Canadian Woodworking

A Few loose screws

Author: James Jackson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: April May 2022
A Few Loose Screws
A Few Loose Screws

My decision to enter the computer era of woodworking wasn’t as easy as I envisioned.


Slowly, and somewhat begrudgingly, my workshop has entered the computer age with the recent addition of a com­puter-operated CNC machine and a laser cutter.

Some of you purists may be rushing to fill my email inbox or the online comment section with scathing remarks about this decision. I struggled with the decision, too, but not as much as I struggled to put the machines together.

I was never much of a tinkerer in my youth. Sure, I loved my LEGO sets, but I can firmly recall my parents buying me a metal Meccano set for my birthday when I was about 10 years old, and instead of building something cool like a race car, train set or Ferris wheel, I took a long straight piece and bolted a shorter straight piece to it to make the shape of a sword.

I then promptly lost most of the small bolts and washers, and lost interest in the set a few weeks later.

You can imagine my frustration when I ordered my new CNC machine and it arrived in several hundred different pieces. Nothing in the box came pre-assembled. The manufacturer boasted on its website that “if you can put together IKEA furniture,” then building this machine should be a “breeze.”

I hate assembling Ikea furniture.

“Assembly only takes a few hours,” the site continued, and I really like the liberal use of the word “few” because I can tell you right now, my idea of “few” is different from theirs.

I ordered it last January and the box – about 5′ long and weigh­ing about 50 pounds – arrived a few weeks later. I took it down to the basement and it sat unopened for the next six months as I dreaded the assembly process. I finally took the plunge and opened it up, only to realize the instructions were 110 pages long. I knew I was in trouble.

Three hours and 28 pages later I finally reached the end of Part One (of seven) and the section ended with a darkly comedic question: “That was fun, wasn’t it?”

One of the toughest parts was wrapping my head around the idea of the Y-axis, the X-axis and the Z-axis. Math never was my strong suit and I’m still not quite sure I’ve got it sorted out in my head.

Eventually, I got to the point where I anxiously wired it up and got it running. But right away something was wrong; one of the gears that moved the Y axis (at least I think it was the Y axis) back and forth was binding and catching on something. It took two hours, and ordering a new coupler that attached the gear to the motor, to fix the problem.
After spending hours watching woodworkers demonstrate just how powerful and precise these machines can be, I’m excited by my deci­sion to add the CNC to my workshop toolkit.

So excited, in fact, that I went out a few weeks later and bought a laser engraver. Actually, it was my wife who suggested I buy one since she follows many of the current design trends and said laser-cut gifts are very popular right now.

I started small and ordered an entry-level laser for about $1,000. It’s cutting surface is about 18″ square and fortunately it was a lot easier to assemble than the CNC and only took about 40 minutes to screw the aluminum body together.

The laser didn’t work right away, either. Whenever I tried engrav­ing on a piece of wood it would leave the occasional line of unburned material behind, kind of like when a printer is running out of ink.

I went online to troubleshoot and even emailed the company. They responded within a few hours and suggested I try tightening a few screws and updating the software. I did both, and it ended up being a loose screw that was the problem.
And if the metal Meccano swords of my youth are any indication, I’m pretty good at just tightening the occasional screw.

James Jackson - [email protected]

James is a woodworker, a freelance writer, a former newspaper reporter and father to two amazing girls.

1 comment

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  2. Hi James, its great following your adventures, wondering what machines you bought.

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