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.