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Thread: Want to start new Shopbot-based business, but would like advice/ guidance...

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2017

    Smile Want to start new Shopbot-based business, but would like advice/ guidance...

    Hi Everyone,

    I just joined the forum yesterday and this is my first post. I believe this is the correct area to post this, so, here goes!

    I recently retired and want to start a CNC business where I produce CNC-carved products for sale. I have a niche area in mind where I've previously created multiple retirement shadow boxes (e.g. military, fireman, police..) without the use of CNC-type tools. I believe that CNC will not only help in the amount of precision and expanded design capability, but also in speed/ volume. In order to do this, I'll need to purchase a Shopbot and I'm eyeing the PRSalpha 48"x96" with Spindle. I understand the cost and my plans are to start with the shadowbox area and potentially expand into other areas with time (Hoping my retirement years extend a ways out yet! :-)). I've been woodworking since high school (35 years ago) and have a complete shop with many differing power tools (e.g. very experienced woodworking) and room to add more.

    The questions for which I'd appreciate advice/guidance from those in this group with experience using Shopbot for their personal businesses are these:

    (1) In addition to the Shopbot/Spindle/Software costs, what are some of the other costs I'll need to be aware of in getting started?

    (2) How long does it take to become proficient with the software for the Shopbot [e.g. VCarve & Aspire (for 3D)]

    (3) How long does it take to program/ perfect an advanced 3D design to replicate military-type emblems (e.g. Navy, Army, Marines, etc.)?

    (4) What are some of the challenges you've run into in turning CNC Shopbot work into a commercial venture?

    While I've woodworked for decades and spent many years as a software programmer, I know that there are always new twists and turns when venturing into new terrain. I certainly appreciate your insights regarding the questions above.

    Happy to join the group and I hope I can repay with advice and guidance as I learn more in this area! Thanks!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Bell, Florida



    I will try to answer some of your questions but I am sure others will have some great insight.

    1. Router bits, elect, vacuum hold down or clamps (with clamps get more bits), material.

    2. With your background maybe 2-6 months, its not hard to learn the basics and setting up simple tool paths but then to learn the feed rates of bits in different material takes a little more time

    3. I don't do much 3D so am not qualified on this

    4. My own mistakes and under estimating time.

    If you can find someone close to you with a bot try to stop by while they are running a little production it will answer lots of questions

    don't be afraid do talk about what you are making- thinking someone may use your ideas- what works for you will work for you but probably not for others.

    Hope this helps
    Tim Lucas Custom Woodworks

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    , Richmond Tx


    First suggestion. Buy a few year old machine. (Won't loose as much money if it's not your thing)
    (1) Dust collection and Hold down choices to keep the parts from moving.
    (2) Get the free demo versions and try them from They have training videos also to work through. You can do this at no cost and get an idea if it's for you.
    (3) Refer to answer 2
    (4) A product that sells is more important than how you make it. CNC is NOT magic. It's just a tool. At first you stare at it while it runs, but after a while it is about as exciting as watching paint dry. When you give it stupid instructions, it follows perfectly. Small parts are a challenge to hold in place. I have a last supper 3d file that I run. It's about a 10x18 plaque. It takes 10 hrs on the machine. I can't make any money selling them at that rate. 2D v carved signs are easier to make money at. Less time on the machine and they still look good.
    There are lots of slightly used machines for sale and for good reason. It's not for everyone.
    For me it has been a life saver. I build cabinets, and mine is a workhorse.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Marquette, MI


    All of the above are good. Especially to get going on the design software. Here are some averages:

    Attached Images Attached Images
    Gary Campbell
    GCnC Control
    ShopBot Controller Upgrades

    "We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them"
    Albert Einstein

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2017


    Tim, Ken, Gary, Thanks to all three of you for taking the time to share your wisdom and thoughts on my question about the Shopbot business realm. Most assuredly appreciate your guidance given your experience and background in the area!

    Tim - I had not thought of the feed rate for the bits in different species of wood. I'm guessing I'll need to gauge how fast/slow, given the wood I'm working with for a particular project...or possibly there is a chart that shares others' learnings in this area that I can go by.

    Ken - Given the cost of new Shopbots, I can see the value of the cost savings in buying used. My concern in buying 'used' would be why the person is selling and is the machine going to work fine (it will still have a hefty price tag, probably). Is there a site where used Shopbots are typically advertised? Appreciate your comment about the time to run the 'Last Supper' design and how that impacts sales volume/ profit....Food for thought on my end!

    Gary - Given your obvious training background, the information on your side is golden! Will help for me to mentally level-set that Rome won't be built in a day and not lose enthusiasm! :-)

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Diamond Lake, WA


    I'll throw in my experience here as well (two cents worth anyway):

    1). This one is tough to quantify. In addition to what others have already stated, you will have a high cost of wasted material and broken bits as you learn how to operate your machine. Another high cost is trying to learn by trial and terror versus using this forum to bounce ideas off. Another big cost is YOUR TIME. You will have to invest a LOT of time into learning the software, learning the interactions between software and hardware and the things you can do with YOUR machine to make it perform better. Each machine is different and it takes time to figure out what makes your machine as efficient as possible. Feed rates and spindle machines for my machine will be different then your machine. You will need to learn what your machines sweet spots are. That takes TIME, and lots of it.

