Brave new world

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Any woodworker today with a bit of gray in his beard remembers the late 1970s when C.S. Onsrud Inc. came out with its magical “inverted router.” It was a small, very affordable machine that let even a one-man shop safely use templates to turn out identical parts all day long.

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Today, the great-great-grandson of that machine, the inverted router model 750 SS, is still making life easier for woodworkers all over the world. But it has a few relatives that have grown up a bit, like Onsrud’s massive 720G20 CNC router that can travel up to 720” x 180”. From 3-axis fixed bridge and moving gantry models to 4- and 5-axis machines, this North Carolina manufacturer (www.cronsrud.com) has evolved with the industry.

Since the 1970s, many of America’s woodshops have changed from labor-intensive, small outfits building one box at a time to very efficient business models using large outsourced vendors that can mill dozens of kitchens a day. And Charles Onsrud’s company has kept pace: it now offers almost 50 standard versions of CNC machines.

It is not alone. For woodshops thinking of upgrading their CNC capabilities or perhaps just beginning to enter the field of automation, these are exciting times. Manufacturers around the world, but particularly in the U.S., are releasing new machines and software at a rate not seen since before the Great Recession. And they’re bringing impressive upgrades to customer service, too.

The lathe attachment for Freeman Machine Tool's Patriot router.

For example, Biesse America’s distributor in Northern California, a company called Vision Machinery (http://visionmachineryinc.com), held a grand opening last November for its new 5,100-sq.-ft. showroom and training facility in Sacramento. This presents another opportunity for shop owners and managers who want to see machines up close and witness demonstrations before they buy. Biesse’s lineup includes the Klever, a compact, affordable router designed for small- to mid-sized shops. It comes with a monolithic steel bridge frame and helical rack-and-pinion technology.

What’s new?

Innovation is everywhere right now. CAMaster (www.camaster.com) has recently introduced the Stinger IV CNC router, featuring 4.2-hp high-frequency automatic tool-change spindle, a four-tool gantry-mounted rotary carousel designed for quick changes and a digital closed-loop stepper system.

According to CAMaster, the stepper system “provides accurate/correct positioning using feedback from encoders integrated into the motors to the controller and runs much more smoothly and with less resistance than a standard stepper motor setup.”

AXYZ, a Canadian-based CNC manufacturer (www.axyz.com), has recently developed a braille insertion tool that completely automates the process of creating braille signs. People who are blind or visually impaired can read the raised dots that the tool produces and signage made with the tool meets most local regulations. It can easily be attached to any AXYZ spindle and then, using provided software, the operator can not only engrave regular letters, but also program the machine to pre-drill precise location holes. Then the program will repeat its travels while inserting braille beads into the holes using a special applicator. This whole operation can be completed in minutes with no manual intervention, according to the company.

Laguna Tools presents a new leasing option with an online calculator at www.lagunatools.com. The California company also offers a wide range of machines that includes its new IQ model with a 24” x 36” capacity and handheld controls. The IQ is a smaller version of the popular Laguna SmartShop machines.

The Evolution vertical maching center, available from Holz-Her.

Thermwood Corp. offers an in-house machine training lab, where woodworkers can go and learn everything they need to know about operating the Indiana company’s CNC machines. Training usually takes the form of hands-on completion of prescribed projects from concept to reality, a process that tends to inspire confidence in their students in a way that theoretical training just can’t replicate.

Thermwood introduced the first-of-its-kind Cut Ready at IWF 2014, a cut center capable of producing cabinets and closets, for example, without the need of design software or CNC programming. New programming features were added in January, presented in a video demonstration at www.cutready.com.

Freedom Machine Tool (www.freedomcnc.com), a division of Diversified Machine Systems, builds a complete line of 3- and 5-axis machines. Its Patriot line includes units with 4x4, 4x8 and 5x10 beds. These tables come in a number of available vacuum options in either phenolic or aluminum and the spindle range includes 5-, 9- and 11-hp options. Some of the newest available features include oscillating tangential knives, dovetail fixtures, optional absolute feedback, multiple table configurations, as well as additional options on the Patriot 4x8 CNC router with lathe.

Casadei-Busellato (www.casadei-busellato.com) offers the Busellato Easy Jet CNC router available in 4x8 and 5x12 table sizes with optional panel unloading device and integrated dust extraction, which means no more blowing dust off the table. The machine has a compact footprint, a bunch of easy-to-use and safety features and comes with Alphacam CAD/CAM software.

Freedom Machine Tool's Patriot CNC router, shown with a 5x10

Entry level and beyond

With the turnaround in the economy and an optimistic view of the industry’s future, educating existing woodshop employees and potential future CNC operators is very much on the minds of many CNC machine manufacturers these days.

Last spring, Techno CNC Systems (www.technocnc.com) in New Hyde Park, N.Y., introduced the BT1212, which the company describes as “an affordable precision CNC router and educational tool.” With an easy-to-use hand-held controller, the model features heavy-duty construction, a 1-hp Kress variable-speed spindle and a brushless micro stepper motor control system. Techno also supplies a comprehensive curriculum for students, so the unit is definitely an option for schools, art colleges, technical institutes and other facilities that introduce people to CNC technology.

