Camp ShopBot San Diego: April 9 at The Old Globe Theatre’s Technical Shop

Attendees of Camp ShopBot San Diego.

Attendees of Camp ShopBot San Diego.

When planning camps, ShopBot tries to collaborate with hosts whose spaces offer curiosity and interest beyond just their ShopBot tool. This April, the San Diego Camp ShopBot location hit all the proximity switches on queue: The Old Globe Theatre’s Technical Shop situated east of downtown San Diego. Having outgrown the theatre’s available build space, the technical production shop expanded into a huge warehouse a few years back. Gillian Kelleher, their Master Carpenter, reached out to us about hosting a camp after attending one in 2014.

Camp attendees heard presentations on best practices in 3D carving, calculating feeds and speeds, finding hidden gems in the SB3 software, uses for the Donek Drag Knife, and more. Gillian Kelleher, our host, talked about their design to construction process and gave us a tour of the painting department, which had very tall tree trunks laid out, and the expansive props department that housed items from every era and other strange vestiges salvaged from past shows.

Though camps are typically presentation-based, this particular camp had several other components that made it a little different than the usual. For example, ShopBot’s Sallye Coyle had the opportunity to demonstrate a tool tune-up by reseating the pinion gear into the rack on one of the X motors on the theatre’s PRSalpha. With a lot of attendees that are active in San Diego’s various maker scenes, there were some discussions and conversations about makerspaces and the maker movement.

There were also some impressive Show and Tell examples, including highly detailed garden railroad kits and custom pieces made by Sue and Ross Piper for their business, Rainbow Ridge Kits. Tim and Lalane Haenisch service the military community with custom boxes and plaques for heirloom and commemorative military objects in their spare time, though they told us that they’re in need of more hours in the day for their expanding hobby.

Sample of work created by Sue and Ross Piper of Rainbow Ridge Kits shown at Camp ShopBot San Diego.

Tim Haenisch discusses his work at Camp ShopBot San Diego.

Sample of work created by Tim Haenisch shown at Camp ShopBot San Diego.

Sample of work created by Tim and Lalane Haenisch shown at Camp ShopBot San Diego.

Our furthest-distance-traveled award went to Brady Fulton who flew in from Phoenix, AZ and is Shop Fabricator for ADAPT at Southwest Human Development. He presented a model of individual designed seating they create for kids with disabilities age birth to 5 years. ADAPT recently had a custom ShopBot built, which included a tangential cutting knife and spindle. Our youngest-ShopBot-attendee award went to Marissa Gilbert who attended with her dad, Gene, and used FabMo installed on Sallye’s phone to move the Handibot around.

Brady Fulton, Shop Fabricator for ADAPT at Southwest Human Development, presents a work sample at Camp ShopBot San Diego.

Marissa Gilbert running a Handibot, with the help of Sallye Coyle, with her father Gene looking on.

Thank you to our host, Gillian, for the great space and warm hospitality, and to all 35+ attendees for your questions, knowledge and enthusiasm.

Digital Fabrication in Education Workshop

Do you have digital fabrication equipment such as a ShopBot CNC machine, laser cutter, and/or a 3D printer, and an interest in education? Do you want to know more about the software and machines available to you? Are you a facilitator of a digital fab 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 2 1/2 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 printer to 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.

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.


July 14-16, 2016

  • On-site at the ShopBot facility in Durham, NC
  • 9-5 Thursday and Friday, 9-1 Saturday (Optional evening hours July 14 to work on your own digital fabrication project.)
  • 2.5 days (2 CEU credits)
  • $400 per computer seat (we can have up to 2 people per computer)

See our website for information about Durham hotels, restaurants, and area activities.

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, FabLabs, TechShops, 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: 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 a Dremel 3D printer.


Would you like more information about the workshop? Fill out this online form.

Learn about other trainings offered by ShopBot at our website.

