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Thread: Is a CNC router a good investment as far as making money off woodworking?

  1. #1
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    Is a CNC router a good investment as far as making money off woodworking?

    I do woodworking as a winter hobby and have a small shop. Everything I do inside the shop is for personal use. I've never really even considered doing stuff for profit because I would have to charge way too much in order to make a fair wage off my work, and most consumers can't tell the difference between a hand built solid table and a mass produced particle board one.

    Anyway, I just started looking at CNC routers online and I can buy decently sized used ones for around $2,000, but I would probably still need to buy a computer program to draw the designs with. In high school I was trained on a CNC router and used it for three years, so I'm relatively familiar with the whole process.

    I was thinking a CNC router could possibly make me good side money. I've never really looked too closely into the available markets, but if I can make things like custom cutting boards and signs, that alone would be easy money. If that market isn't there, I can consider taking on bigger projects like doll houses, guitars, clocks, which wouldn't be as easy, but would still make me something nice in return. A CNC router really sets you up with more precise custom items with a lot less skill and labor.

    I'm not planning on quitting my full time job to do this, but if I can pull in like an extra $5,000 a year or so that would be sweet.

  2. #2
    There are a lot of free software options --- many opensource --- a couple of the hobby vendors have made their programs freely available, Carbide 3D, whose Shapeoko project I used to volunteer on, and for whom I now work part-time has made Carbide Create freely available (but not opensource) --- it's quite simple (almost embarrassingly so in some ways), but works quite well for simple projects and if nothing else is well-suited to learning the basics. Paired w/ Inkscape, (free, opensource vector drawing program) one can create pretty much any 2.5D design one might wish.

    There's a list of the free/opensource options on the Shapeoko wiki. Notable things to look for:

    - Inkscape
    - MakerCAM
    - DraftSight
    - Solvespace
    - gcodetools
    - Reactor and Halftoner
    - F-Engrave
    - Freemill

  3. #3
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    Hey Michael,

    For design and creating tool paths/code we use Corel Draw (design), Vcarve (Tool Path 2d) and aspire (3d Cutting) - Solid Programs but they come with a nice price tag. We use solidworks as well but this is very expensive and a huge learning curve.
    Free programs like William listed will probably be best to start with.

    Your next question : Profit

    Ill start off by saying signs and cutting boards are very saturated online and they take alot of effort to create custom designs. Found about 22,500 results on etsy many under $30 (Not worth my time to make for this low margin) - Search Custom Cutting Boards. Think of a Cnc router as a investment like a table saw - They are tools that help you create a product faster and more reliable. Try to brain storm and think of different products you can create and people would buy before jumping into a Cnc machine. Niche markets are nice to jump into. Your first few months plan on spending alot more money than you bring in. Cnc machining can be very profitable if you use your head and have a solid plan in place.
    Last edited by Robert Bonenfant; 07-23-2017 at 12:19 AM.
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  4. #4
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    Solid works was what we used in high school, and I even used it a bit in college so I'm still relatively familiar with it. We had to transfer it to another program before sending it to the machine though, I forget what it was called, but you pretty much just set up the depths and cutting paths for the machine. I believe a solid works license is at least a few thousand dollars, I think it's actually cheaper getting a computer with solid works downloaded on it, but those free programs would probably be my most realistic option considering I don't have deep pockets.

    Before jumping on a CNC router I guess I really better research some products I feel I can make and sell well. I'm sort of lucky to live in an area where people can certainly afford custom products, but trying to find which products sell and what products bring in the best cash is where I really got to think. I tried selling some barely used Amish made furniture for my aunt, and I couldn't even give it away.

    Unrelated to CNC but related to the discussion, my money maker now that I'm doing on the side is fireplace cover ups. It's basically just painted plywood nailed to the mantle with some extra reinforcement against the walls and some molding. My aunt asked me to do it for her rental property, and next thing you know people that know the renter are calling me up. Something I never even expected to really sell.
    Last edited by Michael Yadfar; 07-23-2017 at 1:11 AM.