    2). What is your current level of knowledge of CAD/CAM software and how/what it is used for, etc. This will be your baseline. Each person starts with a different baseline depending on their experience to date. For simple 2D vector work, you can become good at it pretty quickly. Now, to learn all the intricacies of the software and different ways to make it do things better and faster, that takes more time. For example, when you import a JPG file and covert it to a 2D vector file. The software does not create curves. It creates segments of straight line that look like a curve. Cutting these segmented straight lines is slow and hard on the machine. So you need to know how to node edit, efficiently, to create curves from segmented lines. Each node in a 2D or 3D file invokes a change in cutting for the machine. It will be determined by how fast you can grasp the concepts and learn the features you need.

    3). Not a 3D person. Working on it though. The Vectric forum is a great place to get advice and help for 3D work. Their are some REAL geniuses that hang out there, and some of them are here too.

    4). You need to understand what YOUR costs are to do business. Like Ken said, don't get hung up on the CNC being some sort of magic do all creation. It is JUST a tool in your shop like all your other tools. You need to take off your woodworkers hat and put on a business hat to figure out how you can make each tool in your shop contribute to the bottom line of your company. Purchase prices, maintenance, bits, blades, accessories, learning time investment, waste, etc. You need to know what your costs are for the business - utilities, insurance, vehicles, administration, sales and marketing, shipping, time cost to troubleshoot machine/software problems (production loss), accounting fees, legal fees, permitting (if required), etc. When you get a good handle on these numbers, and others, you will get a better idea of what you need to charge for your work to set it apart from being another Santa's Workshop. Look at how other woodworkers price in your area. Don't play the game of trying to underbid them (unless you can still make a reasonable profit). When you go down that rat hole, you cheapen your value and the value of other craftsman in your area. When going into the "product line" business, you have to have a really good idea of quantities you can expect to sell versus how much it costs you to make them. What do raw materials cost, storage of raw materials prior to use, production cost, inventory storage, inventory distribution, marketing, etc. What most woodworkers find, that want to go from hobby to a viable business, is they have to start thinking like a business person and not a woodworker. As you get more and more experience, you will refine your production process, as well as streamline other costs for your business. This is a cost savings to you. You need to put on your business hat to decide whether those cost savings are passed on as product price reductions or more profit per piece. And that will depend on what your target market will bare. Do you reduce the cost, thus widening your market and customer base or do you increase your profit, maintaining market and customer base with a lower chance of expanding. It's tough business decisions you will need to make, and they have nothing to do with woodworking.

    So a background of woodworking does not automatically translate into successful business ventures. I've got 50+ years of woodworking experience. I went to a local business college and took classes on business (I already knew the woodworking part). It was a big investment in my education but has really paid off. It opened my eyes to the fact that just being a very experience woodworker does not make a business owner.

    Remember to use this and other forums as you start your new adventure. People here will help, if they can. It's a great group! But remember, this forum is Shopbot owners. It is not a business forum. Some are very successful business owners who happen to use a CNC in their business.

    Best of luck!!
    Diamond Lake Custom Woodworks, LLC
    Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well preserved piece; But to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, bank accounts empty, credit cards maxed out, defiantly shouting "Geronimo"!

    If you make something idiot proof, all they do is create a better idiot.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    iBILD Solutions - Southern NJ


    Lots of great advice given in this thread. I'll add a few nuggets...

    Everyone here has their own MO for investing in CNC technology. It's sexy, has a certain mystique about it and it has the possibility to open up a whole new realm of possibilities not previously available. It can be very liberating & put an end to creative frustration. You might even make a few bucks along the way - while you get 'paid to play'. I've been doing this professionally, as a job shop (whatever comes through the door, 2D, 3D etc) for 17 years. It isn't easy by any means, but can be very rewarding. After running these tools for that long, I have no reservations about calling a rose a rose. These tools are nothing more than glorified table saws or router tables. They are capable of doing some amazing things, provided that you, the captain, can properly steer the machine to the goal line.

    When it comes to an 'innocent robot' - they are only as good as the instructions you give it. That is to say, the (CAM) - or toolpath instructions sent to the machine can either create a masterpiece or a pile of scrap. The act of cutting on a CNC is the easy part. About 99% of the work is in the design/toolpath instructions & answering the most important question: "How am I going to hold this material down to resist the forces of cutting?"

