Edgebander or Small CNC?

A part-time garage-shop cabinetmaker gets advice on whether his next investment should be a CNC or an edgebander. Good thoughts on both sides in this long thread. October 11, 2007

I have a part time woodworking business setup. I have been doing mostly closets and garage cabinets lately. I am looking to step up to full time one day, in 3-5 years. I currently have a 10' slider, line bore, shaper, jointer/planer, cyclone d/c, large 2 stage a/c. I am looking to speed things up. I need to be more efficient if I am ever to go full time. I am looking to invest 15-20K. I was looking at the new PRS alpha with hsd spindle.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor B:
The answer seems obvious to me. You already have a way to cut, groove and bore the parts, but need an edgebander. If you purchase the CNC, you will just speed up the time to cut, groove and bore process, but you will still not have a way to edgeband effectively. It seems that without an automatic edgebander, your current constraint would have to be edgebanding, and if you purchase a CNC, you will still only operate at the same pace you were operating before because the constraint remains, and at the exact same pace as before you upgraded to the CNC. I may be missing a key piece of information, but based on your post, this one does seem to be an open and shut case.

From contributor O:
The new Shopbot PRS Alpha is a great machine, but it doesn't edge band. Plus it's going to be almost a full time job setting it up, squaring it, learning all the new software, buying yet more software (this stuff costs a lot of money). Then you need a vacuum hold down system. The edgebander will complete your operation, then after you feel secure in going full time and have some extra money, buy the Shopbot. I'm going to wait at least one year before I buy my PRS machine, and let them work out all the bugs first. But they are promising, and lots of shops are using them successfully. I used to own a Shopbot (an older and slow machine). Shopbot is a great company and has customers that are willing to network with other Shopbotters. Gotta agree with contributor B on this one; he hit it right on the nail.

From contributor E:
I think the question is how many, if any, curves you rout compared to how many straight, flat boards you put edge banding on. Based on what you have said so far, I'm going with the bander. But CNCs are real nice to have if you do a lot of curves, radiuses, and things.

From contributor N:
I was in the same position a little while back. The bander will sit idle quite a bit, but you will be shocked at how much time you save, especially if you are building frameless cabinets and a lot of slab melamine doors for garages.

From contributor T:
Here's another perspective on this. We have a Brandt bander and used to do all of our own banding in-house. A couple of phone calls a few years ago changed all of that. For under $3 we now have our vendor provide pre-finished plywood rips 24 X 96 with one long edge banded with fusion maple PVC.

This has changed how we flow cabinets dramatically. Labeling issues go away, process times go down. One crosscut, one rip, and the cabinet side is on its way to being drilled. There are, of course, more complicated ways to make this happen, but not very many that make it happen for this cost structure.

There's a lot of voodoo wrapped around automatic edgebanders. They can be working just fine one day and need a tune-up the next. They are not free to run. They take up a lot of prime-time real estate close to your saw. A small machine is probably 10 feet long and, in combination with infeed and outfeed, will require a minimum of 26 to 28 feet of flow space that could be put to better purpose.

I'm sure there are shops that can make a good argument for a bander, but a simple closet organizer or garage cabinet company might do better to put these same dollars elsewhere, like maybe in the marketing or merchandizing department. These are the kinds of investments that add money to the firm.

Performing operations you could easily subcontract just add costs. Perhaps you could consider starting with outsourcing the banding, then as your company grows, consider bringing it back in-house again.

From contributor C:
Before I bought either machine I would look at the economics of outsourcing parts cutting and/or edge banding. If there are shops in your area with an edge bander or CNC not working full time, it might be very worth your while to see what kind of pricing you can get.

From contributor R:
Can't you get both for $20,000? Look at the used market for the edge bander; huge number of auctions right now. And the Shopbot is around $15,000. Have you thought about an edgebander that just puts on pre-glued?

Here's another idea. I made up a machine for trimming edgebanding. I put a power feeder on a bench and horizontally mounted a router with a flush trim bit on the side of the bench on a steel plate. Two quick passes and the solid wood edgebanding was trimmed. Lots easier and faster than hand-held.

From contributor L:
At your current level, outsourcing makes the most sense! Use someone elseís expensive bander for an hour a week and use your money for something more useful at the moment. Banders are great machines, but good ones are expensive.

From contributor U:
I started with a hot air bander. I found that the pre-gluing added up to a payment. I found the freight from outsourcing paid for a bander, and so on. I bought a new bander with 3mm capacity and never looked back. Even if you bought one without 3mm, you'll never look back.

There is no voodoo in auto banders; they must be cleaned regularly, you must use good glue, and it is a machine that you need some training on. The machine I bought cost more than my first house. It has already allowed me to increase my gross 5x what it cost. The key to successful banding is dust collection, cleanliness, cutter alignment, cutter sharpness and the proper glue amount. You must adhere to the cleanliness. It is mandatory in my shop to blow it out, shop vac it, and make sure the dust is properly working each and every run. Period, no exceptions, takes exactly 2 minutes 30 seconds a run.

Do yourself a favor and look into a solid machine and don't buy used unless you have seen it run, and run with PVC and laminate, and a lot of it.

