NextFab Blog

ShopBot CNC Router Part II

Posted by admin

Aug 12, 2011 12:00:00 PM

Hi, I’m Mevin. I’m a high school student at George Washington High School. I’m an intern at NextFab Studio and I’ll be taking class and blogging about my experience. If you have any questions, email me at

The goals of ShopBot CNC Router Part I are to learn the basics of the software used for the ShopBot. Now in ShopBot CNC Router Part II, the goals are to get to know the ShopBot machine and tell the software to produce G-code and tell the ShopBot carve a rosette. Myself and the 2 other students waited 10 minutes for a student to show up. 10 minutes later, the student didn’t show up and instructor Lewis, tall with a curled mustache started the class.

Lewis taught us about the moving commands for the ShopBot such as command “M2”which is a G-code (computer programming language used mainly in automation) that moved the X and Y axis of the ShopBot. We were taught how to remove and change the Ball Nose Bit (The item used cut and carve the model.) We all changed the bit. First, I loosened the vacuum skirt causing it to release and go down. Then, I loosened the collet with 2 wrenches, and then removed the Ball Nose bit and replaced it with a different bit. Finally, I placed the collet back in the machine and lifted and tightened the vacuum skirt. The next step was to hold the board so it can be carved.

Lewis told us the old method of holding the cutting board in the ShopBot was by screwing the board to the ShopBot bed. This had a lot of problems, like the cutter would break from hitting the screws and it took a lot of time to screw the wood down. I asked Lewis, “how does that new vacuum method for holding the cutting board work?”. So, there’s an orange vacuum cleaner to the left and its connected with pipes to the ShopBot bed. You turn on the vacuum and it sucks through the bed. We took our board and screwed it to a larger board and we put it on the bed which sucked the board tight.

Next Lewis had each of us open the rosette file. He asked one of the students, Lee, to move to [6,6] of the x and y axis (the coordinate point where the rosette model was located). We opened the file and on the screen I watched G-code being produced and watched the Rosette amazingly being carved by the ShopBot. When the rosette was being carved, a dust collector (pretty much a giant noisy vacuum) was loud and sucked up the dust of the wood.

After the rosette was created, I got to hold it and I was amazed about how accurate the ShopBot was, because the piece was exactly like the design I saw on the computer.

The students signed off at the front desk and are now able to make a design and use the ShopBot by themselves.

Topics: intern, Uncategorized, shopbot, nextfab

ShopBot Classes

Posted by admin

Jul 25, 2011 7:36:00 PM

I have finished both of the ShopBot classes and I have a number of ideas for which I want to use the ShopBot.   The first is fairly easy.   I want to make a wooden frame  with engraving to hold my uncle’s World War II medals and documents so his granddaughter can display them in her home.   I think this can be accomplished with ease on the ShopBot.   I am not even scratching the surface of what can be done with this tool, but I do think my project will be a good starting point.   

Topics: Uncategorized, shopbot, nextfab, classes

More Classes

Posted by admin

Jul 18, 2011 2:30:00 PM

I have taken more classes.   I have taken the first part of the Trotec Laser Cutter/Engraver class, the first part of the TorchMate CNC Plasma Cutter class and the first part of the ShopBot class.   Each of these machines is a fantastic tool.  

All of these machines are software controlled so time is spent learning how to use the software.   Adobe Illustrator, which is available on our computers, can be used to create 2D engrave-able images for cutting out or engraving on the Trotec and TorchMate.  

In the Trotec Laser class, one of our members made a business card out of MDF particleboard and another engraved on a piece of plastic.   We were shown how to go through the process of setting up our files and how to set up the Trotec for different materials.   We were also told of the hazards associated with this machine and how to avoid crashing the bed into the laser.   There is a tray of sample materials to touch and look though with setting information.  

With the TorchMate we did not make anything, that is for the second class.   While we focused on the software, the instructor did demonstrate how to inspect the machine for wear and how to replace those parts as well as how to change the different pieces for different settings for different materials.

In the ShopBot class, after being shown how to use some features of the software, two of the members made engraved cutting boards.   The ShopBot now has a vacuum bed to hold work pieces in place and there is some experimentation going on with this.   It is being improved by our staff.   It’s very cool.  

I definitely have some ideas to put these tools to work.  

Topics: adobe-illustrator, laser-engraver, laser-etcher, torchmate, Uncategorized, shopbot, trotec, laser-cutter, plasma-cutter, cnc, illustrator

New Vacuum Bed on the ShopBot!

Posted by admin

Jul 14, 2011 2:43:00 PM

Ever since I saw a vacuum bed in action at the ShopBot factory last year, I’ve wanted to have a vacuum system on NextFab’s ShopBot. As part of our renovations, I finally got to build one.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with vacuum systems, the biggest challenge in working with a CNC router is holding material in place. Until now, I’d been using screws, double-sided tape, tabs and clamps to hold material down while the ShopBot did the cutting.

