Learning a CNC Machine

By Will Tichenor

When it was first delivered to RICH LTD.’s millwork shop, the heavy duty CNC machine with its ½” sheet metal frame almost seemed like a battle tank. Once it was assembled, I watched it easily cutting complex path patterns. I thought to myself that I had to learn to use this amazing machine because it would further open my door of creativity in designing point of purchase displays, particularly wood displays and wood store fixtures. This began my experience of trial and error.


The Innova    Mach One made  by Komo is a 3-axis CNC (computer numerical control) router. Essentially, it is a mechanized drill that can cut nearly any flat surface shape.  In addition to learning how to operate the machine, there are many different drill bits, each with itsown specific purpose. I also had to study what materials I could cut and at what speeds I could cut them in order to yield desirable results.

Wine Rack Geometric shapes counter top

  Joe, our head wood shop engineer, was the man who knew how to make wooden POP displays as well as many other things. I started picking his brain about how it worked and spending post-work hours learning the many facets of the machine. I use engineering software called Solidworks on a daily basis to design retail store displays but wasunable to take a created concept all the way into its final form.  Auto-Cad is used to do the “tool pathing,” which decodes the desired cutting path into G-code. The G-code precisely translates the coordinates for cutting. Auto-Cad was new to me so it took about a month before I was able to operate it without asking questions.

Not only is the machine large and intimidating, it is not “intelligent.” If you tell it to cut 5” below the cutting table, it will crash down with enormous force. At no point will it ever consider where you have programmed it to go and ask you, “Excuse me operator, is this a good idea?” My first several parts were simple holes, squares, and triangles. After breaking a few drill bits and learning how not to make critical errors, I was finally ready for a slightly more complicated project.

wine rack wood bug

At the time my son was 6 months old. My wife and I made his room a “fantasy/adventure” theme. I decided that it would be cool if I made a pirate treasure toy chest. This was really my first solo custom millwork project. I took all my collective knowledge and applied it to this project. What material works best? What is the best yield so I can maximize material? What types of bits were optimal? Amazingly, I ran the machine without any major hiccup. All the parts fit together like a puzzle. I got to work with the nail gun, stained and sprayed it with a semi gloss lacquer. I also designed a logo with my son’s initials and had it laser engraved on the front face. I was pleased with the end result, and it now holds all my son’s favorite toys. One day my son may ask me where this pirate toy box came from, and I will say, “I made it with a CNC machine.”

Pirate Toy Chest for Kids Stuff

About the Author: Will Tichenor is Creative Director and head of RICH LTD.’s Design Department.  An Industrial Designer by training, Will has designed hundreds of displays for RICH LTD.’s customers across many industries over the last 10 years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *