Making signs

One of the cool things about a CNC machine is the ease at which you can produce really good looking signs out of pretty much any material. One of my ‘commissions’ was to make a sign for a guy in Scotland who contacted me on Instagram. He had seen I’d made a house sign and asked whether I could make one to hang above his hot tub. I wasn’t intending to charge him other than the postage so in order to keep costs down I used some old pallet wood I’d reclaimed. The results came out pretty well and he loved it.

Another request came closer to hand, when Tina mentioned that one of her colleagues at work asked whether I could make two bedroom door signs for her young daughters. My usual process is to firstly go and do a Google images search to get some inspiration on what the signs could look like but in this case I went straight into designing using the Vectrix VCarve software.

But having checked with Tina, we didn’t feel they were ‘girly’ enough, so went back to Google and found a sign I thought could work. A quick design in the CNC software and I then got to work cutting the signs and the accompanying butterflies and flowers.

In the end I added some rope for hangers and gave both a coat of varnish. And the girls absolutely loved them, even to the point that the younger one Evelyn just kept walking around carrying it like a handbag not wanting it to be hung on her door.

Another request came from a difference work colleague of Tina’s, this time asking for a sign to give to her friend who had recently got engaged. Again I knocked up a mock-up, which was accepted and soon the CNC had produced the sign. Again they loved it.

One of the reasons for buying a CNC was the fact that the output is so exact, crisp and clean and so far it’s proving that way.

I’m happy just making these as for me the enjoyment is the creation and reward of seeing something produced that looks good and the recipient is pleased with. Perhaps one day when I’ve retired I can set up my own business selling these for profit but I’m really not sure I’d get the same pleasure in making them as I do at the moment.

Making Stuff Part 5

On the 24th December I finally decided to commit to buying the WorkBee I’d been eyeing up for a few weeks and duly ordered it for a delivery date of 30th January. I wasn’t too worried about the long waiting time as I wanted to prepare myself prior to launching into the world of Computer Numeric Control (CNC)┬ámachine. This included watching YouTube videos about 3D CAD drawing, CNC machining, router tooling as well as researching on Pinterest for suitable projects I could undertake once my new toy arrived.

The Ooznest WorkBee comes in kit form, a bit like a grown-ups Meccano, and you then need to follow the online step-by-step guides to put it all together. There are also loads of videos and online forums to reference as well; I found openbuilds.com particularly informative as there were a number of posts from similar-minded people who has built CNC machines. The WorkBee from Ooznest is based on an open-sourced project and so it wasn’t difficult to prepare myself for the impending build.

vectric_0For the design side of things I had tried Fusion 360 but was a bit concerned about the process of converting the projects I wanted to design into the code needed to run on the CNC machine (the WorkBee uses grbl, an open-sourced parser and CNC milling controller) and whilst I could have done some digging I decided to follow the suggested path by Ooznest and buy VCarve Desktop from Vectric. The software is a bit pricy and only runs on a Windows PC but I wanted to ensure I had minimal issues on my journey into this new world of masking things. Of course I only have Apple MAC’s at home so I had to go and get a Windows laptop so I could start practicing with the CAD/CAM software.

Next I had to make some space in my workshop. Fortunately I had some room on the left hand side of the garage and soon got to work clearing the area and building a bench to house my new toy. I also had to add additional sockets to the ring mains as there was no power on that side either.

graham_happy_placeIn the evenings I spend time learning the free version of VCarve (it’s fully functional except you can’t output any grbl) as my paid version would arrive until my machine was delivered. The Vectric website has loads of training videos and I was soon creating all sorts of 3D models and signs. The benefit of this software is that you can see a 3D version of what you’ve created, displayed on a multitude of different media types such as wood, MDF, metal and acrylics.

IMG_2083One of the options that you can purchase at the same time as the WorkBee is a housing that minimises the noise and helps keep dust down from the router. I decided when I placed the order not to bother but then saw the company were selling an ex-demo unit on Facebook so rang and bought it, agreeing to collect it when my machine was ready. At this point I had already had a mail to say that the delivery was going to be delayed to February due to a high number of orders they recently received; clearly CNC machines is the in-thing at the moment.

IMG_2081Finally I received a call in early Feb stating my WorkBee was ready to collect and so I drove down to Brentwood in Essex and loaded my car with the two large boxes as well as the enclosure.

As you can see Rio was interested in what I’d purchased too, although he didn’t hang around for long once I started unpacking the boxes.

My next update will run through the building of the machine and show the first thing I created, which didn’t quite go as well as I’d planned.