Now, instead of these laborious methods, we can use the power of vacuum to hold down plywood and other flat materials as the ShopBot cuts them. So, how does it work?

A vacuum system has essentially three parts: A vacuum source (in our case a powerful Fein shop-vac), a plenum, and a bleeder board. The plenum is the distribution system for the vacuum, and the bleeder board is the final layer of material which covers the plenum and is in contact with the material being cut.

Here’s a picture of the ShopBot with the plenum pattern and PVC plumbing installed. The grid pattern is cut into a sheet of ultralight MDF and sealed with polyurethane. The three valves under the machine let me isolate different vacuum ‘zones’, depending on the size of the material I’m cutting.

With the bleeder board installed, the system draws vacuum right through a solid sheet of ultralight MDF. When the system is turned on, the vacuum hold is so strong that I can push against the edge of a sheet of plywood without moving it at all.

Here’s the first piece I cut to test the system- Look Ma, No Tabs! Believe me, I’m delighted at the thought of never trimming another plywood tab. I’ll be putting it through some more tests in the coming days, but for now, NextFab has a much faster and cleaner way to cut your parts on the ShopBot!

Topics: Uncategorized, shopbot, nextfab, cnc

Where do ShopBots Come From?

Posted by admin

Apr 25, 2010 10:30:00 AM

On Day 2 of the ShopBot Jamboree,  we got a chance to tour the ShopBot factory here in Durham. Behind a modest brick facade is a gleaming facility filled with motors, aluminum extrusions, and the bright blue steel components that make ShopBots look so sharp.

The folks at ShopBot had parts set out on the assembly line, showing all the steps in putting together a ShopBot and then packing it into a crate for shipping. Better yet, we were able to preview the newest model of ShopBot, which has an even larger bed than was previously possible. This one pictured below features a 10’ x 5’ bed with a vacuum hold-down system and an automatic tool changer. Quite impressive in action, I must say.

The best part of the tour was chatting with the ShopBot folks about their new and experimental ShopBots. The ShopBot system can be reconfigured in many ways, and some of their custom machines are built around giant indexers (like lathes) for making ten-foot tall columns. Others feature multiple spindles for cutting in two places at once.

The Jamboree officially ended with the tour, but I’ve still got a little time in Durham.  I’ll be heading over to Maker Faire Durham in a few minutes, and then back to Philadelphia and NextFab to try out all the new ShopBot tricks and tips I picked up this weekend.

Posted by Lewis

Topics: Uncategorized, shopbot

From the ShopBot Jamboree

Posted by admin

Apr 24, 2010 11:37:00 AM

This is Lewis Colburn, one of NextFab’s managers, blogging from Durham, NC. I’m spending the weekend at the ShopBot Jamboree, a national conference for ShopBot CNC router users. It’s been an exciting few days here, with lots of great presentations and how-to tips for making great things with NextFab’s ShopBot. Here are a few of the highlights so far:

We got a sneak peek at ShopBot’s new desktop milling machine. It’s a lot like NextFab’s Roland MDX mill, like a miniature, high-precision ShopBot.

This is a construction made from LinkerLogs, an open-source building system designed to be cut on the ShopBot. We’ve also had presentations from Because We Can, a design-build firm in California, that uses the ShopBot to create custom interiors, and Ponoko, a company that lets customers upload designs for laser-cutting, and have them made and shipped anywhere in the world.

This afternoon, we get a tour of the ShopBot factory, so I’ll be back with more pictures and information soon!

Posted by Lewis

Topics: Uncategorized, shopbot

Shopbot PRSAlpha CNC Router

Posted by admin

Nov 11, 2009 4:48:00 PM


To understand the potential of NextFab Studio’s Shopbot PRSAlpha CNC Router, have a look at the Digitally Fabricated Housing for New Orleans: a 196-square-foot one-room house intended for use in post-Katrina reconstruction. This prototype, built for an exhibition at MoMA, is constructed entirely from sheets of plywood cut on a PRSAlpha CNC Router and assembled using only a mallet.

The Shopbot PRSAlpha can be used to cut wooden and plastic sheets and posts; it has a wide range of uses for professionals and enthusiasts, architects, carpenters, interior decorators, and more. Here are examples of a five (mostly) popular types of Shopbot projects:

Topics: Uncategorized, shopbot


About this blog

Welcome to the NextFab Blog, where we discuss the ideas changing the world as we know it. Step inside the revolutionary world of 3D Printing technology, traditional and Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) machinery, innovation and imagination.



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