Author Archive

The 250th Cutting Board: Back In The Pig Business   Leave a comment

Such mixed emotions here.

My inventory has peaked at the perfect time: right in front of what just might be a very large event for us. It is for others … so here’s hoping.

For just the 2nd time, I have over 250 pieces in inventory. That’s a good thing.

With this post, I return to the pig business. I sold my last pig in April, so it’s been several months that I’ve enjoyed not being in the pig business. But, good things often must end so I’m back to selling pigs.

Which is really a good thing. I went to school on these pigs, and cut them out with my new CNC router. After 4 pigs with problems – and one with a broken foot – I got it perfect. After that, every pig was cut out perfectly.

This whole “be more efficient” thing just might be working.

More

The 250th Cutting Board

A Litter Of Pigs

The Board Chronicles: California Avocado Festival 2017   Leave a comment

The Board Chronicles is an ongoing series of articles about the adventures of Mrs M’s Handmade as a vendor at community festivals & craft fairs. Mrs M’s subsidiary, Mr M’s Woodshop, has been approved to create this chronicle for the good of vendorkind.

Time to get serious. The holidays are upon us.

Yes. Upon us.

We loved doing this event last year. Big traffic. Happy people. Party.

What’s not to like?

We stayed busy, Mrs M sold out of Avocado Soap, and we even got a very nice steak dinner Saturday night. Spectacular, even.

You bet we wanted to return for the 31st Annual California Avocado Festival!

As we eagerly anticipated returning to Carpinteria, we had 13 events in front of us during this 4th quarter. We truly have miles to go before we sleep, and here’s our very big first step.

New Ideas

  • We’re doing it just like last year … but with better inventory. We hope.

Observations

  • We drove up Friday, and had dinner at Clementine’s. Their filet is highly recommended. If you’re in Carpinteria, enjoy!
  • The event’s on a city street, so, as is often the case with a street fair-styled event, it’s a Saturday morning set-up … even though the commercial section in the next block was up on Friday night as well. Hmmmm.
  • The alarm didn’t go off. WHAT? My phone died … the outlet I plugged the phone in, on the desk lamp, worked just fine until it stopped working. My phone’s battery drained, and I had no alarm. Oh, and our credit card transactions go through my phone. We’re running a bit late, and the majority of our business has to go through my dead phone. OK, go.
  • Love turbo charging. I am a droid fan.
  • Went to go get my favorite breakfast, and charged the phone more in the only outlet in the restaurant, located between the 2 restrooms. 83% will have to be enough today.
  • We arrived at 6:20a for a 6:30a load-in, only to find that the City had left a forklift in the street to block access. The fork lift driver … was not there. OK, go.
  • I carted everything in. About a city block, which was a flat block, thankfully. But, it was 6:30a and I was playing mule to get everything to booths 23 & 24. Good times.
  • Fork lift driver showed up at 7:08a for what he thought was a 7a call. I was almost finished carting in, no thanks to Public Works Department. We were running more than 30 minutes behind schedule. We had walkers in the booth before we were setup due to the forklift delay.
  • First sale of the day = vindication. I can make a serving tray that people believe will be of use. It only took me most of my lifetime to get there….
  • A lady saw the trivets and asked, “Do you put crackers in the slots?”
  • Uh … no.  Not recommended. Sorry.
  • Vending can be a humbling experience.
  • A young lady walked into the booth wearing a pair of bananas on her purse. She observed that it’s the perfect snack … I observed it was an unusual accessory. She offered me a banana as a reward. I think.
  • A pirate walked into the booth with his wench. (That is what the women associating with pirates are called, right? I don’t want to be politically incorrect with the title for a woman accompanying a pirate in my booth.) They were doing some cosplay thing, I guess. She later assured me they were good pirates, and did take exception to being called a wench. So, now you know. Don’t make the same mistake I did when a pirate walks into your booth with his … uh … well, when 2 pirates walk into your booth.
  • Business was way up on Saturday. Looking good for a great weekend.
  • Sunday started with a spectacular breakfast. No load in, of course, and we were assured we would not have a fork lift problem for load out! Life was good.
  • A client came by that custom ordered 2 large cutting boards last year, and he loves them. Lots of kudos. I smiled.
  • And then his wife came by, and the kudos happened all over again. Life is good.
  • Business, though, slowed down. Way down. Last year, Sunday was unusual at this event: it was 20% up from Saturday. At most events, Sunday is 50% down from Saturday. This year, we seem to be following the normal model. Unfortunately.
  • Strike started promptly at 6p. We were in the dark soon … and they didn’t turn on the rented floodlights until well after dark. The Department of Public Works, late to the party. Again.
  • A 3 year old was walking with her family in front of our booth, and went into meltdown. She had a spectacular tantrum, with full-throated screaming for at least 5 minutes. She then got a time out (still in front of our booth) and screaming continued for another 8 minutes as the family tried to figure out what to do with little miss screamer. Finally, a family member picked her up and carried her away. Screaming.
  • I have had days like that, but I believe I was not as demonstratively spectacular as the young miss.
  • In the end, we were disappointed by this event. We were down from last year … but this was STILL our 7th best event ever. How can you be disappointed when you had one of your best ever?
  • Expectations kill you.