ShopBot a key sponsor of CTE Makeover Challenge

The Handibot® Smart Power Tool, Adventure Edition. ShopBot is donating two of the tools to the CTE Makeover Challenge

The Handibot® Smart Power Tool, Adventure Edition. ShopBot is donating two of the tools to the CTE Makeover Challenge, as well as introductory training.

ShopBot Tools is proud and excited to be a leading sponsor of the CTE (Career & Technical Education) Makeover Challenge, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education.What’s the big idea? Schools can enter their design for a school-based makerspace, and the winning schools will win resources to make those makerspaces for real! You need to enter by April 1, 2016 — so if you’re an educator or know an educator, help spread the word NOW.

Here are some details from the CTE Makeover Challenge site:

“The U.S. Department of Education (ED) invites schools to enter the CTE Makeover Challenge by submitting a design for a CTE makerspace.”

“A makerspace is an environment or facility that provides resources, materials, and equipment for students to conceive, create, and collaborate through making….Through making, educators enable students to immerse themselves in problem-solving and the continuous refinement of their projects while learning essential 21st-century career skills, such as critical thinking, planning, and communication.”

All eligible schools will gain access to the CTE Makeover Bootcamp, a 6-week program that provides resources and expertise in makerspace design and planning. $200,000 in cash and other prizes will be distributed to a maximum of 10 honorees to turn their vision for a makerspace into a reality. Honorees will produce and submit a video tour of their constructed makerspaces and compile an online portfolio of materials for use in the CTE Makerspace Showcase, which will take place at the World Maker Faire in New York City in October 2016.”

What ShopBot is doing to help.

ShopBot Tools is getting involved in a big way. We’re helping the winning schools by donating Handibot® Smart Power Tools, our portable CNC tool. We’re donating our time by offering training classes, webinars and blogs to help teachers and students set up and get the most from their digital fabrication tools; and we’re even providing credit toward purchase of a ShopBot CNC tool.

Sallye Coyle, ShopBot’s Director of Community Outreach, explained ShopBot’s decision to support the CTE Makeover Challenge. “We think it’s great that the CTE Makeover Challenge has been designed with workforce preparedness in mind,” said Sallye. “The skills that students acquire working in makerspaces translate directly into the real world of technology-based product development and manufacturing. It’s become clear that there are job opportunities in US-based firms, but properly trained people are in short supply. These makerspaces are helping prepare high school and college graduates to find work in 2016.”

ShopBot Tools are used in countless schools, makerspaces, FabLabs, and other community-based learning environments in the U.S. and around the world. We’re thrilled that this Makeover Challenge is underway. It’s yet another initiative that will help the next generation be prepared for the future of work that involves understanding and using emerging technology.

CTE pic




ShopBot helps Florida schools establish sorely needed STEM education

Middle schooler helps assemble a ShopBot

Middle schooler helps assemble a ShopBot

There has certainly been a lot of press ink, as well as talk coming from the business and political establishment, about the need for more STEM education in the U.S. to better educate our young people to compete for jobs. Nowhere is the talk turning into action more than in Polk County, Florida, where multiple schools (some revamped, some new, at both the middle and elementary school level) have been reimagined — and now funded — to put STEM and STEAM education into practice. STEAM adds the “A” for Arts in addition to curricula in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. ShopBot Tools is one of a number of digital manufacturing companies that are involved in creating FabLabs at the schools and training the teachers to become familiar with their use.

Why now and why Polk County? The business community is demanding it!

The local business community in the County has clearly expressed the need for increased student performance to help feed the local economy by providing well-prepared workers. Polk Vision, a civic initiative with professional staff, has held exhaustive public meetings to develop a
communitywide plan for increasing the local quality of life. Education is a top strategy, with
objectives to increase the high school graduation rate, college-educated workforce, and overall

A bit of history explains why.

