CNC or Conventional Equipment?

Cabinetmakers discuss the value and usefulness of CNC equipment and other alternatives. December 14, 2005

I am considering buying a nesting router but am not very knowledgeable about them. I worked at a cabinet company that had a CNC router and beam saw for a few years, so I am somewhat aware of the capabilities of an automated shop. I am also very comfortable with computers, having run AutoCAD for years and just recently, Microvellum. I build custom cabinets now and can't build them fast enough for the demand. I have seen CDs of how these machines work and am attending the Las Vegas Woodworking Show at the end of this month, where they will be on display. Has anyone else taken this route or is anyone familiar with nesting based machinery? How much do they help productivity and what is the investment/return?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor G:
Nesting routers are a great tool, but you might be able to get similar results with conventional tools. In my shop we have a beam saw, edgebander and 2 row boring machine setup. We can cut, bore and band 2 normal sized jobs in a day. We bought all of our equipment used for a total of less than $30,000 including delivery, installation, setup and repair. We had considered a CNC router, but our problem is that we use plywood for our euro boxes. When you cut with a router, the kerf is so large that too much material would be wasted.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the response. I am not familiar with nesting machines very much. You mention that you use plywood for your Euro boxes. Do nesting machines cut plywood okay? How much have these $30,000 worth of tools helped your production and profits?

From contributor G:
The machines that we are using now have increased our production by double. I could easily produce double what I am doing now with more people on the assembly and finishing end.

From contributor E:
You can go either route. A great deal will depend on employee prospects in your area, at least the way I look at it. In my area, skilled employees are about as common as compassionate tax auditors. Training isn't much of an option, as our unemployment rate is so low that good people for anything are hard to find. So we went the CNC route and it has worked well for us. You can cut up plywood all day and you don't need to spend 80 to 100,000 either. We can cut, bore and dado while I'm doing other things. There is a steep learning curve, but it's not so terrible if you're computer savvy.

On the other hand, if employees aren't so hard to find in your area, the above mentioned approach is very viable as well. If you do look at CNC, make the salesman show you the process from software design and drawing to tool pathing to cutting before you spend a dime. Talk is cheap and they can't always deliver, so shop wisely!