The Food

Saturday Breakfast: Hello, old friend. Thanks for the electricity, too.

Saturday Lunch: Pizza Dan’s was right in front of our booth, so it was easy. And cold, when I finally got to it.

Saturday Snack: Chips & guac when Little Girl came to visit. Life was good.

Saturday Dinner: Comfort food in the hotel bar, which I will not honor by calling it a restaurant.

Sunday Breakfast: Goodbye, old friend. Esau’s was just down the street from us, and this breakfast/lunch cafe is highly recommended. Yum.

Sunday Lunch: Carry out from Esau’s. Yum. A new tradition.

Sunday Snack: Nope.

Sunday Dinner: Carl’s Jr, eaten in the car on the way home. High living.

The Facts

  • Total miles driven: 274
  • Booth cost: $950
  • Food cost: $247
  • Travel cost: $747
  • Total sales: $3,476
  • Net Revenue (does not include product cost): $1,532
  • # of people we met during the event from the producer: 2
  • Visits in our booth by a promoter’s representative: several
  • Saturday alarm: It wanted to be 4:30a, but ’twas not to be.
  • Sunday alarm: 6:30a
  • # transactions: 119
  • # soap & lotion vendors: At least 3 other soapers. There may have only been 1 other last year, according to my notes … so perhaps this explains why Mrs M’s sales fell.
  • # woodworking vendors: There was another cutting board maker, located in the Carpinteria Artist Center (he is a member, he said). They were up near the action, adjacent to the food/music area, but off the street. I heard traffic was not great. They were a bit hidden, it seems.
  • Edge grain vs. end grain: 31:2
  • Returning next year? Probably

Boards sold: 33

MBOs: 9

Cheese Boards: 5

Trivets: 5

Cutting Boards: 3

Lazy Susans: 3

Serving Trays: 2

Custom Order: 1

Small Surfboard: 1

Large Cutting Board: 1

Bread Board: 1

Notepad Clipboard: 1

Legal Clipboard: 1

At Long Last: More Magic   Leave a comment

It seems like forever since I needed more magic in my life!

I haven’t made a batch of Magic Bottle Openers in some time … and my inventory showed it. These things that I call MBOs are usually my top-selling item. I have a lot of fun demonstrating them, and entertain a lot of beer drinkers.

Because the reason there is a Mr M’s Woodshop is I’m having fun. Sharing the magic is just a part of that.

At left is the MBO that’s on our refrigerator. It catches the caps off of the bottles when they’re opened, of course, and it also sticks to our refrigerator.

Magic.

