Launch Slideshow

CNC Routing Comes to the Jobsite

CNC Routing Comes to the Jobsite

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    Michael Springer

    ShopBot’s Handibot—the first portable CNC “robot”. Note the Makita rouer motor that is used to do the cutting.

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    Michael Springer

    The Handibot is controlled via the user’s tablet computer which is carried onboard when the machine is in motion. The latest build of the Handibot has the tablet slot located on the front of the unit for easier access (instead of on the back as shown). In the future, the tool will also be able to be controlled wirelessly with a variety of devices.

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    Michael Springer

    The yellow plate and outboard motor attached to the Handibot constitute the “crawler” device which moves the unit along a toothed steel track. The track is available in lengths up to 20 feet which makes the tool capable of precision cutting on some pretty big work pieces.

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    Michael Springer

    The Handibot is shown here cutting out a stair stringer. To keep the waste pieces from coming loose and possibly jamming up the machine’s movement, small tabs of material are left in the kerf so the pieces can be separated after the machine finishes its cutting path. [27] ShopBot’s stationary Desktop CNC machine is shown roughing out a violin back. When the board is flipped over, the machine will rout out the inverse of the profile, leaving a very thin curved piece of even thickness.

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    Michael Springer

    ShopBot’s stationary Desktop CNC machine is shown roughing out a violin back. When the board is flipped over, the machine will rout out the inverse of the profile, leaving a very thin curved piece of even thickness.

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    Michael Springer

    With an indexer —a lathe-type work holder—attached to the desktop unit, this violin neck was cut out in-the-round without the need for a more complicated 5-axis CNC machine.

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    Martin Donek

    Here's what the drag knife looks like when it's chucked into a CNC machine. Instead of spinning (like it would when it contained a router bit) the machine cuts by "dragging" the knife across the surface of the material to be cut. It can turn on a dime and make extremely precise cuts.

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    Michael Springer

    A Donek Drag Knife fitted into a CNC machine’s router or spindle allows a user to cut wood veneers, plastics, paper materials and more with high precision and ease. Useful for custom or production cutting of any material you can cut with a utility knife or fine-pointed hobby knife.

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    Michael Springer

    Four models of Donek Drag Knives are available in different shank sizes and cut-radius capabilities.

I recently attended Camp ShopBot, one of a series of events designed to introduce makers, manufacturers, and fabricators to the latest and greatest in small-scale CNC machining. The star of the show was the Handibot, a robot-like device that is the world's first portable CNC machine.

The event was held just east of Denver, Colorado, at the headquarters of Donek Tools and Donek Snowboards. Most of the attendees were current users of ShopBot CNC machines and they came to stay up to date on the latest tools and software solutions for this quickly-evolving tool category.

ShopBot was there to introduce the Handibot, a 35-pound CNC machine designed for use in the shop or on the jobsite. The unit is roughly the size of a toaster oven and can be placed on the work piece to cut, rout, or carve an area 6 by 8 inches up to 4 inches deep.

But that's not the exciting part; when attached to its "crawler" accessory - a long rack-and-pinion track screwed to a board or frame - the Handibot can power itself along this axis as long as the track attached.  In this configuration, the machine can be used to precisely cut stair stringers, intricate rafter tails, and complex mortises. It's the first CNC machine that could find a home on the job with carpenters, timber framers, and the like – perhaps not today, but not so far into the future as you might think.

Other uses include sign-making, engraving glass windows, and carving wall surfaces. In fact, applications like these have already inspired the nickname "grafitti bot" among the tool's early decorative architectural users.

Handibot was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and the first tools off the production line will go to people who contributed to that. ShopBot expects to begin taking new orders late this fall. The machine will initially be priced at about $2,400 but the company hopes that number will float down over the next few years. That may sound like a lot, but it's about half the price of an entry-level CNC router.

In addition to a demonstration of the Handibot and the company's smallest stationary benchtop CNC machine, the event included a presentation by the host, Sean Martin of Donek Tools and Donek Snowboards. Martin's company uses CNC machines on a daily basis to produce custom snowboards, skis, and plate binding systems. A few years back Martin developed a drag knife, a low-cost accessory for CNC machines that is a more accurate alternative to the die-cutting tools used to cut material for the snowboards and skis he makes.

For those unfamiliar with a drag knife, it's a bladed tool that fits in the router or spindle of a CNC machine (used without the motor spinning) and is used to precision-cut anything you could cut with a utility knife. Sean sells them to individuals and manufacturers who use them to cut plastics, wood veneer, leather, cardboard packaging, gasket materials, model making materials and more.

Check out the video below. It was shot at Camp Shopbot by the host of the event. The first half of it focuses on the Donek Drag Knife – which is pretty cool to watch. Coverage of the Handibot begins at about 3:45 mark.