Polk County has a history of cattle ranching, citrus production phosphate strip mining and
tourism. Times have changed. Legoland, offering mechanical and mathematical
engineering activities for local students through construction and robotics, has replaced Southern belles at the former site of Cypress Gardens. CSX, a railroad transport company, has a new terminal and logistics center (rail to truck) under construction in Winter Haven, Polk‘s second-largest city. Polk has the state‘s largest concentration of rail lines, serving Tampa and Orlando, with warehousing and distribution centers along Interstate-4 that use sophisticated, electronic controls for inventory and shipping. The Publix Supermarkets headquarters in Polk‘s largest city, Lakeland, provides IT and marketing research services throughout the chain. These industries require graduates with strong background in STEM.

The EduSTEM project in which ShopBot and other digital fabrication manufacturers are playing a part, consists of four schools, one revised magnet and three new projects, that will create an opportunity for students in rural and severely under-employed areas of this vast county (Polk County consists of 2,010 square miles) to have meaningful and rigorous academic experiences. Many of the families of students identified in this project will have the opportunity to be the first in their families to attend college.

What’s been happening…

Sallye Coyle, ShopBot’s Outreach Liaison to Education, recently visited Polk County to help with installation and education about ShopBot Tools to teachers and other staff.  She wrote, “Charter schools in Polk Co, Florida have added two new FabLabs at the middle school level. In a flurry of activity, a team from TIES ( arrived to build the ShopBot gantry tool, unpack boxes, set up the Epilog laser cutter, Ultimaker 3D printer, and Roland vinyl cutter and mill, and sort the electronics station. Teacher training which began last spring and summer at the FabLab installed at Lawton Chiles Middle School, continued this winter. Week 1 was spent at Jewett School of the Arts, where teacher Ashley Corwith took ownership of her FabLab in an art classroom of the school. Week 2 took place at Dundee Ridge, a middle school in rural setting surrounded by orange groves.”

Teacher screwing down spoilboard

Teacher screwing down spoilboard on ShopBot full-size CNC tool

ShopBot lessons with Sallye Coyle

ShopBot lessons with Sallye Coyle

Teachers learning software

Teachers learning software

Sallye explained, “Teachers from the middle schools and elementary schools, as well as folks from the Central Office contributed to the set ups and took part in trainings. A surprise visitor was the Handibot® Smart Power Tool and crate that was ordered for possible use in elementary schools. It came in handy to mill 3D molds in machineable wax for a lesson in molding and casting. The staff loved that the Handibot tool could be run on the ground or a low table, putting it at a level that elementary kids could appreciate.”

Mijana Lockard is the STEM Coordinator for the schools. She noted that “The kids absolutely love this technology. They are the ‘digital natives’ and have no problem jumping right in and using the equipment. If anything, the challenges to implementation relate to making school administrators appreciate the value of FabLabs beyond being the ‘cute shop elective’ — instead seeing that integrating technological education with traditional subject matter is crucial to education today. And some of the teachers need to be brought along so that they become comfortable using the technology themselves, in preparation to teach their students.”

Teachers being introduced to the Handibot® Smart Power Tool

Teachers being introduced to the Handibot® Smart Power Tool

Teachers use Handibot Smart Power Tool to mill 3D molds in machineable wax for a lesson in molding and casting

Teachers use Handibot Smart Power Tool to mill 3D molds in machineable wax for a lesson in molding and casting

The Handibot tool at work

The Handibot tool at work

Wax molds cut by the Handibot tool

Wax molds cut by the Handibot tool

Mijana said, “It’s so exciting and heartening to see the children’s reaction to using the equipment. Learning by making in the FabLab is helping them become independent thinkers and problem solvers. They’re not afraid to try and fail, and try again. It really builds confidence.”







3rd Annual Northern Florida Camp ShopBot 2016

production area_sm

For the 3rd year in a row, the School of Theatre’s Technical Production department at FSU in Tallahassee hosted a Camp ShopBot. Their building is located off campus in a converted middle school, which also houses the Art department and Interior Design department’s Digital Fabrication studio. Thea Eck, from ShopBot, spent a day visiting with Professor Marlo Ransdell, from the Interior Design Department, as well as doing an afternoon VCarve training with the Technical Production department’s graduate students.

scale models_sm

In Professor Marlo Randsdell’s digital design class, there is one main objective: design a chair using a 4×8 sheet of plywood and CNC joints, nesting the parts so very little scrap is left. But let’s just say it isn’t really about making a chair. Students create maquettes of their designs and spend a month investigating CNC joints and refining offsets. Iterative design creates better products and digital design tools can assist. Professor Ransdell says that major leaps usually occur between the 1st and 2nd iteration, and then smaller changes between the 2nd to 4th  or 5th iteration. Her undergrad students’ final projects are cut out using a laser cutter and her graduate students use the PRS alpha.

Box of CNC joints_sm         Chair blank_sm


Saturday’s Camp brought in local users as well as those who drove 3 and 4 hours. Sallye Coyle and Thea Eck lead presentations on importing vectors, bitmaps and 3d files into VCarve 8.0, understanding chipload calculations, troubleshooting mechanical problems, what’s new in VCarve 8.0, an overview of Fusion 360, and more. The Handibot’s rotary indexer attachment was shown, and Sallye tackled how to set up a design in Vectric’s software in relationship to your machine’s setup, not just for the Handibot.

Colin presenting_sm

Colin Campbell, host and director of FSU’s theatre shop, discussed how the departments utilize their PRS Standard and gave a tour. The Technical Production department has a huge space for painting scenery, building props, constructing the backdrops, and staging. The finished set is constructed in the space and then disassembled and trucked over to the main theatres on campus.

show and tell session_sm

During lunch and in-between presentations, attendees took advantage of the down time to really engage with each other. Many conversations revolved around the technical aspects of specific projects, CNC in education, CNC in the workplace , and CNC in production modes. With an assortment of 10-year veterans, new users, and graduate and undergraduate students, the Camp reminded all of us how ShopBots create a lot of excitement but also laughter over common mistakes and “aha” moments within the learning process.

Contributed by Thea Eck

Good enough is good enough (for a while at least!)


Years ago I read an interview with the guy at Hinkley Yachts that does their varnishing. Hinkley is known for their beautiful finishes and he described their process: brush on a coat of varnish and wait for it to dry. Then sand with fine sandpaper to prepare for the next coat. Repeat over and over again to build up a beautiful and durable finish. The interviewer finally asked him when he knew he had applied enough coats and the job was finished. He replied that he was never finished…eventually someone just took it away!

It can be the same way when you’re working on a design for a product. If you wait until you think you’re finished, you’ll never release anything. At some point either someone takes it away from you or you have to say it’s good enough and turn it loose. Of course the degree of “good enough” varies widely depending on the project — an artificial heart has a much higher level of “good enough” than a pair of sawhorses! 

Anyone that works in a shop knows that you can never have enough sawhorses, and everyone has their favorite style and design. For years I banged them together from 2×6’s and plywood scrap, but they were heavy and kind of a pain to build.  So one of my first ShopBot projects (almost 20 years ago now!) was to try to improve on the sawhorses that I’d been building.

There are very few rules for sawhorses. They have to be stable and strong, but that still leaves a lot of  design flexibility. I hoped to get a pair of sawhorses out of a single sheet of plywood, and had found that sawhorses much more than 24″ wide were pretty awkward to deal with in a small shop. I wanted to be able to share the design so that any ShopBot owner would be able to make some, which meant they needed to be cut with a single bit and no flips. Most importantly they had to be stupidly strong — having flimsy sawhorses is worse than having no sawhorses at all! So 3/4″ plywood was my material of choice. I knew I wouldn’t have a final version that I would be completely satisfied with on my first try, but I needed something functional. Little did I know how long I would be designing sawhorse variations!

My first version used a “snaploc” joint that I had been experimenting with in a couple of projects, that used the natural springiness of plywood to create a flexible hook to hold parts together. Since I had a fancy new ShopBot I thought everything I designed needed to be clever, so I decided that my sawhorses should fold and use the snaploc joint as a catch.



