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Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) Shop

Guinea Member

We're a small, manual cabinet (and occasionally furniture) shop that has finally hit the point where I need to make the move to CNC or consider doing something else for a living. We do a lot of smaller projects, roughly the equivalent of 2-4 kitchens per month. We build everything in-house except doors, and do our own finishing, but even at 60+ hrs/wk we simply don't have the production capacity to drive enough revenue to hire help or grow the business (talking here about modest growth -- I don't want to create a large, complex entity).

I need an entry-level machine like the ShopSabre RC8 or Laguna Swift, but also need an expandable platform since, at least at the outset, features like expensive vacuum pumps, automatic tool changers, 4th axis attachments, etc., will not be possible financially.

Would really appreciate feedback from those who have experience with these or other brands at this (under $25K) price point. Many thanks.

11/11/19       #2: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
james e mcgrew  Member


I was in the same need in 2007 and looked at those same machines,, I went with CAMaster for many reasons, I would definately place them in your list, Go see machines, visit the plants where they are built. you are gonna need those guys and you need to have that relationship.

last week my power supply on my 2012 model cobra was giving me a fit, one call and i had a new one the next day.

take a look at the site and then check out the forum below, feel free to join and ask questions,, it is a CAMaster support forum with a few thousand other guys just like Us trying to make our way better in our chosen way.

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11/11/19       #3: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
Tom Gardiner

I amnot a financial expert nor a profit driven cabinetmaker but I recommend that you finance for a fully equipped cnc. I wouldn't be without a vacuum pump if I were cutting sheet goods primarily. Also if you want to grow your business and add employees then an ATC is essential. You can't trust constant tool changes to employees. Mistakes will be expensive. As to 4th axis I have run my cnc since 2011 and have yet to have a need for one.

11/11/19       #4: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
Bill Member

A little off subject but something you said I found interesting. " I don't want to create a large complex entity." Based on my experience and I started from one employee, me. The hardest company to run and make money with is a company of 2 or 3. I am not saying you want 100 employees but bigger to a degree is better. It allows you to take a day off. It allows wiggle room if business goes down. In my experience there are uncomfortable stages of growth and the beginning is the most uncomfortable, I would not want to stay there.

I have brought this up in the past and there will likely be replies that differ from my opinion but we are a profit driven company, running a company is too difficult and risky a thing to do to not make a good living doing it.

As for the CNC does your work have any repetition or common components? If everything is a one off I am not sure a CNC is going to solve your problem.

One thing I have heard over and over was. I should have gotten a CNC sooner. I have never heard the CNC put me out of business. Obviously if you leverage yourself to the moon it will be a problem.

Good luck!

11/11/19       #5: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
Mark B Member

All great information. Bill's comment is spot on to me. The old adage of when you have 1-2 employees they make more than you do, 3-4 your all on pretty much an even playing field, beyond that your putting money in the bank. Its of course an over generalization but coming from someone who has spend far too much time in the first 2 columns its the truth.

We ventured into CNC 3-4 years ago with a ShopSaber 408PRO. I would echo Toms advice. Shop Sabers "pitch" is buy your second machine first. I honestly cant imagine being very happy, or perhaps profitable, with a non-ATC/Vac machine. If you were doing a lot of very specific work that would be profitable with manual fixturing or had a product or product line that would compliment that style of work holding then it may be nice to have a small format machine sitting in the corner churning out parts. But for an all around shop and a lean towards cabs/sheet/panel processing, you'd be very let down to limp into it.

We came in with 60" x 100" machine capacity, 10hp spindle, 10 position ATC, and single phase vac and I can honestly say I have personally yet to have a need for a ton more. A super heavy industrial machine with insane rapids and so on would be nice but it wouldnt have made a lick of difference in profitability or allowed us to grind out any more work. Our investment was right at twice your state budget.

My advice would be to look heavily into the used market and perhaps try to find someone who is buying their second or third machine and bought a fairly heavy first machine that was outgrown instantly.

There are a ton of happy Laguna owners out there. I ask my customers to support a domestic product and I wanted to do the same.