  5. #5
    Have a look at Autodesk's Fusion 360 - it's free for makers and startups. You can design with it (I still use solidworks, because it's what I'm used to) but it has the HSMWorks kernel built in for doing toolpaths - so you can do full high speed machining toolpaths for what you design. It has some quirks and learning curve but its very very powerful. I still don't completely trust it (it does weird things I don't always catch in the simulation) but I'm slowly transitioning to it from Aspire (still use aspire for all my carvings.)

    I'm lucky to have a very very niche market where i'm one of only 2-3 companies in the world. It's a relatively small market but it very much appreciates high quality made products and is willing to pay the huge premium for that. I don't know how I'd make my main products without a CNC router, as I drill 20-30k holes a week (usually in a single session) - I can't even fathom a jig that would begin to let me do that with the accuracy or speed of the cnc router (0.7second per hole.) I also make hundreds of mortises a week with the router, I know how I'd do it on a router table but not in 6 seconds through 1" of wood.

    I doubt you'd make any money on furniture or other such heavy consumer items that are being mass produced like crazy. The cost of wood, finished and labour is just too huge, and CNC won't speed up your process that up much.

    The easy gimmicky things like cutting boards, key chains and such are pretty heavily saturated. If you or a family member has a hobby that could use wood products and there is a lack of supply out there, that could be a good thing to look at.

    Failing that, I'm always amazed at how much poor made religious items sell for on etsy. Figure out what the religious folks in your part of the world are into for their rites and ceremonies as gifts and commemorations.

    You could probably also do the world a favour by making small, beautiful wood urns and not charging hundreds to thousands of dollars for them. When our son passed away last year the prices of the urns at the funeral home completely shocked me, I ended up making my own. I'm sure both the funeral home and the urn company are making a fortune off them. Adult urns were completely insane for price, they seem to be trying not to rip off greiving parents too badly.. but $600-800 for a basic 4 sided box with a little laser engraving on it. You could make some with teddy bears/happy scenes/child related carvings and take them to some local funeral homes to see if they would be interested. The time and effort to make would not be enormous. You need about 100-180ml internal volume for the remains.

    While I'm on that depressing subject.. the crematoriums here don't have the option of caskets for infants to be cremated in - the funeral director described it as "basically a cardboard shoebox", which was not very uplifting to hear. I would have loved to make a beautiful carved box for him, but there wasn't time or mental capacity at that point. A simple construction (no metal, nothing toxic to burn) box, about the size of a shoebox with a carving on the lid or sides would probably be well received if the situation is similar in your area, but it would need to be pretty cheap. Funeral homes don't charge for anything related to infants, so any cost would be on the grieving parents.

  6. #6
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    I was thinking something box related as well. Simple boxes would be the easiest to produce, so if I maybe made them into something like urns or maybe even trunks for horse gear (horses are big nearby) I might be able to find some kind of market there. Something else I have to think about is the amount of time I have available. Between sleeping, working, and eating, I usually have about 4 hours free each work day, and I have 4 days off every two weeks. I can still get creative, but I can't really do anything too complex.

  7. #7
    For horses, folks will want "tack trunks" which are rather specialized (but potentially high profit --- they certainly cost enough).

  8. #8
    CNC routers are not much good for making boxes in my experience (doing a run of 50 boxes at the moment, almost all manual with jigs on the tablesaw), but they are great for carving boxes.

    Also, probably outside your budget now but something to keep in mind for the future, with a 4th axis you can also turn things you couldn't do on a lathe, and also make carved mini-statues and such. Z Clearance is what really heavily limits me here, I only have about 4" of clearance under the gantry.

  9. #9
    Autodesk has Fusion 360 available to be used by hobbyists, students, tinkers and anybody who is not using it for commercial production. I know you are asking about maybe making things for crafts sales/shows etc. which depending on your volume may count as commercial use. I'm not sure how much you are going to actually use it, but I'd use it to learn the software, prep you designs and try a sale or two. If you find that doing these craft sales is not you thing, you can keep using it for your personal hobby use. If you find you love being a part of that scene, pay the fee for a year and go to work.

