A Brief Timeline of Mobile Digital Fabrication Equipment

mobile fab lab at maker faire

UI1 Mobile FabLab at a Maker Faire. An awning provides extra shelter when projects are set up outside the MFL.


It’s a great idea to take the digital fabrication equipment to the people, rather than the people having to travel to the equipment. As experience and the type of equipment available have changed, the Mobile Fab Labs themselves have gone through a number of iterations. The following is a brief timeline of a few of the mobile units in which ShopBot has been a part.


MIT Mobile Fab Lab: “The Matriarch”

The original Mobile Fab Lab (2007) was designed so that the visitors would come inside to use the smaller digital fabrication equipment. A laser cutter, vinyl cutter, and minimill–as well as an electronics lab–are all accessed through the single side door.

There is a 4′ x 8′ ShopBot with a 4HP spindle fitted in the back of the trailer, with access when the tailgate is open. Nadia Peake’s video of the equipment in the original MIT Fab Lab (MFL) can be found here.shopbot prs alpha



MIT fab lab trailer

truck on MIT campus fab 2011

MIT campus, Fab ’11











The Fab Lab trailer is a 2007 Pace American Shadow GT Daytona dual axle (model SCX8528TA3). It is 32′ long, 8′ wide, and 7′ high. The tailgate opens to add a 6′ deck at the back of the trailer. The main entrance is a door on the passenger side towards the front. A 6.5′ tall custom steel box covers most of the tongue. The lab requires a space approximately 60′ long by 16′ wide for operation as a lab. The power requirements are 240V single phase with minimum 40A service. To run all the equipment in the lab at once (including AC and overhead lights) is about 20kW; to run only the 120V equipment is about 8kW.

The MIT MFL has made the 3,000 mile trip across the U.S. several times, and is often stationed at a location for months at a time. The trailer is pulled by a Ford F350 with a professional driver who travels to the MFL.

Experience with the original MIT MFL revealed that there could be some improvements to the design. The space inside the lab is limited. If the weather is not good (rainy, cold, too hot), then it can be difficult to use the ShopBot. The full-sized gantry ShopBot was not designed to travel long distances over bumpy roads. The power supply to the trailer can be problematic when all the equipment is running.


MC2 STEM High School Mobile Lab: 2nd Iteration

The MC2STEM Mobile FabLab (2011) was designed so that the equipment could be used in place, or rolled out of the trailer to be used in schools or for shows. All equipment is on carts, or chosen for its ability to roll and be plugged into existing outlets without requiring the services of an electrician.

The ShopBot is a 48″ wide Buddy with a Porter Cable router. At the time, the Porter Cable router was the only option to allow the ShopBot to be plugged into a standard 15A 110 outlet in the U.S. An optional 4″ power stick means that a 4′ x 4′ sheet of plywood can be machined on the Buddy.

The Buddy travels well when locked into place, can be used inside the trailer, and rolls out when necessary. The Porter Cable router (not available for international sales) is loud when used for cutting through material rather than V Carving for demonstrations.

shopbot buddy in mobile fab lab

Buddy from MC2STEM MFL rolled into position two floors up from the MFL. Shown is the standard setup, with 2′ of travel in the X (along the rails) and 4′ of travel in the Y (across the gantry). The 4′ power stick (plus out feed rollers) allows for a 4′ x 4′ sheet of material to be machined when desired.

MC2STEM High School Mobile FabLab parked next to van pulling ShopBot Cricket mobile (MIT campus, Feb. '11). A large pickup truck is required to pull the MFL.

MC2STEM High School Mobile FabLab parked next to van pulling ShopBot Cricket mobile (MIT campus, Feb. ’11). A large pickup truck is required to pull the MFL.

mc2stem mobile fablab us science engineering festival

Inside the MC2STEM FabLab when the equipment has been rolled out for the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival

handibot and laser cutter at mobile fab lab

Laser cutter and other equipment outside the MC2STEM MFL. ShopBot Buddy was used in another display, so the Handibot stood in as the CNC router.

shopbot buddy cutting wood

ShopBot Buddy in action, with Thinker Linker sets cut with the Buddy in the background.




















  • ShopBot Buddy with Porter Cable router
    • 48″ wide Buddy
    • 48″ power stick so can machine 4′ x 4′ material when desired
  • Laser cutter (by Epilog)
  • Roland vinyl cutter
  • 3D printer
  • Electronics lab

Chevron Mobile FabLabs: 3rd Iteration

Like the MC2STEM MFL, the Chevron Mobile FabLabs (2015) are intended to be used with the equipment inside the trailer, or rolled out when needed for a school or display. All the smaller equipment is on carts that were machined on a ShopBot (as is the cabinetry in all of the MFLs).

carnegie mobile fab lab

Carnegie Science Center Mobile FabLab onsite. Notice two doors to facilitate traffic flow through the MFL.

A generator can power the MFLs, including the ShopBot, when they are on location. The ShopBot Buddy is set up with a 1HP spindle that can be plugged into a standard 110 outlet (the same spindle is available for 220V international power).

shopbot cnc cart prototype

A prototype of the carts in the Chevron MFL (designed by Nick DiGiorgio, fabricated at Lorain County Community College, Ohio).

  • ShopBot Buddy with 1HP spindle
    • 48″ wide
    • 48″ power stick
  • Laser cutter (from Epilog)
  • Vinyl cutter
  • 3D printers
  • Electronics lab
chevron mobile fablab

Looking towards the front of the lab.

chevron mobile fab lab rear view

Looking towards the rear of the lab. The ShopBot Buddy is locked into traveling mode.


  • Each of these MFLs has a dedicated large pickup for towing.
  • A note about power: it is best to avoid plugging the ShopBot with 1HP spindle into an outlet that has a GFI (Ground Fault Interrupt).

Tulsa Mobile FabLab

The Tulsa FabLab (2015) sets all of their equipment on sturdily built metal carts that also include storage for the materials used by the machine. The carts can be rolled into a school or demo site.

tulsa mobile fab lab

Tulsa Mobile FabLab at MIT Fab11

tulsa mobile fab lab being wrapped

Tulsa Mobile FabLab getting its “skin”.











cnc classroom chairs

Classroom chairs machined on a Desktop


It is important to consider the width of the doorways when building a cart or ordering a machine. While the Desktop has two options of enclosures, they can be wider than the standard U.S. doorway.

shopbot desktop

ShopBot Desktop on a cart


ShopBot Desktop with 1HP Spindle (2011)

The ShopBot Desktop with 1HP spindle weighs about 115 lbs. It is an excellent solution for many applications because its 24″ x 18″ cutting area allows one to machine projects in wood, aluminum and plastics. It also has the specs to machine circuit boards. The 1HP spindle is quiet,  and can be plugged into a standard 110 outlet (220 version of spindle available).

