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A Long Sad Story
« on: September 28, 2007, 07:11:00 PM »
A long sad story:
Hi there and thanks in advance for your help.  My son and I are engaged in a small Luthierary business (we make guitars and other stringed instruments.)  A little over a year ago I got the bright idea of moving into the world of CNC.  I did some research and realized that a handy guy like me could build a pretty darn good CNC router for not much money.  Well I purchased some plans and steppers and a controller and built a really cool router.  After researching controller software I concluded that Mach Three was the way to go. So I downloaded the demo version and set up my machine.  Everything worked great and pretty soon I was cutting out roadrunners like nobody’s business.  Of course I have no use for roadrunners, but I digress.  Then came the time to start cutting actual parts.  Thus begins the sad story:  Let me preface that I am by no means a CAD expert, and I have no desire to become one.  What I want to do is scan a drawing of the actual size part that I wish to produce in 2d, convert it to G Code and cut it on my table.  One would think this to be fairly simple, and it probably is.  What I did that didn’t work was to scan a drawing and open it in Illustrator.  I cleaned up the drawing and saved it as a dfx. Then opened it in Mach 3 at which time it told me I couldn’t use it because it had “splines.”   Well I did what any red blooded American guy would do; I posted a question to the forum.  I got all kinds responses about splines and other great bits of wisdom, but I really don’t want to know anything about splines, I just want to make a part.  Shortly there after, I started researching making 3d parts on my table and learned that I would likely have to send tens of thousands of dollars to buy 3d CAD/CAM software and probably have to go back to collage to learn how to design these parts.  Did I mention that I make these parts all the time using conventional tools?  Long story short, my really cool router table sets in the corner of the shop and has become a table for putting stuff on.  It hasn’t been “fired” up for months.  Now I’m getting to the point of either figuring out how to make it work for us or putting it on ebay.   I would prefer to make this tool work for us, and that is where all of you come in.  Here is the situation:

Part One:
I want to cut parts in 2d. The parts are simple but have lots of curves (guitar bodies and such) and pockets.  Also I would like to cut inlays and the pockets that they go into.
I have “hard” drawings of every part I need.
I wish to scan them into the computer and convert them to G code and cut them on my table.
I have a scanner.
I have photo shop, Illustrator, flash and fireworks.
I am planning on purchasing the full versions of Mach Three and Lazy Cam.
I don’t wish to buy any more software unless it is cheep and will make this process easier.

Can you folks advise me on how I can go about this process?

Part Two: (after I accomplish the above)
I wish to produce parts in 3D.  For example the carved top of a Guitar and the contour of a neck.
It would probably be best to use a digitizing probe as I am not and don’t wish to become a 3d CAD expert.
I haven’t seen an affordable probe/software combo that will work for my setup, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
I should have probably just “bit the bullet” and bought a shop bot, but I didn’t so how can I do this with my rig?

Okay, I have laid out my quandary; I am hoping that you all have some helpful ideas for me.  I really would like to use this equipment to make great parts.

Thanks in advance for all of your responses.

Offline docltf

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Re: A Long Sad Story
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2007, 07:46:16 PM »

        when i decided to cut parts with a computer i was traveling down the same ditch you are.just wanted to cut
        simple 2d inlays for billiard cues.don't get caught in the software war.right now mach3 and lazycam are all you need.
        you just need to take some time to learn how to draw in g-code it's a lot easier than learning a cam program.with
        the way mach3 is setup now you can have mach3 running open edit and start laying down your code when you
        want to check save the file and exit.view it in the toolpath window.if it looks wrong open it back up and change
        the code.try it just start with a simple box,then try a circle.plus you get to draw true dimension no scaling.plus after
        you load a g-code program you can import it into lazycam from mach3 and really put some moves on it.start with a
        1 inch box you will catch on real fast.


Offline stirling

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Re: A Long Sad Story
« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2007, 04:55:04 AM »
Hi mt.man

As far as the 2 (2.5)D is concerned, you're 99.9% there. I don't know about Illutrator - but when you export to .DXF there is often/usually a way to taylor the output, (there's DXF and then there's DXF). What you want is a .DXF exported as AutoCAD Release 12 format (which doesn't contain splines). If not and you're happy with illustrator (someone must be) then google for DXF filters. The point is you're so close. Once you've got such a .DXF, load it into LazyCAM and POST some gcode into Mach3. Job done.

3D - you say you're a handy guy - look at this - it's one of many.

Do not give up - you don't need to draw anything if you don't want to. :)

Offline Hodges

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Re: A Long Sad Story
« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2007, 11:14:56 AM »
I dont know if I should be discouraged or not. I am wanting to do the same things, but with the added need to produce some 1 to 2 mm round "dots"  out of mother of pearl. My whole purpose for buying this machine is to do inlay work for pearl and abalone.