Not only does catching the caps please Mrs M, she’s also begun an amateur sculpting career seeing how many caps she can mold onto the wood. As her sculpture grows, inevitably I will brush it on my way past, knocking a cap onto the floor. That’s when Walter the Attack Cat pounces; he likes playing with bottle caps that have been magically held in space, just waiting for him to have fun with them.

So, now I’m having fun making. Mrs M is having fun sculpting. Walter’s having fun pouncing. What’s not to like?

I made a large batch of MBOs, but only a few made it to the finish line in time for this weekend’s event. More are coming just as soon as I can take them across the finish line. I made sure to make several that are easily personalized for your favorite beer drinker. Some of these are wall mount versions; some are fridge mounts.

Have fun with them!

 

New: Serving Trays   Leave a comment

The last time I made a serving tray, I failed. That was almost 50 years ago, of course. You can read that story here: “I Made One Just Like That In School.”

After reading that other woodworkers had found a measure of success by making serving trays, I resolved to take another shot at making one that would be of use in a happy home.

After all, my first attempt did not find success. Though it was made to be of use, it was never found to have sufficient utility for the women in my life.

No hard feelings. Honest.

So, challenge accepted. I have resolved to make useful serving trays. I have determined that such a tray should be 12″ x 18″. And, I have determined that these trays should have metal handles and non-skid rubber feet held on with stainless steel screws.

Let’s see if anyone agrees with me. I’ve started humbly, with only 3 trays produced in the first batch. I will tell you, however, that I’ve bought a couple of dozen handles. I hope somebody thinks these are worthy!

Serving Tray 17 – 01. Purpleheart, Canarywood, Pau Ferro & Jatoba. 12″ x 18″ x 3/4″.

Serving Tray 17 – 02. Black Walnut, White Oak & Honey Locust. 12″ x 18″.

Serving Tray 17 – 03. Black Walnut, Hard Maple, Jatoba & Bubinga. 12″ x 18″ x 3/4″.

New: Trivets   3 comments

It’s not an uncommon question when I am at an event: “Can I use this board as a trivet?”

The quick answer is you could, but you probably would not want to. Wood can scorch, and a solid board has no way to dissipate heat. I fear putting really hot stuff on a cheese board or cutting board will eventually cause the glue to fail. The board will crack.

Then I saw the work of my pal Betsy, who makes and sells boards in the Houston area. She makes trivets similar to these using templates that she’s developed … but I thought there should be an easier way.

I pushed the button.

After spending some time in my CNC design software (I use Aspire), I finalized this design. I glued up 4 different wood designs … and I now have trivets!

These are just in time for this weekend’s big event, the California Avocado Festival. If you’re out and about this weekend and find yourself in Carpinteria, please come see us. If you can tear yourself away from staring at the World’s Largest Vat Of Guacamole, you’ll find us in the handmade section, of course.

Trivet 17 – 04. Cherry. 8-1/2″ x 8-1/2″ x 3/4″.

Trivet 17 – 01. White Oak. 8-1/2″ x 8-1/2″ x 3/4″.

Trivet 17 – 02. Hard Maple & Black Walnut. 8-1/2″ x 8-1/2″ x 3/4″.

Trivet 17 – 03. Hard Maple. 9″ x 9″ x 3/4″.

New: Cribbage Boards   1 comment

It’s my 2nd most requested game board.

Note that I still haven’t finished any of my most requested game board, but those are coming soon, honest.

I tried to make cribbage boards several months ago using a plex template and a drill press … the results were less than spectacular. I put those efforts on the shelf while I thought about my next step.

Then, I bought a CNC.

Then, I found this template with my google machine.

Then, I pushed the button.

These are simple boards. Coming soon, I’ll be using a different template with some 3D carving & personalization available. Big plans!

Cribbage 17 – 01. Goncalo Alves, Hard Maple, Cherry, Red Oak, Yellowheart and Black Walnut. 6″ x 16″.

Cribbage 17 – 02. Bubinga. Non-skid rubber feet. 5″ x 15″.

