My latest project requires me to cut on a CNC machine, yet finding a CNC router in the UK was not as easy as I thought it would be. It was in Berlin that I first came across a CNC router at Berlin Fab Lab. who have a CNC-Mill: BZT PFE 1000 PX 3 axis milling machine with a half size bed. It is cheap to hire, relatively easy to use but it is in Berlin and I am in the UK now.
I would have loved to have stayed with the machine I knew most about, the laser cutter – but for this particular project I needed to cut into the wood and you cannot do that with a lasercutter. You can cut things out on a laser cutter by going along the x and y axis you can even engrave but you cannot cut into the z axis. So, if you needed to cut a groove, or cut a hole (pocket) to a particular depth you can only do this on a CNC machine. So I signed up to do a day’s training on the machine that would at least teach me the basics and allow me to use the machine unsupervised. I would like to add at this point that no way was one days training enough for me to learn and be confident to use the machine unsupervised and not just because all the onscreen instructions were in German which of course did not help. From a starting position of knowing nothing, learning all I needed to learn spanned into many more hours, many more mistakes (everyone of which I learned from so not actually mistakes, just an opportunity to learn) I finally mastered the controls to a point where I did indeed produce the work I wanted to make. It did not help that when I asked for help all I got back was “you have done the training” So! I guess I am a slow learner then and comments like that are not helpful. Fablabs are often come with a helpful community and before long I had enlisted the help of others at FabLab who came to my rescue and I did complete the job.
Weeks later, and a return to the UK meant I needed to find another CNC router to use. After a long and frustrated search I found that Hackspace London has one (though I never did go see it). I am a member of London Hackspace and rarely go, but then I found you you needed to trained on it first and it was at a time when no one was available to train me up. Fablab London http://www.fablablondon.org/ do not have one and so just as I was about to give up I was told that the Machine Rooms in London one, and a full sized bed at that.Mark Dale runs it, a great guy who has endless patience and runs the training session on a ShopBot’s which is the toughest, most sophisticated, gantry-based CNC router.
For me at least, Machine Rooms offer a better system whereby after the initial training session you then have to do an hour, one-on-one, with Mark so he is sure you know what you are doing and you can demonstrate you are competent and confident enough to operate the machine on your own. The machine was far more complicated than the one in Berlin and so again I went on another learning curve but it was so worth it.
I am very surprised that the University I am currently studying at University For the Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey does not offer an CNC machine, but they have other great facilities I am currently getting to grips with like silkscreen printing and a great metalwork shop. As long as I can find what I need somewhere and I am willing to learn I will get to produce the work I want to produce eventually.