CNC Router

CNC is the acronym for Computer Numerical Control.  It refers to the idea of controlling machine tools via computer.  The CNC router is a precise, powerful and expensive piece of machinery.  Each use must be approved by an I-Create Lab Staff Member.

How can I use the CNC router at the I-Create Lab?

Patrons who wish to use the CNC router must present a SandDollar card or a valid ID.  Patrons must complete a safety orientation session.  The orientation session covers the basic operation of CNC routers, safety practices, basic tools and techniques to create the artwork files and the I-Create Lab CNC Router Policies.  Patrons must sign an I-Create Waiver form.  Patrons must be 18 years or older.  Patrons must be present to supervise their CNC router job at all times.

Patrons must make a reservation to utilize the CNC router.  Use the link below to schedule a reservation.

CNC Router Reservations

What type of CNC router does the I-Create Lab have?

The I-Create Lab has a ShopBot Desktop Max.  It has a cutting area of 36” x 24” x 3.5”.

Shopbot CNC Router

Shopbot Website


There will be a charge of $2.00* per half hour for current students, faculty and staff.

There will be a charge of $3.00* per half hour for community users.

*30 minute minimum

Sales tax will be added to all purchases, unless the patron can provide a tax-exempt form.

How does CNC milling work?

CNC (Computer Numerical Control) mills can be thought of as computer-controlled carving machines.  A cutting tool, similar to a drill or routing bit, is spun at very high speeds and moved to cut/carve the material to be machined.  This is a ‘subtractive’ manufacturing process where the process starts with a block of solid material and results in a finished piece along with waste material (sawdust, plastic chips, metal filings, etc.)

There are two basic styles of milling on the CNC desktop mills:  2D (sometimes called 2.5D) milling and 3D milling.  Generally, 2D milling is considered similar to routing or etching, where a flat surface is machined with relief marks or cut out in a flat shape (the cutting tool only moved left-right and forward-back while cutting).  In 3D milling the cutting tool also moves in the up-down direction while cutting to form a complete three-dimensional shape. 

What materials and tooling can I use?

In general, small desktop mills can work with wood, plastics and machinable foams and waxes.  Under certain conditions, the mill can also machine non-ferrous metals such as aluminum, copper, brass and others.  Patrons are expected to provide their own materials to be used in the CNC desktop router.

The library will supply a limited selection of cutting tools.

Shopbots can cut wood, plastics, composites, and non-ferrous metals such as aluminum, brass and copper.

Shopbots cannot cut steel

What software is used to create designs?

For cutting and engraving shapes (2D milling), the CNC mill requires a ‘vector’ file.  Vector shapes can be created and modified using Inkscape (free), or with a variety of CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs, including the free, browser-based Tinkercad.  Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw are popular commercial programs used to create vector art. 

Import file types: 

File extension Description
STL CAD orientated 3-D design packages and scanning systems
DXF Many CAD systems-data must consist of meshes or triangles
3DS 3-D Studio and many other animation orientated packages
OBJ Wavefront
SKP SketchUp software files
V3M VectorArt 3-D or Design & Make clipart models
LWO Lightwave 3-D Object model
3DM Rhino 3-D Model
WRL Netscape 3D Live Picture
File types readable by CNC router, includes extension and description


And image trace on BMP