That First Project and More Thoughts

I’ve been a little busy in the shop, so I’m afraid this post is a bit belated. But linked below is the ShopBot Part File for the screw/misc holder promised in my first web column. As you may be able to see in the first photograph, I simply used screws to hold down the 40 wide (x) by 14 high (y) piece of ½ inch Baltic Birch while it was being cut. Since I was going to sand the final product I used an old piece of wood. I glued and screwed the ends and bottom together. You can see from the pictures that the new holder is much nicer than the old one … alas I made a gift of it to a close friend of mine. But it will be easy to cut another using the same Part File.

forney_02_01a  forney_02_02a

The end pieces in the file are smaller than the two that I took the picture of. After it was cut and assembled I thought them too high and redesigned the part file. Also I cut the bottom on my table saw and omitted it from the file. Seemed quicker than routing it. The measurements are guide lines for under cutting the bottom so you can get it and glue to fit in the dadoes. The dowel is easier to buy and install than cutting and mortising a square handle. I made the hole 1 1/4″ and a little touch up with sand paper might be required to get it to fit.

Click here to download ready-to-cut Part File for John’s Screw Holder (and PartWizard File).

During April I spent three days at the sign show in Orlando. Sign people are sure different from woodworkers. The color is intense at a sign show. John’s Rule Number One is “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should”. Some of the large format printers were printing out what can best be described as a “riot of color”. While I was wandering the hall and bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t brought sunglasses with me, I started to consider the elements of good taste in design. Now while it may be true that many of the exhibitors needed to show us how much their machines can do, I was struck by the fact that the few signs that seemed to be well designed attracted me, while the garish got a quick head shake. It is also true that as a woodworker color is secondary to most of my designs. But on a deeper level I started wondering what really constitutes good design.

All of following reflects my opinions and yours may differ. For me it seems to be the best forms are those that simply and adequately address function. A chair with 12 legs isn’t as elegant as a four legged chair or 3 legged stool. A simple well constructed joint is much more pleasant and satisfying than a complicated one that over engineers the application. A simple tapered leg pleases me more than a carved ball and claw. I use a lot of inset doors and drawers built in simple shaker style so it is easy to see my tastes. And while I have done jobs requiring many steps of built-up molding, some over 18 inches high, a simple flat ¼ inch thick by 1¼ high molding on my own Hickory, tung-oiled, kitchen cabinet uppers, is the right finish for me. I am not trying to say that dropping all foo-foos (my terminology for garish and overly complicated trim) is always the correct approach. However, if the basic piece isn’t pleasing and elegant on its own, hanging a lot of foo-foos isn’t going to help. Of course, I don’t particularly like arched, cathedral or bat wing doors. I have gone back to old clients houses where I have built and installed kitchens over a quarter century ago and I am still pleased with how they look: Timeless and understated, where the form was dictated by the function. As Judge Mathis would say, “That’s what I’m about”. I’m not interested in changing your products but perhaps a close look at what you are doing that could be simplified would be in order.

Now to a whole new tack: Most of you readers have or will be getting a CNC machine. I strongly recommend a ShopBot (not a major surprise to be sure). It isn’t because my machine doesn’t dream of waking up as a $200,000 Komo or Thermwood, but it’s that a ShopBot can be paid for quickly, is well tested, sturdy and can be used as a UPS and FedEx package holder when not in use and not worry me that it isn’t always running. That brings me to how I feel about software for the ShopBots. I have a few recommendations and thoughts that may be of some help to you. The following is a list of the software that I use and some pros and cons of each.

PartWizard 2

ArtCAM Insignia

ArtCAM Pro

Vector Cad Cam

VCarve Pro


The ArtCAM products all have a similar interface. They vary only by the number of icons and functions. The left side menu and right side drawing area took a little getting used to but is a great help for design. I particularly like the wizard approach to the software. Why should I have to do two separate functions to accomplish what is in my mind a single procedure? Since I do a lot of inlay work, I really like the inlay wizard, though I think it should go further and give me both tool paths with only one input. Now the “Inlay Wizard” is only available in the Insignia and Pro programs but the ability to do inlays is also in present in PartWizard, just a little less automatically. ShopBot has a white paper that gives you the info necessary (Doing Inlays with PartWizard). For 3D work Pro is outstanding and contains all the functions in Insignia and PartWizard. Great programs and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Now the cons: They are a little weak on some of the CAD functions that are available in other straight CAD programs. Take arcs for an example. We frequently may want to draw an arc where we know the cord or distance from beginning to end and the height in the center. In most CAD programs, creating an entity with this information is easy, but is difficult for me in ArtCAM. There is also no snapping function in ArtCAM.

Vector CadCam is the program that everyone loves to hate.

Vector is a great machining package. I own and use version 9.4. It does a great job for drawing and manipulating drawings. Snapping is a snap, as well as changing order and moving the axis to another part of the drawing. By being able to move the coordinate axis to a new part of the drawing I am able to move items and put in new items relative to the new axis. More often than not, I know where I want something only in relation to something else. It is very easy to move or copy to a new point instead of having to figure the math from a static axis or only 5 points. Trimming and combining items is very easy as well as copying around a point.

The Cons for Vector are terrible documentation and a non-standard way of doing everything.

My recommendation is to find some early ShopBotter that hates the program and buy it cheap from them. Plan a long learning curve but if you put in the work you’ll be glad you did.

VCarve Pro is an excellent all-round product for general day-to-day 2D routing with excellent 3D VCarving and engraving tools that transform designs into beautiful carvings and signs. This software has an easy to learn interface and the high quality 3D model simulation which shows exactly what the router will cut. You can estimate how long it will take with a built in function. It’s requires a little fiddling with to get it to match your machine but worth the effort..

Recent projects with VCarve Pro and Vector Clip Art

P8170079 P8170075

Also a small add on product, PhotoVCarve which works in conjunction with VCarve Pro or as a stand alone program, adds another dimension to what I can do with the router. This little package routes amazing 3D lithophanes, engraves photographs with a V bit and carves 3D designs from grayscale images. The results can be combined with VCarve Pro designs. This allows you to take a jpeg or bmp photograph and combine it with all the options in VCarve Pro. Vectric products offer excellent value for your money and output in ShopBot Part File format. Money well spent in my opinion

Looking at the negatives for VCarve Pro, the CAD design tools are weak and component design really needs to be done in another program.

If you have questions and would like me to try to answer them, please send them to me at my ShopBot email. I’ll try and answer questions in future web columns.

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