ShopBot Desktop Max with 1HP Spindle (2015)

Another Desktop option is the Max, with a cutting area of 24″ x 36″ (approximately 610mm x 914mm).

shopbot desktop max


ShopBot Cricket
When Cricket Trailers purchased a ShopBot to fabricate their tag-along caping units, ShopBot decided it needed one to create a mobile display unit.

Originally (2012), the inside was modified from a cricket trailercamping unit to a two-layer bed that could hold two ShopBot Desktops. One Desktop faced inside so it could be accessed by people inside the Cricket when the roof was popped open. The second could be pulled out on to a rolling table set to the height of the back platform. A tent provides protection from the weather.

Experience showed that the inside was too small for more than one or two people. The platform was modified in 2015 to one layer, and a single Desktop rides just above the wheels for transit. The rolling table still works well. When more than one CNC machine is necessary a Handibot is added to the Cricket.

As mentioned above, it is best not to plug into a circuit with a GFI (ground fault interrupt) switch when using the Desktop with a spindle.

shopbot desktop double z

Desktop set up with double Z to mill and drill through circuit boards (Maker Faire New York, 2014).

shopbot cricket mobile fab lab

ShopBot Cricket with roof popped up at a street festival. The Desktop is pulled out of the back of the trailer on to a rolling table that is the height of the back platform.

shopbot desktop maker faire display

Desktop on rolling table set up under a tent.

shopbot mobile fab lab cricket

Side door for entry into Cricket

towing mobile fab lab

Cricket being pulled by a 2003 Chrysler van (MIT Fab11).


The Handibot

The Handibot is a job-site tool, and can be transported easily on a cart or in its travel box to a job or a classroom. When packed in its shipping box or in the right suitcase, it weighs in under 50 lbs., which means it can be flown as regular baggage on just about any airline.

While small in size, the Handibot is large in capabilities. Precise enough to mill circuit boards, it easily machines wood, non-ferrous metals (such as aluminum), plastics, and machinable wax. One can also index the Handibot to machine areas larger than its 6″ x 8″ (150mm x 200mm) work area.

Visionary Effects’ interdisciplinary portfolio the work of one person

Dan Thomson - portrait

“My goal has always been to grow the business slowly and naturally,” reflects Dan Thomson.

Visionary Effects’ portfolio looks like a design-build team of 4 or 5 people each possessing varying skills, similar to many interdisciplinary studios. But in actuality, it is only Dan Thomson: owner, designer, fabricator, problem solver and animatronics guru.

Dan grew up in Pittsburgh obsessed with Halloween and making things in his backyard. Studying special effects for the movie industry in school, such as moldmaking and animatronics, made sense. (The department he studied in was named after horror-film legend and Pittsburgh native Tom Savini.) Upon graduating, Dan worked for a special effects company in Nashville, TN. This is where he first learned about CNC machining. A challenge presented itself: He aimed to return to Pittsburgh but, “I realized it was hard to make monsters all day for a living. There would never be enough movie industry work in Pittsburgh to make a real living. How can I take the same skill set and use it for other things,” Dan reflects, “I had to figure out how to offer my services in other avenues.”

Dan Thomson

The HearMe Kiosk’s mold was carved out of MDF and then vacuum formed in plastic.

Dan Thomson - CMU Project 2

‘HearMe’ Interactive Kiosks created for Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab’s Hear Me initiative in collaboration with Laser Lab Studio, a company he often works with.



So Dan returned to Pittsburgh and increased his CNC skills. He freelanced on the side while working for a company that introduced him to 3D printing and laser cutting. A light bulb went off: He dove into learning all the software needed to run a laser cutter and other CNC machines. Dan picked up more freelance jobs, more tools, and finally felt comfortable leaving his 9-5pm job. Visionary Effects was born.

“My goal has always been to grow slowly and naturally,” Dan says. Moving out of his basement studio and into a shared studio space allowed him to take on larger jobs and to collect more tools. He needed a CNC machine to cut aluminum and other materials for animatronic pieces. “I needed something I could afford to get up and running quickly. I was looking for a used machine and got lucky that someone put up their PRS Standard 4×4 on Craigslist,” Dan says. While most begin with wood, he started cutting aluminum and other alternative materials right out of the gate. With a little trial and error mixed with a little research on the Talk ShopBot forum, he was off and running. “My industry is so variant that I don’t have the luxury of only cutting one material,” Dan explains. “One month is heavy steel fabrication with cutting and grinding and next month is doing a museum project.” He utilizes interchangeable custom dust feet with magnetic heads for cutting 1/8” aluminum versus 3” thick foam. Like most projects tackled, “I spent way too long customizing them,” Dan laughs.

Dan Thomson - Museum of Discovery 2

Dan recreated ‘How People Make Things‘ exhibit for the Museum of Discovery in Arkansas based off of decade-old AutoCAD files. With no details in the drawings, design and assembly decisions fell to him.

Dan Thomson - Museum of Discovery 3

“The company that originally created the traveling exhibit for the Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh went out of business. So there was no one to call to ask for help,” remarked Dan.
















Over the years, Dan’s PRS 4×4 aided him not only in his design/build business. “Animatronics is such a small industry that it is difficult to find others who are doing exactly what I’m doing,” he says. The first projects he freelanced on were animatronic eye mechanisms. Drawn to this type of work during school, CGI has overshadowed this industry. “With animatronics, there’s no how-to guide and there’s only a few people in Hollywood still making these. It started out as a personal project … how to create the smallest, most real-looking eye mechanism,” Dan explains. The limitation rests on fitting the number of servos needed into the smallest space. Posting YouTube videos of his eye mechanism tests showed that others were trying, too, but they didn’t have the resources. A new business arose: He began offering his hand-painted eyes as fully assembled kits, using his ShopBot to hone the aluminum plate design. Customers expanded to China, New Zealand, Netherlands and Spain just to name a few. The eye kits plugged into whatever control system the user needed whether it was a simple radio controller or a complex computer controlled playback for a robot.

Dan Thomson - painting eye balls

Dan hand paints all of the eyeballs used in his animatronic eye kits, which he sells to film and tv companies as well as hobbyists.

dan Thomson - Eye kits

One of many challenges lies in getting all parts needed to fit into a small space.











Dan Thomson - eye ball machining

Adjusting for limitations is part of Dan’s day-to-day work. A few years ago the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s marketing department contacted him about a new heart disease campaign. “The tag line was something about the chances of a piano falling on your head compared to the chances of having heart disease,” Dan remembers, “They literally wanted a piano to look as if it had fallen from the sky.” The installation needed to pack up into 2 crates, to be mobile and travel, to fit through a regular size door and to be light. All seams and hardware had to be hidden. Dan’s completed fallen piano traveled to Pittsburgh hotel lobbies, malls, and office buildings. “The clients were really pleased. And I learned a lot about pianos!” Dan laughed.

