Make Getting Started with CNC

I can’t remember the last time I did a book review… Have I ever done a book review? I should, because on rare occasions I do read books. While stuck on a plane last weekend (as well as a horse farm with no WiFi or cellular service) I read “Getting Started with CNC” by Edward Ford. I met Edward many years ago when he came to Milwaukee Makerspace, and I’ve helped build a few Shapeoko CNC machines over the years. So when I saw his name as the author, I was excited to consume his knowledge of CNC machines.

I should state for the record that I didn’t just see this book and buy it. It was part of a Humble Bundle where you pay some small amount and get a boatload of electronic versions of books. I tend to fill my old iPad with these, and read them when I get the chance. Seriously, if you are a fan of any of the Make Magazine books, sign up at Humble Bundle. You’ll mostly get emails about games (boring!) but once or twice a year you’ll get an email about an amazing book deal. Totally worth it.

Oh yes, on to the review! The book itself is about 160 pages, not too long, but just enough to introduce someone to the world of CNC machines. (We’re talking CNC routers, not mills, or 3D printers, or laser cutters, though some of the concepts apply.)

There’s good information about end mills, and toolpaths, as well as software (commercial and free options) and it even gets into G-code a bit. There are also some CAD exercises you can do even if you don’t have access to a CNC machine. There are a number of good photos and diagrams to explain concepts and machines, and there’s a walk-through of a complete CNC project which involves inside and outside cutting, pocketing, and milling down the surface. It’s written in a very approachable manner.

Now, I’ve done some CNC machining over the years, but I am far from an expert. Still, “Getting Started with CNC” was a worthwhile read, and something I’d recommend to anyone who has any interest in using a CNC router to make things.

Make Getting Started with CNC

I do have a few very small complaints. I found a few typographical errors, as well as some images that appear to have had FPOs put in, and never updated. These are things I think I can mention because I’ve served as a Technical Editor, otherwise I wouldn’t have mentioned them. ;)

Glue Gun Repair

I spent some time after class in the Physical Computing Lab repairing the hot glue guns. During class students told me that the triggers didn’t seem to work, and they had to push the glue into the gun by hand to get anything out the hot-end.

I removed all the screws (about 8 of them) and opened one up and it’s a lot of plastic inside, besides the hot bits. There’s a plastic piece that snapped, due to (I’m assuming) pulling the trigger too hard. It’s a poor design, but I was able to repair it by drilling holes in the two pieces and adding some wire through the holes and twisting it tight. This was enough to pull the pieces close together. (I contemplated using cyanoacrylate, but didn’t have any, and wasn’t convinced it would work.)

Glue Gun Repair

Two of the guns were in good condition, except for the snapped piece of plastic, but the third one must have been repaired before, because the rubber retaining ring and a tiny spring were missing, and the larger spring had been replaced by a not-quite correct replacement spring. The third one (once assembled) didn’t do a very good job of pushing the glue forward. I may have to try further repairs, but at least we have two working better now.

Glue Gun Repair

The other issue, which may have cause some of the problems, is a “HIGH/LOW” switch on the handle. When I held the gun, I ended up switching it to LOW. If someone had been using it on HIGH and accidentally switched it to LOW, they might have kept pressing hard on the trigger while the temperature dropped, and snapped the plastic bit inside.

Glue Gun Repair

I added some tape to the switches so they don’t get accidentally set to LOW. We only have high temperature glue anyway…

Glue Gun Repair

The third gun, which doesn’t work very well, got labeled “Not Great” so we remember which one is the crappy one., which can still be used, as long as you don’t mind (possibly) pushing the glue forward with your hand.

Glue Gun Repair

Reminder: Hot Glue is Hot!


If you’ve not read the posts Star-Blinken, Star-Blinken LED Testing, and Star-Blinken Stand, they provide some good background on this project.


The inspiration came from something Kathy and I saw at Maker Faire Detroit. After seeing the “M” at the Henry Ford I remembered I had left over batteries, LEDs, and binder clips from the Learn to Solder kits I made for the Zoom Symposium at UWM.

