Bas Relief-style models you could choose from.  Perhaps you’d like to do a design of your family’s coat of arms.  Look for elements that are available in bas relief.  For example, perhaps the crest involves a lion.  I’d get right into Google and search for lion bas relief 3d model or some such.  Once you assemble a view of those and use the inlaying techniques already described you could make quite an elaborate family crest for a wall display or perhaps a design to go on a box.

CNC Machining a Guitar Body

I love music, especially rock and roll.  I play keyboards and sing, but every good rocker has to appreciate an awesome custom electric guitar.  A custom guitar body is also a very doable project on a CNC Router if you have one that’s large enough for the body you have in mind.  Check out this neat video:

 [youtube width=”800″ height=”540″][/youtube]

Custom electric guitar body…

Ralf Klaassen’s got a few more neat videos on his YouTube channel too.  I’m sure that opens up some possibilities to think about!

Full Metal Machining: Build a Scale Model Small Block Chevy

Okay, this one is potentially the most awesome yet–how about a fully operational scale model of a small block Chevy?  Check it out:

[youtube width=”800″ height=”540″][/youtube]

4th Axis CNC + Scale Chevy Small Block V8…

An important caveat: I can’t verify the Small Block was actually made on the mini router that is pictured in the same video.  However, I can tell you from experience with G-Wizard that lots of people are cutting metal with Mini-Routers.  I even know of a guy machining an AR-15 lower receiver from Titanium, of all things, on a tiny little mill that doesn’t really have much of an advantage over a Mini-Router except perhaps it can cut a little faster.

You can cut most things if you’re willing to use a small enough endmill and can go slowly enough.  The biggest disadvantage for the CNC Routers of going after Titanium is that most of them can’t spin the cutter slowly enough to avoid burning it up.  But if you can keep the cutting forces low enough to avoid rigidity problems, you can get quite a lot done on these small machines.

A number of folks have used our G-Wizard Calculator to master Feeds and Speeds for these kinds of projects.


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