CNC Router Versus Vertical Panel Saw

Which to invest in? It all depends on the shop's needs and the business plan. January 8, 2007

I have room for either a vertical panel saw (looking at the Striebig Compact Plus) or a small CNC router (such as the Shopbot PRT Alpha 96). I was ready to purchase the Striebig until I watched a video on the Shopbot website of their router cutting out parts, drilling shelf peg holes, and routing dados and rabbets for a bookcase. We presently use frameless construction of the boxes with dados and solid wood edgebanding, but with the Shopbot, would go to blind dados. Would the Shopbot produce as clean and accurate edges on the panels as the Striebig? In your opinion, which would be most useful? Most accurate? Cleanest cut? I'm mostly interested in panel processing here.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor P:
Think about it - a computer driven tool or a man driven tool? The Shopbot will free the operator to do other things close by.

From contributor D:
In my opinion, if you are doing frameless system cabinetry, you would be faster with a panel saw, a line borer and an edgebander. You can set your stop and cut multiple panels at a time and have a better edge than a Shopbot will give you. They have their place, but if you want to cut something very fast and very accurately, you will have a better end result with a quality panel saw.

The Shopbot is lightweight and light duty, and will have more deflection and lower tolerances than a higher priced router with heavier and higher quality components.

From contributor F:
I asked the same question on the Shopbot forum several months ago and got a slightly different and more optimistic answer about the Shopbot's potential for frameless cabinetry.

From contributor A:
Be careful here! This could be an expensive decision - and I don't mean just the cost of the machinery. It sounds to me that you haven't thoroughly thought through what your needs really are. If what you really need is a panel saw to cut out panels, this is what you should buy. I suggest you step back, look at your workflow, and consider your complete fabrication process. Adding equipment, particularly the wrong piece of equipment, can make you less productive. Consider also the down time in learning the new equipment (the CNC router has a steeper learning curve than the panel saw). I'm not trying to steer you away from the CNC router, just suggesting you carefully consider your real needs in light of your existing processes. You might want to visit a site like true32, that focuses on process, before you make your decision.

From the original questioner:
Thank you all for your responses. After 22 years in the shop, this is the first time I've utilized any of the forums. There are three main reasons I'm looking into a panel saw or CNC router now. First, I'm 60, my brother is 57, we're the only two in the shop and are getting a bit tired of lifting 3/4" melamine sheets onto the saw. Second, we've been using a 12-14" Rockwell Delta table saw with a sliding table that runs in the miter slots for these 22 years and want something easier and more accurate. Third, the panels in last two units of melamine we received were not square, and it's a pain in the rear to square them with our setup.

Contributor P, that, as I see it, is both a plus and minus. The computer I'm typing this on regularly screws up. But I have been watching more videos of the Shopbot operating and like what it can do, so...

I have the line borer and the edge bander, and that's why I was initially looking into the panel saw. The shop is only 1800 sq. ft. and with a bit of work I have a wall for the Shriebig Compact Plus. The appealing thing about the router is what contributor P speaks of.

I went to the Shopbot forum and read the postings and watched the video. I also watched the Cabinet Parts demo video. I'm fairly proficient in AutoCAD, but that demo made the software look confusing. My ignorance. That is one of my main concerns - getting the correct info into the machine.

The lightness of the Shopbot is a concern to me, as well as the learning curve, although the latter would be worked on with the Shopbot in the garage cutting trial panels. I have been considering a panel saw for years, but have always been aiming toward getting a slider after expanding the shop. I don't think that's going to happen (I'm getting to the age where going on a road trip is more appealing than building an addition) so have recently begun thinking outside my particular box and found the Striebig. I now have the funds to purchase one (kid's nearly out of college).

What I really need is a more accurate system of cutting panels. Which one it will be, we shall see. Either one will be a huge improvement.

From contributor O:
It may be getting there, but I'm not hearing yet that the Shopbot is up to the task. Unless you're gonna move your business aggressively and step up to a beam saw and P2P or a high dollar router, the vertical saw is the ultimate for accurately busting up panel stock. Streibig isn't the only one out there, though. Look at Holzers and Adwoods Elcon, which I have and still recommend.

From contributor I:
A CNC router will by far give you the best accuracy, efficiency, and yield the least amount of waste. We upgraded from a Holz-her panel saw to a Biesse Rover 37 and would never go back. Everything comes out exactly the same. Hands down, the CNC was our best investment.

