CNC Machine Tools

We have several designated Lead CNC Monitors from the student staff. Please email them first to make an appointment or consult with them during their normal working hours for the most effective/efficient assistance with the CNC router.

CAPLA has a ShopSaber4896 CNC(computer numerically controlled) Router ( 50"x96"x4") and a Shapeoko Standard router 17"x 17"x 4" managed by Lab monitors. The Shapeoko is housed in the Model lab. After Lab staff review and start your file, users are required to observe the router while it is in operation. You must understand how to pause and stop the router when problems are observed.

Only trained lab personnel may login and start the ShopSaber CNC router.

Read the guild below for setting up RhinoCAM, FreeMill or Carbide Create  for your file. Only Shapeoko can use Carbide Crete free software for 2 1/2D setups and FreeMill in RhinoCam for 3D setups. Once complete, follow the link below to fill out the form and submit your files for CNC. If you do not fill out this form, we cannot start on your file.  We will review your file and email you in 24-48 hours regarding an questions we have about your file and to schedule a time to CNC. Please do not email the monitor directly unless you have waited longer than 48 hours and have not heard from them.

CNC form can be found here


The CNC routers can be used for cutting 2D part files and for 3D machining. The Shopsaber CNC router has a 4’x8’ bed with an 8” gantry clearance (Z height). A 4” maximum Z height is a good rule of thumb, but the maximum Z height depends on many factors including tool length, tool clearance and part geometry. For 2d cutting, there should be a 1” margin around the perimeter of your material stock to screw into the router spoil board. The router is a 3-axis router, therefore it cannot make undercut or bevel cuts. The Shapeoko has a 17"x17" x 4" bed. You will need to consider hold down methods on both routers before making your files or gluing up your materials.

For topos, watch this tutorial for a couple of different types of Rhino setups, please prepare files before submitting geometry.


Solid hardwood or softwood
Plywood, MDF, particle board and other sheet stock
Rigid insulation foam
Plastics, such as acrylic and polyethylene (LDPE / HDPE)

Preparing Your Files for CNC

There are four steps involved in preparing files for the CNC router.


Design can be done in many applications (Rhinoceros, AutoCAD, Illustrator, SolidWorks, Sketch Up, etc.). 2d cutting requires only 2d line drawings. 2d cut parts should have each part represented as a single closed curve, path or polyline. Things to check on your file before submitting;  your lines meet exactly at endpoints and there are no duplicate, intersecting or overlapping lines, lines are all on the same C-plane. 3d machining requires a polygonal mesh, a surface or solid model. All files should be scaled to the actual size and units of the output that you require, save file in inch units.


Tool-paths need to be generated to program the machine to cut your part. We use RhinoCAM  a plug-in within Rhinoceros. We have 20 floating seats of RhinoCAM which are available in computer lab. Rhino will import geometry from most 2D and 3D software programs. The three most commonly used operations in RhinoCAM are profiling (cutting), horizontal roughing (rough cutting of surfaces) and parallel finishing (finish cutting of 3d surfaces). To learn how to use RhinoCAM to generate tool paths, see tutorials here.

Look under the resources tab! There you will find videos and user guide.

Additional Tutorials by Sheehan Wachter are available on YouTube.

Make sure you have the correct  tool library and post processor on computer you log into. 


Generally, you should select the biggest diameter and shortest cutting tool you can safely use.
When selecting the tooling you’re going to use, keep in mind that you want to use an appropriately sized cutter for your job. The cutter’s diameter and length should be scaled for the amount and type of milling you plan on doing.


The larger diameter the cutter, the more material it can remove per pass resulting in faster processing.
Smaller diameter cutters can get into tighter corners, but aren’t suitable for hogging out a lot of waste material.
Long cutters are used where there are drastic slopes and deep pockets that might cause the collet to crash into the work piece.
Short cutters are robust; they allow for more material removal per pass.
Square end mills are ideal for roughing passes.
Ball nosed end mills are not for roughing passes. They are used for finishing passes.

For example, if you need to rough mill a stepped topography that is 24” square and 2” tall, you should choose an end mill that will remove a lot of material. A medium length .75” or .5” end mill will allow you to rough out the topography quickly. You may then run a finishing tool pass with a medium length .25” end mill to clean up any small corners where the larger end mill couldn't reach.


After trying to process your file in RhinoCam fill out CNC request above for each file. Bring the filled out form and your geometry on a flash drive to the monitor. Before your part is cut, a Lab Monitor will review the file and form. We will look for errors and suggest appropriate tooling and tool path modification. If your RhinoCAM file is approved, the Monitor will “post” your file. “Posting” creates a machine-readable text file (G-code) which is specific to our machine and our tool change operation. Make sure you have the correct post-processor on your machine. Once your file has been posted, we will schedule a time for you to run your part on the CNC router. Do not expect that this part can be run immediately. It is advisable to have your RhinoCAM file reviewed several days in advance of your desired cutting time. During heavy use we will have a signup list for files that have been post- processed already.

Material Preparation

Students must supply their own materials. If your material stock is glued up, be sure that it has had sufficient time to dry. Use liberal amounts of glue spread evenly across the material to ensure complete adhesion when laminating materials. We have a jig for laminating large blocks. (Ask monitor.) Also please note your actual material thickness, as this may affect your RhinoCAM settings. Calipers are located in the lab to get the exact thickness of your material. For example, if using 3/4” plywood, it is likely the actual thickness is .6875”. These exact dimensions must be used in RhinoCam.

STEP 4: Machine Set-Up and Operation

The scheduling of CNC jobs is at the sole discretion of Lab staff: we will prioritize
jobs based on estimated cut time, staff workload and user preparation and availability.

We will advise you on how best to secure your stock to the router table. Be aware of where you are placing screws to ensure that they are not in the way of a tool path. If a tool path hits a screw, the bit can be destroyed. If bits are broken due to carelessness, students are responsible for the cost of the bit (which can be as much as $450 depending on the bit).
Workshop Technicians will help you set the machine for your part and instruct you on how to make a tool change if necessary. Users are responsible for observing the machine while in operation. Please note that it is common for parts to take several hours to finish.  The estimated time from RhinoCAM software estimate should be tripled for actual run time, including material attachment, etc.

Users are required to wear safety glasses while the machine is in operation: hearing protection is also recommended and do not enter enclosure while CNC router is running!


  • Users are responsible for leaving the area in a clean condition. There is a dust collection system that will pick-up the majority of dust. Then your part is completed, you should sweep the majority of the chips off of the machine into trash and sweep the floor, putting off-cuts and scrapes into the scrap racks or the dumpster. Cut large scraps down to rectangles for reuse. Do not leave large scraps in the router area. Operators need to sweep up the whole area around Router enclosure and empty single steel 55 gal. drum (SAM) behind CNC table into the dumpster, if cutting foam.

You may lose your privileges to use the CNC router if you are negligent in your clean-up responsibilities.


If you have questions about the CNC router, please drop by the Material Labs and speak to a monitor.

Special thanks to the Digital Fabrication Laboratory at the University Of Minnesota College Of Design for providing a template for this information.