    In terms of 2D or 3D work - There is no steadfast schedule on how long it will take to master. You must master 2D drawing before you can effectively do 3D design from scratch. The 3D tools rely on underlying 2D shapes. There are many quick and easy paths to cutting 2D and 3D designs. You can purchase ready to cut 2D or 3D designs, which take out the design creation from the equation. This is something relatively easy to do, even for someone very new to CNC work. Vectric has done a very good job with their training materials covering topics from the noob to intermediate level. Once you get beyond these basics however, you're pretty much on your own. There aren't any training materials or seminars that I am aware of (there could be...but nobody wants to pay for them) - that will take your skill level up to a professional level. You need to take yourself there...enduring the frustrations, ah-ha moments and breakthroughs along the way.

    You have to be really good with the computer. You have to understand every aspect of the machine, what it does, what it needs and what to look out for and do when things go wrong. You gotta know how to work your material - wood, metal, plastic; whatever it is. It is a long learning process THAT NEVER ENDS! I am still learning every day and getting better and better as I go. It takes a lot of confidence and good decision making to be successful. It certainly isn't for everyone...just like running a table saw isn't for everyone, right? Thankfully there are forums that can provide you support and check your sanity from time to time....but I mentioned confidence and faith in yourself because most of the time you'll be in YOUR little world, not able to explain to the MRS what the problem is - and it will be up to you to save yourself. There will be times you'll want to cry. There will be times you're looking for a hand to high five....Be patient with yourself.

    Confidence is also important when it comes to taking risks and making money. Nearly all noobs to CNC routing sheepishly price their work too low and make excuses for their work. Take whatever price you think it should be and multiply it by 3 or 4 times. That will get you in the ballpark. If you're too cheap you won't make money AND the big clients won't hire you because you're too cheap. Crunch numbers and make sure you're going to make money. Many jobs aren't worth doing because I would be paying the customer to take the parts away. Just because you CAN, doesn't mean you SHOULD. Only experience can help you with pricing & knowing what to turn down. It's like a woman walking down the street. She's either hot or not. Nobody needs to tell you which one it is. Selecting work and pricing is a lot like that.

    When you get your machine - DO. Go through all the tutorials and DO. Learn & try out every toolpath strategy - even if it is on boring shapes to understand what they can do. PLAY around while watching TV in CAD. Draw whatever your creative mind can come up with. SEE what you are made of in this dept. Don't give up - ever. Failure is not an option. You're only beat if you say so. By not giving up you get breakthroughs and grow in your abilities - just like any other skilled craft out there.

    Keep in mind, just because you have a CNC doesn't mean you're going to make any money. Lots of machines out there doing nothing...or plans that didn't happen because they weren't fully formed with market research. There are lots of guys out there cutting out 3D clip art of military insignia. You could do this too with the caveat that you may be selling to a different crowd...and it goes without saying that you better be the best of the bunch. It's tough - especially with all the imports flooding this country and fewer people buying wood carved anything anymore. Your marketing and advertising will make the difference between makin or breakin.

    The reality today is, it is hard to make a living with a CNC. That's only part of the equation, no different than owning a dump truck, plastic injection machine or backhoe. You gotta work determined, unstoppable and able to pull in customers & spit out good product...reliably and repeatedly.

    High Definition 3D Laser Scanning Services - Advanced ShopBot CNC Training and Consultation - Vectric Custom Video Training

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2011


    Brady pretty much summed it up.

    At least starting out you know what you need to move forward, I know a few people that bought a cnc machine without thinking about the software learning curve and became discouraged or started just buying pre made files.

    I have had mine for 14 years had 10 years of cad use previous to the machine, designing furniture. It was a big help already having the software side mostly done. There are many tasks it does for me from signs to cutting mortise and tenons. Limits are only the imagination.

    My business is custom work either stuff bigger shops don't want or there are still several large shops I work with that do not have cnc, and do not want to bother with getting one and investing in people with knowledge to use it. In the next few years that will change as they get more and more accepted.

    Figuring out efficient ways to hold your parts I use vac and pnumatic cylinders for a lot of what I do sometimes just screws for one offs. I bought mine as an asset for my existing shop it has become one of the most valuable tools I have now.

    One of the things to remember decimal points are extremely important.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Piedmont, SD


    Brady's post should be on front page of this forum!
    In fact, all of the above are quite right and accurate.
    I would simply suggest you consider a smaller machine VS even a used larger unit. Smaller investment and footprint. Easier to set up. Easier to liquidate.

    I am not saying "plan to fail" by any means, but you should consider what you plan to make - don't think an 8' table will be necessary for quite some time, if ever, for your targeted market and products as described.

    Most of all, I wish you good luck, as the rewards of all this effort may be just what you're looking for in your retirement.


  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2007


    For used keep checking the for sale forum. A lot of them go up that are in very good shape and their owners want to upgrade. I bought my first one that way and I was the 3rd owner and shopbot still supported it when I had trouble. I sold that one and upgraded and I keep thinking about maybe I should upgrade again. My first one would have done everything you want and then some. The reason I upgraded was I wanted a spindle and now I would like a tool changer

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