by Tim Celeski
Up to now, CNCs were large, heavy, complicated tools that took up a lot of space in a shop. The Shaper Origin is something quite different. It’s a hand-held, easy-to-use CNC that you take to your work, instead of the other way around.
All CNCs need to know their precise location within their work space. Conventional CNCs work on their own platforms, with rails and guide systems that keep track of their position.
The Origin (assembled in the U.S.) takes a different approach. On the front of the machine is a high-resolution camera that scans for domino-like position markers printed on a special paper tape that the user lays out on the work every 3″-4″ in front of the machine (two 150′-long rolls are supplied with the machine, and additional rolls can be bought from Shaper Tools for $18).
By using the camera to monitor the markers on the tape, the Origin can keep track of its position. This allows the machine to stick to the path that the user traces on the screen while moving the tool over the work. While the user follows the line, the Origin’s spindle cuts and moves within the tool to compensate for any user error in tracing and makes the cut. It isn’t hard to follow the paths displayed on the monitor – you only have to come within about1⁄4″, which is easier to do than it sounds. The process is not unlike following a router template.
Ease of Use is a Key Feature
The Origin brings more than portability to the party – Shaper Tools puts a major emphasis on ease of use. Screens are easy to understand and setting up a cut is simple thanks to a well-designed interface. Once you scan for markers, position your design, set cutting parameters and establish the cutting depth, you’re good to go.
The company takes ease of use a step further with a collection of projects at their Shaper Hub – with a few clicks, your choice is downloaded right into the machine. You can also create your own designs and import them via a USB flash drive. The Origin uses SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic) format files that can be created in the computer drawing program of your choice. A one-year subscription to Fusion360 is also included with your purchase.
Is the Shaper Origin Right for You?
Comparing the Origin to a fixed CNC in its price range is difficult because the machines are so different. A comparable small conventional CNC works on its own with higher precision and can cut in 3D, whereas the Origin’s workspace limits are best measured by the length of an extension cord, works in 2D, is user-driven and easier to learn and use.
Keep in mind that the Origin, with its small footprint, needs to rest on a sizable flat surface. At first glance, this limitation makes it better suited for cutting plywood or MDF, rather than thick, solid wood boards of random widths and lengths. However, if you combine the Origin with smart use of other tools plus new methods and techniques, you can work past many of the limitations.
With its simplicity, exceptional ease of use, small footprint and unlimited workspace, for many, particularly those who see a CNC as a digital tool to support other woodworking methods, it could be a great fit.
— Tim Celeski