Finding a shop to CNC machine horns

So you want to have a shop make a pair of my horns? There are a few things you should know before purchasing the 3D CAD files from my site. 

When I say "shop", I am referring to a business that manufactures items, such as a kitchen cabinet shop, or sign shop. Some countries may call this something different, but for this article, this is what I am referring to. Sometimes these are called "job shops".  They are a brick and mortar businesses that specialize in making things. 

In addition to this article, I published a walk-through video two years ago on this topic. Please note there are some time-saving tips I've since learned after making this video. 

Here is a brief summery of the process.

  • Purchase the 3D CAD files from my site
  • Provide the files to your local CNC shop
  • The programmer will import the file into their CAM program to develop the cutter path required by their CNC machine.
  • They will then export a G-Code text file from the CAM software that can be read by their CNC machine. 
  • The CNC machine operator will make the parts according the text file and sometimes a setup sheet which defines the fixture setup(s) and cutter(s) used. 

Sometimes the CAM programmer and CNC machine operator are the same person. However most shops will have a dedicated CAM programmer since this is a different skill set than a CNC operator. Some shops have very limited programming capabilities because they simply don't have the staff. 

Most shops that have a CNC machine use it for making 2D signs or kitchen cabinets. Most often these shops have dedicated CAM software specific to their trade. For example a sign shop will have CAM software that allows the import of picture files and vector based graphic files. A kitchen cabinet shop will have software which is dedicated to making cabinet doors and other components that only require 2D machining in terms of the process. None of these CAM programs will be able to make one of my horns. They are strictly 2D cutting programs. My horns require the use of 3-axis machining which is a type of process. This is not a description of the physical CNC machine. Yes, these shops have 3-axis CNC machines, but they may not necessarily be capable of 3-axis machining. They may only be able to do 2-axis machining. 

The shop will need to have a CAM program that allows for 3-axis machining. An example of this is BobCAM which offers BobCAM mill based on the product matrix below. 

Under the Mill module there are various levels of software available. In this case they would need "3-AXIS STANDARD" at a minimum in order to machine my horns. 

This is what you see in my time lapse videos. This is a two part process.

  • Z-level Rough removes the bulk of the wood from the stock material 
  • Z-Level Finish runs the ball nose cutter over the surface of the part to create a smooth finish



If there is any question on a shop's capability you can show them one of my videos and simply ask if they can do this. They should know right away if this is something they can do. If they tell you they could "try", then I would suggest politely telling them that you would like to keep looking for a shop that does this on a regular basis. This is because 3-axis Mill programming is a specialized skill set that requires training. It is equivalent to learning an advanced video editing program as an example. 

It has been my experience that most shops that have a CNC machine are not capable of making the horns. Your best bet is to find a shop that does custom woodworking that uses the CNC machine in a variety of their own custom projects. These shops are harder to find unfortunately. 

Additionally, I would like to mention something that is more general in nature. If the shop is skilled and provides quality products, it is likely that they are very busy and prefer to hand pick what jobs they will take on base on your own personality. This comes as a surprise to some people! A bit of politeness and cordiality will go a long way. I've spoken with many shops and there are red flags that make them decide that they aren't interested in doing business with you personally. This comes in the form of a 'go-away' quote which is intentionally priced very high so that you will go away.

I would suggest...

  • Act like you are not in a rush (keep in mind this is just your hobby)
  • Respect their time and say thank you
  • Do not call or email for follow up more than necessary. A simple email saying "...just following up on progress, thank you" is sufficient.   
  • Don't be too specific on things that are not critical to the project. For example if you want a specific hardwood or finish. Sometimes it's best to let the shop suggest a wood or finish, since they are comfortable with certain woods and processes that can guarantee a good outcome.
  • I would suggest simply asking for an estimate. This means the cost could go up or down depending on how long it actually takes them. Shops are more comfortable with this and it gives them the impression that you are more easy going. 

If you are an engineer be sure to tell them right away so that they respect your ability and knowledge as a person. Don't leave them wondering. Of course I am completely joking. Please don't be "That Guy". 

If you would like to check out the 3D CAD files I currently offer, they can be found HERE. I also do custom 3D CAD files on an almost daily basis. Please contact me for a quote. 

Some people ask me if I do 3D printing. I routinely have parts 3D printed by a local printing company that does great work. Please contact me for a quote. 

If you are keen to setup shop yourself, I would suggest the following companies. 

Avid CNC

Manufacturer of extruded aluminum CNC machines that can be assembled and operated in your home workshop. These are turn-key complete kits that are made in the United States.

BobCAM is the more affordable CAM software company. They make stand-alone programs as well as programs that run inside of your CAD program such as Solidworks. Talk to your reseller and see if they have special pricing for hobbyists.

Solidworks is a popular 3D CAD program for small to medium sized businesses. It is fairly pricey at $4,000 USD but there may be a business case for it if you decide to start a side business. I can offer training for a fee.

If you pay their yearly maintenance subscription you get Solidworks CAM as well.

Fusion360 is an online based program that offers flexible licensing to hobbyists and startups. I've used it a bit and it seems worth checking out.

Fusion360 CAM is available as well and is fully integrated with the CAD portion of the software. There are distinct advantages if the software is integrated because it allows easy design updates and geometry creation specific to supporting the CAM programming.

Please let me know if you found this article interesting or if you have suggestions on future articles. 


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