I thought that since I had the leftover parts because of a UWM connection, I should find a way to get UWM involved again, so I persuaded my Physical Computing class to help. (And by “persuaded”, I mean I bribed my students into helping me with assembly of the piece.)


I didn’t have a piece of posterboard large enough to make the star I wanted, so I make five segments that could be assembled into a star.


Since I don’t have a printer capable of tabloid printing, I split the pieces into halves and printed on letter paper. Some assembly was required.


I cut the pieces and taped them together, and then had the “star legs” I needed. I then used it to cut the black posterboard using an X-ACTO knife and cork-backed steel edge ruler on a cutting mat. (Sorry, no laser!)


And yes… things didn’t fit right. Again, no laser. I trimmed edges a bit until things fit together right and it was deemed “good enough”.


I took the star pieces to Kenilworth and attached them to the piece of sheet metal with some magnets. At this point, I had to wait until the Thursday night right before Maker Faire, which luckily enough, is when I have class! I brought in some bags of candy, and while I taught students in groups of two or three how to solder, the rest of them assembled everything…


200+ pieces of black construction paper were cut for insulation, 200+ batteries were opened and had 200+ LEDs stuck onto them, 200+ binder clips had the clippy parts removed, and 200+ magnets were attached and then placed on the sheet metal. Things go fast with so many people helping!

Here’s the first test with the lights out, which we did during the DECODE meeting. It was impressive!

I then had to get Star-Blinken from the fifth floor of Kenilworth to my car, which was fun, because the Milwaukee Film event was setting up and Kenilworth was a bit crowded. The stand is heavy to prevent tipping, so I needed a cart. Also, since there’s no on/off switch, it blinks all the time. No control!



I loaded Star-Blinken into my car and yeah, it just kept on blinking! It was a fun ride home. It kept blinking strong all night long in the garage and then I unloaded it the next morning at Maker Faire. I ended up placing in at the entrance of the Dark Room, mainly because there weren’t other things there, but I think being in a darker area may have been even better. (I was a bit busy producing the event to worry about a better placement.)

Dana helped disassemble Star-Blinken at the Expo Center, and I asked her to just drop all the pieces into a box. After I loaded everything out and took it home, I forgot which box it was in and opening the box gave me a pleasant surprise. I then spent over an hour putting all the binder clips back together, and taking apart all the pieces.

The cost of this piece was approximately $100, and about $36 of that was for the batteries, which are the only parts that cannot be reused. (Well, actually, some of them have life left in them! Some did die though. None are at full power anymore.)

So I can reuse all the parts, except for the batteries, either in a similar piece in the future, or in the Learn to Solder kit. I may return the sheet metal to Tom from Milwaukee Makerspace, and the wood was disposed of. (The wood cost $0.00 as it was all scrap, and I reclaimed all the screws.)

This is just one post in a series, check out the other posts as well:

Maker Faire (UW) Milwaukee 2016

I was a little bummed that I wouldn’t see some of my favorite UWM people at Maker Faire Milwaukee this year because they either accepted jobs elsewhere (including outside the country) or they were too busy with work/personal stuff.

To cheer myself up I thought I’d make a list of UWM people/groups that will be at Maker Faire this year. Some include my former and current students, and some are colleagues, and some are just doing awesome things and want to share.

It’s a long list… Check it out below!


I recently heard someone I know say “Yeah, I used to be an artist…” and they sounded disappointed when they said it. I’m not sure I know many people who are full-time artists and have the time/money/resources to just create whatever it is they want to create.

What I do know is that many of the artists I call my friends and colleagues spend time teaching, and sharing, and organizing, and basically facilitating things so others can be creative, and do things, and learn things, and make art…

And I’m fine with that.

Art can be a selfish thing, and it can be hidden away, but facilitating others to be creative usually fosters a community, and sharing, and working with others, often in an attempt to make the world a better place.

And I’m totally fine with that.

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