In our few years I would just again caution you about getting in too light. Allocating the floor space, setting up the machine, DC, and so on, is a good commitment of time and resources and I would want to do it as few times as possible but thats eaiser said than done alot of times. We all wish we'd made our best investments earlier but its not always as easy as people here make it sound.

11/11/19       #6: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
Mark B Member

P.S. Re: 4th Axis

I had read somewhere a while back that a 4th axis was pretty much the biggest dust collector for first time machine buyers that opted for one by default. Again, its something that if you had a dedicated product that would profit from it you'd likely have a small dedicated 4 axis machine.

11/11/19       #7: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
james e mcgrew  Member


"Buy your second machine first" well worn advice and when followed leads to less "Boat anchors" sitting Idle ! Several forums advertise machines for those who are moving Up, there is a sweet 4x8 panther with an ATC on forum near the bottom of the post.

again go see machines, go meet owners, find shops like yours You will need friends who will answer the phone on Saturday afternoon and help when you are sitting by yourself trying to learn something or it is not doing what you think it should,,, Do not buy the first one you see, these things are technical but are not Impossible to learn, I have seen far too many guys go buy some OLD BIG IRON only to find the retrofit and upgrade cost were the reason it was so cheap..

11/11/19       #8: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
Ryan Millians

I would look at camaster and finance a good machine. I would not even consider a cnc for a cabinet shop without a tool changer and vacuum. If you don't buy wither of these I think that you will be better off outsourcing cnc parts. You can get into a good machine with payments about $1,000 a month. Once you get up to speed you can easily make the cnc make you 10 times that a month. I would think that a 1-2 man shop with a cnc that has vacuum and tool changer could double the output especially if you have an edgebander.

11/11/19       #9: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
Mark B Member

Im in agreement with the big iron statement. If you have a production or long term goal for a machine that will require a tech to setup ($$$$.$$) and maintain (other than small issues) this thread wouldnt exist. That said, if your considering the leap hopefully your already implementing CAD and highly detailed drawings in your shop, hopefully have a bit of a design package in place that will be reasonably transitioned. And mostly have a mindset (or person with a mindset) with regards to digital design and coordinate system mindset.

My machine landed and was literally cutting parts in perhaps 4 hours though I was able to have every bit of ancillary need sitting there ready to be clipped to the machine . Now... I find myself struggling to keep it busy.

Point being, at least to me, unless you have a well developed need that will meet or exceed the capacity of the machine (hopefully you match those two with your purchase) you will likely in a small shop find that the machine will out-run you 10:1. Its a win win to be doing other things while the machine is making parts even if its sweeping the floor. But in my opinion it'd be pretty hard for a small, odd, custom, shop, to outrun any good light machine.

Most any of the small domestics now will respond to tech almost instantly. Parts will be shipped immediately. Its somewhat the standard now and is, in my opinion, a bit of an advantage over large commercial machines if it fits in that your not waiting for, or paying for, extremely exorbitant proprietary parts when something goes haywire.

11/11/19       #10: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
Mark B Member

The notion that a $1000/month investment will make you 10x a month, or that an edge bander has any weight, is ludicrous. It all depends on the individuals market.

Are all the closet shops you may feed buying from closetmaid and you cant possibly band parts for what they buy them for? Does your area support, or even consider, frameless cabs in any capacity?

There is an ultra wide spread of profitability that depends on a ton of factors from what type of cabs do your customers want, what ancillary work is in your area to fill in, and so on.

A statement that the mere implementation of CNC is going to cover your $1K/mo investment and bring you 10X in free money is the reason why people despise car salesmen. Its the fresh pile of glop that falls out of a male cow's backside.

11/11/19       #11: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
Tom Gardiner

I just re read my post and I apologise. Of course employees can be trusted to run cnc routers w/o an ATC. The potential for anyone to make mistakes is greater without one though.

11/12/19       #12: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...