From contributor J:
Good question and good advice from everyone. I would add that you need to look at how much longer you and your brother intend to keep this business and what your exit (retirement) plan is.

Also, your production volume has a lot to do with the decision. If you are doing 2 to 4 kitchens per month and intend to maintain this level, a good CNC package will serve you well. It will allow you and your brother to maintain your existing level of production with less labor and improved processing and assembly times. For example, you could use the CNC blind dado assembly method, which goes together quick, easy and square. What now takes you 2 days to cut, dado and line bore will take a half a day with the CNC. The assembly time will also decrease.

In other words, you could maintain your existing production levels and have more time available for the road trips, etc., with the CNC machine. Additionally, the CNC may have a higher resale value than the VPS.

I would recommend an Omnitech or MultiCAM CNC over the ShopBot. The company that you buy the CNC from should be able to have you up and running within two weeks of machine delivery. You would need to get your cabinet design software a few weeks before the CNC arrives in order to learn how to draw the cabinets and set up your construction methods.

Also, do take a look at the Elcon and the Holz-her panel saws. All three saws are very good.

Bottom line - the CNC and software will cost about $100,000 or about $2,000 per month on a 5 year lease versus $25,000 and $500 per month for the vertical panel saw. The CNC will give you square, dadoed, drilled, fluted and curved parts and cut your production time significantly (1 to 2 days per kitchen); the saw will give you square parts and cut your production time slightly (1 to 2 hours per kitchen).

From contributor O:
Good thoughts, contributor J. Two things I'd take issue with, though. You said "...get your cabinet design software a few weeks before the CNC..." I'd recommend at least 6 months or better yet, a year. Also, I wouldn't guess the numbers, but the vertical saw would speed up production more than an hour or two, not only because of efficiency and part accuracy, which eases assembly, but because of simply the pleasure of using a vertical table saw instead of horizontal, which is tiring.

From contributor A:
I again suggest you visit the true32 web site. They have developed examples of workflow using a CNC router and using a vertical panel saw (VPS). They've also published a book on shop processes and workflow. By the way, have you considered one of the Safety Speed Cut VPS? Some of the folks around here seem quite satisfied with them.

From contributor D:
Which Safety Speed Cut saw are you familiar with? Are they satisfied with the accuracy? Quite a savings in price if it will do the job.

From the original questioner:
Retirement and death will be simultaneous. I'm leaning toward a CNC router, specifically a 1 year old MultiCAM if a debt is paid to me before the machine sells. I'm beginning to appreciate more and more the multi-function abilities of the router over the VPS. For those who believe I should take my time with the decision, one motivating factor in buying this year is the needed write-off.

After doing the same thing for so long, I'm looking forward to a challenge. When I first got the wide belt sander, I couldn't believe how we had gotten along without it for so long. Same with the edge bander. They both paid for themselves in an amazingly short time. The router is a much larger investment, but I think in the long run it, too, would be a good investment. We'll see. Maybe I'll get cold feet. Road trip time!

Thanks again to all for the comments. And I have been visiting the True32 web site. Our shop layout isn't bad considering the space restrictions. Work flows pretty well. At least it does so far. Fitting the router into the scheme of things may be interesting.

From contributor H:
Get the Shopbot! Sure, not as fast as a KOMO or whatever, but way faster than manual at the end of the day. You only have to handle the sheet once… That made my life easier 100 fold. For the most accurate cuts in 3/4 mat, just do multiple passes .02 over size and then a final full depth cut. You will have more energy at the end of a day.

From contributor J:
The nested-based CNC routers are an exceptional machine for the custom shop. They excel when they are able to perform more than one operation on most parts in the nest. I think you will do well with the MultiCam.

I would recommend that you get your software now, unless that is included in the deal with the machine. The sooner you learn to draw your kitchens, etc. in your software (and get it configured the way you want it to do things) the faster you'll get the CNC productive.

From the original questioner:
This evening I found out that I was paid the owed debt and that the owners of the Multicam accepted my offer, so it's off to discover the wonders of design software, spoil boards, cutters and how to use them, etc. I imagine, though, that I'll be back with a question or two. Thanks to all for the advice and encouragement.

From contributor A:
One shop uses an "H" series saw, and one has, I believe a "6400". These saws are not in the same league as the other more expensive panel saws (you do get what you pay for), but for the money, in a small shop, they work quite well. One advantage they have is that they take up little space. Good luck with your CNC.