I’m a not-yet-member who’s interested in joining to take advantage of VHS’ CNC mills for my knifemaking hobby. I’ve been trying to track down some info on the CNC capabilities here before committing, since a membership won’t be of much use to me if I can’t do certain things.
So, I was hoping the community might have some insight into the following:
- Can any of the CNC mill machines cut mild/hardened steel? I’d like to profile and bevel knife blanks with the mill - I know hardened steel might be a big ask but I’m hoping at least one of the machines could reasonably handle a mild steel job.
As an aside - I was told one of the CNC mills definitely can handle steel but is out of commission. Any ideas when that will be back online, and do these machines drop out of service pretty regularly?
- I’m totally new to CAM/CNC, though I’m pretty familiar with a few CAD packages. Does the CNC training available through certain members assume some prior experience, or could a complete novice like me expect to learn enough to safely and independently complete the sorts of profiling/contouring projects I’m describing (assuming I can handle the CAD side on my own)?
Thanks in advance for all your help!
So I’m not the CNC expert, and defo not the metal expert, but I’ve been tinkering mostly on the wood CNC and can at least answer a few of your questions. Hopefully others will join in and have more info for you.
1: Dunno, but… I’m not versed in metal, but have cut the much-softer varieties of brass and aluminium on one of our mills. @AndroidLx showed me the ropes and encouraged sane settings, but my knowledge still can’t answer your question; I put it back out to our community. However VHS tools do indeed go out of (and back into) commission regularly, and that’s one of the things I’ve already taken on as a personal task, getting a specific issue (broken belt) on the wood CNC back into working order and I threw in a wee upgrade at the time (better tensioning). Many of the tools are part of VHS’ ‘Do-ocracy’, where minor or non-invasive work can be undertaken by anyone, without specific permission. Community engagement is always welcome, however, and certain tools (like the laser cutter) are not include in the DIY spirit of the space, for safety and other practical reasons. Larger projects affecting others often start with discussion and working towards a some form of consensus. It’s a very flat organisation without a lot of red tape, or others doing stuff for you.
- Most of the training is a ‘Safety and Basic Use’ training intended to give you the necessary basics to use the tool without injury to yourself, others in the space, and the tool or space itself. There are starting to be more members offering training sessions which go beyond basic use, and have outcomes such as cutting boards, pens and addressable LED lights, amongst others. You are also welcome to request or offer any type of training you’d like, but only the SBU is a requirement for (some, specific) tool use.
All of this is my understanding and might be wrong. However what’s for certain is that VHS is a great space, has a vibrant community with lots of dedicated and motivated people doing all sorts of fun stuff. You’ll probably find you can become an expert at something in much smaller timeframes, because there’s so much going on and so much sharing of experiences and such. I’m pretty sure you’d find a way to make the knives, avoid a startup cost of commercial shop space complete with tooling, etc., and have a community to discuss your ideas and successes with.
Hope to see you around, and just shout if you have other questions I might be able to answer.
Oh and tagging @WDaynes who I know has cast a knife of some sort (and also offers pen workshops), and @Brad who makes some pretty kick-ass throwing axes, both of these adjacent to your mentioned project, fwiw.
There is a CNC mill that might be able to do mild or unhardened steel, talking to @AndroidLx would be best to find out more info on this, you may need some special tooling for them to do it. We do have a tempering and heat treating oven for knives so in theory you could “soften” the steel, mill it, then re-harden and temper the blanks, depending on the type of steel. We also have a manual mill that could likely do some of the profiling. We do have a belt grinder for profiling this type of thing as well. Finally we have an induction forge that can be used for heat treating and quenching too.
Thanks for the tag.
I’ve beveled and profiled many an axe and knife, mostly axe blades to be fair, but knives are fun too. Warren probably has more experience with knives than I do.
Any particular reason you are looking at cnc for this?
In my experience the go to method and the method I use, is grinding with a belt grinder, angle grinder for rough material removal. For consistency, there are some neat jigs designed specifically for the purpose of beveling, and can even probably make your own as well.
Those are all good methods that Warren mentioned ^^
Hey, I’ve been tagged!
Only CNC mill at VHS that’s useable with steels is Jaxen, that’s the machine next to the electrical panel. I’ve been working on an overhaul for the last several months, the machine is somewhat operable, but it’s definitely still in need of work.
As far as steels, how hard are we talking? I haven’t tried hard milling, but it’s a Grizzly benchtop mill conversion, so I wouldn’t expect great results. If you can work with materials in their annealed state, that’d make your CNC time a lot easier. Having the heat treat oven is really nice, I was thinking about finding space for an oil bucket somewhere. (No, can’t use the motor oil in the DMZ)
Hi all, thanks for your thoughtful responses! Still exploring options but thankful for all of this info.
@Brad - you’re right, belt grinding is a totally viable way to bevel and provile; up til now I’ve used a 2x72 grinder and one of the aforementined grinding jigs to do so and I know that’s a standard approach. I guess I was looking at CNC as a way to speed up the process and improve the replicability of the grinds and shapes. And, I was looking to start making folders which need tighter tolerances than I could grind by hand for their mating parts. In any case, good to know that VHS has those tools though.
@WDaynes - That’s awesome to hear that you’ve got a heat treat setup; definitely good to know. The reason I asked about hard milling is that, in my experience heat treating blades, warping is more common with a beveled blade versus a profiled-only blank. But I take your point that it’s totally viable to mill then harden, and might be the only option.
@AndroidLx - Thanks for chiming in re. the status of the mills. I’d love to know more about the current constraints on Jaxon - how operable is somewhat? Ie., what kinds of issues might I run into trying to do these sorts of operations with it?
Re. hardness, sounds like I’d just have to stick to unhardened. Not a big deal though, especially with the HT-in equipment on site.