Dan Thomson - UPMC 2

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Marketing team hired Dan to create a piano that fell from the sky for a heart disease campaign.

Dan Thomson - UPMC 1

The installation had many design limitations: Mobility, weight, and assembly just to name a few. It traveled to various locations around Pittsburgh.



Dan utilizes 1 if not 3 different CNC machines along with traditional tools on all projects. He’s let the natural progression of Visionary Effects dictate his equipment purchases. Adding additional side rails transformed his ShopBot 4×4 into a 4×8 machine. Also in his shop is a Rabbit Laser USA, a Tormach mill and most recently an Ultimaker 2. “I don’t do production. Mine is usually at most 100 of something. So my machines let me do everything I need to do,” says Dan. Project after project shows Dan’s fearless attitude towards design and fabrication challenges and faith in his skills as a maker. No doubt we will continue seeing great things coming from his interdisciplinary studio.

Follow Dan’s work on Facebook page or Instagram or Twitter

Dan Thomson - H2O exhibit 4

Cutting the signage for the H2O exhibit displayed at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center

Assembled laser cut acrylic pieces for the H2O exhibit light table

Assembled laser cut acrylic pieces for the H2O exhibit light table

Completed sign for H2O exhibit

Completed sign for H2O exhibit

Completed H2O exhibit light table

Completed H2O exhibit light table

HDU cut on Dan's PRS ShopBot for H2O exhibit

HDU cut on Dan’s PRS ShopBot for H2O exhibit


Report on the Digital Fabrication in Education Training, July 14 – 16, 2016

In mid-July, 14 people with an interest in education came to ShopBot for 2 ½ days of training. Unlike most regular trainings offered at ShopBot, we also had two other types of digital fabrication tools that are commonly found in FabLabs and MakerSpaces: an Epilog 60W minihelix laser and a Dremel 3D printer (a HUGE THANKS to both companies for lending their machines!). The overall purpose of the event was for people to experience how to use digital fabrication tools in education and cross-platform training, and allowed ShopBot to get valuable feedback from educators who are already using digital fabrication in their schools and after-school programs.

shopbot epilog laser demo

ShopBot employees entranced by the Epilog laser


green pig on top of 3d printer

Dremel 3D Printer

While everyone attending had a focus on education, the range of experience was vast: there were “newbies” who had little or no experience with digital fabrication tools, to those who had extensive experience on laser cutters or 3D printers only, to experienced ShopBot users who worked primarily in 2D machining of signs or simple projects. Two attendees were experienced FabLab “gurus”, and were able to share their expertise as well as work on projects that they never have time to do during their day to day lives. The schedule included lectures and demonstrations on a number of topics, as well as open time built in so that the attendees could work on a project of their interest with support from the extended ShopBot family.

Despite these difference, all the telltale signs of a ShopBot workshop were there: everyone introduced themselves and joined the ShopBot employees for lunch, after which founder & CEO Ted Hall told of the history and philosophy of ShopBot. Those who had limited experience with actually running a ShopBot were stepped through changing a bit and running a file before they began their own project. Sallye made a few mistakes in running a file in order to create some teaching moments.




group going through introductions

Introductions Thursday morning

a whiteboard







lunch with the ShopBot employees

Lunch with the ShopBot employees

Ted Hall speaking during shopbot training

Ted Talks









ShopBot training open design time

Open Design Time


The open time for attendees to work on their own projects extended from Thursday evening, throughout Friday, and even continued for several hours after the official end time of the class on Saturday afternoon. The one-on-one format was people-intensive, with Sallye Coyle, Chris Burns, Randy Johnson, Brian Owen and Al Nyonteh all staying late to work with individuals on their own projects.  Chris Carter and Maria Melo Bento, experienced FabLab gurus, helped supervise the laser for both attendees and ShopBot employees.  Jimmy Luciderme, ShopBot’s intern from France, and ShopBot’s Marketing Team adopted the 3D printer. It was chaotic but really fun.The topics for lectures included an introduction to VCarve Pro and running a ShopBot file, an explanation of design file types (2D, 3D); and how to prepare files originally intended for one machine (i.e., ShopBot) and send them to another machine (the laser). Brian Owen presented a lesson in how to download a topographic map from the Internet and create a 3D file for machining in Aspire, and David Preiss gave a presentation on Fusion 360, a parametric program offered by AutoDesk. Chris Burns gave examples of projects he uses when doing trainings in schools. Sallye included handouts in ShopBot-specific tutorials that addressed topics in Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, as well as integrating digital fabrication projects into life skills that go beyond the actual project itself.

Newbies working together:

Bryan from a high school in Hawaii is awaiting his ShopBot, and was attending the class in order to get a jumpstart in advance of the school year. Barb is based in Baltimore, and is a member of a TIES (www.TIESTEACH.org) team that travels around the country to install full digital fabrication labs in schools (see ShopBot blog for some stories of the installs). She is very good at the administrative and organizational levels, but wanted to know more about actually using the machines that are being installed.  Since both were very new to the CAD/CAM/ShopBot experience, they worked together to understand the entire process.  They found the TicTacToe game created by TJ Christiansen, and downloaded the design files from the ShopBot website. To personalize the project, they scaled down the original design to fit the material available, and learned that it is really important to test the design files on screen before cutting them out on the ShopBot.  Fortunately, it was relatively easy to cut another set of Xs and Os.



Maya changes a bit on the tool

Maya changes a bit on the tool

Bryan following the step by step

Bryan following the step-by-step instructions














cnc carved wood tic tac toe board and pieces

Tic Tac Toe created by TJ Christiansen



Bryan and Barb working together to customize the design files

Bryan and Barb working together to customize the design files

Shopbot CNC router pocketing a wooden board

Pocketing the board


woman sanding

Sanding, version 1: too big for board


xs and os cut out of a red board

Smaller Xs and Os, recut to fit board



















Emphasis: Prototyping

Peter and Michael G came from SOCOM (Special Operations Command) in Tampa, where there is a full FabLab. As civilian contractors, they are tasked with prototyping equipment for use with the military, and with training military personnel to use the digital fabrication equipment and electronics available in the Lab. Peter has a background in 3D printing, and Michael is comfortable with a laser, but neither have logged many hours on the lab’s 4’ x 8’ ShopBot PRSalpha.  

Peter decided on a rocking chair for his young daughter. While he didn’t find CAD plans online, he found pictures of one he liked, and used VCarve to trace the photographs and lay out the parts on the screen. Having decided on plywood with a nominal thickness of .5”, he used a sample board machined on the ShopBot to determine the actual size that the slots should be. Then, he copied the layout to another layer in VCarve, scaled it down so the slots were the same as the available cardboard, and cut them out on the laser cutter. The laser model showed that some of the slots were in the wrong place, so he was able to fix the design before he cut it on the Production ShopBot with Automatic Tool Changer and a vacuum holding down the table.

Sample CNC router cutting board

Sample board cut with the same bit (.25″ down spiral) and strategy (climb or conventional) that will be used for cutting the final parts. The center slot reflects the nominal thickness of the material (.5″) while the slots to either side are .02″ smaller or larger, respectively. When the sample board was tested on the actual plywood, the .46″ slot was too tight and the .48″ slot a bit too loose. So the slots in the design were set to .47″ thick.


router cutting cardboard pieces

The available cardboard measured .17″ thick, so the laser layer was scaled down to 36% of the original (0.17/0.47 = .36, or 36%).


close up of cardboard tab out of place

The slot in the bottom of the chair where the key piece that holds the chair together is too far away from the back


close up of cardboard tab correct fit

The slot has been moved so tab fits tightly against the back of the chair


smiling man holding cardboard model chair cut by CNC

Peter with model of chair cut on the laser


Full sized chair pieces cut by shopbot router

Full-sized chair being cut on ShopBots production tool with ATC and vacuum hold-down





























Emphasis: Inlay and pocketing: Michael G was familiar with the laser, but also wanted more experience with how to prepare models for the ShopBot. He found two types of material that were coated with a color (blue and red), and had white under them.  The navy blue material was half the thickness of the red material.  He created a model of the American flag with the exact dimensions that he found on the internet, experimented with toolpaths for pocketing and creating inlays, and machined an American flag.  


shopbot desktop carving a red flag

Michael and Mike watching the Desktop machine away the red to reveal the pocket for the inlay and the white stripes of the flag


smiling man holding digital fabrication american flag

Big smiles at the finished product, with the white stars V-Carved into the blue field, and the blue field inlayed into the red/white stripes


CNC carved american flag

Close-up of the flag















Simple Projects that Create Enthusiasm

Chris Burns has years of experience with ShopBot, and he brought to the training a couple of projects that demonstrate the ease of use of the VCarve CAD/CAM software and the power of the ShopBot. His example of how to create simple 2D drawings of shapes, then toolpath them to machine boxes and lids from inexpensive 2 x 4’s and 1 x 4’s caught the eye of Sarah, who is adding CNC machining to her traditional woodworking program. Not only did those who followed his tutorial get some cool boxes, but they learned important considerations in tooling, such as cutting length of the bit and how its diameter interacts with actual area machined (a rotating bit cannot get further into the corner than the radius of the bit…so one needs to change drawing accordingly).

Turning a 3D Model into 2D Build Plans: 123D Make

Sarah was also intrigued with Chris’s example of using 123D Make to turn 3D models into 2D build plans that can be machined on the ShopBot or cut on thinner material using the laser cutter.  Chris brought in a boat that he had machined out of wood, then he and Sarah worked on design files to produce the same boat out of acrylic on the laser. It was Chris’ first real experience with the laser, so the event even served to teach an old ShopBotter new tricks.


custom shaped digital fabrication wooden boxes

Chris’ box example


man holding wooden boat model

Brendan from the Marketing team holding Chris’ wooden model of a boat from 123D Make


woman holding acrylic boat model

Sarah with her boat model in acrylic, cut with the Epilog laser

















Creating files to be machined in 3D:

Two teachers have had 10+ years with their ShopBot, but had limited experience in doing 3D machining. Mike F from Illinois spent much of his open time learning to use Aspire to create a 3D bas relief model of an airplane he is building. A crowd gathered as the Buddy did roughing passes, then a finish pass that kept the high tips of the plane intact.  Mike left thinking that it was time to upgrade his older model ShopBot to an RBK control box, and to add Aspire to his software suite.


Advanced Digital Fab users:

Maria prototyped a serving tray that took the best from both the ShopBot and the laser cutter.  She used the ShopBot to pocket away material to create the rims of the tray. She then imported a photo into the VCarve software, traced photo to create the vectors, and used the ShopBot to engrave the design into the floor of the tray.  She then lined up the laser cutter, and rastered the photo into the engraved area of the tray.  


men watching cnc router

man holding wooden CNC carved bas relief model

Finished bas relief model

man and woman at computer

Chris C. and Maria setting up for lasering a tray that had been machined on a ShopBot


CNC carved and laser engraved wood tray

Tray that has been machined on a ShopBot and enhanced with the Epilog laser




















3D Printing:

While the 3D printer did not get that much use during the event, ShopBot’s Marketing Team took the Dremel into their work area, and have been running it for a solid two weeks. The ShopBot team found the Dremel to be reliable and easy to run out-of-the-box, and it’s been in almost constant use in the two weeks since the event.

3D printed camera modeification

Jimmy’s part printed on the 3D printer



Other lessons:

Mike R. runs a design shop in a theatre program. Having hands-on experience with the laser and 3D printer will help him decide if those digital fab tools are appropriate to his program, and provide ideas of how to get his students excited about using the ShopBot.  John from Virginia is interested in early education, and envisions the Handibot as the tool that can encourage children in middle school and earlier to become comfortable with the concepts of digital fabrication. He came away with multiple ideas for working with his FFA students.

What did ShopBot learn?

The agenda was ambitious, perhaps overly so. Not everything got covered, in part because after lunch on Friday, only a few wanted to hear more from us.  Almost everyone wanted to work on their own projects. So those who had something that they were specifically interested in got to work on their self-defined projects, while a few preferred more formalized instruction on several topics.

In order for the project-based learning to happen, there had to be a lot of tools available. On Saturday morning, all four ShopBots in the training area (three Desktops and a 32” Buddy), the PRSalpha with tool changer and vacuum hold down system in the Production Area, random Handibots, the 60W Epilog laser and the Dremel 3D printer were all in use. It also took a fair number of people to help with the one-on-one instruction.

At some points, teachers were able to share with the group what they had learned from their experience with using the tools in a classroom environment.  We’ll make a list of the topics we can remember, and share them.

Should ShopBot organize another such event?

Who was invited to this event? This was our first effort at putting together an event focused on educators.  It was announced in the eNewsletter, and summarized in another blog post.  The sales team announced it when taking an order for a school, and an email was sent to many schools who had a relationship with ShopBot.  Word of mouth is always a good way to spread the news.

If you have an interest in attending such an event, let us know. In addition to another event here in Durham, we are working with TechShop Pittsburgh to implement some of the things we learned here to a Camp there in November (see our Events Calendar). We are thinking of regional events to make it possible for others to participate without having to travel to North Carolina.

