Durham Public School System Invests in CTE and STEM Education

shopbot finished projects

Teachers and students with their finished projects

When Rick Sheldahl, Career and Technical Education Director of the Durham (NC) Public School System, and Don Ramsey, carpentry instructor at Southern School of Energy and Sustainability visited ShopBot in 2014, they were looking for an affordable CNC machine that could help their students set up a production shop. Rick had budgeted about $25,000 for the PRSalpha with a spindle that would take a full sheet of plywood. ShopBot welcomes visitors and gives tours (with an appointment), but it is primarily a production facility and does not maintain a showroom. So the only full-size gantry tool available to demo was the 4′ x 8′ ShopBot used in the production of ShopBots, which includes the Automatic Tool Changer (ATC) and Vacuum Hold Down system. Don and Rick were smitten. With visions of training students for the work world, creating quality furniture that could be sold and the proceeds going towards scholarships for the students, and summer programs that would not be subject to the “bells” of the regular school year, Rick reworked his budget to purchase the full Production package for Southern High.


Fast forward to the end of the school year, 2016. Rick found himself with an opportunity to purchase CNC equipment for other high schools in the Durham Public School System that would be useful for CTE and STEM education. So, he ordered a number of the smaller ShopBot CNC machines: Desktops (24″ x 18″ cutting area), and a Desktop MAX (24″ x 36″ cutting area) with Rotary Indexer, Buddy (24″ x 32″ cutting area) with a 4′ power stick for the Production Shop. Then, he arranged for training for the teachers who might have found themselves with a piece of equipment that they had not requested, and had no idea of how or why they might want to use it.

shopbot participants

Background/experience of teachers and students from the Durham Public Schools (names cropped out to protect the privacy of students).


Training took place at ShopBot Tools on a Saturday in September 2016. Teachers and students from three high schools spent the day at ShopBot, getting hands-on experience with ShopBot Desktops and a Buddy. The background and experience level varied. Two teachers were coming from a very strong woodworking background, but with little experience using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software. Michelle Joyner-Ricci runs the carpentry program at Jordan High School, and has years of experience with making things using traditional hand tools, power tools and mills. She had requested a milling machine that was adjusted by dialing in the measurements, and instead found a computer-controlled digital fabrication tool in her shop. Prior to the training, she had had a 30-minute introduction to the ShopBot Desktop and VCarve Pro CAD/CAM software at a CTE meeting over the summer. Don Ramsey and his student, a junior, came with a year’s experience using the PRSalpha Production system. They were ready to learn more about how to unlock the capabilities of VCarve Pro CAD/CAM software and the ShopBot.

The other three teachers were experienced in Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software such as Inventor, AutoCAD, and Revit, but had limited experience with how to take those designs and use Computer-Aided Milling/Machining (CAM) software to prepare them for machining on a CNC machine. Adam Davidson and his student from Riverside High School participate in the engineering curriculum, Project Lead the Way, which uses Inventor as its CAD program. The program includes PLTW’s CIM (Computer-Integrated Manufacturing) component to manufacture the objects designed in the 3D-rendering CAD software, but Mr. Davidson did not regularly use the older CNC machine they had at the school. Demetre Harris (Southern) uses Inventor, and James Lee (Southern) had 20+ years of experience using AutoCAD in the real world before singing on to teach AutoCAD at the high school level. Two other students from Southern also attended the class.


Instructors Sallye Coyle and Al Nyonteh introduced themselves and showed examples of the types of machining strategies possible with the ShopBot. Sallye also described the different types of bits used to create each of the strategies.

2d and 3d machining methods

The ShopBot CNC machining at one depth (2D), engraving (VCarve) and machining in 3D (rounded 3D with pattern behind it)


Three general categories of bits are:

three bits

  • End Mill Bit: flat on the bottom for machining at one depth (example: cutting through materials or pocketing to one depth)
  • V-Bit: 60 or 90 degree for engraving or V-Carving
  • Ball Nose Bit: round on the bottom for machining a 3D model


Hands-on experience with using the ShopBot control software to move a ShopBot around in X, Y and Z axes, and writing simple commands to tell the ShopBot where to go went a long way towards removing some of the mystery.

ShopBot desktop training

Moving the ShopBot around in the X, Y and Z axes.

shopbot desktop in action

Al and the teachers/students watching the ShopBot Desktop in action.

A tour of ShopBot’s facility gave ideas of what kinds of careers are available at a small-scale manufacturing facility: everything from Production to Engineering/Product Design/Electronics, to Customer Support areas such as Technical Support, Sales Marketing and Business Administration. Throughout the building are examples of things that were made with a ShopBot: vacuum tables for holding down parts while machining, prototypes of aluminum parts for new products, signs made of acrylic that include moving parts and lighting with LEDs controlled by Arduino programmable electronics (shields or circuit boards machined on a ShopBot), desks that take advantage of ShopBot’s precision to make living joints (bendable plywood) or press-fit joints, ShopBots making Handibots. Samples machined in 3D with or without the rotary indexer were also a source of inspiration.

Working in pairs, teachers and students went through an exercise that demonstrated the entire process from design idea to finished product. They used the CAD ( what and where) side of VCarve Pro to design a sign, the CAM (how) side to toolpath the design so that it would look engraved, and generated the machine code that the ShopBot would use to move the tool in the correct paths. Included in the design and toolpathing options was an example of how to place hold down screws in the work piece so that the work piece would not move under the spinning router bit, and the spinning bit would not hit a hold down screw.

vcarve pro screenshot

Using VCarve Pro CAD/CAM software to design and toolpath signs.


setting up shopbot files

Teachers and students working with each other and ShopBot’s Al Nyonteh, to set up their files.


The Desktop carving a students file. Note the screws that are holding down the board for machining.

The Desktop carving a student’s file. Note the screws that are holding down the board for machining.


Each participant then set up a ShopBot to machine their sign. Using a checklist and printed instructions, and with the help of the two ShopBot instructors, participants changed the bit, zeroes the X and Y axes, and placed the material on the machine bed in the appropriate orientation, zeroed the Z axis, ran the files to locate the screw hold position, screwed down the material, and ran their sign file. Safety precautions were emphasized, an instructions on how to “Air Cut” a file before actually placing the bit in the material saved at least one router bit from being set down onto a screw and getting broken.

After lunch, Ted Hall, ShopBot’s Founder and CEO, gave a brief talk about ShopBot’s origins and capabilities. He brought over a Handibot, ShopBot’s newest product, and talked about FabMo, the open source Control System that is being written in-house. Several teachers/students talked with Ted while others finished their sign projects.

ted hall talks shopbot

Ted Hall, Founder and CEO of ShopBot, gave a brief history and philosophy of ShopBot. Samples of items created with a ShopBot abound in the training area and throughout the company.


Once everyone in the room had completed their first project, the afternoon was open so as to give demos and information on how to successfully use the software or set up the machining files in the way that would be most useful for the individual teacher and student. Importing 2D and 3D designs created in another CAD software, feeds and speeds and bit selection for different materials, how to create an array of holes for cabinet making, and how to use the Rotary Indexer were among the topics touched upon. Participants left with a notebook full of instructions, and ideas for lesson plans and 2D & 3D projects that link to Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.

CAD/CAM file

Setting up a CAD/CAM file to machine holes in the sides of a bookshelf.


Colbert 3D Model

A 3D model of Stephen Colbert downloaded from the Thingiverse website and imported for 3D machining on the ShopBot.


Stephen Colbert model unwrapped

The same model being prepped (unwrapped) for machining in the round with the rotary indexer.


carving with rotary indexer

An example of carving in the round done on the rotary indexer.

In this setting, students and teachers worked side-by-side to master techniques unfamiliar to both of them. The introduction of new technology often goes more smoothly when teachers are comfortable letting students take the lead in mastering new techniques and then sharing that knowledge with others. As the only teacher there with experience using the ShopBot, Mr. Ramsey proudly showed off pictures of the intricate signs that a young woman in his program had designed in Vectric’s VCarve Pro CAD/CAM software and machined on the ShopBot. She used the tutorials and videos available on the ShopBot and Vectric software websites to teach herself, and then others, sophisticated ways to import bitmaps (photos), trace them, and toolpath the designs. One of her files took five different bits, and the use of the ATC let her finish the project within one class session because she didn’t have to stop the ShopBot, then physically change the bit and re-zero the Z-axis in between the separate toolpaths. Mr. Ramsey also learned that it is important to have students from several grade levels work together so that his “experts” don’t all graduate at one time, and he has to start from scratch the next year.

At the end of the day, Mrs. Harris remarked that she was now more comfortable with the machine. SHe saw that there were many similarities to the 3D printer that she had used at the North Carolina Central University FabLab over the summer. Mr. Lee was not one of the teachers who had been given the gift of a ShopBot CNC, but left with information on what size ShopBot he would like to add to his classroom so that his AutoCAD students could actually prototype and test some of the designs that they had created on the computer.

A side note: many ShopBot employees attended local high schools in the counties that surround ShopBot headquarters in Durham, NC. Job positions range from Production through Engineering and Product or Software Development. Some employees started right out of (or even part-time during) high school, and some had internships at ShopBot before finishing their post-secondary education. Below are summaries of the journeys of three such employees:

Al Nyonteh, one of the instructors for the training, attended Riverside High School up to 1997 then transferred to a military school (Tarheel Challenge) for at-risk teens. After graduating in 1998, he studied architectural technology (a drafter that specializes on the architectural side of building construction) at a two-year college in Minnesota. Al worked in a commercial architectural firm for two years (in MN) and with an electrical engineer to create the drawings for the relocation of the electronics department at Circuit City (in VA). After moving back to NC, he worked as an independent contractor to prepare evacuation plans and submit health department drawings for group homes/alternative living facilities. Al joined the production team at ShopBot in 2014. He is motivated to learn everything about running a ShopBot, and often uses his lunch period and after-work time to design in VCarve Pro and machine on the ShopBot and Handibot. His gentle way of working with people and sense of humor make him a go-to person for in-house trainings, and when someone is needed to represent ShopBot at shows and Maker Faires.

al using vcarve

Al Nyonteh, instructor, attended Durham Public Schools. He studied architectural technology in a two-year program in Minnesota. Al joined the production team in 2014, and is “fluent” in AutoCAD VCarve Pro CAD/CAM software, and running ShopBot tools using both ShopBot and FabMo control software.

Matt Schmitz went to Durham School of the Arts, where he studied sculpture and theatre tech. He says it was a great place to learn about creative thinking and iterative design. Sculpture and theater tech led to an interest in product design. Matt studied Mechanical Engineering at Brown, graduating in 2014. In 2012, as a sophomore in college, he interned at ShopBot, and worked with CEO Ted Hall to develop the first functional prototype for the portable CNC that would become Handibot. He interned at Google during his senior year, working on the Nest Project (a high-tech smoke/CO detector). He currently works in Product Development, developing the next generation of ShopBots, and for Production Support, developing tools and solutions for clients with specific production needs.


matt schmitz

Matt Schmitz, an engineer with ShopBot working in Product Development and Production Support, studied sculpture and theater tech at Durham School of the Arts. While a student in Mechanical Engineering at Brown University, he did internships at ShopBot and Google.


Lee Beatrous attended Cedar Ridge High School (Orange County, NC), taking two years of woodshop class with instructor Keith Yow. Lee furthered his education at Appalachian State University. He started with a focus on Business Marketing but changed direction by entering ASU’s School of Technology and earning a BS in Industrial Design. After winning a Popular Design Vote at the High Point Furniture Market in a sponsored studio competition, Lee went on to work for GSI – a furniture manufacturer in Dallas, TX. He held the position as Project Design Manager for five years. Lee is currently working for ShopBot Tools at Handibot as a Manufacturing Engineer, seven years after working a summer internship at ShopBot in the Production department.

lee beatrous

Lee Beatrous, Manufacturing Engineer for Handibot, took wood shop classes while at Cedar Ridge High School in Orange County, North Carolina. He studied Business Marketing and then Industrial Design at Appalachian State University. In this photo, he is using the plotter pen attachment to draw on a skateboard. The bed and holes for the trucks on the skateboard were cut on a ShopBot, then formed into the shape of the board.


NODUS Focuses on Bigger Picture with New SoHo Gallery

nodus nyc prep work

Catching Up with the NODUS Team


When we last checked in with Gustavo Bonet and the NODUS crew, they were using digital fabrication to realize project visions that ranged from architecture to furniture to art installations. In that time, NODUS’ reputation as a “fixer” has grown, allowing the team to move into a new space in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood that simultaneously serves as a gallery, collaboration area, and workspace. The space is designed to embody NODUS itself, reflecting the changing idea of what a workspace can be. For NODUS, this move doesn’t mean a change in the type of work they do, it just means more flexibility and fewer obstacles, and increased notoriety in the digital fabrication and design communities.

The New Space

The SoHo space will house the NODUS team, host alternative events, and display finished works. In addition, it will allow the team to explore new avenues in design, architecture and art. One of the scheduled events, for example, will feature a pastry chef who will explore the idea of the modern kitchen. With projects like these, Bonet’s team is focused on pushing boundaries. “We’re thinking outside of the box, and we’re at the cutting edge as far as workspaces go, transcending the realm of furniture or industrial design. It will feature things that will enrich your day. We’re catering to things that stand out.”


A Unique Take on the Design Process

On a day-to-day basis, even the role that their ShopBot plays in the process is unique. It’s seen less as a mass-production tool and more of another potential solution to meet the needs of the project at hand:

“We’re architects using the tools in a very hybrid way,” says Gustavo. “We’ve learned the basic commands and can approach projects from a problem-solving architectural standpoint. With proximity to the tools, adjustments can be made on the fly. We’re bridging the gap between art & architecture.”

bOcean Resort

b ocean resort front desk

The bOcean resort lobby reception wall was inspired by blades of seaweed swaying in the ocean.

One of the best examples of such a project is the lobby reception desk installation at the bOcean Resort in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Charged with designing a carved wood installation that would mimic seaweed swaying in the ocean, the NODUS team also looked to complement the art deco and features dotting the resort, as well as the storied mermaid show featured at the lobby bar, from where the upstairs pool is visible.. Their solution was an 8’ x 24’ surface comprised of 21 individual pieces, each cut on the ShopBot and assembled on-site like a large puzzle.


shopbot cutting woodnodus_fab_bocean_3




















The Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center


Projects like the Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts center highlight the ways in which NODUS is re-thinking the way CNC can be used for design.

With projects like the Dwana Smallwood center, NODUS is re-thinking the way CNC can be used for design.

For the Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center between the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Nodus worked with architects at JPDA to develop a surface relief for the facade and interior echoing the rhythmic quality of a dance gesture rippling out, impacting its surroundings.

For the interior reception area, Nodus milled solid fiberboard panels tightly coordinated with the surrounding millwork for seamless integration. On the exterior facade, custom-cast, glass fiber-reinforced concrete panels provide graphic identity for the dance center, and continuity between exterior and interior.

For interior panels, Nodus prepared fabrication models, and surface milled fiberboard directly. For exterior panels, concrete forms were developed through an analogous process, then cast by hand.







Analogous process, in which the cast was carved to mold concrete

Stirring the concrete for the external facade pieces.

Stirring the concrete for the external facade pieces.

















The internal installation, which was cut and assembled piece by piece.





Hines Fischer Furniture Prototypes


For the ICFF Studio 2015 Competition, Nodus worked with industrial designer Hines Fischer to fabricate prototypes for his Minun series. Nodus performed two-sided milling of all wood components and joinery included in the piece.



Two-sided milling of furniture pieces created a 3d effect.


Designing the Future

As to how NODUS sees future projects taking shape, it’s all about staying innovative.

“There’s no limit,” says Bonet. “It’s the idea of a workspace that’s changed, and it’s truly a collaborative environment/gallery/showroom. We’ve become the keystone of the industry, and what is rewarding is we’re seeing more and more people starting to respect and appreciate our role in the process.”

The NODUS team may be beginning the next chapter of their story with the SoHo gallery, but the main theme is always going to be collaboration and problem-solving. You can check out their latest projects on the nodusNYC website & Instagram, and stay tuned to ShopBot Tools for the latest updates!



First ever DC-Arlington Camp ShopBot 2016



TechShop DC/Arlington served as a great host location for the first ever DC-Arlington Camp ShopBot. Situated across from Reagan International Airport, a large and varied population utilizes the space and tools. And with three different models of ShopBot machines and array of other machines their members are not lacking in digital fabrication resources. One can tell that Gadsden Merrill, General Manager, and his staff work tirelessly creating an energetic environment.

The ShopBot team comprised of Sallye Coyle, Reggie Riddit, Thea EckBill Young, and guest presenter Andy Pitts. Attendees drove in from as far away as Eastern PA and also from Baltimore and the surrounding Virginia communities. Experience ranged from absolute beginner to professional user with years of CNC practice, many types of material cut, and multiple Camps attended. And being at a makerspace, curious TechShop members popped in and out all day.

Sallye began the day discussing CNC and CAD/CAM along with the cache of digital fabrication tools now available to the average maker that aid in prototyping or embellishing projects. Thea then lead the group in several presentations including highlights of Vectric’s new Aspire 8.5 and how to calculate the dreaded feed rate and speeds for a project. Sallye showed some hidden gems in the SB3 software, which are often overlooked or not fully understood. Lunch gave everyone the opportunity to mingle, look around TechShop’s studios and talk one on one to ShopBot staff.

Following lunch, the Show and Tell session offered a few volunteers the chance to present their projects. Andy Pitts then launched into the afternoon presentations explaining how to set up a CAD file and then machine a two-sided bowl using Aspire software. Though simple upon first inspection, this complex bowl shape utilizes multiple two-rail sweeps and 45° 3D machining techniques. Sallye and Thea followed up with two presentations on 3D machining: 3D scan to 3D machining and practices in 3D designing/machining starting with the basics such types of bits and understanding stepover rates.

Bill Young discussed and then demoed FabMo, a new development currently used to operate the Handibot. Bill chimed in throughout the day with his expertise on a variety of material, software, and machining topics. The final presentation, machine maintenance and troubleshooting, got everyone out of their seats and crowded around TechShop’s PRS Alpha 4×8.

Like many Camps, the day sped by. Often times conversation came back to pricing items and calculating costs: electrical costs, material costs, production vs. custom items, how much to pay oneself and working with clients. Everyone seemed to gain new insight, some ‘hidden gem’, personal to them that will hopefully make machining or designing a little easier.

Thank you to the TechShop DC/Arlington staff and to the attendees for spending their Saturday with us.


The Wood shop. Each studio includes an array of tools, both traditional and digital.




TechShop DC/Arlington has three different ShopBot models




Andy Pitts explained the jig he used to register his two-sided bowl.




Bill Young showed off the Handibot.


Tim Clifton from Dorfman Museum Figures talked about a model hand cut from foam.



Notes from Fab12 in Shenzhen, China

Friends from 5 Continents sharing one last evening at SZOIL after Fab 12 in Shenzhen.

Friends from 5 Continents sharing one last evening at SZOIL after Fab 12 in Shenzhen.

The Location: This year’s gathering of the International FabLab network took place in early August in Shenzhen, China. About an hour from Hong Kong, Shenzhen is a new city, grown up in the last 25 – 30 years from a fishing village to a modern industrial and commercial center.  Except for the signs in Chinese characters, the view from my room on the 22nd floor of a hotel in the financial/convention district looked more like an American city than many international cities built on top of older civilizations: traffic was organized in proper lanes, turns signals flashing, horns blaring.  Shenzhen’s location close to Hong Kong, the numerous factories to manufacture whatever it is you need, and the amazing network of creative spaces around Shenzhen made it the perfect location to hold the meeting.

Those FabLabbers with a bent towards creating their own could fill a suitcase with motors, drivers, boards, cables, or purchase real or knock off phones, cameras, projectors, and watches in the electronics markets.  The shopping malls carried name brand clothing, shoes and purses from around the world, as well as motorized carts in the shape of animals for the kids to ride around the mall. Many malls had DIY sections, with build-your-own music boxes, pottery wheels, and painting classes. Grocery stores had Lays Potato chips bags with funny faces on them, cans of soda with the name in the familiar Coco Cola font as well as Chinese Characters, Dragon fruit, and chickens with head and feet still attached.


crane in shenzhen

It seems that the crane is the national bird.

adam and frosti in electronics market shenzhen

Adam (New Zealand) and Frosti (Iceland) explore the electronics market.









Traffic in Shenzhen is orderly, though horns are in constant use.

Sunday afternoon at the mall is a family affair

Sunday afternoon at the mall is a family affair









The Meeting: The annual Fab gathering is an important vehicle for building and maintaining the network of FabLabs. It is also a celebration honoring the graduates of Fab Academy, the 6 month long course based on MIT’s “How to Make (Almost) Anything.”

Mornings were filled with reports on the doings of FabLabs around the world, and announcements of interest to the greater community. And there is always Fabbercise, which can have its own share of familiarity and hilarity.


Motorized scooter created at FabLab Hamamatsu, Japan. A ShopBot was used to cut out the MDF parts of the body.


Solidworks introduces an add-in for Fab Modules, Neil Gershenfeld’s software for running digital fabrication machines in the lab.











Fabbercise, led by Walter and others of the crew from Peru, weaves the audience into a web of laughter.


Afternoons brought options for workshops and sessions. Want to use a laser cutter to create hats or lamps? There’s a workshop for you.  Want to discuss topics in education or humanitarianism? There’s a session for you. Want to catch up with old friends and make new ones? There’s plenty of time to connect, collaborate and share. Evening meals and after gave more opportunities to learn what is happening in FabLabs around the world.  There was even the opportunity to see how products developed in a FabLab can be brought to market when 3NOD, one of the event sponsors, hosted a fabulous evening at their headquarters.

Lanterns demonstrate Chinese traditions, plus laser cutting and circuits for the battery-powered lights.

Lanterns demonstrate Chinese traditions, plus laser cutting and circuits for the battery-powered lights.


Bas (Iceland), Ohad (Israel) and Jean-Luc (USA) connect over workstation for creating new digital fab tools.


Ohad (Israel) and Wendy (New Zealand) show off hats made in their textiles workshop.











HotPot with Katy and Jennifer from FabLab Santa Clara

















Dinner hosted by 3NOD.





Products brought to market via 3NOD, Shenzhen.


The focus of Fab12 was FABLAB 2.0, the ability of a FabLab to use its own digital fabrication tools to produce a fab lab and to produce the manufacturing machines of the future. Since the Handibot (www.handibot.com) was inspired by work of MIT students under the direction of MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld, Center for Bits and Atoms ( www.cba.mit.edu ), it seemed only proper that a Handibot traveled to Shenzhen to take part in the festivities. Others brought their version of a digital fabrication tool created in a FabLab. Jens Dyvik used the ShopBot in the Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL) to fabricate parts for his VBird parametric CNC, and Steven Sui made his multipurpose CNC machine with GCC products such as the laser cutter and CNC machine. Nadya Peek offered workshops on how to create digital fabrication tools from cardboard kits and component motors and rails.





Handibot’s view from the hotel room on the 22nd floor.




Jens Devyk (Norway) conducted a workshop on using a large format CNC (ShopBot) to create a parametric CNC from plastic and MDF. You can see a video of Jens’ VBird CNC machine and software here.



Handibot with Steven Sui’s U-Bot, a small CNC with the option to change out a 600 rpm router with a laser head.


Detail of rack cut on ShopBot for VBird parametric CNC.











The Symposium: Friday’s symposium, open to the public, addressed 4 topics that scaled from the individual to the civilization.

  • Systems That Make Systems
  • Businesses That Make Businesses
  • Organizations That Make Organizations
  • Civilizations That Make Civilizations



The Fab Festival: The weekend event, open to the public at the Civic Center, was a celebration of all things Fab.



FabLabs in Peru are working with indigenous people to retain knowledge about such skills as weaving and furniture making. There is also a floating FabLab on the Amazon River.


FabLabs in India range from those at an Engineering University in Mumbai to an Ashram in the country that emphasizes project-based learning. Projects include how much it costs to raise animals, or create machinery that enhances lives. In Kerula, there will be 20 mobile FabLabs distributed around the province, each with a ShopBot Desktop.









Jens’ finished CNC at Fab Fest.









FabLab Barcelona has a strong program in textiles. Barcelona has a commitment to creating a "smart city" in which there are multiple, localized fab labs so that people can create what they need rather than import goods and export trash.

FabLab Barcelona has a strong program in textiles. Barcelona has a commitment to creating a “smart city” in which there are multiple, localized fab labs so that people can create what they need rather than import goods and export trash.























Folks from France and India at Fab Fest. Fab 13 will take place in Santiago, Chile, and Fab 14 in Toulouse, France.



ShopBot Sallye at Fab 12:

ShopBot and FabLabs have had a strong relationship for a number of years. ShopBot is a CNC of choice on the official FabLab buy list, so attending the Fab meetings is an opportunity to keep up with the exciting advances that those who participate in the FabLab network are making, offer training and tech support where needed, and learn what ShopBot needs to pay attention to in order to better serve the community. After 6 years of working with FabLabs, I feel that I have a growing network of contacts that works both ways. If someone has a question, they have my direct email and a cell phone number to call. Likewise, if  a ShopBot user or ShopBot Tech Support needs a local representative to serve as “boots on the ground”, I have an idea of who has ShopBot experience that we can reach out to.  Our plan is to expand that network and make it more accessible…look for an update to the ShopBot website in a few months.

It is always a bit surprising when someone refers to ShopBot as a “vendor”.  We think of ourselves as friends and colleagues who just happen to manufacture an amazing CNC machine. Arriving a few days before each meeting is an opportunity to make new friends, pay attention to how people are actually using the machines, as well as to make sure that the local ShopBot is in proper working order for the meeting.  For Fab 12, the ShopBot at SZOIL was mostly assembled, but Francisco S  (Beach Lab, Sitges, Spain), Vicky (SZOIL) and I spent several hours resolving some Control Box/Spindle issues before laying down the support and  spoil board. Since Francisco will be one of the trainers going to Kerala, India, to help with their deployment of 20 mobile FabLabs, he got some hands-on experience with hardware and software.  Vicky, Fab Manager at SZOIL, began to take ownership of her ShopBot when she used a ratchet wrench for the first time to tighten the hardware for the support board. We ended the late night by taking a 3D scan that Vicky had created for printing on the 3D printer and machining it on the ShopBot.

With each international trip, I learn a bit more about how ShopBot is used outside of the US. Some lessons are not related to the ShopBot itself, but point out differences in the operating language of the computer, or electricians deciding to run the power to the control box in a way that does not conform to the specs of the tool. It can be a lesson about the types of material available locally. For example, in Shenzhen, there were two different kinds of sheet goods available in the lab. While both were referred to as “plywood”, they had very different characteristics.  What I would call “plywood” is made up of thin layers of wood laid down with the grain rotated 90 degrees at each layer (ply). It is less resistant to changing size as the humidity level changes, and maintains a certain level of structural when dadoes or slots are machined into it. Sheet goods that are made up of long strips of solid wood glued up and covered with thin veneer may be more consistent in thickness than plywood, but it can lose its structural integrity as soon as the thin veneer has been machined through. I have never seen this type of sheet good in the US, but have now found it in Japan, Egypt and China.


Vicky, Fab Manager at SZOIL, tightening down the ShopBot support board.


Vicky’s first project with the ShopBot. She added bunny ears to the original .stl created from a 3D scan, then carved it on the ShopBot with a .25 ball nose bit. See our previous blog entry for the process to convert a 3D scan to a 3D ShopBot carving.




With “plywood” (above), thin layers  of wood are peeled off of a log,  laid down flat and laminated together. One does not have to pay attention to the grain of the sheet good when assembling cabinets or tables, since the grain of each “ply” is alternated 90 degrees to reduce the effects of changes in humidity level on size of each component.





The second type of sheet good is made of up solid strips of wood that are glued up the length of the board. Note the growth rings on the edge of the board. Only a thin layer of veneer adds strength to the glue up. Creating a dado or machining a hole/slot in the material could result in compromising the integrity of the sheet good because it could weaken where the strips are glued up.


There’s too much to talk about for me to put it all in this blog. Visit the Fab12 website, and look up Fab Foundation, Center for Bits and Atoms, and FabAcademy for more information on the wonderful things that are going on with the 1000+ FabLabs  around the world.



Sharing can be hard work!


From the time we first started, sharing has been an important part of ShopBot’s DNA. The files to build a ShopBot were originally released by Ted Hall as shareware and there have been a steady stream of project files available since then. The fabrication files for one of my first projects, “Honey’s Canoe,” have been available in various forms for 20 years, and are thought to be the first DIY CNC project to be shared publicly. Unfortunately, the infrastructure for sharing wasn’t quite up to the job in those days, so for the first couple of years we had to send all our files by mail on floppy disks!

We all learned to share in Kindergarten, it’s one of the most valuable things you’re taught. If you had a cookie and gave half to your friend, you’d be a better person for it. When you got older you might share a book or tool by lending it to someone. Sharing was easy, first the thing was yours and then someone else had it. You might get it back, but you couldn’t both have it at the same time.

Sharing became more complicated when things became digital. You could share something and still have it! Since the cost of making a copy of a digital file is functionally $0, you would think that sharing something you created costs you nothing. To do it right though there is a cost: a cost in time. Here are some things to think about when you are considering sharing a project:


Let me start by saying that I AM NOT A LAWYER and that this is just a layman’s understanding of a very complicated subject. Do your research, there are lots of resources on the web including the Creative Commons website.

With that out of the way, even though you may think you are sharing a thing—a chair, a table, a sign—what you’re really sharing are the files that describe that thing. The photos, CAD files, CNC part files, everything that tells what it is and how to make it.  In the early days, we just made files available and basically said “have at it,” thinking that was all we had to do to make them useful. In the US and most of the rest of the world, all your files have been automatically copyrighted without you having to do a thing. No one can really use them until you add an “open license” that spells out the conditions that you place on using and distributing those files. This protects anyone that uses your files and prevents you from coming along in the future and saying “You didn’t have permission to use my files.”

Because of this automatic copyrighting, you have to assume that a file is protected by copyright unless an open license is attached to the file in some manner. It varies with the license, but generally there is either a file included with a project download that contains the terms of the license, or there’s something describing the license that you have to agree to before you download the file—and that license has to accompany the files any time you share the original files.

The Creative Commons folks do a great job of explaining how their licenses work, but here are a couple of terms and options that you should consider when deciding how to license your project files. Be aware that you can mix and match them to get just the combination that suits you :

Public Domain: You are giving the files to the public and anyone can do whatever they want with them.

Attribution: If someone shares your file they have to give you credit.

Share-alike: Any copies or modifications to the files have to be shared with the same or similar license.

Non-derivative: Anyone using the files can modify them for their own use, but can’t share their modified version and only reshare your original files.

Non-commercial: Your files are available for personal use, but can’t be used commercially without permission.

I know this is complicated and can be kind of a pain, but this licensing business is really important to understand before you decide to share files. Now, on to the nuts and bolts of sharing…

Files and formats:

The whole point of sharing projects is for them to be usable by someone else, and your job is to make it as easy as possible for people to fabricate your project. That means including files in formats that make it easy for the largest number of people.

We all love Vectric software and ShopBot includes it with all tools, so including those file formats is probably the most helpful. They let the end user make modifications to both customize the cutting to fit their particular tool and cutting style, and to make the project better suit their needs.

There are, however, ShopBotters and Handibotters that …gasp!… might not use VCarvePro or Aspire, or haven’t kept their copies up to date. That’s why we also recommend that you include an additional format or two—for those folks. A common vector format like .dxf , .dwh, .eps, .ai, or .svg works well for 2d cutting, and .stl is pretty universal for 3d models.

What about ShopBot .sbp files? It’s certainly helpful to include them and they make a lot of sense for things like Handibot projects where all the tools are the same size with the same cutting capabilities. If you include ShopBot files though, try to make sure that the cutting speeds and pass depths are on the conservative end of the spectrum.


Creating instructions is a lot of work and not much fun, but there’s some information that people just need to know. Details like materials, bit size, and any extra supplies that are needed. So at the minimum, please include a readme.txt file that includes that information and hopefully a little about yourself and how someone can contact you with praise (and questions). For anything but the simplest projects, including a little more complete set of instructions—maybe with some pictures—will be very helpful. And just like design files, use formats that are universal and accessible like .pdf and .html.

Storage and Updating:

Very few designs and projects are static, and almost all (hopefully) improve over the years. Keeping the online version in sync can be tough, but is really important. Lots of projects including Shelter 2.0 and Handibot use Github as a “repository,” but in general it was designed for software projects and is pretty tough for many people to use. DropBox is another option for storing and sharing files, and there are lots of tool-specific sharing sites like Handibot.com.


We all think we come up with project designs as a flash of inspiration and brilliance, but in reality they are almost always a composite of ideas that you have seen over the years. It’s often hard to place exactly where that inspiration came from and we all suffer a little from kleptonesia, defined in the Urban Dictionary as “(n.) condition characterized by forgetting the source of a stolen idea,” but it’s always better to err on the side of giving too much credit rather than not enough. If someone or something inspired you, make sure that you point that out!

Please don’t let all of this discourage you from sharing the things that you do. My intention is to make sure that when you do share files and projects that they are really useful to the end user, because that’s what it’s all about!



Machining 3D Scans with a ShopBot CNC Machine

On a recent Professional Development session (PD) at the Chevron FabLab at California State University Bakersfield, Caroline McEnnis and Sallye Coyle of TIES (www.TIESTEACH.org) spent three days working with teachers, interns and staff to give them more experience with the digital fabrication tools and electronic components available in their Lab. Caroline had the attendees use a Kinects to scan themselves in 3D, then had the 3D printers print out tiny plastic versions of the scans.  Later, Sallye showed the teachers how they could do more than print their 3D file (.stl) on a 3D printer.  She had the teachers bring the models through VCarve Pro to create files that could be machined in wood on a ShopBot CNC.

head scanning with kinect

3D printers printing heads scanned with a Kinect while teachers work on another project

Three of the scanned faces on a 2 x 6 board after running the roughing phases

Three of the scanned faces on a 2 x 6 board after running the roughing phases


Woman holding 3D machined face

Finished model with the original. Resolution was determined by the resolution of the scan, how the .stl was scaled from the original, and the size of the bit to carve the file (.25″ ball nose).

This is not a full tutorial, but an example of the steps we went through to machine the images in 2″ x 6″ boards. What could a teacher do with this? How about creating a totem pole with each student’s image as a class project? What can one teach about history and culture by studying totem poles? Are the more important images placed at the top of the totem pole, or at the bottom?


          1. Create the scan: The Internet has information on how to connect a Kinect to a PC to create a 3D scan. Here is one option. Virtually any 3D scan that creates an .stl would be appropriate.
          2. Bring the .stl into VCarve or Aspire (NOTE: version of VCarve Pro must be 7.5 or later):
            1. The HELP file in VCarve and Aspire is excellent; please refer to it in detail. The HELP is bookmarked, so when you click on the item you are interested in, it will go to that page.importing 3d model adobe reader
            2. By clicking on the MODELING tab at the bottom of the left hand screen, you will see the options for working with a 3D model or component such as an .stl.
            3. When you import a component, you can choose what orientation to import the data. Keep clicking until you have the front view of the scan face up in the material.
            4. Change the view to the side view, and slide the bar until you have most of the image that can be machined from the top down (no undercuts). Delete the data below zero if you are only going to machine the face. If you want to do 2-sided carving, create both sides then separate the two 3D components for machining separately.
            5. You can only import one .stl at a time into VCarve Pro, so you may have to open a separate session of VCarve Pro for each face. As long as you know where to place them on the board, you can then machine them as needed (try putting a rectangle where each of the faces would go. You can then copy a vector or component from one session of VCarve/Aspire, then paste it into the same location on another session).
          3. Lay out the components on the virtual board, then toolpath them
            1. In the image below, the first of three 3D components laid out on the virtual representation of the board measured 24″ in the X (arbitrary length) x 5.5″ in the Y x 1.5″ in the Z (standard measurements of a 2″ x 6″), with the Z zero set to the top of the material. The component was placed in the center of a rectangle that was placed on the board. A second rectangle was also placed on the board to mark the location of a second 3D component.3d image layout in vcarve pro
            2. The height of the model was reduced to fit onto the thickness of the board. A model that has been flattened so that it keeps the features of the full 3D but would not be as thick as the original when viewed from the side is called bas (pronounced “baa”, French for “low”) relief.scale model reader help in adobe reader
            3. Select the rectangle surrounding the component and set the roughing pass. In this case, a .25″ end mill bit was used for the roughing passes. 3d roughing help in adobe readerThe screen below shows both 2D and 3D views. The 2D (left view) shows the placement of the component surrounded by a rectangular vector. The 3D (right view) shows the 3D rendering of the component with the roughing passes overlaid. The CAD menu screen (left side) and CAM menu side (right) are also shown. The 3D toolpathing options are circled.Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 9.44.49 AMIn this first sample for the 3D finish pass, two bit options were tested (virtually). While the .125″ ball nose bit would give more detail, it would take more time to machine than would the .25″ ball nose bit.
              • Create two toolpaths, one for each bit. The use the icon that looks like a clock to see the estimated time for each of the toolpath options.
              • Use the Preview icon to look at each of the toolpaths. Remember to reset the preview in between testing the toolpaths. This particular model does not really need the detail from a .125″ bit.
          4. Save the roughing and finish toolpaths (use the “floppy disk” icon)
            1. Save the roughing pass separately from the finish pass.
            2. Give each toolpath a name that you can remember later (you might include name of person scanned, roughing or finish pass, type of bit used, etc.).
          5. Do the same for each of the other facescnc face scan in vcarve proface scan in vcarve pro for cnc router
          6. Prepare the board for machining on the ShopBot
            1. Photo below shows board after faces completed how the hold down was placed outside the area of travel for the machining.
            2. The board was placed on the table so that the bit would not go outside the range of travel in the Y-axis (board moved away from the long edge of the table).
            3. Holes for screws to hold down the board were drilled before sheet rock screws were screwed through the board down to the sacrificial board under the 2 x 6. The length of the design area was measured (24″), and the screws placed outside that design area. See red oval for placement of screws at the top of the board.
            4. The X and Y axes were zeroed at the point where the first face would be machined to further ensure that the bit would not hit a screw while machining the file. Arrow points to where bit was positioned at place where file would start, then the Z2 command (or button on keypad screen) used to set that location as X and Y zero (0,0).
              Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 10.16.32 AM
          7. Run all three roughing passes
            1. Run each of the ShopBot (.sbp) files that use the .25″ inch endmill to rough out the faces, one after the otherScreen Shot 2016-08-04 at 10.25.21 AM
          8. Change the bit to the .25″ ball nose bit and do the finish passes, one after the other
          9. If necessary, use the scroll saw with a blade (or the band saw) to cut the faces into separate blocks

          10. cutting wood with a scroll saw
            women standing with cnc carved face blocks

Other options for using 3D models:

  • Take the file through 123Make to turn a 3D model into 2D build plans. Photos below show a 3D model of a boat “sliced” and machined in wood on a ShopBot and in acrylic with an Epilog laser cutter:man holding wooden boat modelacrylic laser cut boat model
  • In the example below, a CT scan of a duckbill dinosaur skull was taken through Rhino, then Aspire CAD/CAM software and “sliced” into 2″ thick panels of pink insulation foam which were machined on both sides. The sinuses and larynx were printed on the 3D printer, the whole thing reassembled, and a Ph.D. student used it in her dissertation:Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 10.33.43 AM








ShopBot one of the most popular tools at think[box] maker space

thinkbox makerspace at case western
Larry Sears and Sally Zlotnick Sears think[box] is arguably one of the largest and most dynamic maker spaces in the country. think[box] is located at Case Western Reserve University’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and provides a space for anyone – students, faculty, and alumni and members of the community – to tinker and creatively invent. Housed in a 7-story, 50,000 square foot facility, with 3 floors occupied and more to undergo renovation soon, this $35M project is one of the largest university-based innovation centers in the world. By numbers, think[box] receives over 5000 visits each month!
       I recently spoke with Marcus Brathwaite, a Lab Technician at think[box]. One of Marcus’ responsibilities is to train people in use of the full size ShopBot tool in the maker space. Marcus graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2013 with a B.F.A. degree in Ceramics.
profile photo of marcus brathwaite
       As a member of the team his mission is to bridge the gap between science and the arts by facilitating and developing art experiences in and around think[box]. His artwork investigates the past, present and future of human relationships to technology. Marcus said, “I was first exposed to the ShopBot when studying at Cleveland Institute of Art, which introduced art students to tools more commonly used by engineers. I visited Case Western to fabricate my art projects.”
       think[box] serves students, alumni, and the public at large. The vast majority of users are students of mechanical engineering, computer science, biomedical engineering or aerospace engineering. Marcus said, “They use the ShopBot for project work — they all take 3D modeling classes and use SolidWorks primarily. The ShopBot is one of our most popular tools. I train folks to run this and other tools.”
       Overall, noted Marcus, “the projects made here range from artistic to engineering-focused.”  Here are just a small sample of the projects which make use of the ShopBot:

card reader

       Portable Proximity Card Reader (a new-fangled ‘people counter’) In an effort to streamline the process of checking students in at large events, Case Western’s Student Affairs IT office has designed and made several hand-held proximity card readers compatible with Case ID’s. This completely in-house design costs less, has a greater capacity, and is significantly faster than the previously used magnetic stripe card readers. The ShopBot was used to mill a wooden mold for the thermoplastic clear cases of the counters.

two students at desks
       Jaswig    Students from Kent State milled all the pieces for prototyping this adjustable-height stand-up desk. It is now being used in homes, offices, and schools around the world.
 condado tacos sign
       Condado Tacos   This custom exterior signage for Condado Tacos in Columbus, Ohio was made from SignFoam on the ShopBot with a v-carve bit.
a custom cnc router made of wood
       Custom-built CNC router    This 3-axis CNC table router was designed and built from scratch by students from the University of Akron. Fabrication occurred at think[box] where parts were cut using the ShopBot.
custom car driving in the dirt
       Mini Baja Car     This vehicle competed in the Society of Automotive Engineer’s annual mini-baja competition where CWRU students designed and built the car from scratch. Although primarily fabricated in the Bingham Machine Shop, many supplemental tasks were completed in think[box]. In particular, students 3D printed mold-making patterns, cut out welding fixtures in the laser cutters, and fabricated composite floor panels for the finished car on the ShopBot.
       Reading Wetu    “Reading Wetu” is a project created with the first grade class of Ms. Erin Shakour at Orchard STEM School located on Cleveland’s westside during the fall 2014 semester. The reading Wetu occupies an 8′ x 8′ x 8′ area in the corner of her classroom, and houses her small library of children’s books. The structure is built entirely from 3/4″  thick plywood and yarn, and fabricated with the CNC router at think[box]. This project is part of a series of works that Marcus created in collaboration with Progressive Arts Alliance, a local arts organization whose focus is to provide STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) programming to the Cleveland Public School District.
       I asked Marcus how students react to being introduced to the ShopBot and what it is like for them to use the tool. Marcus said, “They begin with a total fascination and awe about it, watching the tool move and cut projects. Even though CNC is an older technology it never ceases to engage interest of the new students.”
       The next phase is one of “some intimidation,” noted Marcus, when students begin to understand the steps needed to get up and running. “Once they dive in and read tutorials and start using Partworks, it starts to become easier for them,” he added, “because they see that Partworks is much like software that they’re familiar with. The tool is well designed and intuitive to use, so once students get familiar with the software things become much smoother for them.”
       We look forward to seeing a lot more uses for the ShopBot coming out of this amazing space!

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.