A great idea in theory, but in practice it proved to be more clever than practical. The hooks were weak when they were un-supported like that and tended to break, and I really never felt the need to fold them. So much for V.01! My next version was basically the same shape but without the folding capability/liability, they stacked nicely. It used the same snaploc joint and worked fine as a sawhorse–they were really strong–but it seemed like the material could be used a little more efficiently.



A few modified parts, a couple of  rotated pieces, and a sawhorse with a built-in storage compartment was created. I liked it enough to make the files available for download, and a lot of them have been made over the 15 years or so that they’ve been available. (They were originally shared on floppy disks!)



I’ve probably made 20-30 sets of them and they have been my go-to sawhorse for 15+ years, but a couple of things have bothered me. Although the storage compartment is handy for holding tools while you’re working, it’s also an awesome place to lose tools, especially small things like pencils and rulers. And sometimes if there was a void in the plywood in a key spot in the snaps, the hooks could break when you were putting them together. Finally they were also a little sensitive to variations in plywood thickness (and you know how I feel about that!!)

In the last couple of years, my collaborator Robert Bridges and I have been working on a fastening system for our Shelter 2.0 project that we refer to as “telephone connectors” that we use to make designs material-agnostic—not dependent on precisely sizing and modifying designs to compensate for thickness variations.


A couple of months ago I decided it was time for one more sawhorse redesign. I wanted to:

  • Use telephone connectors to make them work better with varying materials.
  • Retain the ability to store tools and supplies, but eliminate the enclosed “hiding place.”
  • Create a design that can easily use slab doors to convert into work tables.
  • Cut efficiently out of one sheet of plywood.






This most recent version is my favorite one so far. They are incredibly strong but can be quickly disassembled to pack flat for shipping to shows and events. They are light and stack to minimize floorspace, and with the addition of two slab doors, quickly convert into a pop-up table or workbench.

Software developers have a saying, “Release early, release often” which is a great philosophy to follow. There are always improvements to be made in any design, but that doesn’t mean that your design isn’t useful in its current state.

Release it when it’s “good enough” but keep experimenting with new ways to make it better!

timberply sawhorse


Talk Nice To Me

dehuman2I’ve always talked to myself. Lately, I find, there’s little I can accomplish, if I don’t talk myself through it. Furthermore, as I find it helps me, I’ve gotten much worse. It seems I talk to myself at all times, about all things, and in the company of others.   me

The Name Game

When I go out to work on a machine, one of the first things I ask a user is, “What’s your machine’s name?” You’d be surprised how often I get that funny stare, followed by the reluctant response, and the chuckles I get when I pet their machine and ask it, “what’s wrong?” or “Are you not feeling good today?” I’ve been naming inanimate objects all my life, and I know many others who do. Many of us pride ourselves on finding the perfect name. I actually believe all things already have names, and we just have to pay attention, to figure them out. Sometimes the name is written right on the machine, sometimes it’s related to a quirk or noise, but in reality, does this change how I look at machines as a mechanic? Who can say? I believe to name something shows we see it. It shows that we acknowledge its importance and significance to us, and that we understand it’s something that needs and deserves attention.

Personally, I’ve come to believe adopting your machine as a pet can actually make you a better operator. When you think of your machine as alive, you start to pay attentions to the things that are making it function, you are subconsciously picking up on minor shifts in sound, vibration, or movement that are symptoms of wear, or a change in your machine. When I start cutting, and my machine seems to be having a bad day, its possible I’m picking up on subtle differences in performance that are finally starting to manifest into actual problems, like bearings going bad. This may be similar to when you hear the pitch of a motor drop under load. We are capable of picking up very small pitch changes, and how that pitch changes tells us about how we are stressing our machine, its limits, or how healthy our motor is.


That’s Cheating

Ever have someone walk by while you’re cutting and say, “That’s cheating!” I have. When we do conventional cabinetry or carpentry, the connection between our creativity and our creation feels like it is just our hands. But when we CNC, we start to see the steps between this process. As operators we’ve come to understand we exist, more and more, in the world between the machine and the software, and do less with our own hands. This is balanced differently by everyone. These steps we go through to create something, are our process, and everyone’s process is different.