I went from a table saw pm66, a hot air bander, and boring machine to a Biesse Rover 321 machining center/point to point in one jump and the bander and didn't hesitate to look back once. The learning curve is rough, but I was making money quick. The point to point allowed me to process parts at the controller, and that was great because I did not have software in place for the CNC.

The vacuum hold down is essential. I don't know anything about Shopbot, but a good used machining center will run circles around some of the entry level CNC machines. We cut, notch, groove and bore in one material movement, then band and assemble. You need to consider all the software costs associated with the CNC, also.

I would look at a used bander. If you have a machinery supplier you can trust, see if they can get you a used one that they trust, and watch it run. I would make absolutely sure of the parts program for whatever you buy. When you get to the CNC/bander level, this is crucial. Biesse is what I have for both and they stock everything.

I would recommend the bander at the stage you're at; it will save you loads of time and get you to the next level much faster.

From contributor J:
Go for the Shopbot. The new PRS Alphas are great. Just getting a new toy like that would make it worthwhile. The basic Alpha with just the 2 hp spindle is all you need to cut melamine (talk to tech support at Shopbot). Check out the Shopbot forum, too. Many cabinetmakers there have ingenious methods for low cost hold downs (as you probably know). Then look for a deal on a used bander. They're around. With the slow down there's got to be some great deals. Plus growing shops are upgrading to bigger banders.

From contributor U:
Contributor J, do you own a Shopbot? Or router of any sort? I own a ptp, which has mushroom clamps and vacuum pods. When I read the posts that you need a way to hold the parts down on the Shopbot, it becomes a red flag for slow material movement. The very thought of running a radius and mistakenly placing a screw to hold the product down sounds expensive if the cutter hits the screw, as in breaking off the tip of a cutter and spinning an iso pod collet and ruining them both.

Efficient panel processing on a machine is done with speed and power. 2 HP routers could become overworked quickly. I cut all kinds of material with our router on the ptp and can't imagine making money with it if I had to create or think of finding a way to hold something down or blowing a cutter.

With all due respect, I believe the best purchase is the bander. If anything, a used forklift, cabinet software, bookkeeping software, an air dryer for the compressor and auto drain to get the moisture out every cycle would be money much wiser spent than the Bot. I'm speaking from experience and not from manufacturer's advertisements. The nuts and bolts that make panel processing safer and its machinery more reliable is crucial to make the leap to full time work.

From contributor J:
Yes, I did own a Shopbot. I sold it and plan on buying a new model. It's obvious that the questioner has spent some time at the Shopbot website. They're a great addition to a small one man shop. I've talked with tech support at Shopbot, even to other Shopbotters who own cabinet shops and cut parts.

There are basic solutions to expensive vacuum systems if you spend the time to read many of the posts made by Shopbotters. They have ingenious solutions, and many build a low cost vacuum hold down system that works. The best solution is to buy a vacuum pump and kit from Shopbot.

Also I looked into spindles offered by Shopbot and talked to a guy who has a Bot that makes parts for a living full time with one (frameless cabinet parts for other shops). He also wrote nesting software for Shopbotters that is sold via his website and through Shopbot. A 2 hp spindle (not a router) will cut melamine. It's worth looking into. He has two and knows what he's talking about.

We are talking one man shops here, are we not? A used bander for around $5,000 would still be in the mix. Resale on Shopbots is very high, so an investment in one isn't like buying a car.

From contributor L:
There are freelance installers out there, so you don't have to keep one busy. Taking people from the shop to do install means your shop overhead is running, but not producing!

A lot of people like their Bots and one could probably keep you busy all the time. We are a larger shop, usually run a Komo 8 to 10 hours a day, and nest about 50 sheets/day. Right now we are very busy and have gone to 2 shifts on the Komo. I'm curious about how many sheets a Bot is typically capable of nesting per 8 hour shift? My guess is plenty for a 3-man shop.

The ease of assembly when using parts from a CNC makes completing cases go much quicker. You no longer need a tape measure at the bench! Be sure you have found compatible software before going into CAM. Everyone needs a new challenge and CAD/CAM can be very rewarding. Our first router was an $80K Andi and we figured it paid for itself in the first 1Ĺ years we had it. A half mile from here is a 2-man shop running an $80K Omnitech making parts for another industry and for their own cabinets. One block away is a 4-man shop that just got a new $130+K Bussellato; seems like a big bite for a small shop! If youíve got the money, go for the Bot. Itís a relatively cheap way to find out if CNC is for you. If not, you can sell it and not be out a lot. You will need a bander if you are going to make Euro boxes.

From the original questioner:
I have been reading all the advice and questions posted so far. As posted first, I am a part time, pretty much one man shop. I have a guy that helps assemble, finish and install. He is part time also. We work nights and weekends after our day jobs. We are looking to speed things up so we can make more money per hour. We both know at our current state we don't make enough to replace our day jobs. I don't have enough room for a forklift. I would love to have and need one. I am using ecabinets software. I have QuickBooks Pro, air dyer. I outsource raised panel doors. My shop is about 800 sq ft. I don't see going full time for at least 3 years. I just want to get geared up and get some money saved before jumping in. I am trying to bring a few things in-house. I outsource doors, trim, and mouldings already. I would like to do something besides wait for other people and services to let me down.