Historical restoration’s modern day ally

Charlie Robbins - OriginalHouse2

Starting point

Many might be cautious of using the words ‘historic restoration’ and ‘CNC’ within the same breath. A project Charlie Robbins completed this winter proves yet again that they are modern day allies.

An Amish contractor who Charlie previously worked with requested his CNC machining expertise on a porch restoration. “The house is in an area of million dollar historical homes and it was sort of the ugly duckling,” Charlie commented. Inside contained original carvings, marble headers, marble walkways and molding, most in great condition. Charlie’s task was to recreate the porch to its original ornate form. His starting point? A few old grainy photographs and a small section of the original porch skirting. His preferred method? Aspire software and a ShopBot.

Charlie Robbins - 3houses

Original photograph: In-process: Final restoration

Built by a gentleman around 1890 who made his fortune in the hotel business in upstate New York, the house lost its decorative exterior over the years while keeping much of its exquisite interior. Charlie’s previous experience CNC machining outside corbels and inside molding on historic homes helped but this was the most extensive he’d undertaken.

Charlie Robbins - Apron Install

Installing the porch skirt, which was the only real piece of the house left Charlie could use as reference.

Charlie Robbins - AllSpindles

Some of the 60 spindle turnings









Working in Aspire, he first made the basic 2D shapes of the forms, emailing digital images to the owners who were in Florida for the winter. Then he worked on the 3D modeling, sending those for approval. He took cues from the home’s interior carvings. “Everything I did the owners seemed to like. They were amazed at what the software and machine could do,” he said. Half of the 3-month project was completing the computer designs. “The customers wanted to be able to hold up the photo and see that reflection. That’s what I tried to do.” The porch skirting ended up an exact replica and the owners were thrilled with the final result.


Charlie Robbins - postAspireRendering

Aspire rendering of the leaf section

Charlie Robbins - foursidedFixtureMachining

Three of the leaf sections were machined in a clamshell ‘C’ with the 4th machined separately. It took about 2 hours per side using a 1/2″ ballnose for roughing pass and a 1/8″ ballnose for finishing pass with a 60 degree Vbit used for the leaf veins.











Charlie took advantage of Talk ShopBot, the ShopBot user forum. Though he doesn’t actively post or comment, he’s gained a lot of insight and tricks from reading it regularly. Charlie purchased a barely used PRS Alpha with a 12” z-axis about five years ago from someone off the forum, with an indexer that had never been set up. “I used a lot of clipart 3D carvings initially just to learn,” he says. That year a lot of friends and family received great Christmas gifts.


Charlie Robbins - corbelAssembly

One of the 21 corbels

Charlie Robbins - 4SidedcarvingsonTable

Leaf pieces and other column details











For this project, Charlie needed the indexer to be on the X-axis to machine the 11.5 foot posts. “My biggest challenge was getting the post-processor to know where the indexer was since it was not on the y-axis. I got some help from Brady Watson’s old posts on the forum and a few others.” Truing everything up to within a thousandth of an inch took half a day, which, on something that long, a mistake would be noticeable. He also worried that the motor might not handle the weight, so he again queried the forum and got a positive response. “I was really impressed with what the little motor could handle. It handled cypress and everything with no problems,” he said.

Charlie Robbins - Arch with him on table

The 6 foot arches needed were done in sections, each 2 inches thick: He laminated them in layers inbetween machining.

Charles Robbins - Porch Arches in Shop

The finished 6 foot arches














Charlie Robbins - ArchCorbel4Piece

Installed 6 foot arches, corbels and 4-part leaf sections.


At his job during college, Charlie worked in a spring manufacturing plant. He was studying industrial arts education by day and spending time in his mentor’s pattern shop on the weekends. The college job ended up becoming his real job for 35+ years. Taking business classes and working his way up to become plant manager, an upper management position, he finally left. He’d had enough of the stress. Charlie always kept a woodworking shop and with his mechanical background, CNC seemed like a natural transition for him. He’d attended woodworking shows and new the ShopBot name. Since that time, he’s completed Rhino classes, attended McGrew’s Aspire Camp and plans on attending the Vectric User Group in October.

Charlie Robbins - machining11Ft1

The 11.5 ft. posts were turned using a 5/8″ ballnose for roughing then 1/2″ ballnose for finishing. Machining times ran about 5 hours per post with very little sandy needed.

Charlie Robbins - PostsinShop











“My interest lies in the critical thinking of how can I do this or that on my machine,” he says. The 4-part leaf section is a perfect example of this: All pieces were designed so the contractor could assemble them on location (see leaf machining photo above and caption for details). Now with a horse farm way out in the countryside, he does commissions and other “weird projects” that he picks and chooses. “Technology is so amazing that I wish I had more time to play with it. I love taking classes and learning more. I’m just excited about what is available now,” he reflects. “There’s always been value in making something.” Charlie plans to do more restoration work using the ShopBot to overlap the boundaries of historical work and digital fabrication.


Charlie Robbins - portrait

With his ShopBot and indexer he says, “There’s nothing I haven’t been able to do that I’ve tried to make with the machines. The traditional tools now support them.”

Charlie Robbins - Split turning

Split turned newel post: Charlie glued them up with paper in the center, which allows for easy separation on the center of the turning. Half the post was mounted on the wall with the hand rail attached to it.

Charlie Robbins - Porch Medallion

The original top medallion was found underneath some siding but still had to be replaced.
















Charlie Robbins - RailingInstall

Installing the railing

charlie Robbins - detail house2

Detail of porch











Charlie Robbins - FinishedHouse3

Finished install: Now for the final painting.

business card[1]

Feel free to contact Charlie for your CNC needs.

MakeLocal at the Autodesk Forge Developer Conference

fusion cnc cut board

Autodesk Forge DevCon 2016

Last October at the NY Maker Faire, 100kGarages collaborated with Josh Worley of Opendesk on an event we named MakeLocal. It took all the steps that go into shopping for a product and having it fabricated locally, specifically for you, and compressed that big-picture concept of local digital manufacturing into a 10’x20′ space.  It really got a lot of attention and helped Maker Faire attendees understand what the “New Industrial Revolution” is about, so when our friends from the Autodesk Fusion 360 and Forge teams asked us if we would be interested in participating in their Forge Developer conference at Fort Mason in San Francisco, we realized we had a great partner for another round of the MakeLocal experience.

The sort of fabrication-on-demand that we had done in New York is a big part of the distributed manufacturing story, but another important facet is customizing products so that they are uniquely suited for an individual customer. Since in New York we had taken local manufacturing story through all of the steps from design to product, we decided that at the Forge event we would instead pick one design and work with the Autodesk team to create a customizing interface from within Fusion 360. One of our favorite pieces was the Johann stool, designed in France by designer Johann Aussage of Nouvelle Fabrique, so we decided that it would be the perfect product to use for the Forge event.