“I Made One Just Like That In School.”   1 comment

I hear the comment at almost every event:

“I made a board just like these when I was in High School!”

Every time I hear it, I just smile. And every time I hear it, I say it in my head:

“Respectfully, no you didn’t.”

I submit this analysis based on my own humble story: I made a board in “Industrial Arts” in junior high. Ironically, I decided to make a serving tray instead of a cutting board. This is that story.

I only remember 2 things about that IA class:

  1. I was given a block of pine that the teacher, Mr Price, had given a wavy top cut on the band saw. My task was to make the edge dead flat using a hand plane. I failed.
  2. I made a serving tray out of the wood provided, which I recall was “Ulner.” There is no such wood.

So you can see, I was not a successful woodworker at 13. I did, however, make a serving tray out of IDKWII, pronounced “i duh KWEE.” Though the wood may have been Alder, all I know at this point is I Don’t Know What It Is.

I do know that my mother seldom never used the tray, and then she passed it on to Velda …

… who never uses it. The tray is currently living in our coat closet, buried in stored books and houseware items we can’t wait to give away.

So, again, I was not a successful woodworker at 13. No one has ever looked at the serving tray and said, “This is too pretty to use.” No one has ever looked at my serving tray and said, “This is beautiful.” No one has ever looked at my serving tray and said, “How much is that?”

Those are comments I hear at every show when people see the things I’ve made this year. But the thing I made almost 50 years ago? Not so much.

Now, I know my mother loves that tray, just as every mother loves to tell me the story about what their son or daughter made them in woodshop. I always ask: most mothers never use the wooden cutting boards or serving pieces that they were given by their children. They treasure them. They don’t use them.

As my faithful readers know, however, I strive to make things to be of use.

That’s not to say the first & unused wooden object I made, the serving tray, is without value (to me). That’s not to say the tray is not a good tray (I think). After all, it worked just fine the 3 times it’s been used in the last 48 years.

So, here’s the tray that’s nearly half a century old … that did not launch a woodworking career.

Sorry, Mr Price. This one just didn’t work.

Serving Tray, made circa 1969. Wood is IDKWII. Yes, those are the ugliest handles known to mankind. The nice cherry tone surface has survived, pretty much, though the varnish has some age. One corner’s a bit bunged up. 14″ x 18″ x 3/4″. Felt bottom cover.

Troubleshooting & Tips For Setting Up Your Probotix Nebula   2 comments

Saturday afternoon was not about the CNC; it was prep for our pizza oven to get back into action. It was worth it.

It was set up, but we didn’t know what to do with the left over cables.

It was Friday night.

I told the Engineer that I would have recommendations by morning from my people. I put a post up on RouterForums.com, upon whose members’ recommendations I had put significant weight towards my decision. I also put a post up on Facebook in a CNC group that I’m a member of.

The Engineer asked me what I thought the solution would be … what was wrong? My answer is that I thought we had done something wrong in our ignorance, based on the obviously poor instructions that we had received. My guess is that it was a fix that could be figured out by the smart people I was in touch with, and then we’d be OK.

I was right.

Getting CLOSE

By Saturday morning, I had multiple answers from both groups I had questioned. Another theme was there, as multiple people told me to get in touch with Len, who I knew as my – and the – sales guy, and he would fix me right up. By Saturday evening, Len had responded to me, copying support, and telling me that the problem was probably that we had put the parallel cable in the wrong parallel slot.

And that is what had happened. Come to find out, there were two parallel slots, and the computer shown in the directions was different from the computer in my garage woodshop. The Engineer had plugged the cable into the parallel port that he thought was most like the illustration, but he chose poorly. We swapped ports, plugged the other, newly identified parallel cable that controlled the Tool Length Sensor into the other slot, and booted it up.

We were golden. Everything worked. Everything. Worked. Plug & play, indeed.

Sometimes, it is about who you know.

