I've been planning this post for a few days. I knew I was about to cross the milestone for my Etsy shop The Stoned Craftsmen, and I wanted to write what I've learned over that time. Each time I started writing, it came out boring, and if I'm bored writing it, I guarantee you'd be bored reading it.
So, instead of boring you with a lot of drawn-out, vague platitudes about what I learned and how you can attempt to apply it to something you are doing. I'm just going to be straight forward: I've learned very little.
The main thing I've learned is how to optimize my costs/time while providing a better product.
In December of 2022, I bought a CNC. I designed a few gifts for family and friends for Christmas last year, and some of them thought they were real neat. It basically was just a cool toy I was trying to figure out how to monetize when I designed 3 gifts for a couple of stoner friends. All of which became my first products, and 2 of which I still sell (Pax Pod holders) and one that I killed off early on because it was too costly (a large hexagon rolling tray).
So that kicked off a journey of optimizing everything I could. Here they are ranked by how they influenced my costs and time.
Optimization 1 (Bin Stacking)
When I was first cutting things out, I wasn't very judicious with how I utilized my lumber, so there was a lot of waste. This was the first thing I optimized for. Some cutter software lets you define your workpiece size, and it will do some bin stacking for you, but it doesn't care about orientation of the woodgrain. This was a manual process.
Optimization 2 (Work Holding)
The next thing that I optimized was work holding. If you go on YouTube and watch CNC videos, there are 4 primary work holding strategies: double-sided template tape, painter's tape and super glue, clamps and tabs, and on the extreme end, vacuum beds. I'm aiming to one day to build a vacuum table, but until then, I've worked my way through the others and settled on double-sided tape.
Tabs and Clamps
This was how I first started doing work holding. Put a board on the bed, clamp it down to the rails, and hope the bit doesn't hit the clamps!
Tabs and clamps works, and works very well, but it adds an additional step to the process (trimming off the tabs and sanding them down). Over the first few months I optimized this too. I started by taking every thing to the bandsaw after cutting it to slice through the tabs, but it was finicky. Next optimization I did was to chisel the tabs off, then run everything over with the trim router, which makes quick work of it, but anything smaller than 3x2 inches is VERY dangerous. Next was to use a spindle sander on the tabs, which was way safer, but slower.
Painter's Tape and Super Glue
This was my next optimization away from tabs. If you have watched any YouTube CNC videos, you will know that this method is often used with great success. I had a lot less success. The issue is the holding strength of blue tape isn't great when you are dealing with a slight cup/warp in your lumber. Add to that a workshop that sits at 120F in the summer, the adhesive fails almost immediately. I lost count of how many thousands of dollars of product were ruined by this.
If you have temperature controlled workshop and high-quality, kiln-dried, and appropriately acclimatized lumber, this could work amazingly.
This is where I'm at currently. There have been further optimizations here as well, though. I started with template routing tape (might not be the name, but that is what I've always called it). This tape does a decent job at keeping the wood stuck to the table when you use enough of it, but it is expensive! And I was using a LOT of it.
About 3 months into running this shop, I standardized on a specific board, and a specific length for the CNC bed: 1x12 New Zealand White Pine @ 21.5" long. But a 1x12 would span 3 slats on my CNC bed. I would have to use 2 strips of tape per slat, so that would be 129" of tape (+/- some waste). I was spending roughly $1.25 per sale on tape! That was actually more than the cost of the wood and shipping materials!
One fateful day, I stumbled onto my solution. Indoor/outdoor carpet tape! It held so much better than the template tape, which was also a curse sometimes when I had to use all my strength to pull something off the bed. But not only was it better, it was 25% the price!
There was one further optimization to do regarding this tape though that made it the most economical of all the solutions. A sacrificial waste board without slats. I could now tape much more efficiently going from 64" of tape to less than 20" of tape by placing my tape strategically, and using reusable screws in places that I needed real holding power.
... I wish...
Optimization 3 (Buy in Bulk)
This one is self explanatory. When you buy in bulk you save. BUT you can save a LOT. My mailers were Duck brand, and I would pick them up at Walmart for $12 for 15 of one size, and $3/each for the other size. So just under $1 in shipping materials per order. Then came ULINE to the rescue. I've always loved the ULINE catalog. I can browse it for hours. I ended up buying 250 of the bubble mailers for $40, and 200 of another size for $80.
Optimization 4 (Label Printer)
Another no-brainer. My label printing used to be 2 labels on a 8x10 then I used scissors to cut them out, and clear packing tape to attach them to the mailers. This took a LOT of work and time. This optimization might be #4, but it was the first I did. I can now package and label an order in under 30 seconds. This might not save me any money, but it saves me about 2 minutes per package. And on days when I get 10+ orders, those minutes mean something.