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Digital Woodworking – The Next Generation


From the Editor’s Desk - March 2011

When it comes to tools and machines, woodworking is still a very traditional craft as practiced by most small shop woodworkers. The types of tools on the “I own, I want” check list haven’t changed much in the past 100 years—or thousands of years if only hand tools are considered. Whether done with hand or power tools, woodworking still involves the same cutting, leveling, drilling and shaping processes that Noah used to build his big boat!
Now jump to 2011. We enjoy cordless drills, electronically controlled variable-speed routers, smart saws with flesh-sensing safety technology, and some of the finest hand tools ever made. But none of these have altered the fundamental practice of the craft. That’s about to change—slowly perhaps, but as surely as the cell phone has gone from a convenience to a necessity, we’re going to see changes in the way many woodworkers pursue their craft. The tool that’s going to make this difference is the Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) router.
CNC technology has actually been around for decades. It has already significantly influenced woodworking at the commercial level, because CNC routers are highly efficient at machining both regular and irregular shapes. With the availability of affordable professional machines (e.g. ShopBot) and the recent introduction of benchtop models (See “Benchtop CNC Routers,” page 44), the technology is steadily making its way into small professional and home shops. In many ways, a CNC router is just another tool; but for being “just another tool,” it holds tremendous potential for small shop woodworkers.
As a technology for the small shop, CNC routers are drawing both skepticism and curiosity. Three years ago, I decided to get off the “wait and see” fence and jump into the world of CNC/digital woodworking. It’s been an exciting ride. I welcome your comments and questions about CNC routers and invite you to join the discussion at

Keep the chips flying,

Randy Johnson