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Forum topic by Newbie20 posted 08-10-2016 12:10 PM 641 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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8 posts in 77 days

08-10-2016 12:10 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question milling woodburning

Hey Lumberjocks,

I’m a 20 year old engineering student and new to woodworking. Because of schooling, I’m getting a lot of exposure to CAD/CAM software and was really interested in possible starting a small side business sometime in the future involving CNC woodworking. Specifically, I was really interested in trying to create some intricate picture framing designs. Obviously, CNC machines are super expensive and I have a few questions I was hoping I could be understand before I begin saving up for one in a few years. Just standard frame sizes with 3-4’’ width trim around the picture itself, nothing revolutionary. I was hoping to have the design elevated out of the frame, but basically:

1. Can a sub 5K CNC machine give me a great level of detail if I can nail down the CAD design aspect? For example, how detailed could a CNC machine create the White House on a small 3X3” corner given a good CAD drawing?

2. What type of wood would you suggest I use to allow for the best quality?

3. Do you have advice on which CNC machine would be best for this type of design?

4. Would you suggest I approach the design differently? Such as Engraving, Laser, or Woodburning?

Thanks for any advice on any parts of my post, I live in a small southern town and have no one to ask questions to. To be honest it feels like a thin line to walk to make this idea work. Ideally, I would be able to scale up productions if needed and that would depend on the machines mostly. I would hate to invest so much to realize that I cannot make quality detailed woodwork after the fact.

Thanks sincerely for the advice,

14 replies so far

View dannelson's profile


181 posts in 1793 days

#1 posted 08-10-2016 01:57 PM

Keep the 5 K or spend it on the software and have the files cut for you. At 20 get your feet wet first by subbing out the work. If your profit margin suffers you wont be sitting on a machine. Please consider in your design that 3d work takes a lot of time. 1 piece 3 to 4 inches in width by 12” could take a hour to machine depending on the detail you require. time is money. If your interested in subbing out the work post a simple file to have bid out. I would take a look at one if you want to ballpark costs. Dan Nelson.

-- nelson woodcrafters

View GR8HUNTER's profile (online now)


992 posts in 134 days

#2 posted 08-10-2016 02:03 PM

Keep the 5 K or spend it on the software and have the files cut for you. At 20 get your feet wet first by subbing out the work. If your profit margin suffers you wont be sitting on a machine. Please consider in your design that 3d work takes a lot of time. 1 piece 3 to 4 inches in width by 12” could take a hour to machine depending on the detail you require. time is money. If your interested in subbing out the work post a simple file to have bid out. I would take a look at one if you want to ballpark costs. Dan Nelson.

- dannelson

DITTO …...what he said


View bosum3919's profile


338 posts in 1041 days

#3 posted 08-10-2016 02:08 PM

I think question no. 5 is really the question that you should be asking. Have you researched your market for a demand for this type of frame? The majority of picture frames are produced with specialized machines that produce nothing but frame trim and does them in bulk therefore allowing for a good profit margin. I see you looking at a possibly expensive machine and very narrow market. While this may lead to a possible profit you really need to identify your intended market and research the need for your product before making such a major investment. Now, if you just want to use your CAD skills and own a CNC machine, then that is a totally different question. How do I know this? Real life experience. And BTW, I spent my life in engineering and helping usher CAD into an engineering environment.

-- Bob

View xwingace's profile


214 posts in 2010 days

#4 posted 08-10-2016 06:53 PM

To echo Bob, #1 question for any endeavor should be “Who is going to buy this and for how much?”
I work for a corporation and am pretty amazed sometimes when this question isn’t asked, seen a lot of money spent developing products nobody wants or needs. Make sure there’s water in the pool before you jump in.

-- I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was.

View OrvsR4me's profile


13 posts in 258 days

#5 posted 08-10-2016 07:40 PM

Woodworking is a fickle business, I think. I have a sub $5k cnc and it can do a lot of things for sure but I haven’t mastered it enough (in 2+ years) to feel it was a worthy investment yet. Software is a B(female dog). If you worked with it exclusively and didn’t have to relearn every time you started it, maybe. My machine’s precision is about a 4/5 out of ten and I’m not smart enough to know what I don’t know.

Try to find items roughly comparable to what you are thinking of making and look at their prices. You have to be able to be lower cost or appreciably better quality with a still attainable price point. And without a doubt, you have to have a natural creative eye for designing.

On the upside though, CNC work usually results in a product that would be difficult or impossible to duplicate by hand. People can recognize that and are willing to pay more for things they don’t understand & how it was done and the costs involved. Example: I make and sell (occasionally) cutting boards with different CNC’d custom inlays. But I’d be homeless if I had to make a profit on selling red oak cabinets.

-- Small minds talk about people. Average minds talk about events. Great minds talk about ideas.

View jwmalone's profile


769 posts in 124 days

#6 posted 08-10-2016 08:43 PM

We have several picture fame shops pop up around here none last more than a year or so (cnc make there own). The guys like Michaels and others put them out no problem, lower over head they buy in bulk so on and so on. Don’t be discouraged but I wouldn’t spend that kinda money to go into that business. I agree with all previous post.
OrvsR4me has a good point, and something I’m familiar with in my area.

-- "Boy you could get more work done it you quit flapping your pie hole" Grandpa

View MadMark's profile


970 posts in 875 days

#7 posted 08-10-2016 10:46 PM

Gearbest.Com has an entry level 5” x 7” laser wood engraver for under $200.

Look at my projects.


-- Madmark -

View JAAune's profile


1615 posts in 1739 days

#8 posted 08-11-2016 02:21 AM

You can get decent CNC machines for less than $5,000. The catch is size limitations. Larger machines need bigger, more expensive components otherwise they lose their rigidity. I’m running a cheap, 4’x8’ home-built machine myself and it’s a pretty effective tool. I run it hard and it can earn me $600 in a day’s work. But it still cost around $11,000 by the time I built it and retrofitted it with a used Camaster extruded aluminum table. I don’t think a good 4’x8’ can be had for under $5,000 unless you get a bargain on a used machine.

Rather than invest a bunch of money up front I’d advise a different approach. Develop the customer base using inexpensive tools first then get the CNC after you’re making enough sales to justify the cost.

-- See my work at and

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

7716 posts in 1802 days

#9 posted 08-11-2016 04:07 AM

Dan Nelson gave you good advice. Outsource the cutting, your cost will be higher but you’ll have more time to devote to sales. If you don’t like sales or suck at it, go work for someone else. Another piece of advice—sell first, then make your product.


View Jon Hobbs's profile

Jon Hobbs

50 posts in 126 days

#10 posted 08-11-2016 07:27 PM

Hey Philip, welcome to the club!

If you’re considering a business, even a side business, I highly recommend some business education. You don’t have to start hanging out with the Gordon Gekko wannabes at the business school. But acquire some knowledge about putting together a business plan. The Small Business Administration is a good place to start. Many states also provide resources (books, seminars, mentors) to people like yourself that are pondering, or already building a new business. At a minimum, get a good book on building a business plan and study it. Take it to heart.

There’s some good advice here on looking at the market to see what price is reasonable. But that’s only half of the equation. The other half is how much will it cost to make and deliver your product to the customer? Most people without any business management training or experience only consider the cost of materials that go into the item they’re selling. Successful business people know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. People who seek out and pay heed to some basic small business management training also know this.

There’s also utility costs (your CNC machine uses energy of some sort, right?), insurance (what happens if one of your frames falls apart and a piece lands on someone’s head causing a concussion and they decide to sue you for $5 million?), marketing (if you build it, they will NOT come. Unless you market the crap out of it), wear and tear on your machines, your labor, shipping, etc.

Putting together a solid business plan, or at least knowing what goes into a solid business plan, will help you identify all the costs associated by your side business. Many people make the mistake of underestimating the impact of their “side” business. They ignore or minimize all the financial impacts of their business because it’s a “side” business. Afterall, they have a regular paycheck coming in to cover their living expenses! Then suddenly, they’re spending every single minute they’re not at their day job running the “side” business (maybe even burning paid time off to run the side business) and they’re dead-busted-broke and can’t pay the electric bill. They’re baffled and scratching their heads as to why.

Since you’re a college student, I assume you don’t have a giant pile of liquid assets (aka cash) laying around (open credit on a credit card is not a liquid asset!). So you need to be extra diligent and proactive about planning for the impact of your side business.

I realise I didn’t directly answer any of your questions :) However, without a good grasp of basic business concepts, you’ll be out of business, and out of money, so fast, that your questions won’t even be relevant.

-- Jon -- Just a Minnesota kid hanging out in Kansas

View Richard's profile


1871 posts in 2112 days

#11 posted 08-11-2016 08:13 PM

Does you school have a machine you can use outside of class time to get started ? Also depending on where you are located you could get a Membership at Tech Shop or join one of the many other Maker Space groups that have the machines available for use .

View Newbie20's profile


8 posts in 77 days

#12 posted 08-13-2016 03:04 PM

Thanks for replying to my post everyone,

I have been researching a customer base and creating a business plan, I think maybe my concept is a bit too lofty for my current skill level and resources. Does anyone have advice on what to create that is relatively straight forward, low to moderate time consumption, and has fairly decent/good margins? I would like this hobby to fund itself in a way. I’m planning on working full time and using this as a side income. Understandably, my market maybe different than others, but basically I would like to get a grasp on what sells well for you guys. If I can first focus on perfecting those creations, it would help feed the cycle.


View MadMark's profile


970 posts in 875 days

#13 posted 08-13-2016 05:04 PM

We ALL are looking for that magical product, cheap & easy to make, high margin, wildly popular.

Start making things and find out where your talent lies. Practice until you are perfect & fast.

Tip: most product COGS drops by 1/2 every time product volume goes up 10x. COGS doubles at each stage of distribution. Say your COGS is $10. You have to get $20 to make a profit. The wholesalers sell @ $40 and retail is therefore $80.


-- Madmark -

View BHolcombe's profile


125 posts in 1498 days

#14 posted 08-13-2016 10:28 PM

Work on understanding design, understanding how to quantify quality, where to invest resources and how to approach the work in way that people come to you for what you are best at.

If you walk through a store and look at how many moldings are available cheaply for purchase it is mind boggling….but how many can conserve antique frames? People repair priceless antique frames and the lowest bidder doesn’t get the job, instead the best conservator does. How can CNC be applied to that process to improve the accuracy of repairs?

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