How to Outfit a CNC Carver

So I have been asked about this by a few people. It is kind of a stretch to place on a storage related blog, but here goes

I have always been interested in 3D printing, but the thing I never liked was the look and feel of the finished product. The thermoplastics involved are both expensive, and don’t have that feel of metal or wood or leather that I prefer.

They method to use that allows this would be using a CNC cutting machine, which instead of building an item up from nothing in layers of plastic, you cut an item down out of a block of material.

With all that said, I have researched the options, from build-your-own to fully assembled. Part of the appeal of the solution I picked was the inclusion of a pretty good 3D software suite to control it.

The unit I settled on what a Pirahna FX, which is shown on this website https://www.woodcraft.com/products/cnc-piranha-fx 

What really sealed the deal for me was this was a multi-purpose device in that it can either take a palm router, or it can be fitted with a laser for cutting/engraving. The item was not only on sale for 10% off the $1595 price, but it also had a manufactures perk where they would give you the engraving/cutting laser upgrade free if you purchase the unit in January.

Additionally the software included is a package called “Vectrix VCarve Desktop 9.0” which contains lots of free clipart as well as the ability to import STL or DXF 3D files. The software is pretty powerfull, but most importainly contains a good collection of tutorials on how to use its features. You can find more information about vCarve here; https://www.vectric.com/products/vcarve.ht

I ended up picking up the recommended router for the unit which is a rather small palm router with a 1/4 inch shank. This DeWalt Palm router has a external depth gauge that screws out and the Piranha includes an adapter plate designed to both right in. See https://www.woodcraft.com/products/dewalt-variable-speed-compact-router-with-leds-1-25-hp-model-dwp611

The unit and software both support a number of router bits for flexibility and a carving may require a couple bits and couple passes to be realized. An example, is that I might use a V-Tip bit to get my detail and depth , while I might use a Flat tip end mill bit to clear 90% of the excess wood, and clear larger flatter areas. An example of these bits are shown below.

I have found that these bits can be pretty expensive if using good name brand bits from quality stores like WoodCraft. However low cost bits can be found either on Amazon or in some cases Harbor Freight. The key is to know what you are looking for. Step 1 is to get the right shank size to fit your router. The seconds is to figure out if you want a V Cut (for carving, detail) or a Flat Bottom (clearing, roughing), or a ball nose (clearing, contours).

There are a number of trade offs when buying bits. First trade off is the number of flutes. The more flutes you have the less space you have to clear debris, which means your cutting must be slower. Additionally the more flutes you have the more cutting surfaces, which can mean longer tool life. Many flutes is better for hardwoods that cut slower, while fewer flutes are better for softer material and clear debris quickly.

The other option is to use an up-cut bit or a down-cut bit. The up-cut bit will generally clear material faster but may chip out the material and leave a rougher finish. A down-cut bit has trouble clearing material but leaves a cleaner final edge.

Another consideration I made for this machine is that I want the Rig to be self contained and easily portable in the garage. The easiest
solution was to get a roll-away chefs cart with a tabletop that is 18 inch by 24 inch. See https://www.lowes.com/pd/Style-Selections-3-Tier-Chrome-Utility-Kitchen-Cart/1000053619 

For $63 I now have a tabletop that the machine is bolted to, while the second shelf I can zip-tie the controller, as well as the control panel and build a set of switches so that I can control power to each component separately. i.e. You may want to turn on the Control unit but not turn on the loud router.

The bottom section can be used to store my wood sources, as well as the next consideration, dust control. To evacuate the sawdust as well as keep the tool/bits cool. I think I came up with a pretty unique solution. Part of the solution is a small vacuum, however if you feed sawdust into a vacuum its life can be measured in days. This can be fixed by adding a dust collection cyclone between the dust source and the vacuum. Additionally you can use the output from the vacuum as a blower across the heated router bit.
I was able to purchase both a vacuum that fits onto a 5 gallon bucket as well as a dust collector that also sits on a 5 gallon bucket.

The dust-stopper is here; https://www.homedepot.com/p/Dustopper-High-Efficiency-Dust-Separator-12-in-dia-with-2-5-in-hose-36-in-long-HD12/302643445

The Bucket-Head Vacuum is here; https://www.homedepot.com/b/Tools-Wet-Dry-Vacuums-Wet-Dry-Vacuums/Bucket-Head/N-5yc1vZc2f8Z4oz

The price of each of these is $25 for the bucket-head, and the Dust-Stopper is $40 and the empty buckets are $3 each.

One thing I have found is that these buckets are much larger than they need to be, and I wanted to conserve space on my rig, so I ended up cutting each bucket in half (horizontally) and then placing duct tape around the bottom bucket rim to build up its thickness, and then inserted it inside the top half of the bucket. Once these are air tight, I drilled three hold around the base and bolted them together. This let me shrink the final product down to 1/2 its original size. It also has the unintended but welcome effect of making the walls of the bucket MUCH more resilient to collapse by being sucked in.

I will post more as I get more experience.

I will post a picture of my rig as well as the modifications to the dust system. I also need to work on a soundproof enclosure that I can roll this thing into to cut down the noise, the router is quite loud. I will also in the future post some pictures of my more interesting carves.

Also note that I am in no way sponsored by anyone and any of these recommendations of products are simply what I found to work as a hobbyist.