First cut.

I have now used the CNC for several hours. Love it. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve broken bits. I’ve had to go back and watch a few videos over. And over.

And, once the machine was wired correctly, it has been absolutely what I expected. It’s plug & play. It’s perfectly predictable & repeatable.

And, I haven’t made a perfect piece yet. I’m still working on that, in my spare time. I still have to feed the monster that my out-of-control hobby is. I need to make cutting boards, in addition to the blanks & pieces that are needed to feed the CNC learning process. I will get there – quickly – but it will take some time. Stay tuned.

So, that stated, here are some things I have already learned that would have helped had they been on my checklist a few weeks ago. If there’s a CNC in your future – especially a Probotix CNC, which I wholeheartedly recommend – then you might benefit by checking off this list before there’s a CNC in your shop.

  1. Power distribution. I never asked where the power for the unit needed to be, and I should have. I had an electrician install a 220v circuit, and it was properly placed. Unfortunately, the power inverter came with a 6′ pig tail, and the plug barely reached to the new power cable I had installed. Further, the inverter runs 24/7 if there’s power to the unit, and I don’t have an off switch other than the breaker panel. Ooops. All of the power needs to be delivered to the shelf under the front of my CNC, which was not a problem … but could have been. I could have asked, but didn’t think of it. Now, you will.
  2. Lighting is essential. I installed my CNC in a dark corner of the shop, so I installed additional lighting before it arrived. If you can’t see it, you’ll have trouble making it. Get the lighting right, first.
  3. Building a stand. As previously reported, I didn’t consider building my own stand, and I probably should have. That way, I could have had a full shelf under the table (why oh why does Probotix not do that?). The time to build the stand would probably have been about what it took to assemble the Probotix model, though it would not have been as spiffy.
  4. The computer needs a mount, too. I bought the computer mount offered by Probotix, and already don’t really like it. It has a very limited range of motion, and I would like to have more flexibility than that. You’ll need a way to have the computer monitor, keyboard & mouse adjustable to move around in your shop as needed. Getting it up out of the way is essential in my small shop, too.
  5. No game controller. There was no game controller with my Nebula. I don’t miss it; I  thought it was gimmicky when I saw it. Still, I expected it and it was not in the box. Nope.
  6. You need oil! The drive screws need to be oiled daily. Some of Probotix’s info says they send lubricant with the unit, but they don’t.
  7. Dust collection. CNCs create a lot of sawdust. A lot. Be prepared with a dust collection solution out of the box. I wasn’t … it just slipped my mind. If you’re buying Probotix, then you may need a 1.75″ hose to mate with the magnetic dust boot for your spindle. Love the magnets! In addition, of course, you’ll need an adapter to get the 1.75″ hose to whatever dust collector you use (in my case, I’m going from 1.75″ to 2.5″). I ended up ordering that hose from Oneida (no clue why Probotix does not offer it!), and the adapter from Peachtree. I’m still not quite sure how I’ll mount the hose to the spindle, the gantry and then the table, but I’ll figure that out when it’s in hand.
  8. Where’s your storage? I’ve already got several CNC bits, 10 collets for the spindle as well as the 2 wrenches to secure the bits in place. There’s the dust boot. The 3-in-1 oil. The job summaries. The jigs. They’ve got to go somewhere, so get ready. Solutions don’t have to be permanent in the beginning, but those expensive CNC router bits have to go somewhere!
  9. Mounting your work piece. There’s no wrong answer here. Double stick tape is how I mounted my first cut … and the tape failed before the piece was done. I’ve read about some DIYers that use super glue and masking tape, and they’re welcome to that. The advanced class will go to vacuum hold downs, and that’s where I’m going when I have the time and money to build it. Meanwhile, I’m making MDF jigs with push clamps, and screwing the jigs to the spoilboard. This works, though it’s not without its own idiosyncrasies, which I’m working through. Whatever you do, you’ll need the solution in hand before you turn on the machine.
  10. Cut scrap at first. You’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to have problems. Don’t cut expensive work pieces until you know what you’re doing. Cut MDF, or plywood, or even the 2x4s from the shipping crate that your CNC arrived in. Until you know what you’re doing, cheap is good.
  11. Other tools. I have brass brushes to help clean fuzzies off of the workpieces that require it. A large brush is great for clearing shavings, as is a portable dust collector hose.

