Alphabet Blocks on the CNC

After my Man vs. CNC project I got a lot of questions about me being “anti-CNC”. That led to me making the most recent Pub Talk entitled CNC Fail.  A lot of people really thought I had become a CNC hater.  And well, as you know that’s absolutely not the case. This led to the obvious next question: When is the right time to use a CNC?  That got me to thinking.  Is there a type of work that the CNC really excels at?  Is there some place in the shop work flow that a CNC is the best at?

Some of you will undoubtedly say “Never.”  Some of you will agree with me though.  And that’s the CNC’s job is to do intricate detail work that would be impractical or at least extremely difficult to do by hand.  So today’s project demonstrates such an example: 3D Wooden Alphabet Blocks!

Alphabet Blocks

When I was a kid I remember having a set of these toy wooden blocks.  They were 3D, but the 3D was fake.  It was simple die cut letters glued onto the front of the blocks.  With the CNC machine we can make the blocks one solid piece.

Step 1: Cut out the Blocks

Cutting out the blocks perfectly square is key to making this project work. I used the table saw sled to cut them to rough shape and size, and then used my microjig to bring all of the blocks to unified dimension on all three axis.

Step 2: Carving them on the X-Carve

I created a little jig that could be used to hold the blocks on the X-Carve.  This allowed me to use the home position over and over again.  This makes the process of carving the blocks go much, much faster!  The jig clamped down to the X-Carve bed using the factory clamps.  Each new block or block face will be in exactly the same place as the last black.

Step 3: Paint and Sand the Blocks

I painted all of the blocks yellow.  After the paint dried I sanded off the high points, but left the low points yellow.  This makes for a really neat 3D look, where the inside of the letters sits on a colored background.  If I had it do over again, I would have made the background a darker color.  I thought the spray lacquer would make it pop more than it did.

The Finished Alphabet Blocks

The finished alphabet blocks look really cool!  I might try this again in the future with some different colors of both paint and wood to see if I can deepen the 3D effect.

Alphabet Blocks HERO

Video Transcript

Hey Guys!  It’s Mike from The Geek Pub!  And after the last episode with the “CNC Fail” a lot of you guys have asked “Is there ever a place where I would use the CNC to make the workflow in my shop better or easier?” and the answer is absolutely yes: When you’re doing complicated, intricate work!  And so with that I have made a project for my grandson!  This will be for his Christmas present and it is 3D wooden Alphabet blocks, carved out on the CNC. So stick around and I’ll show you how we did it!

OK!  Well the first thing we’re going to do is cut out the blocks!  And I’ve got this piece of one point five inch by one point five inch poplar and I’ve setup a stop block on my tablesaw sled at one point five inches and that will make us a one point five inch square. Now after I make these blocks I am going to come back and straighten them up, probably using the fence or either the sander, I’m not sure.   We’ll decide in just a minute.  But the reason why is and it will make more sense when you see it, but we’re going to put these on the X-Carve to cut out each face and we want to make sure that they are the exact same height no matter which face we put down against the bed of the X-Carve.  And that way we can re-use our home position over and over and over.  And that will make things go much faster!  So let’s get started!

OK. So much like I expected when I measure them with the calipers I get 1.56, 1.52, 1.49, and so what I am going to do is take the smallest of that dimension, I’m going to set the fence, and them I’m going to use the Micro-Jig to cut them down to size so that they’re all 1.49.

OK. So I’ve setup a little jig on the X-Carve and this allows me to add and remove blocks without have to remove the clamps or work with double sided tape every time, and that way I know I am going to get my cuts right every single time.  And so basically it works just by sliding the block in and tightening up a couple of screws.

OK.  So what I am going to do now is paint all of the letters yellow, and once the paint dries I will hit them with the orbital sander and that will leave it with a really cool 3D look.

So now I am going to take each of the blocks and I am going to run them up against the orbital sander and this will remove the paint from all of the high areas.  And to finish them off I’m just going to shoot them with some spray lacquer.

This is one of those projects where I feel like the tool was perfect for the job and I had a lot of fun doing it. Now you could certainly do this on say for example a scroll saw and just cut the letters out individually and just simply glue them on top of the blocks, but I don’t think that would be near as fun.  Well hey if you liked this video, I’ve got another video coming up that will show what we do with these blocks and you don’t want to miss that one, so see you in the next video!

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