    I'm a artist and participate in 10-12 Art shows every year. As a potter, I don't use of my CNC Router for work and find fusion 360 to really be faster than almost any other software for my hobby needs I have tried except Aspire, which is outside my price range. I also use Cut2d Desktop (which I am a licensed user) for designs that come from other sources. It's not horribly priced, but not cheap, easy to use.

    For machine control I use Mach3. I tried Mach4 but found that it wasn't effective for my way of working.
    Last edited by larry kruzan; 07-31-2017 at 3:38 AM.

  10. #10
    I use Fusion 360 and while the learning curve was steep it wasn't very difficult to begin doing simple cuts 7 months ago when I really got started on the CNC we built. This is a home-based business (or very strong hobby, depending on whether I'm talking to my CPA, HOA, or friends... LOL!). But the machine has paid for itself in that length of time and I have yet to do any real marketing.

    David
    David

    Nothing to do with woodworking at all, just our music at church (I'm the guy with the Koa Takamine) - Go to YouTube and search for Airline Baptist BC - enjoy!
    Romans 3:23

    Our Etsy shop opened 12/1/2017 - CurlyWoodShop

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by larry kruzan View Post
    Autodesk has Fusion 360 available to be used by hobbyists, students, tinkers and anybody who is not using it for commercial production. I know you are asking about maybe making things for crafts sales/shows etc. which depending on your volume may count as commercial use. I'm not sure how much you are going to actually use it, but I'd use it to learn the software, prep you designs and try a sale or two. If you find that doing these craft sales is not you thing, you can keep using it for your personal hobby use. If you find you love being a part of that scene, pay the fee for a year and go to work.
    Fusion 360 license terms also allows free use by startups making less than $100,000 per year. So unless you have a very good craft show year, you’re fine using it for free. If you exceed this in sales you can afford to pay for it.
    Member, Colorado Woodworkers Guild

  12. #12
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    They also offer a monthly plan of $40 per month
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  13. If you want to make extra money from your hobby treat it like a business. Take the time to work out a business plan. A marketing plan will be a benefit as well. I have friends that don't understand my materials on some projects are worth more than their entire dining room set. A good investment is a business card work the woodworking. By simply showing pictures of your work and giving a business card you will find work. Networking is key, the more people you talk to the more people you will find who understand the value of a piece that will become an heirloom rather than compost.

    If you need help with either the business plan or marketing let me know. I'd be glad to help with no charge, of anything.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Marcus R Geiser Sr View Post
    If you want to make extra money from your hobby treat it like a business. Take the time to work out a business plan. A marketing plan will be a benefit as well. I have friends that don't understand my materials on some projects are worth more than their entire dining room set. A good investment is a business card work the woodworking. By simply showing pictures of your work and giving a business card you will find work. Networking is key, the more people you talk to the more people you will find who understand the value of a piece that will become an heirloom rather than compost.

    If you need help with either the business plan or marketing let me know. I'd be glad to help with no charge, of anything.
    I agree, Marcus. And the good thing about treating it as a business is that once you draw that line in the sand then in most cases you can go three years without showing a profit on your tax return. So equipment, material, and shop improvement purchases can exceed your shop income and that will help your tax situation. Once the three year mark is hit the IRS expects you to show a profit, even if it's a small one. Otherwise they may come back and say it was a hobby all along. Your CPA can better advise you.

    One area I've found success in is doing work for trophy shops. I make a boatload of trophy blanks in Walnut and also do custom one-off work. Since I started at the beginning of the year there hasn't been really any time that I haven't had jobs stacked up. You can see some of these things on my YouTube channel - along with other items I've cut on the CNC.

    David
    Last edited by Keith Outten; 08-01-2017 at 7:55 AM.
    David

    Nothing to do with woodworking at all, just our music at church (I'm the guy with the Koa Takamine) - Go to YouTube and search for Airline Baptist BC - enjoy!
    Romans 3:23

    Our Etsy shop opened 12/1/2017 - CurlyWoodShop

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Gonzalez View Post
    Fusion 360 license terms also allows free use by startups making less than $100,000 per year. So unless you have a very good craft show year, you’re fine using it for free. If you exceed this in sales you can afford to pay for it.
    Gross or net?

    Gross that's nothing. Net that's doing pretty good.

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