 

More

Installing The Probotix Nebula

Buying A CNC: The Probotix Nebula

That’s No Garage, That’s My Shop

Installing The Probotix Nebula   2 comments

It’s here!

After more than a year of shopping, deciding, saving and waiting, the Probotix Nebula was in my driveway.

Now what do I do?

The shipping instructions were very clear: refuse the shipment if the crate was damaged. And, of course, it was. They put what I would call furring strips on the seams of the crate, which was made out of particle board … and those furring strips provided almost no structural integrity to the crate, especially when broken and splintered by the fork lifts that have moved the crate.

The crate wasn’t on a pallet; it was balanced on 4x4s that were strategically placed to mimic a pallet. Until they come off. Further, the broken furring strips resulted in the bottom of the crate sagging open. I could see into the crate as it sat in the truck.

I decided that the damage was not significant, and accepted the shipment. I was proven correct … but not before the delivery guy tried to give me heart failure by balancing the crate on 2 of the 4x4s and rocking it onto the lift gate until he could almost get it to fit, with 2′ hanging out over the front. “I do this every day,” he said.

Not with my new CNC, you don’t.

As the Bard said, however, “All’s well that ends well.” The crate didn’t crash off the lift gate, the delivery guy put the crate at the top of the driveway, and we moved on to the main event: setting up the CNC.

I popped the lid of the crate, and then opened each of the boxes that were carefully packed on the internal framework of the crate. I opened the boxes inside of the boxes, and got to work.

I found a Quick Start Guide in one of the boxes – similar to one that I downloaded from the Probotix website. This one had more pages, though.

Too many.

It had pages for different configurations. It had pages for different equipment. It had no table of contents. It had conflicting information. And, it had the directions on how to build the rolling stand for the CNC to sit on … which I found only by reading a page with no title and no way to tell it was directions for the rolling stand. I was dumbfounded.

These directions were absolutely horrible. They were apparently written by an engineer who knew what he/she was describing … and I, the ignorant customer, was supposed to just catch up. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what a 60/60 extrusion was. I did figure it out, inferring it from the instructions that were written with a certain panache, shall we say:

6) Next step you will slide the corresponding amount of T-nuts into the 30/60 extrusion to be able to secure the 30/60 extrusions to your 60/60 legs. Measure the bottom of the 30/60 extrusion to the base plate to ensure your shelf is at the desired height, and start with bottom extrusion while securing them down as you will not be able slide T-nuts further past your top most extrusion. Place the top 30/60 extrusions level with the top of the 60/60 extrusions.

I read this point many, many times and still didn’t understand it. I did finally figure it out: bottom of the extrusion is NOT the same as bottom extrusion. “Desired height” is never explained in any way. The format and grammatical errors, well, I guess those are just for fun.

There were 16 points to the assembly instructions for the rolling stand. There were pictures after the first 2 points, and then no more. I finally figured out that if I turned the page, after the instructions, there was an illustration showing the extrusion lengths, which was helpful once I knew what an extrusion was. The page after that indicated, somewhat incorrectly, how to place the CNC onto the stand for attaching.

I had the cart most of the way assembled when the Engineer showed up to help. We did the rest of the cart, rolled it out of the garage woodshop to the CNC that was still sitting on the crate bottom, and started the main event.

Getting the CNC onto the stand was easy. Attaching it took quite a while. We had to tweak, and loosen, and adjust, and get level … it took both of us, and we could have probably used help. We worked all around and under the table. I only got one muscle cramp, and lost a little bit of blood, before we were done.

