Step 1: Designing With Artcam Express
A few years back I was fortunate enough to be able to add a General International CNC Machine to our workshop. It can accommodate material up to 15x20", it's just a little guy but has huge potential. The included software was Artcam Express. Here are a few screenshots of the 2D design, basically a few squares and circles laid out in the right spots. Adding the "magic"....telling the software the depths and speeds and what tools to use seen in the next image with the areas highlighted for engraving. The last two images show the 3D simulation of what the material should look like once the CNC machine has done its job. The last picture just has the engraved area darkened up to show it better.
Step 2: The Plywood
I used standard grade 1/2" plywood for this project. I designed the project so that both pieces were 8x10". Sometimes keeping things simple in the beginning help down the road.
Step 3: The Jig
These last few years I have learned the value of making jigs for projects that I plan on repeating more than 2 or 3 times. I had some 3/4" MDF which I used for the sacrificial base of the jig. I ripped some of the 1/2" plywood down to 1" wide strips and began assembling the pieces with glue and 3/4" brad nails and my nail gun. Next I added some low profile hold downs, some 1/4" hardboard cut into 1" circles with a mounting hole off centred so they would swing out of the way to remove the material being engraved but be out of the way as the spinning end mill passed back and forth across the project. This jig is then attached to the work bed of the CNC Machine with hold downs and will be ready to pull off the shelf any time I need to make another without having to do much set up. You can see where the 1/4" end mill has passed through the 1/2" plywood and engraved into the MDF.
Step 4: The CNC Machine Hard at Work
The hardest part of these pictures was blowing sawdust out of the way and trying to keep my iPhone steady while working with the auto focus focusing in and out as the machine got closer. I hope you can get a good idea of how the process goes from these pictures.
Step 5: Engraving Complete
After vacuuming up all the shavings this is what the 2 pieces look like. The whole carving process took just under 12 minutes. Removing 1/2' of material was done in multiple passes .075mm at a time with the 1/4" end mill. The recessed pieces were cut down only 0.2mm.
Step 6: Sanding Time
I didn't realize how close in colour my main workbench top was to these 2 pieces, but trust me, they are there, just waiting for a quick sanding with the 5" orbital with 120 grit paper.
Step 7: Completed
Here are a collection of pictures showing the final project complete. Since this really is the final prototype I decided to leave the wood unfinished so you could see all of the shapes and cuts.
The overall design turned out well. The 2 pieces slide together nice and snug and feel like a solid unit when assembled, I was worried getting the fit to "fit" would be tricky but the second try did the trick. The design includes an area for any size of iPhone, or any brand of cellular phone for that matter. A hole for the charging cable to run underneath the phone while it rests on the ledge and run underneath out of the way.
The added touches. Keys? Wallet? Phone?
I ask myself these 3 important questions before I leave the house so having a spot for all of them plus a spot for a watch and some loose change seemed like a good idea.
The blank area left of the phone will be reserved for engraved artwork. I think when I make the first bunch of these I will stain the wood a Dark Walnut or an Ebony. I'm planning on engraving people's initials or first names into the stained wood, if I'm lucky the depth of engraving with match up with a light layer of the plywood and the contrast will really pop.
I think choosing plywood with a higher quality will provide a smoother surface for the upcoming pieces over the standard grade I used for the prototype.
The spacing underneath the charging cable doesn't leave a lot of material to keep the remaining wood feel super secure, I plan on selling these and shipping them abroad, so making sure that they stand up to Canada Post is important. The "wells" for the change will need to be a little bit deeper too.
Overall I'm very happy with how this turned out and so excited to turn it into an Instructable so hopefully others can get inspired to make one next weekend.
In theory, a drill bit and a handsaw could obtain the same finished product but using the CNC Machine is just too much fun!
Please check out my other Instructable on making an engraved Beer Caddy and if you like it also please vote for them in the Full Spectrum Laser Engraver Contest.