More and more, I have come to view all innovation in digital fabrication as unique advancements in process, more than advancements in technology. I am guilty of using the term frequently as the foundation of all hypothesis, so be prepared to hear the term in every blog! I would propose, how each operator develops and nurtures these steps of process, is what makes them truly innovative or brilliant. The idea of the machine doing the work for us, or “Cheating” is irrelevant because that is not where the true craft is happening anymore.

The Rise of The Machine

Dehumanization has been a common idea in culture as long as there has been society. We see it everywhere, in literature, in music, in art, and movies. Humans have always felt replaced by changes in society, let alone advancements in technology. There are countless examples of this throughout history, and researching it on line was overwhelming. The earliest references I found, were Aristotle’s essay to Fry on slavery, where the idea of dehumanizing people by changing them into animals, was referenced in tales of the gods.


But you don’t have to look far to see this theme everywhere. The Industrial Revolution, Fritz Lange’s 1927 film, “Metropolis”, the movie, “Tron” even Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” or Charlie Chaplin’s, “Modern Times” are just a few examples of the classic theme of people feeling displaced by technology.

Modern Times

In an article from 1976 by Phillip Sherrard, Phillip had some excellent insight.

Sharrad article

Quote; “In this world-the world of artificial environment, the sophisticated manipulation of machines and techniques-the human element is gradually being eliminated.”

And later in the same article; “There is, however, a price to be paid for fabricating around us a society which is as artificial and as mechanized as our own, and this is that we can exist in it only on condition that we adapt ourselves to it.” The subject is vast, and mostly expresses the same concepts.

Blurring Human Distinction

metroplolis                                                   I’ve always had a crush on this robot.


A Friend in AI


The idea to anthropomorphize the inanimate things with which we are closes, is normal. Look how, as a culture we have embraced a concept like Siri on our phones. I talk to her, like I talk to my best friend. Frankly, she’s more helpful than a lot of my friends, and doesn’t ask me for money. As a culture, not only are we accepting of machine-human interaction, we embrace it.

While dehumanization has always troubled us, one defense mechanism we’ve developed is that no matter how overwhelmed we become, we translate our activities back into human state, or we redefine our experience into human terms. In my case, with CNC, I find myself stroking it, touching it, absorbing and listening to its vibrations. I become attuned and immersed in its sound, touch and smell. For me, CNC has evolved into an interaction between two close friends, and this ultimately affects my process, my development of the steps I use to create, and the limitations of what I can accomplish.


Embracing Your Inner Mechanic

We can’t always explain why we know something is wrong with our machines when it happens. We typically catch ourselves feeling like something isn’t right, but we don’t have a reason why. Sometimes it is overt, or sometimes, perhaps, we subconsciously hear, smell, or see something that has triggered an alarm and we don’t even realize it. Does this make us better operators, I believe it does. Not only does it help us balance the unspoken psychology of human and machine, it makes us see our machines differently. It translates our mechanical understanding into terms we understand.

The realm of digital fabrication has proven to be far more creative than most of us have ever expected. And the reality of physically making something is, perhaps, more layered and complex than I believe most of us give it credit for. If you’re like me you just make stuff without ever thinking about this, but the mechanical aspect of understanding and maintaining our machines, and our relationship to them, is an inherent step in our process as I have defined it above. I would encourage operators to understand that quirkiness towards our machines is not only harmless, but can help you be a better operator. It can cause you to embrace your inner intuitive mechanic, and help enrich your process.

iron giantAll images used in this article have been altered from their original form.

New ShopBot Accessory: The Pressure Sensitive Z-Zero Plate

The new Pressure Sensitive Z-Zero Plate

The new Pressure Sensitive Z-Zero Plate

For a while we have been looking at ways to simplify the process of determining tool length with a ShopBot by improving on the design of the current Z-Zero plate. The two limitations we wanted to address were the need for an alligator clip, which adds a manual step to a process that could otherwise be entirely autonomous, as well the fact that the current design relies on the flow of current through the cutter itself, making it unable to zero non-conductive bits.