Another great option for schools is the iCarver model 40-913 from General International (www.general.ca). This small CNC machine (13” x 18” x 3”) comes on its own stand and the working parts are enclosed in a clear Lexan safety enclosure, so it’s extremely safe to use. It would be an ideal option for a woodshop training new employees, too. A school or shop can purchase the machine alone for about $3,700 or with on-site training by a General-certified trainer for $5,200. A slightly

Stiles' extensive offerings include the PowerTouch controller by the Homag Group.

larger model, the 40-915 (15” x 20” x 4”) comes with an eight-piece tooling kit and a larger model yet, the 40-946, has a full 24” x 36” bed. All three options come with unlimited technical support for both the machine and the software.

The new entry-level model from Felder Group USA (www.felderusa.com) is the C-Express 920 from Format 4. It looks like a wide drum sander at first glance. Workpieces weighing up to 66 lbs. can be fed in from either side and the boring head can be set up with as many as 14 drilling spindles. For larger shops, Felder has introduced a new Profit HO8 machining center, available in two size configurations.

Hendrick Mfg. (www.hendrickmfg.com) offers a broad range of CNC routers that include 3- and 5-axis machines, plus software and tooling. Its NXT series CNCs come with either a 4’ x 8’ or a 5’ x 10’ bed and a standard 16-hp spindle (there’s also a 12-hp option).

MultiCam (www.multicam.com) has introduced some industry-standard-setting safety innovations, including a light curtain, safety mats and new laser safety eyewear. The company’s light curtains are photoelectric transmitters that cast infrared light beams to a receiver unit around the MultiCam machine. They stop the cutting sequence once an object or person crosses the beams, making them ideal for both production environments and training facilities.

Portability

Thermwood's Cut Ready.

For woodshops that need to bring CNC technology to the job site, the Shark from Next Wave Automation (www.nextwaveautomation.com) is extremely portable (capacity is 13” x 24” x 4.25”) and it was designed for routing all types of wood, routing or engraving plastics and even etching or cutting tile. It comes with VCarve Pro software.

ShopBot Tools has the Handibot (https://handibot.com) a hand-held robotic power tool with 6-axis control. It ships with easy-to-use CAD/CAM software and can be used on a bench, the floor, even the ceiling or a wall — anywhere a woodworker needs to precisely cut, drill, or carve.

Full line suppliers

At the other end of the scale, SCM Group North America (www.scmgroupna.com) offers one of the largest ranges of industrial woodworking machinery in the industry. The company provides task-specific CNC work centers for industry segments such as furniture, construction, doors and windows.

Based in Grand Rapids, Mich., Stiles Machinery (www.stilesmachinery.com) is one of the cornerstones of the industry, serving everyone from small shops to the largest production facilities. Its website lists 11 series of CNC routers, 10 different groups of CNC machining centers and a large variety of milling centers. Stiles has grown from the back of a station wagon in 1965 to becoming part of the Homag Group AG in 2014. Located in southern Germany, the Homag Group is the world’s largest maker of manufacturing machinery.

Omnitech Systems (www.omnitech-systems.com) in Charlotte, N.C., offers the Selexx series of CNC routers, which are built by Anderson Industrial. As do several other companies mentioned here, Omnitech offers both new and, occasionally, used machines for sale. These are usually machines that a woodshop has outgrown as its CNC-based business expands. A woodshop owner or manager looking into CNC machinery should definitely ask suppliers about the used option. There aren’t a whole lot of wear parts in these machines and if the heavy-duty bed and gantry are in good shape, almost anything else can be updated, including software and computers.

New and used

Busellato's Easy Jet CNC router with optional panel-unloading device.

However, new toys are more fun and one of the coolest CNC machining centers on the market is the Holz-Her Evolution. Its 7403 and 7405 models are vertical work centers that only occupy about five square yards of floor space. Despite their size, these are fast machines with an innovative suction clamping system and up to six tool changes. If your shop needs to do a lot of work in a little space, you might want to check out a couple of videos at www.holzher-evolution.com.

For woodshops with carving needs, Oliver Machinery Co. (www.olivermachinery.net) offers the 13” and 15” IntelliCarve models. These benchtop tools are popular with woodworkers who need to do decorative carving and sign making. They’re ideal for milling logos or even family photos in wood panels and because they don’t require a complicated router tool path, both models are very simple to use.

Sauk Rapids is a suburb of St Cloud, Minn., which was made famous through the years by Garrison Keillor on his radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.” Keillor’s fictional universe centers on the town of Lake Wobegon, whose residents travel to the vast metropolis of St. Cloud to work, shop and play. Craig Sexton and Mike Noelting are the co-owners of SNX Technologies (http://snxtechnologies.com) and there’s nothing rube-like whatsoever about these machinery builders. They recondition machinery and resell it. On a recent visit to their used equipment page they had a 2001 Komo VR 508 Mach I CNC router, a 2002 SCMi Record 130 CNC router and a 2000 Anderson Stratos WFD CNC router.

There are so many options today that searching for the right one might seem a little daunting — if it wasn’t for one more great development that has happened since Charles Onsrud introduced his inverted router: Search engines.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue.

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