2016-05-25 09.02.47


Since personalization and customization was the story we were telling this time and not the fabrication of the stools, I pre-cut the stools parts into a stack of 24″ x 30″ x 5/8″ Baltic Birch blanks in my shop, leaving the pieces still held in the sheet with tabs. The 24″ x 36′ cutting area of the Desktop MAX was the perfect size to machine the designs that attendees would create for the seats of their stools. And just like in New York, one of the Shelter 2.0 designs was assembled as a stand-in for a full fabrication shop.


makelocal layout


To help pull all the pieces together we had two great partners at Autodesk, Patrick Rainsberry and Brian Ekins. Patrick is a Business Development Manager at Autodesk, working on developing partnerships for the Fusion and Forge platforms, and is passionate about the power of software to make real things. You can see some of Patrick’s projects on his YouTube channel. including this very cool start-to-finish parametric bookcase created in Fusion 360 and fabricated on a ShopBot.

Brian is an API Designer for Autodesk, one of the authors of the Mod the Machine blog, and luckily for us an avid woodworker. Brian created an add-in for Fusion, written in the programming language Python, that created the user interface for customizing the design and creating Sketch data. These scripts also created gcode toolpaths from that Sketch geometry and send those toolpaths directly to the job queue on the Desktop MAX using the new Fabmo API.


stool and circles





We could only do a limited number of the customized stools because of the time the process took, so we duplicated the same process with 2 Handibots in an engraving station. Attendees used the exact same customizations in 3″x4″ badge blanks cut from 1/16″ engraving plastic. A custom vacuum holding jig was created for each Handibot station, using brake bleeder pumps as a simple vacuum source.


Screenshot 2016-07-10 17.14.39


Screenshot 2016-07-10 17.14.21


2016-06-15 17.52.55


badge speaker


Although this was a developer conference with talks on topics like “Building Data Centric Applications on Forge” and “Integration and Extension of a Cloud Security Model within Enterprise systems”,  Josh and I were invited to speak on a topic that we are both pretty passionate about, “The Power of Communities for Design and Manufacturing”. It was a great opportunity for us to  talk about our experiences with 100kGarages and Opendesk, our thoughts on the future of manufacturing, some of the struggles that we’ve encountered, and how we see the Forge Platform and the developer community becoming a critical part of solving these problems.


Autodesk Forge DevCon 2016

Autodesk Forge DevCon 2016


We’re really not sure where our work with Fusion and Forge will lead, but are looking forward to more projects with them in the future.

FS16 Craft/Facturing – 2016 Furniture Society Conference


The 2016 Furniture Society Conference was held at the University of the Arts in Downtown Philadelphia, June 23rd – 25th. ShopBot’s role as a sponsor was to bring along a tool to be used for a workshop called “Exploring the Fourth Dimension” that was being led by a team from the University of Minnesota. The workshop functioned as an open forum for anyone interested in 4-axis machining to participate and learn more about the process of going from CAD to CAM to finished part.

There was a strong emphasis on digital fabrication at the event this year, with topics ranging from integrating carbon fiber into hand-crafted furniture design, to an overview of Rhino’s parametric modelling platform – Grasshopper.

The tool we brought along was a Desktop MAX with a 6” Indexer mounted along the tool’s X axis, allowing for stock to be turned up to 36” in length and 8” in diameter. While the setup started out as an experiment on getting a larger Indexer onto a Desktop sized tool, we were pleasantly surprised with the results and have big plans for the configuration in the future.

Desktop MAX with 6″ Indexer.

Another new feature of the setup was a fixed z-zero plate shown mounted in the vice below, which allowed for auto-zeroing to the stock’s axial center, as well as an automatic clearance height calculation to avoid maxing out on our z-height for larger diameter parts.

desktop max machining a walnut 3d scanned bust

Cantilevered 3D scanned bust – machined from walnut without a tailstock.

The workshop culminated in a John Henry style carve-off between a team of mallet and gouge wielding hand carvers, who competed against the Desktop MAX. Check out our design and final (sadly unfinished) cut below.

shopbot competition in progress

The scene of the competition.

carving competition trophy design

Animation depicting the trophy design used for the “carve off.”

carving competition final trophy

Final collaboration between man and machine.


Thanks to Kevin Groenke of University of Minnesota for the pictures.

Contributed by David Preiss

ShopBot CNC the “most profitable woodworking tool I’ve ever purchased”

buddy playing his hammer dulcimer

Buddy Warner with the hammer dulcimer he designed and built


If you’ve called ShopBot to ask about our tools, the name Buddy Warner may be familiar to you. His day job is to consult with prospective ShopBot customers, helping assess their needs and pointing them to appropriate CNC tool solutions (a fancy way of saying that he works in sales!). One thing is certain. Buddy comes by his love for ShopBot’s tools honestly. A woodworker since his teens, Buddy has owned his ShopBot since the mid-1990’s and considers it to be a great addition to his traditional tools….”the most profitable” in his shop.

Buddy explained, “When I’m on the phone with a woodworker who’s been using only ‘traditional’ tools, interested in CNC but also unsure about the idea of investing in CNC, I talk to them about my own experience. In my work, whether it’s signmaking or furniture, I’ve found that the ShopBot makes harder processes easier and less time consuming. This means I’m freed up to work on other tasks, such as hand finishing, while the CNC is running a file. It’s not a case of ‘either or’ — traditional or digital — to me it’s ‘both and.’ Don’t give up your hand tools. Just view the ShopBot as another tool in your shop. With its power to make me more productive, the ShopBot has paid for itself many, many times over.”
dulcimer detailed carvings

Detail work on the dulcimer including engraved lettering

Buddy’s journey into woodworking.
“I first fell in love with woodworking when I was in the 8th grade,” said Buddy. “I had a shop teacher who taught us to make detailed chair and table legs, and I was hooked instantly.” After college, Buddy began his career as an educator, teaching English and Bible studies. Moving into his first home, he hunted around for bookcases but didn’t find exactly what he wanted — which led to his first adventures in woodworking. “I started buying the tools… a jig saw, band saw, table saw, hand router, etc., designing and building a variety of wood projects, including furniture, sign work, and musical instruments.” Buddy started taking his work to craft fairs and slowly built a home-based business.
cnc made built in cabinets

