And so it begins…

My CNC journey is a great example of how small projects avalanche into larger ones.  There I was, at a well known hobby store with my wife on the day before Christmas Eve, looking at the clearance items.  I happened across a piece of artwork that was unique in that it was a cutout piece that stood off of the wall for depth.  There was no question what I’d do with it: backlight it with LEDs!  The day after Christmas, I decided to use some of my gift money to buy it, heck, it was 50% off so why not?


It only took until April to actually wire up the LEDs.   I had some WS2801 LEDs on the polyimide tape strip that I bought to light up another project as well as some code to drive them.  I cut ten LEDs off of the strip and wired them up behind the openings on the tree.

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When I was done, it looked awesome.  I decided to hang it in my dining room, and we turn it on whenever I have guests.  But the response I got from family and friends was very positive, enough so to get me thinking… maybe I could do these as art, and possibly have a sideline business that would put money BACK into my lab rather than it being a black hole…

Here’s a youtube video showing it in action:

I started looking into what it would take to cut such pieces. I had assumed it was laser cut, but after talking to a lady that owns a laser cutter business in this area, she mentioned that MDF would be horrible to attempt, as it’s full of glue and doesn’t burn well.  That’s when one of my good friends mentioned that if I looked closely, it looked more CNC routed than laser cut.  And he was right, you could see that it didn’t have sharp edges, only rounded ones where they used a 1/8″ cutter.  This was within reach!  This was do-able.  A laser cutter that could cut a 20″x30″ area would be way too expensive, and wouldn’t be right for cutting MDF.  However, a CNC machine to do so would be affordable, and could do it without the burning problems that the laser has.

I decided that I needed to test out cutting by hand, just to see if I could do it without spending the money on a CNC machine.  While the rotozip worked, it didn’t really want to be precise.  Nor did it forgive me for any wavering, as it would catch and drag the zip bit through the MDF and ruin a track.  You can see it has rough edges everywhere.


There was one other catch to doing this by hand:  as I was sketching out the shuttle, I realized that I had already drawn it too big for the board I was using, which could easily be handled if it was digital and I was scaling it.  Chalk up another reason to go with a CNC.

With that last question answered, a whole new series opened up.  How do I get a CNC machine big enough to carve 20″x30″ pieces?