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So I Have Access To A Cnc Machine


Dave I
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I had my first night of my wood working class tonight. I just got the safety talk and run-through of the machines, did not actually build anything yet. I am probably building my wife a kitchen table first, to make her happy, then moving on to a guitar (first any molds, jigs, etc., then start the actual instrument).

A couple things that are kind of cool are that I have access to a CNC machine and a laser-cutter. I am wondering, how can I use this to my advantage? A few quick questions:

1) Will this be more useful in building an electric guitar, acoustic, or semi-hollow archtop design? Just curious if one design will be more likely to use the technology I have at my disposal. I was planning on starting with an ES-335 clone, but if it would be simpler to start out with an electric on the CNC, I would at least consider changing the order of my builds.

2) How do I use this? The instructor has years of teaching wood working, yet is new to CNC. The program, I believe, is En Route. Can I just get some sort of CAD plans and load them into the computer, or use the program to make plans from scratch?

3) How much of the guitar building process can/should I use the CNC machine for?

-Cheers

Edited by Dave I
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1) Will this be more useful in building an electric guitar, acoustic, or semi-hollow archtop design? Just curious if one design will be more likely to use the technology I have at my disposal. I was planning on starting with an ES-335 clone, but if it would be simpler to start out with an electric on the CNC, I would at least consider changing the order of my builds.

It can do all, but the least complex is an electric guitar.

2) How do I use this? The instructor has years of teaching wood working, yet is new to CNC. The program, I believe, is En Route. Can I just get some sort of CAD plans and load them into the computer, or use the program to make plans from scratch?

You can, but you will have to learn a little about G-CODE which is the programming language that controls the CNC machine, it determines everything from tool speed to which tool to use for which pass.

3) How much of the guitar building process can/should I use the CNC machine for?

-Cheers

Almost, if not all of the wood machining leaving you to glue the fretboard and bolt/set the neck and of course add your truss rod.

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I personally feel that you should use the CNC to speed up/make easier a complex build. I think that electrics can be made easily enough without having to employ a CNC machine. I mean, RG is right, an electric is the least complex, especially for a first project. I would go for the hollowbody myself, because it is the hardest to do in the first place, and having access to such machinery would no doubt decrease the difficulty. But if it's your first, then an ES335 might be too ambitious to be done on a CNC. I dunno... Maybe it's just because I want my own jazz box so badly, I'm just rambling.

Do an electric to get your feet wet :D Forget what I said.

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How much time do you have?

A CNC machine requires practice and experience to get good results as with any tool. It adds an additional degree of complexity because you have to learn to program it. You need to have a darn solid understanding of design if you are creating the model and code. Hopefully I am on target with my comments, because this is just my understanding from reading and what I have had explained to me. Look to advise from guys with actual experience with CNC.

I can see an advantage in using a CNC for Archtop plates (only to ruff spec, they still need to be tuned), or possibly carved solid bodies, possibly necks. I suspect though that for one instrument (assuming you are not looking to repeat creating these 50 times). You will most likely get the job done faster using other tools and jigs.

If you want bent sides, and a regular top for a 335. CNC is going to do little to help. Unless you make your forms and molds with it, but that will be time consuming, and can be done with other tools faster for a single set of jigs.

I think the first thing I would try to do to take advantage of a CNC machine would be with inlay cutting and routing.

These tools are amazing, and I can't wait till the day they are as common in a workshop as routers or bandsaws. I will pick one up as soon as I can justify one, and the right model comes along. Have fun with your class and the tools. Stay focused on the build, and don't get too distracted with the possibilities of what can be done with the great tools you have available.

Peace,Rich

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CNC is NOT a way to make complex things faster or easier. Not if you're making one-off instruments. Templates, a router table, some simple jigs will be a faster, more time-efficient way of building if you do one-off guitars. Especially if you don't already do all your designing in CAD.

CNC makes it easy to machine things very accurately, and doesn't require you to stand around while it actually does the cutting. ie, you can go do something else while the CNC machine makes your parts for you. Possibly routing the body shape nicely and neatly, ditto pickup cavities, is a good place to start things off.