Samples of cabinet work

kitchen cabinets made from cnc woodworking

 rolltop desk
After a few years he left teaching and took a position making furniture at the Village Woodshop in Quakertown, PA. Some time passed and he moved to North Carolina, bought a home in Burlington and worked at Bishop’s Custom Cabinets in Hillsborough. He began what turned out to be long career at Woodworker’s Supply in Graham, NC. He worked there 24 years, eventually becoming their National Sales Manager. All the while Buddy continued honing his skills and practicing his wood craft.
While at Woodworker’s Supply in the late 1990s he met a customer who was in the midst of purchasing a ShopBot. Buddy joined his customer on a trip to ShopBot in Durham, and it wasn’t long before he decided to buy his own, a 4′ x 8′ gantry tool with a router.
“Back ‘in the day’ — the 1990’s — it was quite the learning curve for me to use the software of the time. But the software solutions available now make it much easier to get started and be quite successful quickly,” Buddy said.
custom sign for henry's farm

The vast majority of Buddy’s work is sign making

fleet feet sports sign

three picture collage of wooden bible anchor carving

As time has passed, Buddy has found that the ShopBot has reduced the need for him to use the majority of his hand tools — “it’s just that efficient of a tool.”  But he hasn’t stopped using his sanders, pocket drill, handheld jig saw and table saw. “You use the right tool for the job — for me, that’s meant relying more and more on my CNC. I tell my customers, if you want to make money in woodworking, then you should look at incorporating CNC. It’s the most profitable tool in my shop.”
architectural millwork collage

Some of the architectural millwork Buddy has done with the help of his ShopBot

Makers of All Ages – Come One, Come All!

two young girls smiling at maker faire  cnc carved symbols

The National Maker Faire in Washington DC, June 18-19th, was the kick off event for the National Week of Making which included, among many other activities, a Nation of Makers Kick-off Meeting; the White House’s Champions of Change for Making; and a special Capitol Hill Maker Faire for members of Congress and the public.

There were ashopbot employees posing at the national maker fairebout 15,000 attendees at the National Maker Faire this year. ShopBot’s booth was located in the midst of all the outdoor activity. We cut, carved, and drew for 2 days straight to the delight of both young and old. Our booth was staffed from various departments within ShopBot: the marketing department (Jeanne Taylor), web development (Brendan Collins and Aaron Wiggins), and production (Al-Solo Nyonteh) were all represented. A ShopBot Desktop cut pre-designed signs that were run from the new FabMo motion control system – allowing us to work wirelessly from our tablets and phone. With the Handibot tool in our booth, we used one of the apps that comes with the tool called ‘Smooth Sketch.’ The app allows visitors to draw with their finger on a tablet then carve their drawing into painted boards. We also used one of our favorite accessories for the Handibot, the pen holder. It was big hit, especially with the grade school crowd.

We’re looking forward to participating in this year’s World Maker Faire in New York, October 1st-2nd. Stop by and see us!

two shopbot employees

Are you a ShopBot user/owner? Is there a mini Maker Faire near you? Would you like to participate and represent ShopBot? Let us know. We’d love to work with you to help show off what you make. Contact us at marketing@shopbottools.com

For 20 years, ShopBot Tools has been proudly helping makers make!

 "#1 dad" sign being cut by shopbot routerarmed forces member at national maker fairealamance makers guild wooden signred maker faire logo being cut by a handibot

boy wearing helmet at national maker faire handibot demonstration at national maker faire

Heirloom objects commemorating military life

Command Performance_Mcguire Shadowbox

Shadow Box for a retired Master Chief in the Navy

In recent years, the word ‘heirloom’ has crept into the vernacular of everyday speech. From heirloom vegetables at grocery stores to home décor magazine touting heirloom objects found at flea markets, often times the intention is more buzz than substance. There is no history or story being told. But how does something become an heirloom? And what about the creation of new heirlooms, an object specifically intended to begin its life cycle today, to commemorate the current life yet to outlive us all in the hands of great-great-grandchildren and beyond?

Command Performance_Double Decker Hat Box

Double decker hat box

ShopBot users Tim and Lalane Haenisch’s military objects represent this new heirloom era but possess sincerity and are tailored to a family tree. The military, specifically the Navy’s foundation, reflects a tradition of objects weighted with meaning, and particular gestures, significant and historical. Tim and Lalane know all about this having lived the military lifestyle while Tim completed 21 years of active duty in the Navy, retiring as Senior Chief. For years their side business, Command Performance, has made many objects such as custom pens, tap handles for a San Diego-based hard cider company, and other one-off items, but their heart and true passion lies in creating shadow boxes for military personnel, from hat boxes to plaques to sea chests for retirees. Each as personal and built with intention as a quilt sewn from a loved one’s weathered clothing. “I want to capture the summary of a person’s career, to tell the complete story of a person’s military life and their service to our country,’ says Tim.




Command Performance_In work1

This current project, a shadow box end table, Tim is finishing within a tight 7-day deadline for a retiring coast guard officer.

The shadow box tradition is very old, and Tim and Lalane carry on this tradition, but with modern day tools and processes. One project they completed was a 4’x’2’x2’ solid wood sea chest with an array of 3D military insignias carved using Aspire and their ShopBot Desktop. As Tim tells it, back in the day on wooden ships, crewmembers would assemble a trunk (or box) full of objects from a retiring sailor’s ship life—memorabilia that reflected his lifetime at sea. When the sailor ‘went ashore,’ that trunk would be physically carried off the ship: The object and action representing  the containment and then passage of the person’s narratives.

Tim’s background in woodworking and custom cabinetry combine effortlessly with Lalane’s eye for design and assemblage. They gain new clients mostly through word of mouth, so they rely on the objects to speak for themselves. “I want people to say, ‘Wow, where did you get that?!’ when they see the boxes at retirement parties,” Tim explains. They pride themselves on listening to each client’s stories, knowing that they have to retell that story through the object.




Command Performance_Navy Diver Coin Rack

Tim and Lalane’s Challenge Coin holder was a new product they introduced after purchasing their Desktop. Challenge Coins are given in response to going above and beyond call of duty. Most officers have their own personalized coins. Tim and Lalane have received a quite a few as a thank you.


Command_Performance- box3

A sea chest has 3-d carved panels custom fit together to create 4 feet of artwork. The customer didn’t want a traditional shadow box so Tim suggested a sea chest with a 4-inch deep front panel. The inside is cedar, which stores old uniforms.


When Lalane first meets with a new client, they bring all of the items they wish to be presented in the piece Command Performance is creating, which is sometimes 35+ years worth of items. Over the years, Lalane developed ‘style books’ to show new clients since some aren’t sure how to present their life stories. Others walk in with a clear vision. She also shows them the assortment of lacquers and stains available.  If they want their ship’s emblem or their previous or current rank’s logo, then Tim works with CNC Military Emblems to create the 3D file. Often their customers may be off at sea, so being able to utilize Aspire’s features to email them a virtual rendering has been invaluable, especially for fact checking dates and names before creating the final piece.

Creating everything by hand and power tools, Tim began his research for a CNC system in 2012 after a friend did some 3D carvings on his company’s industrial CNC machine for Tim. First he came across the CarveWright system, but after reading reviews he realized it wasn’t a good match and neither were commercial grade machines. Then he began to see ShopBot’s name. Tim reflects, “at that point, I’d been doing woodworking for 15-16 years and had been blessed that every time I invested in a new tool it paid for itself.” This stayed true: Since purchasing their machine, it’s paid for itself threefold. He has integrated 3D carving into almost every product and has added to their repertoire. Even his 2D process has changed. “Using my scroll saw to cut out military emblems used to include around 150 blade changes. An eagle’s wings could be around 70 changes”. Now he can setup the Desktop and run it while making the rest of the shadow box.


Command_Performance- Julian Hard Cider

Julian Hard Cider tap pulls commissioned by the company for every location their hard cider is available.

Tim and Lalane plan to purchase a laser to continue to expand their product line. He’s also got his eye on the new ShopBot Desktop MAX. Knowing that a laser may increase business, and given that his actual full-time job is as a systems engineer at a software company, he may need the extra robotic employee.

“It’s not about the woodworking. It is about what’s inside the box and how it is presented. The woodworking is just a nice cover on the book,” reflects Tim, “We want to touch people’s hearts.” That’s pride: knowing the new heirloom reflects Navy Pride and tradition and the sacrifices made to earn the ribbons, the uniforms, and Purple Hearts. A family’s military life bundled into something that reaches far into the future.


Command_Performance- Ammo Box Style Hat Box

An ammo-box stylized Hat Box

Command_Performance- Lalane2

Lalane completing the final arrangement of a shadow box’s objects.












See more of Tim and Lalane’s work or to get in contact with them, see their Facebook page: Command Performance

Elderwood Academy Elevates the Culture of Gaming



Hex Chests from the first Kickstarter campaign in 2014

Spellbooks from their second Kickstarter campaign in 2015

Spellbooks from their second Kickstarter campaign in 2015


Elderwood Academy, like many young entrepreneurial companies, has its roots in the makerspace movement. When Quentin Weir and Dan Reiss fulfilled the orders for their first successful Kickstarter campaign, the two CNC machines required– a ShopBot PRS 4×8 and Epilogue Laser– were easily accessible at their local makerspace. And when they launched their second successful Kickstarter campaign, they decided it was time to invest in their own CNC systems.

But let’s back up a bit. What is Elderwood Academy and how were they able to launch two successful Kickstarter campaigns in 2 years, the second of which received $280,000 from an initial request of $5000?


Quentin and Dan use CNC and traditional methods to create their products: An old foil embosser was purchased to give the Spellbooks that extra touch of personalization.

Quentin and Dan met through the ‘gaming world,’ role-playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), and board games. At the time, Dan was in medical school at the University of Michigan and Quentin, who had majored in biomedical engineering, was working at UMTRI (University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute) where he prototyped and built research equipment. Dan asked Quentin to prototype a project he was working on, so Quentin showed him Maker Works, a makerspace in Ann Arbor, MI, which had all the equipment needed including a ShopBot PRS 4’x8’. Dan was blown away by how financially accessible CNC equipment suddenly became. Quentin reflects, “Pairing shop skills with my engineering degree set me up to where I am right now… and my experience with mentoring FIRST Robotics. I learned the CNC at Maker Works.” It was then that Dan showed Quentin his “Hex Chest” idea, a decorative container for carrying gaming dice, which became their first product successfully funded on Kickstarter. Using a PRS 4’x8’ Standard and an Epilogue Laser, they tapped into a niche market that sought individuality. Both tools easily met this demand for customization. They got featured a few times, which boosted their audience.

Creating two new dust feet allowed for interchangeability not only between their PRS and PRT but also for their various products.

“Pretty much all sports have something. If you want to buy $200 basketball shoes, you can do that,” says Quentin. But the world of gaming is different. As Quentin explains it, a lot of gamers are used to carrying their items around in bags or Tupperware containers. This includes dice, playing cards, a pen for tallying points, a miniature that represents one’s character, and coins—a lot of small pieces. Quentin and Dan understand this culture’s obsession with uniqueness: gamers thrive on their ability to create their own character and nuanced worlds. Elderwood Academy complements this need for self-expression by creating functional objects that bring a level of professionalism to the gaming world.

After launching a second Kickstarter to create Spellbooks, they purchased their own CNC machines. “We didn’t bother looking at other CNC routers. We knew ShopBot could handle the volume while allowing for the customization we required,” says Quentin. They already knew VCarve Pro and how to modify the SB3 software to suit their needs. It gained them another employee that could work 24/7—though it wasn’t a smooth transition.



They are currently updating their dust collection system, so ignore the wood chips!

Quentin and Dan purchased a used PRT 4’x4’ from University of Michigan’s Property Disposition that came with no background history. Its controller ended up having a failed repair, and it was missing the proximity switches and dust collection. Quentin struggled to fix it until he realized it was just a ‘big robot.’ Drawing on his FIRST Robotics experience he got it moving, but not before purchasing a new ShopBot PRS 4’x4’, too.

“We launched the second campaign before we nailed down our production process. I was still in the prototyping phase. We learned our lesson,” Quentin states. With so many customizable features, they had to figure out a solution. Quentin set up a server that stores all the variations in cutting files, which means there are a lot of files. Just look at their website and see all of the options to choose from! If small edits are made to fine tune a file, it automatically gets re-uploaded into a software program he wrote located on the computer running both ShopBots. Their machinist can walk up to the computer, select the features for a customer’s order, and the program opens the correct SB3 files.

Two of the many options available for the inside pocket


Previously working at the makerspace, they also had trouble with ‘missing comm errors’ because of static, and kept throwing out half-completed projects. One solution was to take advantage of SB3’s editing capabilities: They wrote their own header and set up the code so each project gets fully pocketed/cut before moving on to the next one on the jig setup. They can machine 40 complete Hex Chests in about 5 hours while completing other tasks. Because the final steps in making a Spellbook involves hands-assembly, their 2 ShopBots and Trotec laser enable them to deliver a fully personalized product for a fair price in the volume they need.


Currently Dan commutes back and forth between Ann Arbor and San Francisco, where he is an internal medicine resident at San Francisco State University, and Quentin divides his time between Elderwood Academy and a board game company he co-owns with another colleague.

Quentin articulates that the “value a D&D player gets from their own Spellbook… it adds to the charm of the game.” Though not a gamer, having held one of the books in my hands, there’s a conscious craftsmanship to them, from the wood selection to the gold clasp to the foil embossing. It speaks to the success Elderwood Academy has achieved in bringing a heightened professionalism to the gaming community.


All the pieces organized and ready for the final hand assembly

They have two hand assembly stations and have hired several employees.