Part of what prompted this blog was having a iCarver 40-915X from General CNC. I’ve thought about starting a blog about my prop building/collecting experiences but didn’t take the leap until the iCarver gave me the perfect excuse. I could document the process of learning to use it and and the way in which a CNC router can expand a prop maker’s capabilities.I was also inspired by my friend Jamie Oxenham’s (Oxenham Design) From Aspire to Beyond blog about his exploits as a professional prop maker for film, TV, and commercials. Jamie has encouraged me to blog about what I do and has been a huge source of inspiration and help, teaching everything I know about CNC routers.
Given the tutelage I’ve had, I can’t call myself a complete newcomer to CNC routers, but I am certainly an amateur. I feel like my learning curve will be reduced but I will hopefully be able to talk about it from a learning standpoint and show what you can do with limited initial knowledge and the desire to think outside the box and be creative.
iCarver 40-915X Specs
Borrowed from the General CNC site:
- 15″ x 20″ x 4″ travel
- Easy start-up procedure, and unrivalled Technical Support
- Simple-to-use operation controller – No external operating PC required
- Easy-to-learn programming software (ArtCAM Express included)
- Low backlash stepper motors, for excellent performance and low maintenance
- Smooth and accurate ball screw transmission
- Positional accuracy of up to 0.001″
- Cutting speeds of up to 118 inches per minute
- Rugged, high performance spindle included, with automatic on/off control
- Extruded aluminum table, with hold down clamps
- Tool kit, with start cutting tools, included
Early Impressions of the iCarver 40-915X
“Out of the box” the iCarver 40-915X is pretty much ready to go, easy to use, and fairly quiet compared to a larger CNC router that I have used. There’s no dedicated computer required, which to me is a huge plus, and while I could easily set-up an old computer if I needed to, it just becomes a dust collector and an annoyance over time. With the iCarver everything is controlled through the dongle and your files to be cut stored on a thumbdrive. I won’t get into all the particulars of it because I am still toying with various settings in various cases, but it’s pretty much as simple as selecting your file, set your zero positions, choose the speed, and start cutting.
So, with almost no experience someone could learn enough in a few minutes to start cutting simple things with the software to create the files being the larger hurdle. I’ll get into software more specifically in later posts but General CNC includes ArtCAM Express with their machines so you can get started right away. I’ve been using Vectric Aspire since it’s what Jamie showed me the basics of. With either software you can start cutting some cool stuff with ease with the abundance of tutorials online (and on the General CNC website).
I found that the 40-915X runs fairly quiet, depending on the material and type of cutting, especially compared to a larger one I’ve used. When cutting HDU (high-density urethane) foam the bulk of the noise comes from the stepper motors controlling the gantry with the spindle being pretty quiet. So with 3D cutting it’s louder, but not loud enough that you couldn’t hold a conversation with someone in the same room as it running. Different materials are far louder; cutting wood gets pretty noisy.
The size of also is about right for me and I’d say probably a good number of hobbyists and professionals. The 15″ x 20″ cutting area means I can cut a good sized project without having to start piecing things together, and 4″ of travel on the Z-axis lets me cut some good and thick material. It being only about 130lbs makes it relatively portable and easy to move around for clean up or even to take on location as I did at the Toronto Mini Maker Faire. A pretty good balance between something for hobby type work and professional (depending on what kind of work you do).
Another thing I’m quite happy about is the fact that General CNC is a North American (Canadian) company. So if there are any issues with it I’m not stuck trying to sort out problems overseas, as I might be with other machines as nicely priced as the iCarver.
I am quite eager to use the router for a number of projects that that have been rolling around in my head for a long time ranging from simple 2D cutting to 3D and double sided stuff. I really like the simplicity of the iCarver and the potential that a CNC router offers as an additional tool in my toolbox. There will be a lot of experimenting, learning, fun, and probably some frustration as I go.