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Pro Quality Small CNC Machines?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Jeff Bonny, Dec 11, 2018.

  1. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    Looking for opinions from small opperations who've been doing CNC production runs on machines they own. I'm a bass player and draftsman/designer with a lot of 3D drawing experience in the film biz. Working with a talented luthier on some ideas we're at the point we need to start building. We've both been around a while and feel like we have something that will fill a niche that's been vacant several years. Not only do our instruments lend themselves very well to CNC production between us we could keep a machine working full time on outside jobs. So it's not a matter of whether or not we should buy a machine but rather what machine.

    Our budget is $10Kish US including cam ware. Looking for opinions on specific machines and software. We don't really want to go into debt but would definitely like to hear if this budget isn't realistic for something that can do say 150 instruments a year without regrets.

    tbrannon and Will_White like this.
  2. I joined a Makerspace with a CNC. It's an old custom built but it uses Mach 4 running on an old Windows PC and we all tend to use Fusion360 for CAD/CAM as it handles everything from the original sketching to the gcode for the CNC and it's free if your biz makes under $100,000 a year.

    It seems a lot of people make a machine to meet their specs for size, power, and hold down methods.

    150 instruments a years doesn't sound too hard. I can cut a body or neck in an hour or less of cutting time on our machine that uses a Porter Cable router for the spindle. It can rough out quickly with a 5/8 mill or do fret slots and inlays with a .024".
  3. Christopher DBG

    Christopher DBG Commercial User

    May 18, 2015
    Westerly, RI
    Luthier/Owner, Christopher Bass Guitar
    I wish I could help you out more but I bought my machine and software back around 2004 and have not thought about it much since. So, all I can do is put in a recommendation for the machine that I use which is a Techno-Isel LC4848. Techno-Isel is out of business, but if you run across a used one it's worth looking at. The LC series is "light industrial". Far more heavy duty than something like a Shopbot and very reliable. I bought mine around 2004 and not a single problem.

    I still use Visual Mill, the CAM software that came as a package deal with the machine since it does everything I need. I'm sure things have changed a lot with all the imported machines and new software options. The CAD/CAM software prices used to be insane. Not sure if that's still the case.
  4. 5tring


    Sep 16, 2018
    I know you said you definitely want to buy a machine, but $10k will get you a decent amount of work done on someone else’s full-size CNC machine.

    Then you can sell your first production run of 150 basses and reevaluate your options.

    Admittedly I deal entirely in metal rather than wood, and I realise there is a growing budget/hobbyist market for CNC, but in my experience unless you are turning out thousands of products the investment is not worth it. Unless the world has moved on a huge amount in the last few years, 10k won’t get you much of a machine.

    No shame in subcontracting!
    Dadagoboi likes this.
  5. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    NW Mass/SW VT
    Depending on your needs (scale-wise) A shopbot desktop or desktop max might or might not suit.

    I do know folks doing serious production on 5-axis shopbots.

    Myself, I have a very early 3-axis ShopBot (4x8 foot) and I found the price of keeping up prohibitive, so I'm off in "build my own" both for replacing the controller/drives on my 21 year old machine and for a potential new machine. But of course that takes time and research and effort and does not come with the same sort of support. But I like where Arduino - based CNC stuff has gotten to, and the price is right.

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