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Good morning. New member here. I have just recently retired, and have been thinking about purchasing a CNC machine as a hobby, and possibly as a small business.
I have limited experience with woodworking, and absolutely no experience with a CNC machine. However I do have plenty of time, and an eagerness to learn. Any help would be very much appreciated.
 

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Hello and welcome to the forums Mark...
We're happy you found us...
 

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David - Machinist in wood
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Welcome to the forum, Mark!

We do like photos so show us your shop, tools, projects, etc. whenever you're ready.

What sort of woodworking are you planning for your CNC? What's your budget, available space and power, other woodworking tools to support the CNC, etc.?

David
 

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Oliver (Prof. Henry)
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Welcome, Mark. David asked the right questions above about your budget and the types of projects you envision. The CNC is a fun and excellent tool, and you can learn how to use it in a relatively short time. However, you will need some other woodworking tools as well to prepare your stock for the CNC and finishing projects after. Don’t worry, there are a lot of us here willing to help you begin a new and rewarding hobby.
 

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Mike
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Welcome to the Router Forums Mark.

As David and Oliver said there are several questions that need to be answered before we can make any final recommendations for a CNC for your shop and those answers would only be our opinions from our own experiences and from listening to stories of frustrations from some people and great experiences form others.

Here is a short list of things to consider:

1. What is your budget for a machine? Buy a cheap, small CNC and you can receive a lot of frustration from lack of support and limiting software and might just give up. Buying a good entry-level CNC that is capable of producing decent size projects would be much better and there would be a lot more support. If you can afford to buy a well-proven CNC that is at the upper end of the hobby market it usually comes with great customer support as well as great community support and you won't have to sell a small CNC at a loss (buy your last CNC first). Another consideration would be to build one yourself from a kit and these can vary from having everything supplied, to having to cut needed parts and source others from lists of suppliers. If you go the DIY route are you prepared to also do the electronics? You can also design one yourself if you have the knowledge and tools needed.

2. What kind of projects do you want to be able to cut with the CNC? Furniture, signs, or jewelry sized projects? Remember a lot of things can be done on a CNC but that does not mean that it is the best tool to use for every project. A CNC is just another tool to add to your shop to give you more potential.

3. Are you really serious about using it in a small business? Are you willing to spend the time to learn the design software for projects and control software to run your machine to its full potential? OR, will this just end up being used as a hobby machine?

4. How much room can you dedicate to the CNC in your shop space? Remember you not only need space for the footprint of the machine, but you also need room to walk around the machine safely without bumping into it all the time.

5. Do you have any other shop tools to break down raw materials? Maybe you should purchase some basic shop tools first, learn to use them to produce a few items that can help build up a good budget for the CNC. and possibly learn your choice of design software while building that budget.
 

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John
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Hello and welcome to the router forum Mark
 

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Hi Mark, and welcome to the fun. I don't have a CNC, but as members can attest, I was a business consultant for three decades, and I have written up several ways to approach having a CNC business, either part or full time. Although I am fascinated with the CNC's potential, I wouldn't consider going into business without a minimum of a $5 to $6 thousand dollar minimum machine, and that doesn't include the cost of saws and other gear to support it.

Gaffboat won't tell you because he doesn't do self promotion, but he is a master of commercial signs, and he has written two books for beginners in CNC. Both are available at Amazon under Prof. Henry. Pictures below. They are very basic, the first being definitions of the terms used in that field. The other is on signs, the main event for money making stuff.

We also have other members who have really done well with their CNC, for example Jon who has made a nice business from making (of all things) signs and plaques that include polish eagles, which hs sells via attending Polish festivals and events. He is gradually expanding into other national symbols. If you visit the board for CNC, you will run into many of his posts, or you can use search to look for past CNC posts. Lots of discussions of getting started.

Based on my experience with general woodworking tools, I would heed the advice to get the best possible machine you can afford, even if it means using credit. You won't regret it. And I'd get a complete machine and system with hardware, computers and software as well as a strong support reputation. What you save in buying bits and pieces on the cheap, you'll pay for in frustration and possibly winding up with a boat anchor.

In business, there is no point in making mass marketing products. Go after the high end and special projects work. The attached pdf will give you some ideas based on what I'd do if I were building a CNC business. Give yourself time to learn and practice by making things for yourself, your spouse, family and friends first. I'd not expect to make a dime for at least a year, and then only if I devoted 6 months of slogging through learning the basics. Expect lots of failed projects, so start with simple stuff first, then add complexity layer by layer.

One other thing you need to handle right away is sawdust collection. The CNC spits out huge quantities of sawdust, and sawdust and lungs don't mix. So in addition to wearing masks, you will need an effective dust collection system. There's lots of information on dust collection on the site, and I've also attached another pdf of the 18 things that helped me accelerate my own knowledge of woodworking. It is 10 pages long, but has pictures. Hopefully it will help you make good choices and save you from some of the expensive and frustrating mistakes I made.

As far as secondary tools go, I think you will find a table saw is number one on your list. Happily you can get one for about $500 or less new. Check out the Bosch 4100, a very well regarded machine around here. You may be tempted by a chop saw, but that goes far down my list for what you'll be using it for. A router (Bosch 1617) is a must for many purposes, which you will learn as you go. Used in a table, or in a jig, a router can flatten material so you can get perfect results in the CNC.

I would also consider a band saw, which can allow you to shape odd-shaped and round pieces for specialty signs. Again, there are jigs you can make that will make this tool dance a pretty fancy woodworking jig. I have a 10 inch Rikon (same as WEN brand) I find myself using all the time.

This has gone kind of long, but I wanted to cover what I think will be important and give you a realistic idea of your potential expenses to get a small business going.

What can you expect to earn from your CNC? Probably for the first 12-18 months, almost nothing. But if you pursue some of the ideas in my PDF, and search for the posts by guys who have already done well with their CNCs, and stick to the high end, specialty areas, you can probably pay for the machine in earnings during your second year. After that, it's entirely up to you. Remember that you are starting a small business, not just a hobby, so at tax time, your schedule C allows for you to deduct expenses, including travel, your machine, interest, materials, classes, support costs, upgrades, additional machines. And you can spread out the costs if you wish, which will reduce any tax load you might have. Be conservative about deductions so the IRS doesn't get you.

Here are the pdfs I mentioned. Actually, one is a Word document.
 

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G'day Mark, welcome to the forum.
 
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