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My Miniature Process Part 4: CNC

I previously mentioned my CNC router. The parts it created are the subject of the first entry in this series. This one details the journey I undertook that led to finding my current use for it.

About 10 years ago, I spent three years making and selling nearly a 150 cribbage boards. I drafted the pattern for each board by hand, routed the inlets with a handheld Dremel router, cut the inlay by hand with a knife and ruler and drilled thousands of holes on my drill press. The drill press was the most stressful because one hole out of alignment by 1/32″ would be obvious. I drilled a hole in the end of each board and used a hole plug to hold the pegs, but envied boards that had slots with a slide in panel.

I burned out and stopped making cribbage boards for a few years.

About the same time, CNC routers came to my attention. They were just starting to become available for hobbyists with a limited budget. I heard about the CompuCarve machine (later to become the CarveWright) which was introduced by Sears as a Craftsman product. With visions of this machine doing all the drudgery of drilling holes and cutting inlets, I ordered one at around $1,200. Then I began to read reviews. The technology was too young and new adopters were apparently having a rough time with the maintenance of these machines. So I cancelled the order.

Two years later after doing a massive amount of research, I purchased RockCliff CNC machine plans. This was a modest machine that could be built for under $1,000 in parts. The body was made of MDF with hardware that could be purchased through industrial supply sites such as MSC Industrial Supply and McMaster Carr. The motors and electronics from ProBotix, were in a kit that required assembly and soldering. I’ve had many years of electronics experience as a hobbyist going back to childhood, so that wasn’t a problem.

After a few months work, here is the result:

It worked well enough. It was a bit fussy, but produced a few nice things. But it just wasn’t good enough to provide the precision I needed. So with the knowledge gained from building it, I used it to build another one. Since I didn’t work on it constantly, between building the first one and then the second – it took about three years. Finally it was completed:

I now had a machine that would do what I wanted, but it took me another couple of years of development and testing before I was ready to use it for my cribbage board comeback. I also found it immensely useful in making custom shop jigs and other projects.

A couple of years ago I also got into 3D printing, which resulted in my learning to use CAD software. My wife suggested we make a small bedroom cabinet and I had the idea to design it in CAD and make a miniature mock up. Building that brought back all the wonderful memories and enjoyment of building miniatures 25 years ago. Back then I made them with just a miniature table saw and a TrueSander. It wasn’t long before I figured out the design and production process to make miniatures with all the tools and software at my fingertips.

I had some good results, but I again found the machine was short of the demands I was placing on it. So I spent another round of rebuilding it with more precise components, upgrading software, some hardware and adding a fourth axis to do carvings and sculptures.

Here is the machine today:

And finally, here is the process I use to cut parts: