All Desktop CNCs Are Not Created Equal

The CNC below is frequently compared to our ShopBot Desktop and ShopBot Desktop MAX tools. This tool is imported from China by several different resellers in North America. It is also available directly from China from the internet. Prices for the tool vary from $2,800 to $6,500, depending on the reseller. From published specs, the tools are apparently identical though they do have different decals. We thought it helpful to directly compare a few of the characteristics, capabilities, and features of this tool to the ShopBot Desktop and Desktop MAX CNCs.


ShopBot Desktops and Desktop MAXs have a heavy, solid aluminum frame and a ‘dual-drive’ gantry. Dual-drive means there is a motor and drive system at each side of the gantry. Dual-drive insures that the gantry moves evenly and that it will not be deflected or racked when machining on the left or right side of the centerline. In contrast, the imported CNC has a single, center-drive screw and motor for the gantry that is positioned in the middle of the bay under the deck. This screw is attached to a tie bar that is then attached to the two ends of the gantry. With this system, as cutting moves further and further off the centerline, the gantry can be deflected or racked from the asymmetrical forces to each side of the centerline. One less motor and one less drive system helps reduce costs in the imported tools, but racking will be a source of inaccuracy that needs to be managed. The limitations will come into play with any heavy work, such as cutting or carving hardwoods or machining aluminum. It will also show up in edge quality when cutting plastics and it will make it more difficult doing precision work such as inlays, routing printed circuit boards, or carving jewelry difficult.

A second advantage of the ShopBot’s dual-drive design is that it leaves the area under the bed of the router available for other functionality. In comparison, on a center-drive tool, the tie-bar mechanism moving back and forth under the deck makes that area unavailable for other use.

For example, with the open, dual-drive of the ShopBot Desktop and Desktop MAX design, the area under the deck is available to create a full vacuum hold-down system (which you can make yourself or purchase from us). Moreover, the deck can be removed to allow machining of larger blocks of material, or to add fixturing such as that for our joint-making edge clamp (see detail below), or even to create space for something like an extra-large indexing/turning system.

We do favor using a screw-drive mechanism of some type for motion production in Desktop CNC’s. Screws provide excellent precision and virtually eliminate backlash. However, there are several options for such screws. After having experience with ball-screw systems (these employ ball-bearings inside the nut that rides on the screw) on earlier CNC tools, we chose a Teflon-coated lead screw for our Desktops, manufactured integral to the motor, along with a composite anti-backlash nut (that does not employ internal ball-bearings). The integral-screw keeps the mechanism simple and the axes aligned. In a typical ball-screw installation, couplers, universal joints, and outboard bearings must all be kept in alignment with the ball-nut – a complexity that increases the likelihood that maintenance attention to alignment will be needed. A bigger issue with the ball-screw on these tools is that lubrication with oil is required. It’s a maintenance thing, but more importantly, because the upper-gantry screw is close to the cutting area and unprotected on these small tools, the oil will attract dust and debris and clog the ball-bearings and their channels. Sure, a lot of big CNC’s use ball screws. But, there is typically protection of those screws in the form of shrouds or bellows. For our Desktops, dust simply falls off our Teflon screws as they spin.

A final mechanical issue is the spindle. We’ve noted that the water-cooled spindle on the imported tools probably won’t be a deal-breaker because it can be replaced. The rationale for the water-cooled spindle is that it is inexpensive – and that it will get you started. But water-cooling is awkward and involves the distracting maintenance of keeping a bucket of water from getting moldy and a pump clean and functioning. It makes these spindles a production liability, particularly in comparison to the air-cooled, European-style spindles that have been the industry standard for 50 years. In contrast to the imported tools, the ShopBot Desktop and Desktop MAX CNCs come standard with HSD, air-cooled, industrial spindles.

Electronics, Software, and Controls

In comparison with the very basic control system of the imported tool, ShopBots come standard with a full ShopBot controller and ShopBot Control Software. This controller is the same as on our larger tools and includes all ShopBot functionality, including expandability to additional axes and control of additional accessory functions.

A full CNC control creates opportunities to add features like a rotary indexer accessory that converts your Desktop into a turning daemon, doing carvings, ornamental turnings, and 3D objects in the round. The controller also supports other standard CNC attachments such as active, tangential, knives for cutting fiber materials. We think of our Desktop CNCs as platforms for digital productivity – with options for numerous types of manufacturing assistance and supported by a set of full and expandable controls.

The electronic control and software system that run our tools are tightly integrated with our tools because they were designed for the tools. We believe that good tools start with good mechanicals, but over the years of producing and using CNC tools we have come to believe that software control systems are equally important. Our software focus is on a control system that provides both smooth, efficient cutting and ease-of-use in production. Our recognition of the importance of software distinguishes us as the only manufacturer of affordable CNC tools that produces its own controls and software.

Our software provides smooth cutting motion and crisp acceleration. We have focused on getting high-resolution, straight-line and complex curved motion that is chatter-free with crisp accelerations and decelerations to make cutting efficient. ShopBot’s feed-rates, speeds, and accelerations are fully adjustable in the tool’s software interface and from within toolpath files.

ShopBot’s software interface is straightforward and intuitive to use. Carrying out basic tasks and housekeeping functions such as homing is intuitive. The control software runs toolpath files (part files) generated from virtually any CAD/CAM program. It can utilize files in standard g-code format (Fanuc/NIST RS274) and well as toolpath files that have been created in OpenSBP, an open-syntax CNC language (supported by most current CAD/CAM software).

You are thus able to run ShopBots with two different types of CNC files. Traditional g-code is fine for just running files output by CAD/CAM programs. It may feel particularly friendly if you are a CNC operator experienced with other tools. ShopBot’s OpenSBP option, provides a second and more ‘conversational’ language that is easy for a human to read, understand, and use. Unlike g-code, OpenSBP includes built-in programming functions (such as variables, logic testing, and looping) that make it readily programmed using friendly, BASIC-language-like expressions. OpenSBP makes it straightforward to do everything from creating a button for regularly moving a tool to a standard position, to creating production routines that will improve the efficiency of workers as they manage jobs and files and move parts through your production process.

Software That is Available and Up-to-Date

We continuously evolve our control systems and software as opportunities to add capabilities and features become available. The most recent control software for your tool is always available for download from our website, FREE. When the availability of new electronics allows us to develop improved controllers, we also make them available for older ShopBots. It is possible to retrofit our latest control cards or control box – greatly improving the functionality of a tool – to virtually any age ShopBot.

Our software provides an incredible base of learning resource for CNC. That’s because all ShopBots work the same. Information across our wide spectrum of users makes it easy to get any question answered. Check out our huge web library of free training videos and webinars. Or, look through years of information, help, and hints about fabbing with CNC in our Talk ShopBot Forum.

All our tools come with two, CAD/CAM design software packages. VCarve Pro is acknowledged as one of the easiest-to-use design tools for getting into CNC. For advanced, engineering-driven work, we provide a year’s license to Autodesk’s Fusion 360, a full design, modeling, and rendering program with integrated CAM.

Making a Benchtop CNC an Agile Production Monster!

The concept of a desktop or benchtop tool is that it is agile and portable. That for a given project, it can be put on one bench or another or put on a rolling bench and moved around the shop or factory floor. Portability is not possible if a new 220V circuit must be installed every time you want to move the tool, or if a long, heavy 220V cable needs to be dragged across the floor of your shop. Our Desktop CNCs are designed to provide the highest level of speed, power, precision, and cutting force in a tool that is connected to a standard 110VAC outlet. When you are ready to move a ShopBot Desktop or Desktop MAX CNC to another location. Do it – and, then just plug it into a different outlet. We designed and built these tools from the ground up with agility and configurability in mind. ShopBot Desktops have the power and rigidity of full-size CNC’s and they have as much spindle power as can be packed into 110V. (*If you may have been considering a CNC tool with a woodworking router, please have a look at this white paper comparing the measurement of router cutting power to spindle cutting power).  

We’re very enthusiastic about benchtop CNC tools as production assets for small manufacturing. These tools are frequently as productive as full-size tools when material size is small. They are capable of high precision and powerful cutting because, relatively speaking, they can be quite rigid. Many can double as small mills for working with aluminum and can optionally power a 4th, rotary axis for turning and 3D shaping.

In This Case, Buy American Because You Get More for Your Money

It is often believed that the cost difference between imported products and products like the ShopBot Desktop and Desktop MAX is a result of inexpensive offshore labor. It does cost a little more to build equipment in the US than offshore. But as far as our Desktop CNC tools go, the cost differences in comparison to these imported tools reflects what you are getting. Our tools offer a stronger design that provides greater capabilities and more extensive features. You are buying more tool. You are buying the capability, configurability, agility, and support system to best accomplish your work and to make you productive.

Blending traditional and digital tools to make one-of-a-kind objects of beauty

“Tablescape No. 1.” • Hard rock maple, stainless steel • 58 x 90 x 32 inches. Now showing at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft – Texascraft 2018 • Winner of one of three Juror Merit Awards.

Meet Artist and Industrial Designer Brooke M Davis

We’ve been following Brooke M Davis’ work since 2012 after she purchased her full size ShopBot. Brooke has continued to design and fabricate beautiful, organic, functional furniture that can easily be categorized as art. In fact, Brooke’s work can be found at the CraftTexas 2018 show at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, September 29, 2018 — January 6, 2019.


“Pilo Side Table” • Wood Side Tables 2019 • Walnut, Swarovski Crystal, Steel

Brooke’s newest work includes the plush tufted walnut side table (above) that is both elegant and inviting. Not only will it be displayed in the Texas Furniture Makers Fair at Kerr Arts Cultural Center in November, she will be showing it in Milan at the Salone Del Mobile in April 2019.

Keep an eye on her website: for more exciting work to come.

MakeShift, her design consulting service and production facility, continues to thrive and regularly sees a wide variety of work through the shop that keeps things interesting. Brooke and her team handle prototyping work, product development classes, design consultation, and more to the Austin, TX area—and beyond. This is a unique space where real product ideas come to life.

We are looking forward to seeing what’s next for Brooke.


Take a look back at the story about Brooke from 2012 below.
Originally written & published by: Michael Berliner

Websites: Brooke’s original furniture & objects:, Design consulting services & production facilities: 
ShopBot Tool: 
PRSstandard 96 X 48

Brooke M Davis Design blurs the line between artisan and designer by combining artistic expression with design precision to produce luxury craftsmanship. The process involves coupling mass production techniques like computer aided design with hands on master craftsmanship to create new and exciting results. With individuality in mind, this process allows for ease of customization at the client’s request.

Brooke’s process of discovery and creation for Tablescape No. 1 is much like it is for all her original works. “It’s a fluid process, and it always involves my ShopBot CNC,” notes Brooke. “I always have in mind that CNC is going to be integrated into my process. I’ll often start by making a 2D pencil sketch, then build on the idea by doing quick modeling in wet clay, to see where this takes me. I’ll photograph the models, and bring them into computer and use CAD to hone and clean up the lines … It’s a fluid process. I’ll then go back to clay to continue to play with the work. Sometimes I’ll draw on top of the photographs and bring that into the computer to further develop the design.”

Brooke’s collections range from high-end one-of-a-kind pieces to limited run productions. With quality craftsmanship and attention to detail, every piece is made to order with quality in mind. She works with individual clients, interior designers, and architects to offer a variety of services to meet innovative project needs. Specialties include limited run CNC production, industrial design, furniture design, and custom architectural installations.

“I’d worked with ShopBots throughout my education and teaching positions, so I was very familiar with their tools and capabilities. CNC technology became ingrained into my creative processes from the start, and I always integrate it into my design and production process. I finally bought my own ShopBot in May of 2011 and it’s been everything I knew it would be.

One of the things I really like about ShopBot is the community that surrounds it. The people at ShopBot are great — very helpful if I ever have a question. And there’s a very supportive and active group of users on the forum, so you feel like you’re part of a larger group that’s very much into CNC and helping one another succeed.”

Brooke also founded the community hacker space, make+SHift in 2011. ” It’s the only Design on Demand Shop for product developers in Texas!” says Brooke. “We provide you with the necessary design resources to make your ideas a reality. We offer design consulting services, CNC prototyping, and classes to advance professional development, plus comfortable work-space all in one place.”

Brooke notes, “One of the things that’s been wonderful about opening make+SHift is that I learn something new all the time from my customers. They bring new projects and challenges to the table, and my team gets to think of new ways of solving problems. It energizes my own design thinking as well.” 

ShopBot in the Theatre: USITT Master Class – Southeast Section 

The scene shop at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, has been making good use of their 4’x8’ ShopBot PRSstandard for creating various props for stage productions, including plywood forests of trees. Recently, the theatre department asked ShopBot to conduct a series of Master Classes for the Southeast Section of USITT (United States Institute for Theatre Technology) to learn more about, and share the capabilities of, their CNC machine with other theatre programs throughout the southeast.

One topic that seemed to spark everyone’s interest was 3D carving. With that in mind, the first demonstration was how to import a 3D file, in .stl format, into the VCarve Pro software, which is shipped with each ShopBot tool. Placing the “component” into the software in the correct orientation is a simple process. The model we chose to make was thicker than the 1.5” pink insulation foam that we had available, so we foreshortened the Z-height in the model to create a “bas” or low relief that would not be evident when looked at straight on. Another option to create the effect would be to use the slicing feature available in VCarve to create a series of carvings (slices) that could be stacked up after machining. Since we went for speed rather than detail, we used the same .25” ball nose bit to do a roughing pass over the entire model, and a finishing toolpath over the right side of the model.   

The bas relief of the imported Dia de los Muertos skull was subjected to two different tool paths. The entire model inside the larger rectangle was given a roughing pass to clear away the excess material. For the finishing pass, a smaller rectangle was selected. The stepover and feed/rate were changed to enhance the final result.


Another option is to use the slicing option available in VCarve Pro/Aspire to slice the model into sections that are the thickness of the available material, and stack them up after 3D carving.

Even experienced ShopBot operators learned something new when going over the basics of ShopBot set-up and the tools within VCarve Pro. Want to join all the open segments in an imported .dxf file or change all the individual segments into a sweeping curve? Want to trace a bitmap? Want to recalculate all the toolpaths in one go? Want to get an estimate of the time to machine a part? There’s a tool for that.

While the skull was being 3D carved, we split up and worked with smaller groups on different projects on different machines. On the big ShopBot gantry tool that belongs to Coastal Carolina University, we worked on a shop stool project that is available on the ShopBot website.

Screen shot of shop stools laid out so that the slot size can be adjusted for the actual thickness of the material.


Finished shop stools.

On the other Desktop, we worked with a V-bit. Richard demonstrated how to import a bitmap, trace it, and VCarve the result.  The CC was an example of how to use the VCarve toolpath tool to create a raised design by selecting the design, and a border. The CC is reversed so that the carving can be used as a stamp for textile design.

By painting the board first, then carving into it, one can easily create a two-color sign or design. (Or perhaps you have a piece of scrap material, and the board was already painted and placed back in the material pile.)

Session 2 of the Master Class included some additional options. VCarve Pro is 2D CAD and 2D/3D CAM software, so you can import 3D files and toolpath them, but you cannot design them or manipulate one that you have imported. Aspire is the big sister of VCarve Pro, and is a 2D/3D CAD and CAM software. In other words, you can “puff up” 2D vectors into 3D models. Another of one of the tools in Aspire allows you to import a black and white image and create a 3D component based on the grayscale of the photo. As an example, we snapped a photo of a fish on the wall at our restaurant, and used Aspire to create a 3D carving.

Art object on the wall. Photo snapped to be turned into a 3D component in Aspire.


Underlying vectors of fish and a border “puffed up” into 3D in Aspire.


Pattern of fish extracted from photograph and laid over the underlying 3D model.


Model machined in pink foam with a .25” ball nose bit.

With the small size of the second session, attendees could get some in-depth instruction on options or ideas that they were interested in. Two-sided machining, setting up jigs for multiple copies, and the rotary indexer for machining in the round were but a few of the topics that had heads spinning and ideas flowing as folks headed back to their own shops.

48 contestants. 48 hours. One winning idea.

Make48 Film Crew at Work

As a product design student walking into an event where teams are tasked with designing a product, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Every day at school we brainstorm ideas, sketch them out, prototype them over and over, and then at the end of the project, market and present a finished prototype to our peers. As I looked around the empty shop in the quiet hours before the competition began, I wondered how closely what I was about to witness would resemble the process of product development that I had grown so familiar with. I was in Towson, Maryland at the Stanley Black & Decker Makerspace for Season 3 of the TV show “Make48” in which 48 contestants have 48 hours to develop a product, produce a working prototype, create a short promotional video for that product, present it to a panel of judges, and do it all within the given challenge category and specific budget constraints. Sounds easy enough, right? This year, the contestants were all college students from universities all over the country—but I wasn’t there as a contestant. I was invited as a tool tech for ShopBot Tools, there to help the teams realize their ideas through physical prototypes and to guide them through the process of 3D modeling and 2D vector design for CNC machining.

Once the contestants began to arrive and I had a chance to talk with them a little, it became apparent that the competition drew a heavily engineering-based crowd. Of course, there were outliers who didn’t fit into this category, and there was one team that didn’t have a single engineering or design-based member. Those were the teams I was most interested in following. Sometimes throwing people out of their element and having them do things they wouldn’t normally do can yield surprising and positive results.

Right before noon on Friday, we all gathered around the huge stop clock at the front of the room, eagerly waiting for the 48 hours of chaos to begin. The giant steam whistle blew loudly, like the start of a factory workday in days gone by. It’s then time for the teams to get down to business and time for the tool techs to stand at the ready once the prototyping begins. Straight out of the gate, each team tackled the brainstorming phase in different ways. Within the first two hours, one team had created a model and 3D printed a rough prototype while many other teams struggled to narrow down the category of products that they wanted to focus on. Some teams immediately turned to sketching out their thoughts, while others pulled their ideas together into ordered lists, and one team had a mess of notes scattered across the table with no rhyme nor reason. Unfortunately for me as a tool tech, I was merely a spectator in these first few hours as teams decided what they wanted to create. It wasn’t until they began thinking about prototyping that my expertise came into play. One-by-one, the teams began to send their members out to the tool techs to begin fabricating their ideas.

Cutting prototypes for the TV camera.

For me, that was when the most rewarding part of the whole weekend began; the first contestant came to us with their idea, and we helped them translate their idea into a real, tangible product. We worked with them to create or edit their CAD files and guide them through the process of converting those vectors into a ready-to-cut .sbp file. As the machine warmed up and we zeroed the axis to the new material, I watched the whole team gather around the tool. As the spindle began to cut away at the material, there was a visible change in their expressions as the magic of technology brought their vision into reality. Watching their faces light up with pride as they watched the ShopBot cutting out their product or their logo was rewarding.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about design in my time at school, it’s that presentations matter. There were many rapid prototyping techniques available at this event to bring these teams’ projects to life. In addition to the two ShopBot CNC machines, there were twelve Ultimaker 3D printers, an Epilog laser cutter, a large vinyl cutter, a Bridgeport mill, and a CNC plasma cutter, as well as a well-stocked wood and metal shop filled with many Stanley Black & Decker power and hand tools. Although several universities represented have ShopBot tools in their programs, the teams unfamiliar with CNC technology found some machines intimidating. Once we cut out a few things on the ShopBot ourselves, you could see the curiosity and confidence in the faces of the contestants begin to grow as teams got excited about the potential of prototyping on CNC. On the last day, as I looked out on the stage as each team presented their products to the panel of judges, I admired all the work we’d done with the ShopBot. Without our ShopBot Desktop and large PRSalpha 5’x10’ gantry – or any of the other digital manufacturing machines – the outcome of this competition would have been very different, and certainly would have taken longer than 48 hours. In the world of design, an idea is nothing if you can’t see it through to a working product.

I really wish that I could tell you more about all the incredible products that the teams produced, but I’m not allowed to share that information until the show is released next year, so you’ll have to wait until then. For more on the show, including what channels the first two seasons can be viewed on, visit


Reported by Sarah Burns. Sarah is a third-year product design student at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. She works at their Makerspace in the library where they have a ShopBot Desktop.

Timeless design and old-fashioned customer service lead to Durham Bookcases’ success

We recently popped in for a quick visit with Phillip Fletcher to see how his business, Durham Bookcases & More, is doing and to take a peek at his 17-year-old ShopBot. Rest assured, his business and his ShopBot are looking good and continue to be ready to take on customer needs today and into tomorrow.

Fletcher’s shop sits just beside the railroad tracks in Downtown Durham. He’s been working in this space since the early 70’s when Durham was a tobacco town and Main Street was still a gravel road. The area has changed a lot since then. He now finds himself surrounded by pricey new condos and busy boutique restaurants – brimming with college students and professionals alike.

For more than 30 years, Phillip and the crew at Durham Bookcases & More have continued to produce and sell quality bookcases, as well as other real wood furniture items, that fit in both contemporary and traditional homes. Foot traffic is still an important part of the business and allows the Durham Bookcases staff to really connect with customers. However, internet presence via their website and through online retailer, Etsy, have enabled them to expand their sales footprint – selling all over the world. As many businesses and manufacturers have similarly been affected – especially since 2008 – Durham Bookcases has navigated shifts in material pricing and availability due to economic conditions that are still present today. However, they remain committed to reasonably priced furniture that customers can feel good about investing in, furniture that stands the test of time.

The ShopBot that Phillip purchased in 2001 continues to be an integral part of his manufacturing process. Over the years, he has amassed thousands of files – standard and custom jobs – that he runs on a ticketing system. Staff are able to systematically move projects through the shop using a combination of traditional shop tools and the ShopBot; and are able to scale up to accommodate demand.

Durham Bookcases believes in making quality products that last, just like ShopBot does.

Take a look back at the original story we ran on Phillip in 2011 below.
Written & Published by: Michael Berliner

Business: Durham Bookcases (& Other Cool Wood Stuff)
Where: Durham, North Carolina
ShopBot Tool:
 96 X 48 PRSalpha (purchased in 2001)

Furniture maker Philip Fletcher founded Durham Bookcases back in 1995. “Our goal from the beginning was to build bookcases at competitive prices with high quality workmanship.” As time has passed, Durham Bookcases has grown their offerings to include custom-built entertainment centers, wall units, office furniture and bedroom furniture, and increased the variety of woods, sizes, & options to continue to please their customers.

Fletcher says his guiding philosophy has always remained the same. “I’m a custom maker. It always works best if my customers meet with me one on one, to discuss their needs fully. That way, the customer is pleased with the outcome. I know my furniture is going to last — so I want the customer to be happy with their purchase for a long, long time!”

It was about 10 years ago that Fletcher added digital fabrication technology to the core of his manufacturing process. He contacted Durham neighbor ShopBot Tools and has been pleased with the tool, and his relationship with ShopBot, ever since.

“My ShopBot is a workhorse,” says Fletcher. “Quite simply, it’s reliable.” Over the years Fletcher has found that the ShopBot’s easy interface is a boon because it’s easy to train employees how to use the software. Asked how long it takes to bring a new employee up to speed, Fletcher didn’t hesitate to answer: “Twenty-four hours.”

When it comes to technical problems, Fletcher smiles and says, “It usually turns out to be a user issue, not a problem with the tool. Customer service has always been friendly and available when we need it.”

Durham Bookcases has been in business long enough to have experienced busy times and quieter times, and has witnessed shifts in customer attitudes and interests. “There was a trend in recent years for customers to want only ‘green’ materials,” notes Fletcher. “I like to point out that by using quality woods is the best way to be green — because furniture that lasts for 25 years and more doesn’t ever need to be recycled!”


From the Archive…
See Phillip Fletcher’s posts on the ShopBot Blog (2010) about making raised panel doors with the ShopBot:

Making the Perfect Door, Part I: Concept and Programming

Making a Perfect Door, II: Construction and Reprogramming


You may also be interested in…
Durham Bookcases and More and ShopBot Tools, Inc. are both headquartered in Durham, NC. Here’s a post about projects around town that have been “touched by  a ShopBot”.
Signs of ShopBot Around Our Hometown – Durham, North Carolina

Why We Build Our Tools Ourselves

You may know that ShopBot Tools sells CNC tools, serving small-to-medium sized manufacturing companies. What you may not know is that we build our digital fabrication tools ourselves – using digital fabrication. We design and build our own tools, the electronic controls for the tools, as well as the software that runs the tools, which differentiates ShopBot from most other companies selling affordable CNC equipment.

As a potential CNC owner, the fact that we design and build our own tools makes a meaningful difference to you. With a ShopBot, you get a tool from the people who designed and manufactured the tools and the software that runs it. You get your help and support from the people who know and understand the equipment and its control. The equipment, the design, the wide range of training and support resources that we make available to you – all are based on our own continual involvement in small manufacturing using the digital technologies of the equipment itself.

We use the tools ourselves all day, every day. That’s why we understand how CNC, digital fabrication, and robotics are used in production. We make use of that knowledge in the development of our products and in the technical support we provide to you for your production success.

Our involvement in design and manufacture, combined with our full engagement in customer support, creates a cycle of product enhancement that we think of as our “Turbine of Innovation.” Here’s how it works:

There is a continuous loop of integrated feedback between our manufacturing and our customers’ manufacturing. We learn from our production. We learn from your production, and we learn from you. We integrate this learning and discovery into our design, development, and improvement process. This process efficiently drives the innovation that provides you with greater productivity, product reliability, and ease of use.

An advantage of building our own tools rather than importing and reselling others’ equipment is that we’re able to rapidly make iterative improvements and enhancements to tools and software. We continuously integrate these improvements into our products and keep ShopBot owners in an upgrade loop. When we develop something new, it does not obsolete your previous investment; instead we focus on upgrade paths to keep your tool in that Turbine of Innovation loop. Even 18-year-old ShopBots have been updated to have many of the capabilities of new tools – they keep working year-after-year. Because of this longevity, ShopBots keep their value and usefulness rather than becoming a financial and logistical burden to your shop.

We are currently in the process of rolling out our next generation controller for digital tools and equipment. Representing several years work, it’s both hardware and software that improves motion, making fabrication faster, smoother, and easier. It allows monitoring and tuning of tool performance and tracking usage and job flow. We call it FabMo (digital Fabrication and Motion platform). FabMo will first be available on our small tools this summer, then we will begin shipping on full size tools, and, shortly after, will be available as an enhanced, drop-in-controller for older ShopBots – giving them new features and capabilities.

And yes, we get a kick out of developing and building the tools ourselves. We like hands-on. We like production. We enjoy using technology to stay competitive – and we enjoy producing the kind of product that will empower your competitiveness and appreciate the opportunity to help you succeed.


Digital fabrication technology is the key to making small manufacturing competitive again

Over 20 years ago, we had an idea to bring digital control to production tools, but at a human scale —digital fab technology at the time was only available for large industrial applications. We wanted to make the technology accessible to entrepreneurial individuals, small shops, and small-run manufacturing. 

History shows that our idea caught on. The press now calls this concept of digital technology being used competitively by small manufacturing: “The next industrial revolution.” Checkout how digital fab works for our own manufacturing:  “Eating Our Own Dogfood … ”.

Returning small manufacturing to our communities can restore their vitality. Manufacturing is the single most effective economic activity for producing value. It preserves our quality of life; it keeps us creative; and it keeps us competitive. Small manufacturing is especially effective because of its close relationship to the local economy, its proven role in education and workforce training, and its integration within a community.


We believe in small manufacturing and we practice it.

We use digitally controlled equipment (often our own ShopBots) to produce ShopBot tools. We utilize the continuum of digital fabrication technologies – from the digital model of our tools, to digital prototyping, to full CNC production of almost everything we make. As well, we use digital technologies in our marketing, logistics, and other business activities. We believe that it is these technologies that will make small manufacturing realistically competitive again, right here in the US.

In short, we are small manufacturers of digital fabrication equipment and we use digital fabrication to produce that equipment. We live the idea. We help it work for you!
See Ted Hall’s full series of essays on using Digital Fabrication in Small Manufacturing:

To learn more about ShopBot Tools, visit:

Explore our community of digital fabrication manufacturers at:

Popular Pastime Reintroduced by ShopBot Tools at the Maker Faire Bay Area

The 13th Annual Maker Faire Bay Area, which took place May 18th-20th, once again did not disappoint. The weather was beautiful and there was an estimated attendance of 90,000! Packed with hands-on and how-to sessions, makers young and old were inspired and excited. New programming was added this year: Thursday After Dark at the Exploratorium; Industry, Career, & College Day on Friday (See: The World Needs more Makers article on; and there was the addition of the Learning Lab in Fiesta Hall.

The ShopBot booth was converted into a pop-up factory; creating a start-to-finish production line using the ShopBot Desktop MAX, Handibot® Large Sheet Tool and Handibot Smart Power Tool – Adventure Edition tools to make yo-yos. Yes, yo-yos!! We painted and pre-cut baltic birch 1/2” plywood into sheets to fit on the Desktop MAX. Then, we handled the cutting, drilling, and carving as a batch process for the insides of the yo-yo pieces. Engraving and edge round overs on the painted side of the yo-yo pieces (the fronts) were then processed on one of the two Handibots. After the machining operations were complete, we lightly sanded the pieces, then completed assembly using a dowel pin and string to then pop the sides together and…voila! Using our booth as a live production and assembly shop was a demonstration of how many products can be designed, then manufactured, using CNC (digital fabrication) in a systematic, consistent, and highly efficient manner.

Close to 1,000 yo-yo’s were distributed to attendees at Maker Faire over the 3 day event!

We were thrilled with the abundance of social media posts generated at Maker Faire. Posts were shared by makers with the yo-yos created at the show and pics of themselves with our giant 44” foam yo-yo (cut on a 4×8 PRSalpha tool and assembled pre-show) with the hopes of being selected as the drawing winner for the Handibot Smart Power Tool giveaway. We selected at random from all the social media posts shared publicly and tagged with #goShopBot, #goHandibot, @ShopBotTools, and @HandibotTool. And the winner is… Heather Taylor Price! Heather is a maker and works at a library makerspace at a high school in Utah – she has been considering adding CNC to the makerspace for quite some time and now has the opportunity to do so. We can’t wait to see what she comes up with for the students to tackle! You can follow Heather on Twitter: @skyridgelibrary and @heathertaylorprice.

Midday Saturday, our very own Bill Young participated in a panel discussion at the MAKE: LIVE stage. Experts in digital fabrication including Josef Prusa (Prusa Research s.r.o.), Dan Shapiro (Glowforge), and Bill Young (ShopBot), moderated by Matt Stultz, discussed the current state of digital fabrication and where they see it moving forward.

One of our big highlights was Saturday afternoon, at the MAKE Center Stage. Ted Hall presented: “How Digital Fabrication Promises to Make Small, Fulfilling, Local Manufacturing Competitive Again.” Ted talked about an invention his uncle had designed 30+ years ago and how, until very recently, there wasn’t an affordable way to produce this or many other inventions without excessive upfront costs and huge production numbers. Today, however, with the availability of enabling tools in the digital fabrication realm (CNC, 3D printers, laser cutters, etc.), Ted’s uncle and makers all over the world can be competitive.

Ted’s presentation was based on a series of Medium articles that he’s been writing. Learn more about these themes: leapfroging current mass-production and replacing it with methods that can make the small producer competitive again, Digital Fab Renews Small Mfg, Complexity Comes Free, Leveraging Agility & Entrepreneurial Energy.

The next opportunity to hear Ted Hall, ShopBot’s Founder & CEO, speak will be at the CNC Symposium at IWF, August 21st.

Maker Faires are popping up all over the world. While we can’t be at all of them, we encourage ShopBotters to take their Handibot, Desktop, or Desktop MAX to a Maker Faire nearby so you can show off what you design and make. You get to watch kids of all ages light up, they learn about how to make a classic toy (like what we did) or another object, and it provides an opportunity to get to know other makers in your area. Find a Maker Faire near you.

Taking my business in a new direction

Well the last four years have been challenging to say the least. To get caught up as quickly as possible, in early 2014 we moved into a 6,000 sq ft space and purchased a large CNC machine to grow our custom closet business. In short, business has continued to increase and we have a growing base of happy customers for both our retail closet installations and our wholesale closet parts.

Spacious walk in closet with angled ceilings, a long center island and a window

Designing, manufacturing and installing custom closet systems like this one has been the main focus of our business for the past several years

However I have not found it easy to keep up. We immediately ran into problems with the fancy new CNC machine, along with almost everything else that I purchased. And unfortunately while I have been lucky enough to have a couple of good long-term employees, I have not been able to build a capable team to help us scale or even to keep up with the daily workload effectively. Along the way I’ve learned a lot about working with people and running a business that I wish I had known 30 years ago when I was just getting started. I’ve also learned a lot about myself, what I’m good at and not so good at, and what I like to do and don’t like to do.

Stack of wrapped parts on a large pallet getting ready to be shipped out

Wholesale customers, including contractors and other closet companies, have become a sizable part of our revenue

And so I’ve come up with a plan. I’ve decided to close my shop and team up with two other local businesses to serve both our residential and wholesale customers. One is a former competitor who is handling all our retail leads (in exchange for a small percentage of whatever they sell). The other local company, with whom we will be partnering on the wholesale closet business, is another manufacturer who has a very substantial production facility but has been lacking a coherent order entry system or any way to price out a lot of small jobs efficiently.  The online catalog/order entry/customer management system that I’ve been building fits the bill perfectly.  Combining our customer base and ordering system with their production capacity will enable us to grow together – and the best part is that I can work from home, without the headaches or overhead of maintaining my own production facility.

Panoramic view of Atlanta Closet & Storage Solutions production facility

Overall view of our production facility with the large CNC in the foreground and the ShopBot in the center

I’m excited to be making this huge transition, but a little nervous about the next step, which is to sell all our equipment and get the space cleared out. After some consideration I’ve decided to use an online auction service to liquidate everything at once. Here is the sale info (bidding ends July 20 2018). Highlights include our big throughfeed router, two edgebanders (one for curves!), forklift, scissor lift, and plenty of router bits, hand power tools, storage cabinets and displays, office furniture and cabinetry, and much more!  And yes, I am selling my ShopBot.  It’s a pretty big deal after owning a CNC machine (or two) for almost 19 years.

Several dozen pieces, parts and projects of various nature, all custom designed and cut with a ShopBot CNC machine

Family reunion: a few examples of the hundreds of projects completed on my ShopBot over the last two decades

I know I’m going to get asked 1,000 times why would I ever want to sell the ShopBot? It’s been a huge part of what I am and what I’ve been capable of, not to mention one of the primary tools I’ve been using to earn a living, for almost 20 years. Well, it’s complicated, but essentially, I’m ready to no longer be the person that runs the machine. Or that even employs the person who runs the machine. I’m ready for a simpler, less stressful stage of my life where my income is not tied to how many hours I have available to work in the shop, or to being able to keep a bunch of other people productive and out of trouble.

      In a nutshell, here are the  Top 10 reasons to sell the ShopBot too

10.  It’s a good time to be selling good used equipment. Adding the ShopBot to the auction increases the overall interest in the auction and may lead to increased activity on the other items.

9.  Combining the additional auction income with saving the time and cost of moving the ShopBot to the house and setting it back up, I would have to bid and execute a lot of work just to repay the initial cost of keeping the machine

8. We may be selling the house in the next year or two and the machine would have to be sold or moved again

7.  I can still sell profitable work and have other shops cut it

6.  I know at least 6 other businesses that own CNC machines that I can call on to cut whatever I might need

5.  Selling the machine will force me to be serious about moving on to the next phase of my life

4.  I need to concentrate on less physical ways to earn money, preferably some that earn residuals

3.  I want to spend more hobby time with my wife and less time in the shop

2.  I won’t miss the noise or the dust

1.  It’s only a 4×8

My first ShopBot selfie!

Memories of my ShopBot will always bring a smile to my face. It’s been about the most reliable piece of machinery in the shop.

You might notice there are no traditional woodworking power tools in the auction. I still have all of my personal tools and basic woodworking equipment at the home shop, so other than not having my own CNC (at least for a while) my capabilities have not diminished, but my motivations and desires have changed.

So will this be my last column? Maybe and maybe not. I still have plenty of photos of projects I’ve cut that I haven’t written about yet, and just because I have a plan doesn’t mean it will work out exactly as expected. It rarely does.

Former ShopBot COO Takes CNC to the Woodworking World

Interview from 2014 IWF in Atlanta, GA

ShopBot’s former operations manager, ‘head camp counselor,’ and the penultimate editor of American Woodworker, Randy Johnson, is out championing CNC to woodworkers across the country. As an enthusiast of traditional woodworking, Johnson caught the CNC bug and has become an inspiring proponent of digital fabrication, CNC, and how to bring it all into the woodshop. His new book with George Vondriska, CNC Router Essentials, introduces readers to the technology and craft of CNC with presentations focusing on Vectric software and highlighting ShopBot projects.

The book is organized to get new CNC users going quickly, leveraging the ease of use of VCarve Pro from Vectric, Ltd. and the best practices for introducing CNC, as developed by the ShopBot training team working with new CNC users over the last 20 years. There is a lot of good detail in the book with illustrations of dozens of projects from our shelves right here at ShopBot World Headquarters.

One of the last chapters in the book features a wooden box with a beautiful 3-D, domed lid that George, along with the WWGOA (Woodworkers Guild of America), developed as a ShopBot project. George produced a fascinating video that will step you through how the work was done and impress you with the CNC skills and strategies he has developed.


SPECIAL OFFERS Celebrating Randy & George’s Book Release




(1) For a limited promotional period, you can purchase CNC Router Essentials book from the ShopBot web store, bundled with printed instructional PDFs of the ShopBot projects from the book’s gallery, and including a jump drive with all the files you need to produce these projects. The jump drive includes four other quick start projects from Randy.




ShopBot Bit Kit (All 1/4″ Shank), 7 Onsrud Cutters: 1/2″ 90° V Bit (13732) 1/8″ Upcut Ball Nose (13727) 1/4″ Upcut Super “O” (13729) 1/4″ Downcut (13507) 1/16″ Tapered Ball Nose (13731) 1/2″ Two Flute Straight V Flute (13733) 1/8″ Straight “O” Flute (13728)




(2) For a limited promotional period, we will offer a 10% discount on our 7-Piece Bit Kit when purchased in the online store, noted in the book as an excellent way to make sure you have appropriate CNC cutters for your first woodworking work with CNC. (USE Discount Offer #CNCESSEN on our web store at checkout. You don’t need to be a ShopBotter to benefit from this one. Valid through 9.11.2018)






ShopBot’s Basic Training classes cover CNC basics with hands-on learning in a fun interactive environment.




(3) And, while reading about it is great, it’s hard to beat a hands-on, work-with-the-tool approach to getting started in CNC. For a limited period, we’ll be providing Randy and George’s book to participants in our highly-regarded Basic CNC Training course (two days at ShopBot here in Durham). You’ll actually do real projects – just like those in the book – with plenty of help at hand to make it easy to work through any questions you may have.  




Here are some projects you can download from our website that are featured in the CNC Router Essentials book along with other fun CNC projects.

And, you may also be interested in …

Wood Choppin’ Time: Randy Johnson from ShopBot visits the guys at the Wood Choppin’ Time shop to a quick demo of how a CNC machine works.

Andrew Pitts, Furniture Maker

Core77 ShopBot Series


George operates Vondriska Woodworks in Minneapolis where he has a ShopBot Desktop MAX (and several other CNC tool brands);

Randy has recently taught Intro to CNC classes for woodworkers on ShopBot tools at both the Marc Adams School of Woodworking and the Port Townsend School of Woodworking.

ShopBot Offers Free Training for Imported CNC Routers

Images from a recent webinar on flattening and carving a log slab.

ShopBot Tools is opening its highly-regarded webinar training to owners and operators of imported CNC routers. Whether you bought an imported tool on eBay, or purchased from a US importer of Chinese tools such as Laguna, ShopBot invites you to join us for our online webinar trainings.

We’ve come to recognize that some importers (and even some US manufacturers) feel that once they’ve shown you how to start and run your CNC tool, their responsibility ends. We know that several dealers even boast of a short, “free” training session for their tools.

But as anyone familiar with CNC tools and digital production will tell you, taking a file to a CNC and starting it up is not the toughest part of CNC. Rather, it’s the conceptualizing and executing efficient CAD/CAM projects, and integrating digital fabrication into the production process, that can be a challenge to any shop. There are just a lot of interesting components of CNC to learn about – from design concepts to machining issues to material-holding. You’ll want to be able to develop an efficient workflow that fits your style. Everyone can benefit from access to key production information and resources. ShopBot would like to help … particularly shops that are just getting started with CNC. We can help new users avoid a lot of frustration. We recognize that the value of CNC is often less related to how much it weighs or what you paid for it, than whether you can put it efficiently to work in your facility. We’ve trained a lot of people to operate CNC routers over the last 20 years – we have a pretty good idea how to do it.

ShopBot is positioned to help because we design, develop, and manufacture CNC routers ourselves, right here in North Carolina, and not just the machines. We make the software, the electronic controls, and the tools themselves. So we know CNC from a lot of different angles. Maybe even more important, in our own shop we use CNC and digital fabrication across the entire manufacturing process. Our tools are digitally modeled, digitally prototyped, and digitally manufactured using CNC. We have a strong commitment to digital fabrication and robotic production assistance and believe it can be the key enabler for realistically competitive small manufacturing.

How to join the training:

Images from a recent webinar on making a custom bit holder – a great first CNC project.

And, hey, why are we doing it?

ShopBot’s CEO, Ted Hall, has stated:  “… If we can provide the training and resources that others are not offering, we feel like we are helping everyone in CNC, including ourselves. It’s that old ‘raising the water level’ thing.”

Non-ShopBot owners are also welcome to sign up for our in-house and regional trainings. In attending one of our trainings, whether online or in-person, you will also learn about items available in our web store—bits, accessories, and other supplies—most of which are appropriate for all CNC tools. And, ShopBot also offers CNC production services and consulting that can be helpful in setting up production with any CNC equipment.

Reports suggest that only 20-30% of production shops that could really benefit from CNC or production robotics are putting these to use. We have been making the case for years that it is robotics that will give the small shop and small manufacturing the chance to be competitive again. ShopBot is happy to lend a hand to all new CNC tool owners.