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Discussion Starter #1
Hello everyone, first time posting. Recently laid off from my job and found a new job but looking for a small cnc business for some supplemental income. I think this is something my wife and I can pull off together, also have couple of kids who will soon be teenagers and think they may really take an interest in it.

My question is I'm trying to put together some numbers and business plan, but curious where any of you have found a reasonable place to purchase lumber. Looking at walnuts, maples, oaks etc. If we put together some 12x18" signs, what is a reasonable number to plug in for materials?

Thank you in advance for the help.
 

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First off --- what's your name, where are you located, what kind of machine you got or plan on getting, and what kind of realistic plan do you have? And how serious are you about this?

Dr T --- time for you to chime in.
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Thank you for your reply. My name is Justin and I'm from Oklahoma. Currently looking at the Gatton setup for router. I already have every other woodworking tool I would need, along with a 40x40 insulated shop we can use after moving a trailer I use on our farm outside.

At this time, we are very serious about pursuing this. Unless the number crunching comes back as not making sense.
 

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Welcome to the forum! And I'll second what John said - when you get a minute complete your profile with first name to clear the N/a in the side panel and add your location, as well.

I'll also second John's questions - give us a little more to go, please sir. Add to that your skill level with CAD/CAM software and woodworking in general.

David
 

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David
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I just took a look at the Gatton CNC, never heard of it until now. I would definitely keep looking if you intend to use the CNC for business reasons. A plywood CNC will have far more flex in it than you may realize. Repeatability will be low and accuracy will be in the 'hobby' range. It may work for a while but you'll quickly wish you had found at least an aluminum extruded machine, a steel one would be better.

That's my $0.02

David
 

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Dr T here as requested. We've had some pretty extensive discussions of the marketing aspects of a CNC business. I was a consultant teaching marketing for 3 decades.


Here's a link to the discussion and the kickoff posting. Read through all the posts, it is filled with practical informaiton on exactly what you're considering doing, including from folks who are already making money with their machines.

LINK https://www.routerforums.com/cnc-routing/114441-making-nice-living-cnc.html

INITIAL POST: Making a Living With CNC

With the surge in interest in CNC on the Forum, I thought it was time to post some information on how to make serious money with one, other than craft shows and sharing profits online and in consignment shops. This orignially was posted in response to a couple just about to take the plunge, but with added information. This is long.

CNC marketing methods to make CNC pay.

If you are planning to make a living from a CNC, you will have to become very good at marketing your services. Translated, that means being very good at identifying and effectively contacting people and businesses that are likely to make good use of your services. Everyone and their uncle Tom is making occasional signs, or signs with clever sayings or even images they hope to sell in consignment shops or weekend craft gatherings. But to really make any money, you have to identify markets that need lots of what you have to sell, but not so many that they go to a completely automated shop, or one that markets and jobs out the work to Mexico or Asia.

One example would be a small chain of regional hotels with a homey feel where signs, plaques and things of that sort , in script or with logos or other identity setting features are needed in fair numbers.

As machines go, that means something pretty fast with easy setup and software that makes such things as using special fonts or logo images easy to set up and produce in limited runs. In marketing, you'd probably have to locate, contact and work with art directors, architects and interior designers -- the real buyers.

With really good software, you could locate individual property owners for inns or mountain cabin owners, whose orders would be small, but beyond hand made sign quantities. Entrance, exit, mens, family and womens' bathrooms, room number, breakfast, meeting room and other signs with logos and unique fonts are all possible products.

I teach marketing to eye doctors, and know how important it is to any business. The internet and social media are good places to search, and 150 to 300 searches will turn up a good number of customers. You don't want to just have one big customer, they apply intense pressure to cut prices and profits. A good mix of lots of medium sized repeat customers is essential.

Deliver as fast as you can. Get all art approved by several people. If you see something odd or off in the design, check it with the customer before you make it and try to provide a proof run before you produce in quantity. Learn to proof read. Check the spelling of every word and if any problem shows up, check with the customer before starting design or production. These kinds of projects seldom get full attention and you backing up the person who orders this way will save their fanny if you catch a problem before their boss does.

Check out all kinds of materials to use for projects. See if you can find sources of cutoffs that are consistently available. For example, my son in law gets large quantities of 2x6 asian hardwood from pallets used for forklifts. For outdoor signs, you might try using weather resistant composite or engineered lumber. Can you cut aluminum for small signs, room numbers, etc?

Make your laptop the center of your business rather than the CNC. Being able to sit in your car on vacation while handling a design shows up as exceptional service, and pays for the vacation at the same time. Plan for rush orders. Designers are notorious for pushing deadlines and giving the producer precious little time to finish. That is a formula for a designer who makes an error to blame the producer for errors and delays, and to cut you off. Make this attention to detail and possible "inconsistencies" a feature of your service. You've got your customer's back. If necessary, run everything by a skilled proof reader before submitting the final design to the customer for approval. It's no fun eating a $2,000 order because of a missed comma or wrong font. In other words, make no assumptions, don’t skip a check because deadlines are tight. Email proofs on copy, layout drawings, printouts of drawings made in the software, and photos of the first test piece, lit by side light so the carving shows up well. Be VERY fussy about approvals for logos and special images. If there is any concern about size and proportion, you want them handled on paper, not on some exotic or expensive hardwood. Make sure your contact’s boss reviews anything more than a run of, say, 3 pieces.

Do not make the mistake of competing on price. Start as high as you can stand it, then go up another 10 percent. If you slash prices to below market rates, you can be dismissed by competitors merely by their saying, "you get what you pay for." When I raise prices, I have to practice saying the amount in front of a mirror until I can do so without making a face or showing uncertainty.

Consider having someone else run the machine, spend your time marketing and taking wonderful, thorough care of your customers so they do repeat business. Making stuff sounds like fun, but it IS a business first, and the dollars and cents, relationships and posting examples of your fine work rank higher than running the CNC.

Social media and developing a great newsletter mailing list is VERY important. (I use Constant Contact because they just don’t allow practices that appear as spam.) Social media drives people to your website, where they see your work, read your information about how to design, order, avoid errors, plus all kinds of pictures of finished work (not all of which has to be yours, by the way. These photos become an idea bank. If you have some pre-made standard items, show those on a separate page. Publish a checklist of steps from design to ordering to final production runs that emphasizes review and proofing.

There is a great little book titled “Your First 1000 copies,” which was written for self publishing and other authors on how to use social media, website and email to generate business. It translates to any business and isn’t full of fluff. It’s one of those little books with a huge load of practical information, and it’s $10 bucks on Amazon. Really upped my business results and lowered my marketing costs. Low cost social media and email are now our primary source of new business.

I know free advice is easily dismissed, but I've been doing and teaching marketing for 35 years, and charge a lot for my recommendations. If I were in your situation, what I suggested is what I'd do, and I'd have a list of 30-50 high-potential 50-signs-or-more per year customers in hand before I put a penny down on a machine.

Now follow the link and read the rest of the posts. Personally, I wouldn't consider going with even a good entry level machine and would plan on something in the $10,000 range as minimum. Run your buying list by the folks here, they'll give you good advice.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I found the thread earlier today about making a living and read all 9 pages. Very informative information in there, and ordered the book recommended. I also have zero experience with the software to answer another previous question. I’m assuming everybody reading this sentence also had zero experience at some point in time.
As of right now, I have $0 invested in this project. Just at the stage of trying to decide if this is something we want to pursue. Can I make enough money with to offset the time involved?

That’s the reason for my original post. Where would you guys suggest looking to purchase materials for a reasonable price? I know some of you have a “hookup” where you get free stuff. As of today I don’t have any of those connections, but something I can pursue.
My background with woodworking is fairly extensive, so this is not an entirely new arena for me.
Any advice or help you can provide is greatly appreciated.
 

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David
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Fwiw, Justin, I built a 2x4 CNC in late 2016 and it's a beast of a machine - very rigid, highly repeatable, fast, good accuracy. It's in our two-car garage which is now our full time shop along with the usual staple of woodworking equipment. In 2017 I didn't have a shingle hung out, didn't advertise, did work for a local trophy shop and odd jobs I could find. The CNC paid for itself in the first 6 or 7 months.

In December 2017 we opened an Etsy shop and have managed about 90 sales for 2017 and I still do work for the trophy shop. The CNC has become 'just' another tool in the shop and I use it when it makes sense. There are a few things I have created for our Etsy shop based on having a CNC, things I wouldn't be doing without one, but the CNC has become an essential tool.

I am using Fusion 360 for CAD/CAM and it is free for hobbyists and small businesses earning less than $100k per year. Sadly, we qualify... :grin: The CNC stays busy and I use it just about every day. Some days it's 4 or 5 hours and sometimes it's for one job that's 20 minutes long. We could advertise and go out to find more business and I probably will do that this year.

What's the market like where you are?

