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CNC Lessons While Making Christmas Gifts…

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

If the title of this blog seems kind of random and passive aggressive…it is. Making Christmas gifts for our friends and family this year turned out to be very informative as we learned some new things about our X-Carve CNC router.

It started out as an innocent day making 3 different custom signs and some corn hole boards. Until we ran into an issue and realized what we were lacking was a solidified system on how we operate the CNC as a business. If you want to watch the whole ordeal and conclusions we landed on, check out the video below!

This year our families wanted a few custom signs to give to people as Christmas gifts…which is awesome! I (Jennie) love designing custom signs for people, using the CNC, and putting together/painting all the little pieces once all the carving is done. So we thought this would just be a fun-filled day of building together in the shop. We’d throw on some Christmas music, relax, and be done in a day!

What could possibly go wrong?

Famous last words…

I was working on my first sign and OUT OF NOWHERE the text on it became off-centered! The entire carve took almost an hour to do and roughly 35 minutes in we started to realize that there was no way this carve was going to finish and all the letters were going to fit on the background and be centered.

This is a sign with a mistake off of our CNC router. Now we need to look into what the issue was.

As you can see above, there’s no way 2 more letters were going to fit on that bottom row while staying centered left to right. The reason this was frustrating is because we had NO IDEA what we had done wrong.

The design was centered and correct in the software on our laptop, the plywood was properly centered and clamped down, and we set the XY zero coordinates when we carved with the first of our 2 bits…and used those same coordinates with the second bit!

What the heck was wrong with this machine?!

So we thought about it for a while…

And we finally came to a conclusion of what we thought it MUST be.

We must have moved the router on the gantry slightly while we were changing the bits out…

Or while we were detaching and reattaching the dust shoe…

And then the X-Carve thought that new location was the NEW XY zero coordinate…

So all this frustration led us to this conclusion:

We need to create a streamlined system on using the CNC.

If our goal is truly to scale ourselves as a business, we can’t have a piece of equipment that spits out different results every time we use it. We need consistency. Every time.

So rather than having a slow relaxing day of building…we now are having a slow, slightly less relaxing day of checklist writing! Woo!

But in all reality…we’re really happy that we came about this issue, because we really do need to prioritize our systems over the next year.

So what are our priorities with fixing our CNC process?

  1. Get repeatable results

  2. Minimize complexity

  3. Maximize quality (“Wow factor”)

  4. Faster is better

Our main issues we need to fix NOW are:

  1. Changing the bits properly in 2-bit carves

  2. Figuring out a better dust shoe/dust shoe movement method (We think having to remove the dust shoe and put it back between bits also moves the router on the gantry)

  3. Figuring out a software that helps us better understand what exactly we are telling the machine to do

LONG TERM, we need to look into:

  1. Optimizing framing materials

  2. Optimizing sign size

  3. Choosing a minimum number of bits we use (and buying the highest quality ones we can once we figure them out)

  4. Finding a better clamping method (maybe double stick tape)

  5. Optimizing painting and finishing for signs

All in all, we really were happy we ran into this issue since it’s something that genuinely needed to be fixed and will only help us down the road.

And I mean, the whole day wasn’t an absolute waste…we did end up making some pretty sweet signs:

And corn hole boards…

These are custom corn hole boards that we made from pine plywood and 2x4s. These will be Christmas presents for our friends and family.

And naturally…a Tik Tok!!

This post may contain affiliate links for products we used to create this project! If you’d like to check them out, we do get a small percentage of the sale and they are of no extra cost to you! It all goes towards supporting the content creation of Jennie and Davis. BUT – we do not take tool sponsorships and there were no tool endorsements. Just our honest opinions!

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