CNC manufacturing — subtractive

Subtractive manufacturing removes undesired materials to achieve the prescribed form. Conversley, additive manufacturing (or 3D printing) makes objects by layering successive stratas of materials to create the required shape.

Recent advances in technology resulted in equipping many woodworking machine tools with CNC (computer numerical control) controllers, including panel saws, moulders, edgebanders, sanders, lathes, etc. However, the CNC router (3-axis and 5-axis) and its cousin, the point-to-point (P2P) machine, interest designers the most.

>3-axis machining of MDF

3-axis machining of MDF table base on AXYZ International router (1)

3-axis router These entry-level to high-production machines, usually with a gantry-mounted router (spindle) over a large flat bed, incorporate powerful vacuum assist to hold parts in place (image above). As the best option for "nested" manufacturing (involves arranging a wide range of components onto a single panel of plywood, particleboard, mdf, etc.), these machines allow producers to eliminate some regular woodworking equipment and economize on floorspace. A video, courtesy of WoodTech, shows 3-axis production of nested cabinet components.

5-axis router With a range of motion similar to the human hand, these machines can produce even the most complex parts. Their construction includes both moving gantry or moving table configurations and in tandem with lower prices and more intuitive software make them increasingly sort after. A video, courtesy of Biesse, shows 5-axis production of a traditional solid wooden seat.

P2P Manufacturers using these machines with panel materials must pre-size the parts on conventional saws. The components can then be placed on one or more of the machine's pods (workstations) for routing and drilling (5-axis machines handle heavy-duty tasks more efficiently). Unlike 3-axis machines, the P2P allows for edge drilling as shown in this video, courtesy of Pro Tech Machinery.

Cover of book Understanding CNC Routers
Understanding CNC Routers by Alain Albert, FPInnovations, Canada
Chair Design for CNC Manufacturing (thesis) by Adam Korený, Czechia

furniturelink encountered a surprising paucity of good online information about CNC routers and would appreciate leads to more. A couple of exceptions (from 2010) include Alain Herbert's Understanding CNC Routers, Adam Korený's thesis Chair Design for CNC Manufacturing (both inset above), Mark Meier's blog and Opendesk's What is CNC?

Sketch of desk from Opendesk

The original desk design from OpenDesk

The Opendesk network connects CNC designers to CNC fabricators worldwide. Rather than mass manufacturing and shipping worldwide open source plans are made available for a small royalty and sent to a CNC fabrication workshop in your own city. View their furniture designs or those of partner AtFAB.

furniturelink assembled the following examples of how contemporary designers around the world use CNC routers.

Flow Credenza

Flow credenza designed by Speke Klein using SolidWorks 3D CAD design software. Concave voids (left) and other parts machined with Homag BMG 511 5-axis router.

Dale bench designed by Tomas Rojcik

Dale bench designed by Tomas Rojcik using SolidWorks 3D CAD design software. Saddle seat (left) machined from solid ash with Shopbot Alpha 3-axis router.

Trestle Table

Trestle table designed by Unto This Last using SolidWorks 3D CAD design software. The 18 mm FSC-certified birch plywood with high-pressure laminate machined with Multicam 3000 3-axis router.

Rotational stools designed by AtFab

Rotational stools designed by AtFab using FormZ and Maxwell software (for rendering) and exporting to AutoCAD. States Industries Applyply plywood machined with ShopBot 3-axis router running proprietary Partworks CAM software.

(1) © Francis Lemieux

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© furniturelink 2020 (text), furniture images © Speke Klein, Tomas Rojcik, Unto This Last and AtFab