I bought the Probotix Nebula because I wanted a plug & play solution. At this point, I gave the instructions to the Engineer & asked him to wire it. He would plug so I could play. Sounds fair.

I mean, wouldn’t you? He’s the one with two engineering degrees from prestigious universities. Time for him to sing for his supper, if you will.

There are 7 pages in the instructions that show how the CNC should be wired up. Of those 7 pages, only 5 were relevant to our setup, and we had to figure out which 5. Of the 5 that we were to use, 4 of the 5 had errors or misinformation on them.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The Engineer finished the wiring, and only had 3 wires left over. Ooops. One was the yellow plug for the router set up that I was not using (I knew that I had the extra set up when I approved this unit for shipping). Then, there was an extra parallel plug, and an extra black wire with a spade plug. What were those 2 for? No clue. Both were unlabeled.

The black wire seemed like it might be the earth ground to the machine frame, but it was not labeled in any way. Neither of us wanted to plug an unlabeled wire into the new machine just to see what might happen. But, it was “just” a grounding wire, so we determined we would be OK to turn the machine on. And …

nothing.

There we were, late on a Friday night, and the machine did not function. The computer booted just fine, but it did not control the Nebula. And it was Friday night, so tech support was a very long weekend away.

Next up, and coming soon: Troubleshooting & Tips For Setting Up Your Probotix Nebula

More

Buying A CNC: The Probotix Nebula

That’s No Garage, That’s My Shop

 

Buying a CNC: The Probotix Nebula   6 comments

Time to up my game.

I’m a one man shop, and I’m slowly being overwhelmed by the amount of things I’m wanting to make. Being asked to make. Have to make.

Hiring help is not an option: I am committed to doing this myself. I say it at every event: “It’s just me in the shop.” So how do I get more efficient?

I get a better machine.

A CNC router (CNC = Computer Numerically Controlled) will allow me to have one machine making something while I’m working on something else. I’ll essentially become a two man shop.

That’s the plan, anyway.

I started shopping for a CNC last year. When you start crowd sourcing information, you find a lot of people will talk about building your own CNC. I heard “Make it just like you want it,” and “Save money.” I’m sure those statements are true, but I wasn’t interested in a DIY project. I wanted to save TIME, and buy a machine that would essentially be plug & play.

The next decision was budget. I considered less expensive, hobbyist-level machines, and quickly rejected them. Reviews are good for many, but I needed a machine that would keep up with my burgeoning, out-of-control hobby. I wanted a machine capable of working long hours with high reliability. You know, like me. High reliability means the price will go up, of course.

Size of the table (how big an item you can work on) is the next factor. The idea I seized upon here is that you should buy your second machine first. Don’t get a machine that’s “just big enough” for current needs, but get one that will do the projects you will want to do in a year or three. Good tools last a long time, after all, so buy the tool that is big enough for the future.

OK, go.

The first machines I looked at seriously were those sold by my favorite woodworking store, Rockler. Rockler is geared towards the hobbyist (red flag!), and they sell several models of CNC machines. Their “affordable” models are smaller, hobbyist machines. I wanted more.

Their most expensive model is by a traditional woodworking tool manufacturer, Powermatic. They have a good reputation, but I wondered what a manufacturer of table saws and drill presses would know about a computer-driven routing system. Their CNC machine was a relatively new offering; they’re late to the party. I moved on.

A person I’ve hired to do some CNC work for me recommended ShopBot exclusively. They make great machines, I’m sure, but were simply out of my price range. I’m not a corporate buyer; I needed a machine to fit in my budget.

I got very interested in Legacy machines; they had a great reputation and great training, I was told … and some totally bad transactions, too. They either had the best customer service, or were awful. And, in the end, they were out of my budget.

Finally, some people I respect in the RouterForums.com group highly recommended Probotix. Great customer service, I was told. Interestingly, they used Linux for their operating system, and were a family owned company that started in Illinois. That sounded very similar to the company I work for, Smarts Broadcast Systems, that is a family owned company based in Iowa; we use Linux for our operating system.