Thing is, I feel you won't learn much about building guitars by using a CNC machine, and it's not really woodworking. Not the CNC cutting part of it. It's programming a machine, telling it what to do. A skill, surely, but it doesn't teach you anything about grain direction, sharpening, shaping, how wood responds to various tools, how the resonance changes as you carve it, etc. Even tools like routers give you a fair amount of tactile feedback.

In short, I'd reccomend building with templates (for which the CNC might be ideal, really; making good templates) and a mix of power and hand tools. It'll be faster, more fun, and teach you more than firing up the CNC. More about woodworking and handbuilding instruments, that is. They're great tools, but at my build rate, right now, the only things I really consider CNCing are items like bridges, fret slots, and inlay (and even then, handcutting teaches you quite a bit about the materials).

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+2 on the templates. The first thing I would do is to take advantage of the CNC machine and make as many plywood templates as you can for everything you can think of. That way, once the class is over, you can use those as master templates to make working templates from cheap MDF that you don't mind if it get chewed up. Make body shapes, necks, neck pockets, pickup cavities, control cavities, head stocks, everything you can think of. Then take advantage of the CNC to make an actual body if you have time left in the class. But with the templates you have something you can take away that you can use for decades and hundreds of projects. If you use the CNC for just making a guitar, you'll get one or two out of it, and then be hooked like everyone else gets and have to make the templates anyway. But this time by hand.

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I work in a shop that has a few cnc and I can tell you that you will have a lot time in getting the program correct. they do a awesome job if you know what program they use and under stand how to use it set it up not to mention the pods that will hold the wood to the cnc.you can mill right through a pod and there goes your project.

by some chance you do get running and the cnc has a crash and even the best oporator have crashed at one time or another it could cost a ton of money to fix.

I would go with making the templates and you could use them on other projects.

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I spend 3-4 or days of my work week programming my CNC router at work so its quick for me. There are 2 advantages for me to using the CNC: accuracy and the ability to program / design my CAD files at home. Its a bit limited as its more a "point to point" router (ie 3 axis router w/ 5 tools in the changer + 2 rows of gang drilling) compared to some of the 5 axis stuff but its neat.

It does take ALOT of time to program. Lots of time to learn tips and tricks and if your not proficient in cad type programming forget about it. For a one off fairly flat solid body electric Im at the point now where I have the CNC do the truss rod, bridge, pickup and another other "precision" work for me. Then I just trace out the shape I want and cut it with the band saw.

You have to be REALLY good in 3 dimensional modeling / programming to do fretboard radius work, neck contouring or arch top carving. Our software just wont do it :D Honestly, its fine, I like doing alot of that stuff the old fashioned way still.

But if you have access to one go for it. Learn as much as you can, if you want to get into the trade there are lots of old timer cabinet guys who are looking at CNC's but are afraid of the learning curve. Its not a bad market to be if your good at it.

Edited by DougK
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First what kind of CNC machine is it. If its a metal CNC mill than I would forget that machine. Again a newbie using CNC recalls the many hours I spent getting a small mill to cut two holes and one slot. That was only a two dimensional project. Programming and using the many software packages involved is almost an art. Not every system is compatible with the code generated or is every software package worthy. Learning to use tools is much easier and this come from a person with 6 years of IT (Information Technologies) under his belt supporting artists in a publishing company and dozens of servers. Hopefully you will have lots of support for your projects.

I would use the tools to cut patterns as many as you can make +3 or +4 Mattia. Also DXF pattern files are available on some sites for your free use and makes it easy to get started. The issue is these are standard repro patterns not unique designs. A pattern will last you a lifetime the tools you have access to will be limited to whatever time you are allowed to use them.

Hey I need about 1000 Strat pickup flatwork pieces cut; call me LOL.

My perfect CNC mill; Place picture in slot and code generated into file. Load file run code. Lets not forget feed wood into mill slot and a guitar comes out on other end. I will call it the iCNC mill.

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