CNC Workflow

Workflow for a CNC project

Stage 1: Concept

This is the idea for what you are going to make. This may range from a specific customer requirement, something you have sketched on a napkin or a ready to go file that someone has already prepared. At this stage you need to try and think through the other processes in the job to help to get the best approach to achieving it. You should also assemble any reference material you will use to help design the part such as photos, data from the customer, design sketches etc

Stage 2: Design (CAD)

For the design you need create the computer data that will define either the 2D or 3D forms you want to cut on your CNC. This is done in what is typically called “CAD software

2D design

or 3D design

Stage 3: Toolpaths (CAM)

Once the design is complete, you will start to calculate the actual paths that will drive where the tool will move on the machine

At this point you will start to take into account the shape and size of the tool, the type of movement you want the tool to make (the shape you want it to leave in the material) and appropriate settings for how fast the tool can be moved and how much material can be removed safely

Stage 4: Machining

At this stage you need to set the CNC to match the job setup you specified in the Design/Machining software. This will involve setting up your material in the right orientation, and making sure it will be secure while you’re cutting it. Then you need to load the correct tool and tell the machine where the X, Y and Z reference position is for the tool tip

Stage 5: Finishing and Assembly

For completeness, there is normally more to do once all the toolpaths have been run in the form of finishing and assembly. While not the purpose of this guide, projects made from wood can possibly need sanding, staining or painting, and a final finish. As has been previously stated, understanding the finishing process and thinking about it at the concept stage of your job is a really useful way to help you make design and machining decisions that may help you to reduce how much work you are left to do once the part has come off the machine.