The Pressure Sensitive Z-Zero Plate was designed to address both of these issues, while maintaining the strengths of the system stemming from its simple and robust design. The plate is effectively spring loaded by a compressible O-ring to isolate the aluminum plate from the base as shown in the section view below. In this way, the plate is interchangeable with our existing Z-Zero plate, using the same Wago connection and C2 commandUZZP TopdownUZZP Section

Users can expect precision of 0.001” varying radially along the surface of the plate. By leveraging the lack of an alligator clip, designated X and Y coordinates can be set using the over-travel of a tool to fully automate the C2 routine. The example we have set up here at ShopBot uses a Desktop, where the tool has enough travel to allow the plate to sit permanently without loss to the tool’s cutting area, but the set-up can be implemented on any ShopBot tool.


To order one from our first batch, call ShopBot Tools at (919) 680-4800 and ask for Production Support.

Contributed by David Preiss

My First ShopBot Project

“If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.” – The Red Green Show

Prior to working at ShopBot, my last excursion into woodworking was high school shop class. The fruit of my labor that semester was a horribly wobbly candleholder – which my mother still may pretend to love.

I’ll admit to having some trepidation a couple of weeks ago when I decided to create a sign for my wife’s pottery studio. As I contemplated this project, which I was planning to give to her for her birthday, I realized how little I knew about wood and woodworking.

Nonetheless, I gave it a go and started by spending too many hours designing the project in VCarve Pro. It was simple to design the words, but I got tripped up adding pictures. I had sat in on TJ’s introductory training session a couple of months earlier, and vaguely remembered him showing us how to add pictures to our project. After a lot of trial and error, I was finally able to figure it out.

blog1 copy

Now that I had my design created, I needed to consider the rest of the project: Pine or oak? Paint or stain? How was I going to hold down the wood during cutting?

Here at ShopBot, we have some excellent resources in house. I asked Buddy (one of our salespeople) about painting signs – as he’s created many signs with his own ShopBot tool. I still had a slew of additional questions, though, and I knew I had to talk to the one man who would be patient enough to guide me through the remainder of the project: our trainer, TJ.

Thankfully, TJ never laughed at me (at least as far as I noticed!) as I asked my newbie questions. He showed me how to check for VCarve software updates, how to re-size my project, and how to recalculate the toolpaths. We got some nice red oak to use, and then he taught me the differences between toolbits, and which one would help make my project pop (it turned out to be a V-Bit 90).

I wasn’t sure about hold down techniques, so TJ and I discussed a couple of options, ultimately deciding on a simple plywood hold down method. TJ reminded me to zero the x, y, and z axes, and we started to cut.

While cutting, we talked about stains, paints, and polyurethane. TJ made all that stuff seem a lot less strange to me. After approximately six minutes, I ended up with this:


I was thrilled – it was the most professional-looking thing I ever made!

I still needed to stain and seal the sign, so I headed to Home DIY Store (name changed to protect the innocent) and contemplated different types of finishes. My wife likes the color red, so I chose MinWax Sedona Red. I was leery about ruining this sweet project by doing a crappy stain job… so I took my time, and applied two coats of stain, nice and evenly.


IMG_1676_sm   IMG_1677_sm   IMG_1678_sm

The last step was to add a sealer. I used the MinWax water-soluble polycrylic, and applied three coats.

Here is the final product:


For a first project, this one was relatively simple. Woodworking with power tools always seemed daunting to me, but thanks to our ShopBot Tools and TJ, the project was made so much easier! I was so excited about it I gave it to my wife the day before her birthday. When she saw it, she burst into tears (the good kind, mind you) – it was the best present I could have given her!