Guinea, you will receive numerous responses with conflicting information and points to consider. It will always boil down to your finances and needs. It's like buying your first car. You wanted a Camaro but settled for a Vega. You purchase without having any way of knowing what life will be like with a product you have never experienced. Two years ago we were at the same point. We went to the IWF with the intentions of purchasing a machine. We researched our options, ask question on forums Ad nauseam. With all our information we went to the IWF show with the intentions of purchasing a specific machine. Our ultimate decision was made based on needs, price and attitude of the sales group.
We settled on a Shop Sabre due to the quality of the machine and the fact that their sales group never knocked their competitor. USA made, great tech support, and a great SS community.
Your limit is under $25000. Ours was the same. We had $7000 cash for a down payment. What we ended up doing was spending 30 plus thousand. (don't remember the exact cost) Our payment was $600/month. More than we had originally wanted to spend. (we did not spend more based on sales pitches...only based on what we wanted and thought was not an option not to have)
The first three months of having the machine we realized we had under spent. Once word got out that we had a cnc customers began showing up wanting one thing are another cut. We have added two solid, regular customers that we cut products for. These two customers account for approx $2000 a month. Covers our payment plus.
If I could change anything we would have purchased a larger spindle and atc. We did purchase the 4th axis as we do a lot of turning for one customer. 4th axis is slow, slow, slow compared to a lathe. But while it is turning we are doing other work. (almost free labor)
We regularly have customers walk in wanting slabs flattened. (easy $90,00) We never knew so many opportunities would become available. The custom cutting and processing is steadily growing. We are in a good area, 488,000 people in county and 188,000 in the city.
Long post but all this to say...if you are in a decent sized city, reevaluate you cost. Project what is possible and spend the most you can. You can get by without a tool changer, a vac hold down, and other options...but it will hinder your capabilities. After you learn to use the machine and what it can do you will then realize what you wish you would have done. The options for work are far greater than most new purchasers realize. Do good research on the machine and your market, and possible markets you never thought about. Ask lots of questions, visit shops with cnc, become a sponge for information. Just don't get fixed on a magic number that is your limit. Evaluate the cost. It's like purchasing a franchise. Spend small make small. (not literally but you understand) Sorry for the long post...reconsider your options, finances and cutting options. Also look hard at the Shop Sabre, give them a call. Good honest people.

11/13/19       #13: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
rich c.

Can you outsource the CNC work as a profit study? Unless you hire an experienced operator, the learning curve at the beginning will not be an accurate verification of a CNC purchase. Have someone else cut out a couple kitchens, check you assembly procedures, and then decide on the labor and profits. Could be that the outsourcing provides a good vehicle to either make the profit to buy a machine, or, the justification to buy one. Just don't fire the shop cutting for you, until someone is completely up to speed on the machine in your shop.

11/13/19       #15: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
Jack Kong Member

Hello Guinea ,
Glad to read your post about cnc router demands .
my name is Jack from china , we are specialized in cnc router for 13 years .we have many different solutions to customers with price range 5000-35000$ .
May I know size of standard board you use ?
How many board you will use one day?
waiting for your reply
Best Regards
+8617753129012 Whatsapp

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11/16/19       #16: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...

Take a look at the AVID CNC page, not a welded machine, easily expanded and upgraded. I hear users rave about them, I have one of their NEMA 23 kits on my legacy, runs Mach 4. Also option for rotary axis.

11/18/19       #17: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
rich c.

Avid would absolutely be an entry level machine. Surprised to hear that it's being used in a commercial setting. Despite the "Pro" moniker.

11/19/19       #18: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
james e mcgrew  Member


There are great reasons for a cnc at any level,, some can be building your own this creates a very good knowledge of how the machines work, and a bolt together machine can do that if it works good if it does not work good, most use these at a table top level..

Several companies tried to make similar machines to the Avid yet at a cabinet full size panel level soon found they would be knocked out of square when the force of heavy panels were used, The mass of a welded heavy frame prevents this.

11/21/19       #19: Entry-level CNC for Small (1-2 man) ...
Guinea Member

I appreciate the responses; lots of good input and food for thought. Lots of add'l homework to do as well. Will post again with an update when we determine a direction. Thanks to all.

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