I tried using the feature to import a *.jpg file into mach3, and got a gcode file, but there was a slight problem. I started it on a realy fast laptop using the simulator feature, and after 8 hours of running the program was only 1/2 way complete. There has to be a better solution.

Please let me know if you figure out how to do what we want to do.
Hodges Handcrafted Guitars

Offline zarzul

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Re: A Long Sad Story
« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2007, 12:59:45 PM »
Mt Man,

What would be nice is if there were a tutor near you.  So much more can be done in 1 hr of teaching than a month of emailing.  That might be a good idea for this Forum,  maybe in the support section, way down at the bottom put in a tutor req. or place people can offer to help those near by.


Offline bowber

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Re: A Long Sad Story
« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2007, 02:35:35 PM »
Do you have a basic understanding of the difference between a raster (dots/pixels) file like a jpg and a vector (mathmatical information) file like Illustrator, Corel Draw or a CAD program.

Lazycam (and most other CAM programs) needs vector information to create your gcode.
Also watch the tutorial video's for lazycam on this site, they'll give you a better understanding of what's going on.

Are you using illustrator to convert the jpg to vector?

You do really need to learn to use a vector program, CAD is better as it's designed to create very exact drawings and most CAM programs need endpoints of lines touching or very close, there is usually a tolerance setting to control this.

Get hold of one of the free CAD programs and spend a few days learning it, it'll really be time well spent and the finished results will be much better than a scanned and converted paper drawing.

Don't loose heart, I've been trying to learn to play a guitar for the last 2 years and I'm still rubbish but I keep trying  :)


Offline docltf

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Re: A Long Sad Story
« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2007, 03:26:42 PM »
taking a scanned image and converting it to vectors you might want to check out vextractor by vextrasoft.

Re: A Long Sad Story
« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2007, 04:15:45 PM »
Well, it's not really THAT Long or THAT sad    ;)  but seriously... I had some of the same issues. 

I know a little bit about Autocad but not really enough to design from scratch.  Plus most of the things I wanted to cut were designed in Raster generating programs (i.e. Illustrator, Canvas, Photoshop, etc.)

I did find a cool converter program called ACME Trace art (dwgtool.com).  It's a pretty simple program that will trace a raster (.tif, .jpg, .bmp, etc) image and convert it into .dxf. 

It's simple to learn.  It took me about 45 minutes to learn how to tweak the tracing parameters. If your drawings in Illustrator are Black lines on white background then it will be a "Slam Dunk" for you to trace and convert. 

Once converted in .dxf format, you can open in Lazy cam can read it, generate the G-code and then throw it overto Mach 3.  It works pretty good BUT, I have found that about 50% of the time trace art doesn't get all the details when tracing photos or I will have to do some size scaling (not really hard to do in L-CAM) or other little "tweaks" in L-CAM to make it work.


Re: A Long Sad Story
« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2007, 06:16:37 PM »
Thanks for all the responses so far, you have been very helpful and encouraging.  The first thing that I found is that Lazy Cam has changed significantly since I last played with it.  It will now open the files that Illustrator puts out without arguing.  That is a huge relief!  One of you asked if I know the difference between a raster and a vector, yes I do, as I do a good amount of graphic design, I’m pretty much up to speed on that.  As far as using CAD, I’m not all that good, Sure drawing a square box and the like is fine but guitars have all kinds of curves and angles, when I have tried these I really mess them up.  On the other hand I can draw virtually anything on paper. Thus my desire to scan drawings and trace them.

Stirling, thanks to the link to the probe, I never dreamed that they were that simple, but it stands to reason.  So once a guy has a probe what software does he use to probe the object and generate the G code? I’m sorry if this sounds like a dumb question, but I’m really not clear on this.

One last question for clarification:
It seems that the version of Lazy Cam that I downloaded will only simulate pockets and it refers to “Lazy Cam Pro,” is that a real program?  Is that what I get when I buy the full version of Mach 3, or is that “vapor ware” that will release at some future date.  I need to be able to cut pockets or this whole thing is pretty much useless as I need to cut for inlays.  Also, incidentally, when I try to use the “pocket” feature, the program hangs and then crashes.  Maybe I’m doing something wrong? 

Thanks again, you all are causing me to feel like there is hope after all.   

Offline Chaoticone

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Re: A Long Sad Story
« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2007, 08:23:49 PM »
Lazy Cam Pro is a plug in. It can be doewnloaded here at the top, downloads, plug-ins for $75.00. You'll get it.

;D If you could see the things I have in my head, you would be laughing too. ;D

My guard dog is not what you need to worry about!