This heartworming story appeared in my inbox recently, from Sean Fairburn, a father who built a big awesome CNC router in his shop with his kids. Growing up I’d heard of father son projects where the result was a restored hot-rod (I live on Route 66, its all cars here). My father and I tended to do more hiking than building, something I still value with my kids today. I hadn’t heard of a family bonding over the flashes of a welder and whir of stepper motors while building a giant CNC router!
Here’s Sean’s story, as he sent it to me:
My sons and I started building Advanced Desk and Electronics platforms we called “Gaming Thrones” about 3 years ago. My oldest son Caleb was 17, Joshua was 15, and Nathanael was 12 years old. The reason for building the Thrones in the first place was to give me and my sons an amazingly comfortable specifically designed The designs were started in Fusion 360 and we hired cabinet shops with CNC to cut out the 89 separate parts for each throne. Very time consuming to not only get the design accurate but then the time it took to tool up all the parts with the usual modifications and changes were very difficult and it really slowed down the progress.
We decided to Cut out Templates from the parts and cut future Thrones on a Table router.
That method worked great for 2 Thrones that were made in this fashion but each time we wanted to modify the design it would mean making a New Template for each part. It also increased the time it took to cut all the parts out from 2.2 hours on a CNC to 4 days as every hole and Cut and countersink and roundover all had to be done by hand.
At that point we decided we would need to Learn and create every aspect of the process to allow the flexibility needed to move forward. The Main reason for doing this was to create a catalyst for the EDUCATION of my kids and give them a practical reason to learn what it takes to move through every aspect of a project and solve and understand each interrelated discipline.
- Designing the Thrones in Fusion 360 allowed them to learn Fusion and 3D design.
- Engineering the parts according to the design accurately brought in practical woodworking skills.
- Finishing each part with sanding and painting created a sense of quality and craftsmanship.
- Assembly (literally) put all the parts together and each aspect of each layer became real and appreciated.
The next step was to look at the cost and ability to manufacture products quickly and efficiently. If we got an order from a company for 12 Thrones it would take 3 months to fulfill by hand.
It was Obvious that we needed to Make our own CNC machine.
The boys already had the expertise to Design and together we set out to make something that would be large stable and provide a 4×8 cutting area. I also wanted to have it take up less floor space and manage the Dust collection better than conventional flat tables. We decided to make it and very strong, with the ability to cut soft Metal and hardwoods with ease. So each decision of each part was researched and if it could be purchased, like Nema 34 motors and mounts, we would purchase them. Brackets and Gantry and Table Base we designed to be made from 3x3x3/16″ steel Square Tube.
This opened up a whole new skill to be acquired “Welding” and the thermodynamics that make accuracy difficult as welds expand and contract while holding the steel parts.
This was arguably the toughest part of the entire project Welding up each and every part with the intent of a Very flat tight level bed. The center is a bit high by about 1/4″ to the corners over the 5 ft x 10 ft Bed. I expected it to be worse.
Next up was the purchase of Linear Rail and blocks which we got from Motion Constrained. Then the Rack for the motor pulleys with a Lot of patience as we had to, again be very precise and deliberate in, setting the pieces then drilling and tapping all the screw holes.
The Gantry was designed to be welded as One piece of Parallel tubes for strength and greater flexibility on mounting multiple spindles and tools. This 88″ long steel Gantry vertical lifts had to be mounted to the Table Rail Blocks then Welded precisely into place with no stress for a perfect Fit. Maintaining exact distance and parallel was done by Clamping wooden Blocks between both ends 6 1/16th” apart then tack welding very quickly to keep them from pulling or twisting apart.
We also designed a custom Z Carriage to let me mount multiple tools and bolt in those tools at various heights so that my Z Travel lead screw would not need to be so long. This worked great and it allowed me to Tram the Tools for greater precision Alignment at 90 deg to the table.
We decided to slant the table 65 degrees so that the dust collection would be easier as gravity would pull chips down into the bottom where collection port would be. This design also let us easily get to anywhere on the 4×5 sheet of material, as well as take up less space in the Garage where it was designed to be used.
The motors, power supplies, controllers and wiring all needed to be built and power needed to be mapped out and custom breaker box for 220v power to run everything including the 4Kw Spindle and VFD (Variable Frequency Device) which is like an industrial size router with 6 hp or Torque.
Caleb decided to Gut an old G5 Mac Tower and use it as our Controller box because it looked Cool and you never see Mac stuff around CNC machines it would just be quite funny as people look at our rig and wonder if its all running on an old Mac G5.
Soldering became Nathanael’s job as the 4 pin connectors and the male and female ends were put onto each cable for the motors for quick disconnect throughout the system. Another important skill to learn as all the wires were tested for continuity and properly set to length to keep things tidy.
After all the parts were put in place it became time for calibration of distance so a foot in the Mach3 program and in the design was a Foot actually cut. This needed to happen with extreme accuracy on the X, Y and Z Axis. We used an Exacto knife in a Drill Chuck as the guide for distance traveled. Our goal was to repeatably get to .002″ at 96″ distance. Many have asked about Pulleys and counterweight, and after testing I found it was not needed. 1,842oz in Nema 34 motor with a 3-1 reducer has 345lb of lifting power at 1 inch so no problem lifting the Z Carriage.
- 5′ x 10′ Bed for 4″ x 8″ cutting area (2 inch Lagniappe)
- 88″ Gantry width with 3″ of floorspace used with a 65 Degree bed angle.
- In the Y Axis We can reach 512 ipm
- in the X Axis we can reach 410 ipm
- In the Z Axis we can reach 150 ipm (Lead Screw iGUS Drylin, and echain)
- Spindle can run 8,000 to 18,000 RPM
Caleb is now 20 freelances as a Designer for hire working for a 3D Printing company in New Orleans, and got a Job at a High end Cabinet Shop running their CNC for a while then decided to come work for me and build the CNC here at home. When he was younger I would punish him by making him watch Photoshop Tutorials. Now he goes right to the web to watch tutorials on anything he want to learn to do.
Joshua got a job at the same Cabinet shop and is still there doing very well making and installing Cabinets and building door faces and drawer fronts. When he is not at work he is a wood turner and very hands on Maker and is a Huge fan of Jimmy DiResta (Rock Star Maker on Youtube) Joshua has no fear and can make anything.
Nathanael worked in Finishing for a while learning to sand and spray finish the Cabinets. He loves finishing and has a very good patience for it. He is also into Wood carving and Inlay work as well as Calligraphy. Fusion 360 he learned from older brother Caleb and teaches his lil Brother Isaac instead of playing video Games.
I just get to be Dad encouraging supportive and always in overwatch, getting things started then handing it off to the boys. I am a retired Stay at home Dad but was a Cinematographer for 25 years and a US Marine Combat Vet so I like good communication clear and concise. I encourage teamwork and totally owning the information on the work you are doing (You gotta know your stuff) be in the moment paying attention to the tools and the work and the outcome will be filled with safety and Integrity. I encourage testing and I encourage bold experimentation especially with designs and Finishes, Failure is a mighty teacher.