Plot your route to success with the CNC ShopBot at Idea Fab Labs

Plot your route to success with the CNC ShopBot at Idea Fab Labs

Imagine making a desk with interlocking parts from baltic birch plywood. Or carving a relief into a beautiful black walnut slab.

If your design imagination has grown beyond your means of creating it, Idea Fab Labs has a Shopbot CNC (computer numerical controlled) router that might be just what your project needs.

With this tool, complex contours, pockets, and even 3D shapes can be precisely cut or carved from wood, foam or even soft metals.

Ty Mendoza used the ShopBot to create this intricate geometric piece of art "You can get delicate details (on the ShopBot), it all depends on the bit you use," he says.

“You can get delicate details on the ShopBot, it all depends on the bit you use,” said Ty Mendoza who used the ShopBot to create this intricate geometric piece of art.

Getting your design to a finished shape on the CNC router is accomplished in three basic steps.

The first step is to draw the design you want to make in a CAD (computer aided-design) program. There are programs such as CorelDRAW or Sketch that are easy to use, and other programs such as AutoCAD and SolidWorks which can create more detailed 3D designs.

Once you have created a digital drawing, you will want to convert it into a toolpath for the CNC router to follow in a CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) program. The ShopBot has a program called Partsworks which creates a toolpath from your CAD files. There are other programs such as Fusion 360 which have both CAD and CAM capabilities which will be made available to members.

The third step is loading the toolpath into the ShopBot, securing the material, zeroing the router’s axis, and watching as your design comes to life.

Close-up detail of skull assembly in progress.

The CNC Shopbot was used to cut out the pieces of this 3D skull created by Erin Banwell.

If all this seems like a lot to take in, the very knowledgeable CNC shop manager Brad Rios is always available to walk you through the process.

For members wishing to take the CNC safety and basic use classes, Brad is there Friday at 7 p.m. (update: now Brandon on Tuesdays at 6pm) to show you the ropes and get you signed off on the equipment.

Idea Fab Labs member Steve Roberts zeros out the router before starting a cut.

Idea Fab Labs member Steve Roberts zeros out the router before starting a cut.

So don’t keep those ideas bottled up, uncork your potential this new year at the Idea Fab Labs.