Wee CNC

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CNC machines – from the huge to the small – are available for just about any shop. Now, they’ve escaped the shop.

CNC technology is amazing. It was amazing back in the “old days” a couple decades ago when cottage-sized machines costing six figures began appearing at the big shows. They were amazing when smaller machines accessible to one-man shops were introduced. And they’re still amazing in the last couple of years as benchtop versions came out.

Now, the technology is available to anyone. In fact – and I hope you’re not tired of hearing about my kid – but I bought my daughter a CNC machine for Christmas. To be honest, though, you can’t put big sheets of wood or MDF into this machine. No, this one is designed to work with paper, cardstock, cloth, vinyl and other crafty materials. (Actually, it can cut wood, but it’s limited to thin balsa.)

The machine is called a “Cricut,” costs a bit more than $200, and its target audience is scrapbookers and crafters, not woodworkers. But make no mistake: This is a true CNC machine. It connects to a computer, just like a shop CNC, and anything you put into it can be digitized and cut out on the machine. There are some obvious differences, such as this being a two-axis device, not three. It handles soft material. It achieves the two axes with a cutterhead that moves one direction and a platen that moves in the other.

But the results are exactly the same. Your computer tells it what to cut, and it cuts it out perfectly. This is a prime example of a technology developed for one industry trickling down into another, with the cost point reduced so that it’s reasonably affordable to just about anyone.

That pleases me greatly.

A.J.

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