Probotix was my choice. I determined I would buy their largest machine, the Probotix Nebula. The work space is a massive 45″ x 61″ … far beyond the minimum 24″ x 36″ that was what I needed today. I totally respect their use of Linux … and they provided a plug & play solution for me. On the other hand, I know the style of company that they are.

Clearly, Probotix is quirky. They are very personal, but they are not polished. The materials they have online are hardly impressive. However, I went with the recommendations of people who I respect, and selected a large machine that was within Mrs M’s stretched budget.Options had to be decided:

  • You need to specify the mount for whatever router you want. I chose an air-cooled spindle, after research told me that spindles – that require 220v – are tireless workers. Routers will wear out quickly when used in cuts that may go 30 minutes without stopping. Go for the spindle.
  • A “Z Touch off Puck” allows you to easily establish the height of the workpiece – so your machine knows what height to send the router bit when it begins. Sold.
  • And ATLaS Tool Length Sensor is supposed to speed up bit changes, so you don’t have to touch off every time when you change bits. Sold.
  • They offered an 8 piece router bit “starter set,” but I decided to buy my own bits based on my research into the kinds of bits I would need for the kinds of work I anticipate doing. So, no to their set.
  • They sell a 4th axis rotary so you can carve in 3 dimensions by rotating your work piece automatically. I thought about doing this, but didn’t to save money. I can always add it later.
  • Choose your spindle … and I chose to have them install an air-cooled spindle for me. Not the most expensive, but it was still more than twice what I paid for my last 3-1/4 horsepower router.
  • The machine only does what it’s told, so you need software. The program they offer is by Vectric, and I elected to buy the upgraded software directly from that company. It’s called Aspire, and the people I was consulting on this purchase told me I would not regret buying the best CAM software out there for CNC routing. OK, so no to the CAM software from Probotix and yes to the upgraded purchase from Vectric.
  • Dust collection is an option, and I know that I MUST have it, but I already have the powerful V3000 from Oneida. I don’t need a baby system just for the CNC, so no to their system, but yes to the dust boot that my system will attach to.
  • The table itself is commonly referred to as the spoil board (as it’s going to be cut up on occasion). You can get it with a grid and threaded inserts installed, which I seriously considered … and did not do to save money. I’ll do my own mounting jigs to hold work pieces in place.
  • Want to make dovetail joinery? It can be configured to do that. I like being fancy. Sold.
  • Want a rolling stand to hold it all? I could build my own, but … I am trying to save time here. Sold.
  • A keyboard/mouse/monitor arm was offered that would attach to the CNC’s stand. Probotix supplies the computer setup, along with the software they’ve developed to run the machine. You’ve got to put it somewhere, so yes, please.

I ordered my Nebula, and was told it would be 2-3 weeks before the unit would ship (they build each unit as ordered for each buyer … just like my company). Unfortunately, it was almost 4 weeks before it would ship. I got a call on a Friday morning, and was told that a Nebula they had just built for another customer (in front of me in line) could be mine if I was OK that it was configured for a 110v router as well as for the 220v air-cooled spindle that I selected. All I had to do was say yes, and the unit would ship on Friday.

Yes. Of course. YES. Ship it.

I paid extra for quick shipping. I was told it would be delivered in 3-4 days, but this would be a residential delivery that required special handling. It took 5 days to get to me, and only delivered that day because I proactively followed the shipment, and called the shipper when the website noted that the crate would be arriving in Los Angeles on a Thursday. I scheduled my delivery before the shipper even received the crate.

Delivery was last Friday.

Next up: Installing the Probotix Nebula.

The next installment will publish later this week. To receive an email every time I publish a new post, just click the “Follow” button near the top of the column to the left.

More

Installing Oneida’s V3000 Dust Collection System

The Big Install

%d bloggers like this: