A CNC Tool that Produces Profit for Cabinet Makers

CMA 20th Anniversary Conference March 1-2, 2018 Denver, CO

ShopBot recently attended the CMA’s 20th Anniversary Conference in Denver, CO. We participated by sponsoring a lunch highlighting our 20+ years supporting small and medium sized cabinet operations with affordable and innovative CNC tools. Many of ShopBot’s first customers were cabinet makers and it was fun to touch base with some of the friends we made in our early years.

While a few of those customers have moved on to big-iron CNC’s, many others still depend on their ShopBot tools for day-in, day-out production; and many have added a second tool to increase throughput while creating agility in how they put their CNC equipment to use. Sometimes two tools are better than one, especially if they are affordable. 

We also got to chat with newer customers at the event. More than ever, we find that ShopBot has the products and services relevant to the dynamic needs of today’s cabinet makers—who must be responsive to the changing needs of their markets. They appreciate tools that can adapt with them to accommodate what the new work demands. The ease of use of ShopBot tools, as well as their adaptability, configurability, and programmability, make them wellsuited for the production methods of creative cabinet making.

Because we not only design and build our tools, but also develop our own highly usable software, we are wellqualified to help with a broad range of needs for those using CNCs in production. Our staff of experienced CNC users, developers, and engineers can work directly with customers on what options are best for their needs because we are the developers of the products we sell. And we use them in our own manufacturing, every day.

ShopBot’s CEO and Founder, Ted Hall, says “… being competitive today is about cabinet makers making effective use of smart technology. Just because a tool is controlled by a computer, or has a decal that says “smart,” does not mean that it will make you smart. You need a tool that is intuitive and interactive … a tool that puts you in control of your work and production. We’ve put a lot of years into making equipment that works with people.”


“When I first bought my PRSalpha ShopBot, I thought it would do everything for me,” says cabinet maker Keith Larrett. “But what I’ve learned since is that it’s even more important than that: it doesn’t do the work for me, it allows me to do work that wasn’t possible before, and do it with more speed and precision.”

Keith Larrett, Syzygy Woodworks
2014 PRSalpha 5×8 with Automatic Tool Changer 
ShopBot Spotlight: Syzygy Woodworks 


“I needed to find a CNC that could be assembled in my workspace and one that didn’t break the bank. I was a bit surprised with sticker shock for the caliber machine I wanted to get into – and even then, these machines couldn’t be disassembled. That’s when I stumbled across ShopBot Tools. Their machines had an excellent reputation and their customer service was out of this world great,” says custom closet and cabinet maker Andy Glass“I was a bit nervous on what add-ons might bring the cost up to and I was extremely relieved to see the final price. It was so much lower than the competition that I decided to add-on a service tech to come help me set it up, tune the machine, and train me on the software and ATC capabilities. It was an extra cost, but even with that addition it was well below the competition; and bringing the field tech to the shop was the best decision ever.“

Andy Glass, Glass Impressions
2017 PRSalpha 5×8 with Automatic Tool Changer
Andy Glass Knows How to Make a Good Impression


“The ShopBot has met and exceeded expectations. We’re able to perform repetitive tasks such as making the parts of tables, chairs, benches, and cabinetry much faster than before — so of course it saves us money. And there are some areas where CNC has afforded other benefits. For instance, I knew that we could do decorative carvings using the tool, but hadn’t really intended to do much of this work. Well, I’ve found that I’m doing more and more of it, because clients are really liking the work.”

Andrew Coholic, Joe Coholic Custom Furniture, Ltd.
2012 48″ PRSalpha ShopBot Buddy® with Industrial Spindle and 4-foot Powerstick
Custom Furniture Maker Finds Surprising Benefits of CNC


ShopBot has made CNC accessible to small and medium sized shops. We don’t just import and resell something we don’t understand. At ShopBot, we design, develop, build, and support our tools, all from our Durham, NC facility. Our customers know that we know CNCand that we know cabinet makinginside and out. Give us a call, visit our website www.shopbottools.com, or better yet, join us for one of our interesting, useful (and fun!) trainings at our headquarters in Durham, NC. If you can’t get out to North Carolina, keep your eye on our schedule of events and plan to attend one of our regional events where you can learn more about how we’ve helped cabinet makers compete and thrive.


Here are a couple of other blog posts about our customers using their tools for cabinet making and furniture making:

Woodworker Nick Buchholz’s ShopBot helps him explore new areas of design

Andy Pitts to other fine woodworkers: “Don’t be afraid of CNC!”

ShopBot Tools in large-scale manufacturing: Wood-Mode


Robotics Week: The New, Small Manufacturing is About Production Robotics

Ted Hall, ShopBot CEO, recently posted an article on small manufacturing on Medium. He explains why the new robotics is less about replacing people and more about making successful use of production robotics to enable small producers to be more realistically competitive:

Over the last several months, I have spoken to several groups about robotics in small manufacturing. Everyone gets that robots, and specifically the digital-fabricating robots that are particularly interesting to me, are machines that offer useful automation — automation in the sense of helping a producer make a lot of something. But an emphasis on automation can make it easy to miss the more powerful advantages that robotic assistance offers small manufacturing. These are the advantages that will be key to re-establishing the competitiveness of local, low- and medium-volume production.

[Click Here for Full Article]

Makerspaces in Education: Becoming Comfortable Using Your ShopBot and Other Digital Fabrication Tools

Showing off projects created on a ShopBot CNC and a laser cutter

Do you own or have access to digital fabrication equipment such as a ShopBot CNC machine, laser cutter, or 3D printer, and an interest in education? Do you want to know more about the software and machines available for digital fabrication in education? Are you a facilitator of a digital fabrication lab or makerspace who would like to join a support network of other educators to discuss project-based learning, lesson plans, and how to address standards? Then this hands-on workshop is for you! ShopBot’s Sallye Coyle will be facilitating a multi-day “Digital Fabrication in Education” workshop at ShopBot headquarters in Durham, NC.

This 2½ day workshop will begin with ShopBot CNC machines. Using VCarve Pro CAD/CAM software, we will design and prepare files for machining on a ShopBot. The sessions will then move to cross-platform training—demonstrating how designs originally intended for one digital fabrication tool can be prepared for use on another platform (example: CNC to laser or vinyl cutter, 3D printing to 3D Carving on a CNC machine). Topics will include design flow, 2D vs. 3D, computer aided design (CAD) and machining (CAM) software, and how to evaluate which digital fabrication process is best for a desired outcome. The final half day will return to ShopBot tools, providing more advanced information for those charged with installing, maintaining, or getting the most out of their CNC machine. If there is sufficient time and interest, we will have a session with an introduction to Fusion 360 CAD/CAM software and/or using a Rotary Indexer on the ShopBot.

While you do not have to have CNC or CAD/CAM experience, familiarity with some aspect of digital fabrication would be helpful. There will be opportunities for show and tell, and at least one round table discussion, so you should come prepared with questions and/or examples of how to use digital fabrication in education. Working in collaboration with your fellow attendees, you should leave the workshop with hands-on projects and ideas to address topics related to STEM, CTE, the Arts, Common Core, and/or Next Generation Science Standards.


Summer Session 2018 • June 14- 16, 2018

On-site at the ShopBot facility in Durham, NC

  • Thursday: 9am–5pm
    Thursday evening open hours to work on your own project (optional)
  • Friday: 9am–5pm
  • Saturday: 9am–1pm
  • 2.5 days total (2 CEU credits)
  • Cost: $400 per computer seat (we can have up to 2 people per computer)


How to Sign Up

If you’re interested in attending the workshop, send us an email at info@shopbottools.com with your name, contact details, and a couple of sentences about your experience level. And of course, questions are welcome!

For more info on the event, check out the blogs that describe previous workshops in July 2017 and 2016. To learn more about local accommodations and other things in Durham, see the visitors section of our website.

About the Workshop Leader

Sallye Coyle is experiencing how rapid advances in computers, software, and technology have changed the way education is served by digital fabrication spaces. She has traveled extensively in the US and the world, working with schools, Fab Labs, and makerspaces to “train the trainers” in how to use the digital fabrication technology, as well as how to build, maintain, and use ShopBot tools.

Special guests

In addition to ShopBot CNC tools, Handibot® Smart Power Tools populate the ShopBot Training Area. We are working on making a suite of other digital fabrication tools (and their handlers) available on-site for the workshop. These tools include: a vinyl cutter, laser cutter, and an Ultimaker 3D printer.

Signs of ShopBot Around Our Hometown – Durham, North Carolina

While driving along Roxboro Road on my way to ShopBot Tools World Headquarters (as founder Ted Hall likes to call it) one morning, I spied a sign for the Wright School that I had carved on the ShopBot tool I have in my barn. It made me think about a few of the projects that have been touched by a ShopBot tool in ShopBot’s hometown of Durham, North Carolina.


I once heard someone at a ShopBot event say that, “when you get a ShopBot CNC machine, you automatically become a sign maker.” My first “paid” gig was just that… a sign. It taught me that a professional sign maker needs many more skills than being able to carve the design, but the ShopBot goes a long way towards making each sign special. Almost 18 years later, I smile every time I drive past the house in town that sports a white sign with black lettering. The sign itself is the same shape as the house, which makes it a more customized piece than just a rectangle with an address.

Look closely in the lower right corner to see my first “gig” with a ShopBot, a sign in the shape of the house. It’s not a clear picture because I want to protect the privacy of the homeowners. This first sign taught me that the design process and finish work can take far longer than carving the sign!


Some of my projects are pro bono to contribute to the community. The Wright School in Durham provides best practice, cost-effective, residential mental health treatment to North Carolina’s children, ages six to twelve, with serious emotional and behavioral disorders. State-supported, it is frequently one of the programs threatened by budget cuts. A friend of the principal wanted to give him a sign for the school as a “thank you” for all of his hard work. The ShopBot did the carving, the friend did the finishing work.

While the sign I did for the US Forest Service didn’t stay in Durham, it was carved on the ShopBot in my barn. The design called for raised lettering, which allowed me to paint the blank with three coats of sign-maker’s black paint, then carve away the low spots. The Hardwood Store of North Carolina in Graham supplied samples to test types of wood to determine what would machine nicely. Ash was the wood of choice, both for color and edge quality. I used a V-bit to bevel the edges of the design, followed by an end mill bit to carve away the rest. Mitch Fisher, of Fisher Signs, sprayed the final sign with three coats of polyurethane before it was sent to the Forest Service in West Virginia.

Carving a blank that has been painted first.

Finished sign (55” x 33”) after coating with three layers of polyurethane by professional sign maker, Mitch Fisher.

Collaborations with Artists

Bull Durham

If you drive through downtown Durham (perhaps in search of ice cream at The Parlour), you’ll see Major the Bull striking an imposing figure in the CCB Plaza at the corner of Corcoran and Parrish Streets.

The original Major was not created with the help of a ShopBot. But TJ Christiansen, who is known for his excellent ShopBot trainings in house and online, used his ShopBot to create a foam mold, then welded metal components together over it to create a new version of Major. When last I visited the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), TJ’s version was gracing the lobby.


Black Wall Street

Major the Bull marks the entrance to Parrish Street, also known as “Black Wall Street.” Before the current renovation and revitalization project began in downtown Durham, along Parrish Street and its environs were six monuments that celebrate the contributions of four key institutions that spurred black enterprise in downtown Durham. The same artists who designed and fabricated Major, Leah Foushee Waller and Michael Waller, created the six bronze sculptures. The lettering on the aluminum plaques for each of the sculptures was engraved on my ShopBot PRT, using a 90 degree V-Bit, VCarve Pro (then called Part Wizard), and lots of Dawn dish detergent diluted with water (one part Dawn, two parts water) as a coolant.


North Carolina Central University

The four institutions celebrated by the monuments were NC Mutual Life Insurance Company, Mechanics and Farmers Bank, The Mutual Building and Loan Association, and North Carolina College. North Carolina College, which became North Carolina Central University, was the first public liberal arts university to support black students. For its centennial celebration, NCCU again called on Leah Foushee Waller and Michael Waller to create a centennial crest for a new park on Fayetteville Street.

Google street view of the NCCU Centennial Park on Fayetteville Street. The centennial crest is at the top of the stairs. Information plaques for the centennial chapel were also carved with a ShopBot.

When creating a bronze sculpture, often the first step is to create a model that is then used to create a mold into which the hot metal is poured. From the letterhead of NCCU depicting a sculpture of James E. Shepard, founder of NCCU, I created the model of the 36” diameter centennial crest out of MDF. A summary of the steps, from 2D graphic to 3D model, to pouring the molten bronze, and the final product after cleaning up and coloring by Mike Waller, is shown below. The bronze was cast at the foundry of Liberty Arts located in Durham Central Park, where the Farmer’s Market is held each week. It’s worth a visit to see the metal gates of the foundry.



Duke University has its own makerspace and technology hub on campus, with a ShopBot Desktop CNC nestled in among the 3D printers. Duke University was also host (and ShopBot Tools a sponsor) for the first Construct3D Conference. Construct3D 2018, the national academic 3D printing and digital fabrication conference and expo, will take place at Georgia Tech, October 5-8, 2018. The second annual event, co-founded by Ultimaker’s Lizabeth Arum and Matt Griffin, and Duke University’s Chip Bobbert, and sponsored by founding sponsors Ultimaker and Duke University, will focus on academic use, best practices, and professional development opportunities for faculty, staff, and students from informal, K-12, and higher education contexts. Look for ShopBot to again be a sponsor.

ShopBot Desktop in Duke’s Innovation Studio

While the theatre department at Duke does not have a ShopBot, it has contracted to have a ShopBot create sets for plays that are being previewed at Duke before heading to Broadway and elsewhere. The set for the production of “The Great Game” was machined at ShopBot Tools by the prototype PRSalpha tool with a vacuum hold down table. Hey Duke Theatre Department: Playmakers at UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State’s University Theatre have ShopBots in their set design programs!

Set for “The Great Game.” Ninety panels with 250 – 350 plunges per panel were machined in two weeks (8 hours a day) on the first PRSalpha with a vacuum hold down table. So much material was machined away from the board that supplemental hold down (screws) was used in addition to the vacuum. Half inch material, .25” compression bit, ramp into a single pass. Toolpaths included “profile to the inside” for bigger spaces, and pocketing to turn the waste into dust for smaller spaces.


NCCU Fab Lab

NCCU is also home to the first official Fab Lab at a historically black college/university (HBCU). Funded in part by the AJ Fletcher Foundation, the lab houses a ShopBot Desktop in addition to 3D printers, a digital embroidery sewing machine, and an Epilog laser.

Grand opening of the NCCU FabLab. Signage created with a ShopBot PRT.


Funding for the Fab Lab came in part from the AJ Fletcher Foundation. During an official visit by representatives of the Foundation, an NCCU student demonstrates the ShopBot Desktop in the lab.


CTE in Durham Public Schools

ShopBots also abound in the area high schools. For example, Southern School of Energy and Sustainability has a furniture making program, with the goals of having the sale of the furniture made by the students go towards scholarships for college. Riverside High School has an active PLTW (Project Lead the Way). Jordan High School has a ShopBot Desktop in their woodworking area. When you drive onto the campus of Carolina Friends School, you will be greeted by signs that were created on the ShopBot in the woodshop.


Restoration and Renovation

Durham has seen an explosion of restoration and renovation in the last 5–10 years. What was once a sleepy mill town (tobacco and fabric, both now gone) with a university close by has become a destination for the arts, foodies, and young people. Many of the older buildings are being updated, and Chris Burns has been instrumental in helping that happen. Chris was an original member of ShopBot Tools when it was incorporated in 1996, and still travels for ShopBot to do trainings and installations. He and his family have a service, Austin Automation, in which they contract CNC work.

Next to Duke University’s East Campus, Trinity Park is a neighborhood of gracious homes, many dating back to the 1910s and 1920s. One such home was the original Watts Hospital that was moved to its present location on Watts Street when a new hospital was built. After being allowed to fall into disrepair (a bathtub from the second floor fell through to the first floor), the current owners did a major renovation a number of years ago, which helped to spur a revival of the entire neighborhood. The house was in need of a few tweaks, so Chris did a digital probe of a corbel that needed to be reproduced. Once he had the digital file, multiples of the corbels could be manufactured.

Probing the original corbel with the ShopBot Digitizing Probe.


Four new corbels (and the original) on the front porch of the home in Trinity Park, Durham, NC.

Chris has also worked on bigger projects in Durham. Sometimes it is difficult to realize the scale of the projects when looking at photos of individual components. For example, here are three photos, the first is the original piece, the next two, the reproductions that Chris created.

Here’s the project, reproductions in place, to give a better sense of scale:

And now, the whole picture:


Another Project: Rosettes for The John O’Daniel Exchange are laid out on a 4’x8’ ShopBot.

The application of the finished product:


A Durham Business That Relies on Its ShopBot CNC Tool

In downtown Durham, next to the railroad tracks on Duke Street, and near several of the renovated buildings, is the showroom and factory of the Durham Bookcase Shop. Owner Philip Fletcher and his crew rely on their ShopBot CNC to create everything from the sign outside the building to the ready-to-finish furniture inside. You can purchase something off the floor or specify a custom size bookcase/table/dresser to fit your space. Philip can change the digital file and quickly produce a “one-off” piece.

Looks like Google Maps caught the Bookcase Shop in the process of mounting a new sign


A selection of the possibilities. The ShopBot CNC allows the Bookcase Shop to compete with the big box stores and keeps the production local.


Custom Work for Local Institutions

For over 10 years, Hardwood Designs in Hillsborough, NC used a ShopBot CNC to fabricate high-end interiors at local institutions like Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and the Thomas Center. The CNC machine is an important part of their production facility.

Interior of Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

Behind the Scenes

As mentioned earlier, Durham has become a destination for foodies. There are several key players in the scene: people who have converted what were unhappy places into exciting and inviting places to visit. Nick Hawthorne-Johnson and Rochelle Johnson are two such people. Starting with what was once the Durham Food Co-op building, they created a community kitchen and incubator space that incorporate parts of Durham history. The space has grown into a key event space in town, The Cookery. Visit their website for a 5+ minute video of their early adventures.

I have a special place in my heart for Nick and Rochelle, since our son did an internship with them after college. His experience there helped to inspire him to go to law school with an interest in business law. So when Nick and Rochelle started on their next adventure in downtown Durham, I was happy to lend a few hours of machine time for a project that plays a supporting role. If you visit the izakaya (Japanese pub) upstairs above Dashi, a Japanese ramen shop, and you sit in a booth, know that the ShopBot in the barn created the frame for the seats.

The Future of Educational Technology

Say “Educational Technology” to a room of teachers, administrators, and vendors, and you will get many different definitions. Having recently attended the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC 2018) as a “civilian” rather than an exhibitor, I was able to attend workshops and presentations, visit the entire convention floor of vendors (387), and stop by poster sessions to chat with teachers and administrators. It was an opportunity to see how ShopBot Tools can meet the needs of educators by adding training, tutorials, and projects that link to standards, and providing these in addition to the manufacturing of quality CNC equipment.

The poster sessions were grouped by topics of interest, and submitted by real teachers/administrators. They provided for casual conversations between those with boots-on-the-ground experience and those who might be new to a topic of interest. Notice that in many of the sample posters shown below, “Why” is as important as the “How to”.

The poster sessions I had the opportunity to attend included:

• Electronics
• Coding

How coding integrates into the school day

• Makerspaces

‘Iolani School in Hawaii has maker spaces in its middle and high schools. The high school has a PRSalpha 96×48 • www.iolani.org


Integrating Makerspaces across disciplines

• Integrating Problem/Project Based Learning

• Professional Development

Professional Development strategies: Lecture or Engage?

WORKSHOPS: I also attended several workshops about integrating project-based learning and makerspaces into the curriculum standards. One, by Michael Gorman, included an amazing number of resources that are available on his website.

Visit Michael Gorman’s website for a wealth of suggestions.

Additionally, I attended two working sessions on free software to help with documentation which are relevant to teachers, students, and perhaps, ShopBot tutorials. Spark software from Adobe helps users create “Professional looking graphics, web pages, and videos in minutes.” A 20 minute introduction to Book Creator was enticing for embedding pictures, videos and text into eBooks that can be anywhere from two pages to 20 pages long. Look for examples soon.

387 vendors of Educational Technologies exhibited. Sorted by broad categories, the vendors included:

• Computers, smart boards, covers for computers, projection systems for the classroom.

I didn’t win the document scanner raffled off by Epson. I really wanted the smart board or projector.

• Furniture for the classroom or makerspace

CEF (Custom Educational Furniture) manufactures furniture for the classroom and makerspaces. Many of its designs are suggested by kids. www.cefinc.com


Store the metal stools under the table. Note the big magnets.

• Software for classroom management, documentation, CAD
• Distributors and suppliers of STEM education packages
• Games to teach coding or video games

Bloxels is a platform and an app that teaches the basics of creating video games. The Educator Handbook includes links to common core standards and NGSS.


• Digital fabrication equipment
• 3D printers (lots of brands, many distributors for the same brand)
• Laser cutters; Epilog and Full Spectrum included
• A first: a water jet cutter by Omax

The Omax water jet cutter can use the same design files as ShopBot CNC machines. Look for the glass unicorn I designed on the sample table.


Detail of unicorn in glass cut with the Omax water jet.


Same design files machined in HDPE plastic with a ShopBot CNC

Plans for FETC 2019: Next year, look for ShopBot to provide information about CNC equipment for cutting sheetgoods and 3D carving in wood, plastic, and non-ferrous metals.

Andy Glass Knows How to Make a Good Impression

Andy Glass hamming it up as he begins shooting a video in his shop.

To say Andy Glass keeps himself busy is an understatement. In addition to his YouTube channel Glass Impressions, he has a full-time day job, and does woodwork (of various kinds) in his “free” time. This is all while he juggles family life, which includes a wife and toddler at home.

But perhaps we should start at the beginning. Ever since he can remember, Andy has loved woodworking and making things. At age 7, he was already making birdhouses—and it progressed from there. He claims he has the “maker gene” courtesy of his grandfather. Although he only knew him once he had been retired, Andy’s grandfather was a master cabinetmaker and master homebuilder. Retirement didn’t stop him from working, he still had a beautiful shop at his home in St. Cloud, MN. When Andy’s family would go to visit, 5-6 times a year, he would spend 110% of his time in the woodworking shop with his grandfather. He wasn’t always in there building things of his own, though. Often he’d be in there helping his grandfather build things for other people, holding his hammer or helping him in whatever way he needed.

The most memorable thing he learned from his grandpa? Efficient use of materials. Andy was working on a project and needed to cut something from a scrap piece of wood. He plopped the measurements down, right in the middle of the piece of wood. His grandfather stopped him, “Why make two cuts when you can move your measurement down to the edge and make one cut?” he asked. Something so obvious as an adult, but as a 6-7 year old, not anything you even consider to get the job done.

The only formal woodworking education Andy has is from high school classes in construction and woodworking. Instead, he took what his grandfather had taught him and continued with self-education. He used everything from books to online videos, read other online content and magazines and, as he likes to put it he “learned by making.” That includes making mistakes too.

While working on projects in the standalone shop he had at home in Bismarck, ND, he decided to grab a camera and film one throughout his process. That first project? A Shopmade Blast Gate for 4” PVC dust collection piping. He posted it online and things took on a life of their own. The video was getting hit after hit, and because of his business and entrepreneurial skill set he came to the realization that there was value in what he was doing. It was from here that he was able to gather sponsors, which yielded sponsorship money and tools for product endorsements.

Andy’s First YouTube Video

He continued down this path for about 3 years while working his day job and produced videos when he could. Because he couldn’t devote 100% of his time to it, his competition began surpassing him. After spending some time exploring other opportunities in the realm of video channels and other online arenas, Andy recently decided to relaunch his YouTube channel, Glass Impressions. From some of the comments already coming in on his most recent posts, followers of his original YouTube channel are happy to have him back and are looking forward to what he’ll be doing next.

Having always had a love for traditional metalwork machinery and their precision, woodworking routers entered his radar while Andy continued doing woodworking. He saw the technology slowly becoming more and more affordable, which led him to decide to build a CNC himself—something he references as the worst decision of his life. “I wasted a whole lot of time and money, although I learned a whole bunch. I know CNC machining from the ground up now, how the machines work.” The hardest part of building the CNC machine himself was the sheer amount of time it took. “It’s like taking on the plumbing project of putting a garbage disposal in your house (if you’re not a plumber). You find yourself going to Home Depot or another big box store a million times just to put in the disposal.” While he is appreciative to have learned everything he did from putting the tool together, he can’t help but think on it with regret. “It was so much wasted time, when if I had bought a non-kit machine from the get-go, I could have used all of that time to learn about how to use the CNC instead of learning how to build one.”

After that experience, he purchased pre-built CNC machines and then it was 100 mph, full-steam ahead into CNC. “You have to appreciate the precision, repeatability, and the accuracy that CNC gets you.” He currently has two ShopBot tools. The first one he started using is the Desktop MAX. One of the projects he worked on with that particular tool is custom stair treads—a project that he was able to complete by using some custom jigs he made. And while he now uses his second tool, a ShopBot PRSalpha with an automatic tool changer, to do the majority of his larger jobs, the Desktop MAX has continued to be put to good use — he’s used it to create cabinets and signs, among other things.

After learning a bit about Andy and how he got where he is, we asked him some more specific questions:

SB: What were you doing traditionally that you’re now doing via CNC? Are there things that you wanted to do traditionally that you are now using the CNC for because it makes it easier?

AG: I’ve had a handful of business opportunities and products that have been rattling around in my head since the day I learned how to do woodworking. Coming up with an effective and economical way to do it has always been automation and that technology is CNC. As I moved in progression to where I am now, those opportunities are now becoming a reality. Everything I used to make in the woodworking shop was done in a traditional manner: chop saw, table saw, the router jig or the dado blade for dados and grooves and rabbets, etc.

Just this past month, we were doing a huge bar job for a bar/restaurant in Valley City, ND. The booth ends are traditional booth ends, but they wanted the end caps in solid walnut and then connected via poplar/plywood that was stained. I quickly designed a jig for use in the CNC that could register 4 glued-up walnut panels, and the machine would cut out the booth profile and add a 1/8” rabbet where it needed to connect the plywood—and I had them all done in under 3 hours (24 ends). This is just an example of how in the short couple of months having the machine, it has saved an enormous amount of time in the shop. This project is something that is not out of the realm of traditional woodwork capabilities, but it would have taken well over 2-2/12 days to complete this component.

SB: You mentioned using a jig for the booth ends, and you used one for the stair tread project. Do you find yourself building a lot of jigs for your projects or is it something that you’ve come to realize helps you problem solve?

AG: Both. I utilize CNC to make jigs and templates to not necessarily use the CNC on the project itself. Example: Putting in a live bathroom slab in the women’s room of the bar/restaurant project, we needed a 4 3/4” hole cut out for a vessel sink. I didn’t want to use the saw on the live slab, so I used the CNC to cut a jig with a 4 3/4” hole in a piece of wood, with the perfect dimensions for what we were doing for the sink. I knew that by doing this and clamping it on top of the slab in the right orientation, we could then use a router with a flush trim bit to cut the slab via the jig/templated hole. An, example of using the CNC in the initial stages of the project, not directly on the project itself.

On the CNC/production side (I geek out about this because I’m big on process and habit of workflow – finding a system no matter what it is that you do) find jigs or layout lines or stop blocks, anything that allows you to do repetitive work on the CNC with minimal effort in-between your “go times” is so worth it up front for that capital investment to save you so much time. The jigs developed allow for set-up to do things to take minutes instead of hours. It maintains efficiency and more so, consistency between cuts on the production work – which is essential – and is a must have skill in CNC technology and CNC workflow.

SB: What is it that you find you want to do with the tool that you haven’t had the time to do yet?

AG: To develop the product line for my new Fargo closets company. I have realized that there is a big gap in the market for reach-in custom closet systems, or closet systems in general that are high quality and affordable (or relatively affordable). I subscribe to Mosaic cabinet software, and have been playing around with the software creating projects, and they are just sitting in a queue, waiting to be made. My father has contracted me to build the closets in his new home in Fargo, and the general design person, interior/industrial designer that is working with them on everything did a walk through of the house with me (and my step-mother) telling me exactly what she wanted for each of the closets. I know it’s achievable via Mosaic and the ShopBot. Kitchen cabinet quality with more budget-friendly pricing. It’s all about quality.

The ShopBot CNC has me so excited because I can’t wait to get done with the bar/restaurant job and get my Fargo Closets company going. I see myself possibly transitioning out of having a “day job” and doing this in my spare time to actually making it my full-time job.

High School Students from Dripping Springs, TX Use ShopBot Tools to Rout the Competition

Jad Jadeja and the students from the Innovative Airflow Technologies and Turbo Tigers teams.

Dripping Springs might not be the biggest city in Texas, but big things are happening at its only high school. As a school that is totally committed to providing students with challenging learning opportunities in science, technology, and math, the programming and engineering classes of teacher Jad Jadeja continue to impress. Not only have his students competed in multiple statewide events, but they have also advanced to national level competitions and now find themselves heading to a world competition in Dubai in December.

This past school year, Dripping Springs High School (DSHS) was awarded the title of Fab Lab from MIT. According to the official press release “Jad Jadeja’s room has been officially designated as a Fab Lab.” Of the 700+ Fab Labs worldwide, DSHS is the only high school in Texas to achieve this status. Part of attaining this designation involves providing a hands-on environment that takes a project from an idea all the way to a working model. This process involves not only learning engineering principles, but applying them using the latest technology. Students are required to learn how to use a variety of hi-tech equipment like 3D printers and CNC machines. As part of the design process, the students learned how to use software such as SolidWorks, Solid Edge, and Aspire. 

After the design process came fabrication—and this is where Jad’s two ShopBot CNC machines (a ShopBot Buddy and a Desktop) played a critical role. Whether cutting wood, composite materials, acrylic, or aluminum, it seems that no project was too big or small for the ShopBot tools. Jad would be the first to say that not only did the machines work well, but ShopBot provided a great deal of support during the design and fabrication phase of each project.

Over the past two years, many students in Jad’s programming and robotics classes have completed certifications in SolidWorks, Solid Edge (this year), ShopBot* (including Aspire training), LabVIEW, and OSHA.

Last December, Jad’s students competed at the UIL Best Robotics Competition that included 5-A and 6-A schools from Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. The students placed 6th in the state of Texas event and came in 15th overall. Approximately 80% of their robot was built using one of the ShopBots! In addition, another engineering teacher at Jad’s school enlisted his students’ support in cutting out aluminum parts on one of the ShopBots for the FIRST Robotics Competition.

Innovative Airflow Technologies team in front of their booth at the competition.

In January 2017, the success continued with the Innovative Airflow Technologies team of Aubrie Caldwell, Skylar Daniel, Ken Gossett, Cade Nowicki, and Elliott Turner. They placed high enough at the Texas F1 in Schools state competition in Austin to advance to national competition in Austin in June. F1 competitions include a complete race car, 3D designed to contest specs, and then fabrication of the car out of an expanded PVC block of material. The race car is then painted, and tires installed. Powered by CO2 cartridges, the cars compete (two at a time) on a 25-meter race track where the fastest times are recorded. The Innovative Airflow team employed the ShopBot rotary indexer to do four-sided machining while carving their race car on the ShopBot Desktop. In addition to designing and building an F1 race car, the team must also put together a display, project portfolio, and a marketing plan, which they then use to make an oral presentation to the judges at competition. As a little tune-up for Nationals, the Innovative Airflow Technologies team made a presentation at this year’s Austin Camp ShopBot to the delight of the attending ShopBotters.

Innovative Airflow Technologies’ vehicle design for the competition.

In addition to the F1 competition at state, there also was a 4×4 in Schools Challenge competition. The Turbo Tigers team of Ben Marsan, Henry Windsor, Cole Scott, Bryce Fitzpatrick, and Jason Fitzpatrick advanced to national competition as well.

Members of the Turbo Tigers team.

The Turbo Tigers team had requirements similar to those of the Innovative Airflow Technologies team, in regard to project design and fabrication, creating a display featuring some of the steps taken, and the requirement of a portfolio and oral presentation. Their remote controlled 4×4 had some unique features, including one feature that only this team had: telemetry. An embedded microprocessor in the car sent roll and pitch, temperature, altitude, and GPS data to an application the students monitored on a PC. The data was then converted into graphical displays. From the GPS data students could locate the car using an application like Google Maps, and then visually display the location on a map in real time. 

The Turbo Tigers’ competition display.

One of the greatest challenges in the competition is navigating an extremely difficult obstacle course with your 4×4. The Turbo Tigers used a ShopBot to build the body for their 4×4. After importing their 3D model into Cut3D software, they sliced the model into three layers. They then used the ShopBot to cut the parts, glued them together, and sanded the entire  mold for the car. Using a vacuum hold-down jig, heated plastic was vacuum formed around the mold and that was then removed and painted. Even though they faced stiff competition at nationals, the Turbo Tigers placed 2nd and qualified for the 4×4 World Competition in December, held in Abu Dhabi. Click here to see video from the first day of the World Competition.

The Turbo Tigers entry into the 4×4 competition.

Every time you think that Jad Jadeja’s students have reached their limit, they are off to another incredibly challenging project. This past year they started the preliminary work in building a solar car for the National Solar Challenge that will occur later this school year. In addition, the school has introduced an internationally recognized soldering certification program.

From being the first official Fab Lab High School in Texas, to advancing to national competitions in a variety of areas, to helping cut the parts for the school’s robot used in the FRC World Championship, to qualifying for the world 4×4 competition, Jad, his students, and his two ShopBot tools keep taking more territory every year. It looks like they will all have to make sure their passports are up to date – they are going to go far!

~ reported by Brett Dickinson for ShopBot Tools


*ShopBot Certification is currently a beta-test program in Texas with Brett Dickinson. For more information, contact ShopBot Tools via email: info@shopbottools.com

Shelter 2.0 Gets a Boost from Vectric

Shelter 2.0, the Open Design transitional housing design created by Bill Young and Robert Bridges, has just made the “release” files available for a new 8’x8′ design that not only reduces the materials needed, but includes a lot of small changes to make them easier to assemble and less hardware-dependent. You may have seen early versions of the 8’x8’ in the wild before, at places like the FabLabDC, the Big Build at the National Building Museum, and MakeLocal at the NY Maker Faire.

The interesting part of this though is how they have been released. One of the hardest parts of sharing designs like Shelter 2.0 is supplying files in enough formats, and with enough information, to be useful to fabricators. All the Shelter 2.0 designs are created and toolpathed in VCarve, so at the San Mateo Maker Faire this past Spring we asked the Vectric team if they had any ideas for sharing our VCarve files with people that might not have a copy of the software. The solution that they came up with was brilliant…to add special tags to Shelter 2.0 files that will allow them to be used in the free trial version of VCarve v9.

With these tagged files we can now include all the machining information to Shelter 2.0 files that we think is important but is not available in other formats. Users will not only be able to do a few modifications to the parts, but most importantly will be able to create toolpaths and run them on their own CNC tools. This will allow fabricators that might not have VCarve, or haven’t updated their copies yet to V9, to be able to use the files just the way we do when we cut them.

You can download the specially tagged files at http://vectricltd.cmail20.com/t/r-l-jrijdhhk-jlihdlhrtu-h/ and find cutting instructions and assembly instructions on Google Docs.

Our special thanks go out to the Vectric team, especially Chris and Steph, for making this happen. And of course to ShopBot for supporting Shelter 2.0 from the beginning.


Make48 to Air Season Two this Spring!

Make48 at the Kansas City Art Institute

The new TV show, Make48 is kind of a combination hybrid of Iron Chef and Shark Tank. You start off with an unveiled topic and some resources and then set the clock ticking. Twelve teams now have 48 hours to: come up with an idea that fits the topic provided; do a patent search to see if their idea has been used already; prototype the idea–with the help of digital fabrication experts and craftsmen and using materials from a $200 shopping spree at Ace Hardware; throw out your idea already prototyped and try again; stay up late and perfect the idea; build a website and marketing materials to promote the idea; and then, finally, sell a finished product in eight minutes to a panel of experienced entrepreneur judges for constructive and de-constructive criticism. If you got through that laundry list of a sentence without taking more than one breath, you can begin to get a sense of what the two days are like.

Now in its second season, the show is hosted by the Kansas City Art Institute, who graciously opened up their campus and MakerSpace to the competition. My son, Bryan, and I were invited as volunteers and “Tool Techs” for the two ShopBot Desktop MAX machines that the school has so that we could help the contestants create their ideas. The teams also had the use of a bank of 12 Ultimaker 3D printers, an Epilog Fusion laser, a makeshift wood and metal shop out in the parking lot, and help from a team of professionals from patent lawyers to GoDaddy website workers. The weekend became a true immersion experience into the world of brainstorming, entrepreneurship, and the design process.

The creative leveraging of digital fabrication tools and great design software is what truly enables the success of product idea development in only 48 hours. It was rapid prototyping on steroids with some teams pulling all nighters to get their products completed. Bryan and I finished cutting Friday night around 2:00 AM. We witnessed each digital fabrication machine used for their strengths. The printers were creating plastic fan turbines of several designs that required internal structure and undercutting that could not be created any other way. The Shopbot Desktop MAX cut materials like MDF, hardwood, and plywood that the printers can’t use, and the laser was burning away on some acrylic with elaborate etched designs. The efficient workflow from idea to CAD to CAM to NC kept all the equipment active for most of the crunch time.   


Pivot plate being milled with the ShopBot MAX.


The twelve teams were very diverse. One was made up of two high school girls and their Dads. Another was a group of inventors that already had successful products on the market. A husband and wife team came up with a very creative sports game, and an entrepreneur from across the pond in England teamed up with a woodworker from the U.S. Most of the groups had viable and interesting products that were well presented to the judges at the end. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal the products or the winners due to property rights and I don’t want to spoil the episodes for you. The three top winning teams receive ongoing assistance to design, patent, and get their products to market, which will later be a part of the final edit.


Bryan and Kyle showing off their skateboard design.


Here is a photo of the youngest ToolTech, Bryan (17) and the youngest team member, Kyle (11) from San Diego who both teamed up to design a skateboard with pivoting wheels to double as a rolling school backpack, an idea that they abandoned early on day two. Another product that I liked was a floating pool hockey game with a never ending supply of water to shoot your opponent’s puck into the goal (SEE VIDEO 2). This game was in violation of two different patents that when combined together shut down another great idea.

For more information, and to find out how to be a contestant on the next season, go to their website. There is also a complete listing of viewing times and public TV stations that are currently running season one.

~ Reported by Chris Burns

Neathawk Designs – “If You Think It, We Can Create It!”

One of the many signs created by Neathawk Designs

When the recession of 2008 hit, housing and land developers found themselves hit particularly hard. Lindsay Neathawk was a graphic designer for a land developer, and soon was impacted by the recession as well come 2010—and found herself looking for a job. Instead of standing still and waiting for a job to come to her, she decided to invest in her first CNC tool (a CNC Shark) and began a sign making business in her garage. Neathawk Designs was born.

Because she was using her CNC tool for hours on end, and milling PVC over long periods of time, she kept breaking her machine. She found she outgrew the tool quickly, it only took about 2 months. But she continued on with the tool and used it for about a year before determining she needed a tool that was bigger and a bit more robust. In 2011, after much research she chose ShopBot’s Full Size PRSstandard. As a part of being able to get up and running on the machine in a timely manner, she and her husband attended one of ShopBot’s Basic Training sessions on-site at the ShopBot facility.

Once they returned home to Williamstown, MA in The Berkshires, Lindsay started working with the VCarve software and building sign files. That didn’t last too long, though. Three months after using VCarve, she decided to switch to Aspire. Lindsay told us, “I was so excited about doing 3D work, that I had to move from VCarve to Aspire to achieve the results I wanted.” Her first 3D project was a sign design for a dentist that included 3D teeth.

The signs that jump started using Aspire for projects.

While Neathawk Designs gets the majority of their work via word-of-mouth, referrals, or repeat business, sometimes a project comes up because of who you know, not just what you know. In 2012, Lindsay’s husband, Ryan, was speaking with one of their neighbors, Dr. Donald H. Sanders, an archaeologist. He had moved into the realm of digital media and had developed software that takes digital photos shot with a smartphone and converts them into 3D computer models, which can then be used for interactive archaeological visualizations. At the time, he was working with Harvard University’s Semitic Museum on a reproduction of a ceramic lion that had been destroyed 3,000 years earlier in the ancient city of Nuzi, in ancient Mitanni, (now northeastern Iraq). Apparently Ryan had the utmost confidence in his wife’s ability with her CNC tool, and suggested that they work together on a physical reproduction of the piece. While she hadn’t done this kind of project before, Lindsay forged ahead. She cut a prototype from foam on her ShopBot and when the people at the Harvard Semitic Museum were shown the result, they were blown away. She was then asked by the museum to create a full-sized version, using the same technique, for display in the museum alongside the remaining fragments of the original.

The Nuzi Lion

In subsequent years, Lindsay and Ryan determined that they wanted to expand their shop. First came the addition of a couple of pieces of equipment that gave them the ability to offer their clients more. Their sign business continued to thrive. They then realized that their garage just wasn’t enough space for the business and moved into a larger, much more spacious facility. More room to move, more room for equipment, and as it turns out, more room for larger projects.

In the meantime, Learning Sites, Inc., the company founded and run by Dr. Sanders, had begun work on another project. The spoils panel from the Arch of Titus in Rome was being studied and re-colorized as a part of an exhibition “The Arch of Titus – from Jerusalem to Rome, and Back” for the Yeshiva University Museum. After exploring several options, the museum decided that having a full-scale replica of the important Roman sculpture would be the most beneficial way to display it in the exhibition. To enhance the experience, a digital replica and colorization that Learning Sites had developed would be projected over it. Learning Sites contacted their friends at Neathawk Designs again, hoping they could help as they had with the Nuzi lion. Lindsay accepted the challenge of recreating the Roman relief panel and got to work on the project that was going to consume her life for almost two months.

The final piece is 1.5’ deep x 12.5’ wide x 6.5’ tall. Quite a bit larger than the bed of her 4’ x 8’ ShopBot PRSstandard, but that didn’t stop her from figuring out a way to make it happen. She divided the full-sized piece into four smaller panels, then used Aspire to create slices of each panel, with the slices building one on top of the other to complete the final surface. Each panel is made up of nine slices which means there were 36 slices in total. Once the software work was done, it was time to put her ShopBot to work. In the beginning, Lindsay sometimes had her ShopBot running for 24 hours straight! After 49 days straight, averaging 10-12 work hours a day, the piece was finished. To meet the deadline, she had promised that she wouldn’t work on any other projects until the Arch of Titus panel was complete. By the time she completed it, she had 25 sign projects waiting for her attention.

When it comes to Neathawk Designs’ typical work, Lindsay’s background in graphic design and marketing have been a huge help. She still views what she does as graphic design and marketing, just in a different medium. Potential clients come in and discuss their needs with her and often think they then need to employ the services of a designer, thinking that Lindsay only does the physical fabrication of the signs. They are often pleasantly surprised to learn that Neathawk designs and makes the signs, which makes it much easier on them. She also likes to get the client involved in the design process from the very beginning. As she puts it: “They’re the ones marrying the project, so they should be involved in developing it.”

While Neathawk Designs is Lindsay’s full-time job, her husband Ryan participates in the business as well. He not only contributes ideas (which are often a helpful different perspective), he does some of the fabrication work as well, particularly in metals. One of his more recent contributions was building a plasma cutter from scratch. Although he has a full-time job as a general contractor, he’d like to eventually stop doing that and do work for Neathawk Designs full-time. They’re not quite there yet, but it’s not too far out of reach.


Yeshiva University created a video documenting the process and installation of the spoils panel of the Arch of Titus replica. You can view it by using the link below:

Video courtesy of Yeshiva University