David
 

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David

Your situation sounds pretty much like what I’m hoping will happen. I’m in Stillwater which is home to Oklahoma State. That’s a huge market around here for signs and stuff. There will be some licensing fees involved but I think it’s only $150 for a hobby crafter license unless you start cranking out some big money. Just looking to get something going hopefully through social media type stuff. I have a friend who also has one and he paid for his in six months. Just working part time at it and word of mouth, Facebook etc. He now has two machines and has a hard time keeping up. I’m hoping to have this thing built and the learning curve with products up and going by next Christmas.
 

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Marketing, marketing, marketing.

One of our best CNC guys (Gaffboat aka Oliver) recently wrote a book for CNC newbies. It is available on Amazon. May be helpful. https://www.amazon.com/Newbies-Guid...419&sr=8-1-fkmr1&keywords=Professor+Henry+CNC

Here's the writeup: If you’ve recently purchased a CNC machine for your shop, or are just wanting to learn more about using one for woodworking and other crafts before you take the plunge, this is the book for you. You’ll learn the basics behind the sometimes mystifying world of these fantastic machines, how to design your projects, which tools to use, how to painlessly convert your designs into language the CNC can understand, and pick up some tips on getting started in the shop and using your CNC safely. You’ll find everything in simple non-technical language, that will move you from Newbie to Novice in easy-to-understand steps.
 

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In business, it's nice to catch the low hanging (easy) fruit, but not if you'd like to make real money at it. I've been self employed for 36 years and I have no interest in working as an employee. An employee must make anywhere from 5 to 10 times their pay in order to justify their employment. Do what has to be done and you can do that for yourself. The problem for most people is that are unwilling and don't do the things they don't want to do, the stuff that counts most of the time, so they fail to make it. Yup, you can expect things to go slowly at first, particularly as you learn the methods and tricks, but you must market your services and products from early on. Make lots of test pieces and make them look great, this will form your portfolio. Make sample pieces to take to the company you want to work with. Get their logo, learn about what they do, gather any informaiton you can find (their brochures or catalos and web site) so you can reflect their message. That's your calling card.

Personally, I love seeing someone do a cold start and become successful, by a standard they deem successful. Hope this all helps.
 

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Hi Justin and welcome to the Forum.

I have less knowledge than you about CNCs but your question was about materials. I'm a little confused by that question, given you stated you have every other woodworking tool required. Most woodworking magazines have classified sections near the back, and there are usually several lumber dealers listed. Most offer wood species that are not easily available and some very exotic species. I would check out the internet to search for lumber dealers in your neck of the woods. Good luck.
Dan
 

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Welcome to the Router Forums Justin.

Like some of the others have pointed out, if you really want to use the CNC for production purposses then it would be best to bypass the entry level machines. You can make some mony with the hobby machines but you can make more with the larger well built machine. Most of the hobby machines are limited in speed, accuracy and repeatability. Also don't fall pry to the "I'll buy a cheap machine to learn with then sell it and use the mony to buy a better one" , because most of those starter machine loose most of their value. A good machine will prduce 4 times or more projects as a entry level machine and the cuts will be cleaner so you will have less cleanup time involved in the items produced.

As far as materials the people that get free materials don't get enough free materials for a production shop. You need to find wood supplies close to your location that are usable for the products you want to make. If you want rustic type wood then check to see if there are any local sawmills near you. Can they supply decent air dried or kiln dryed wood? If you want good quality hard woods, are there any wood suppliers close by your location? Do you have the equipment to mill wood like planner, jointer, bandsaw and tablesaw or do you need to buy your wood already milled and ready for use? A lot of questions that only you can answer.
 

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Thanks everyone for the advice. I feel like such an idiot. I remembered this morning we do have a local guy who takes trees out of the bar ditch the utility company cuts down and mills them into slabs. With winter here I haven’t seen him setup recently but will definitely contact him. I have all the equipment to mill the slabs down.

I think I can handle the production piece, need to get the wife started on some ideas. This whole project is exciting and equally scary at the same time.
 

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I think I can handle the production piece, need to get the wife started on some ideas. This whole project is exciting and equally scary at the same time.
Learned some time ago that fear is really excitement without breath. There's a learning curve for software, the machine, and learning to market. Breath deep and give yourselves 6 months to get started and a year or so to be able to produce the goods in all areas of the business. A couple of years to build some kind of reputaton and do steady business. Just remember to breathe.
 

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BTW, check out the local cabinet shops to see if they have any cutoffs. Not a reliable source of large pieces, but sometimes some good stuff in their cutoffs, a few will give it away to get rid of it. My son in law gets interesting Asian wood in pallets for Toyota fork lifts. Thick stuff, not bad. I ran across a guy who had several thousand board feet of hardwood stashed in his aircraft parts-forming business shop.
 
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