Contributed by Matt Cummings

Desktop MAX Project: A Tiny Table for a Tiny House


Think about the tools that you use to make things in your daily life: a toaster, a hammer, a knife. Now place these tools on an imaginary graph where one axis describes the ease of use of the tool and the other describes its capability. I find that most tools in my life that rank high in ease of use rank low in capability—I’ve never failed to toast a piece of bread in my toaster yet try as I might, I’ll never be able to use it to bake a loaf of bread or a flaky croissant. On the other hand, after years of practice I’m still unable to wield my chef’s knife with the dexterity of a professional chef—this is the opposite end of the spectrum.

The best tools in my life are the ones that I can pick up easily and get results quickly, but as I learn to better use the tool, my capability expands and my results get better and better. I was considering this as I went into the shop this past weekend to try building a piece of furniture for a friend—a piece that had a lot of features that I had no idea how to properly design, much less had ever attempted before.

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently visiting a friend who lives across town. She lives in a tiny cabin behind the house of her son and his family and has gotten around in a wheelchair ever since having Polio when she was younger. She’d wanted my advice on a backup heating system in case a winter storm knocked out the power in Durham (something we were at no risk of during our downright balmy December!). The challenge was that nearly every inch of the 300 square foot cabin was taken up with beds and tables and chairs that accommodated friends and grandchildren that frequently visited—leaving no room for a propane heater.

With the help of another friend, we spent an afternoon taking away, adding, and moving furniture in an exercise in spatial reasoning that would make a Tetris champion sweat. At the end of it all, we concluded that in order to add the propane heater, there was not enough space for her existing kitchen table. She then started to describe the substitute table that she wanted me to go find at a thrift store: “No deeper than the computer desk, long enough to seat four friends, but not so long that I can’t get by to get to my bed; drawers for hiding things that my infant grandson shouldn’t be grabbing; enough space to fit my wheelchair under the table.” I quickly realized that this table likely didn’t exist anywhere in Durham.

Having taken mental notes of the requirements I went to work on a design. I recalled a table that I’d seen in a children’s furniture store. It was a short table with two drop-leaf ends that could be folded up and tucked into the corner when it wasn’t being used for coloring. I took the drop-leaf idea and decided to add stability by substituting the normal pull out support with a swing out table leg.


Not being an experienced furniture builder I tried to stick with what I knew—dovetails are pretty but I’ve yet to master that part of VCarve so I made simple box joints, planning to glue or screw them together if the fit wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t quite sure how to design a properly fitting drawer with metal slides so I decided to just cut a few plastic bars that would act as simple slides for the drawers to rest on.

Because the edges of my parts would be showing I didn’t want to use plywood—I selected a pretty, glued up spruce plank from the hardware store. The 2’ x 4’ sheets were a perfect size to fit on the Desktop MAX, leaving just a little bit hanging over one end. After a few test cuts I realized that I needed to re-orient some of the parts to take advantage of the stronger direction of the grain.

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Despite my inexperience, after a few mistakes and a few hours I had a nearly complete table. I took it home to my garage to stain and seal the wood; choosing a light walnut color that matched the hardwood floor in the cabin. I sanded the sharp edges and made little adjustments to my drawer slides until the whole thing moved smoothly and felt stable.

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Finally, on New Years’ Day, the humidity vanished and a minor cold snap set in. I went over to my friend’s house to check on her new heater and make sure that it was keeping her warm enough. I brought over the new table as a surprise, hoping to at least give her a place to put her toaster for the time being. She was ecstatic! The table fit right into the space in front of the bed, leaving a lane just big enough to maneuver around in a wheelchair. We oriented it so that the second leaf could be lifted when her grandchildren came by to read with her later that day.


It was a great project for me over the holidays; I got to help a friend and I learned so many new things while also getting the results that I’d hoped for. The next time that I set out to design a table I’ll be looking at it from a new vantage point and no doubt create something even better. This is what I love about the gentle learning curve with CNC tools, the cost for mistakes is low—in this case, just a couple more boards from the hardware store. Not just that, but with each project I complete, a new world of ideas is opened up to me.

Contributed by Brian Owen