A CNC machine -- that stands for Computer Numerical Control -- is a type of computerized workshop device that replaces more conventional workshop machines. CNCs are able to perform many common shop jobs such as drilling, milling and turning -- and they do it all by themselves, making the shape that you define.
CNC machines are computer programmed to perform all the tasks a human would have had to do on a manual machine, as well as many tasks that humans simply aren't able to do. Whether it's cutting a sinuous curve into a heavy steel plate, or engraving a miniature image on the back of a gold watch, CNCs can do it faster and with greater accuracy than any other type of machine. Moving on a number of linear and rotary axes, most CNCs can perform a variety of complex tasks -- the more axes, the more versatile the tasks and the more complex the shape that it's possible to cut.
One CNC in particular, the Tormach PCNC 1100 Mill (that's personal computer numerical control), stands as a leader in the field and can be just the thing you need whether you're an engineer, an entrepreneur or a hobbyist. The machine can cut through anything, from wood and plastic up to and including steel, iron, titanium and chromium alloys -- and shape them into whatever final 3-D product you're looking for. The PCNCs 1.5 horsepower spindle rotates at speeds between 100 and 5,000 RPMs.
Want the complete package? The PCNC and all its accompanying gadgets will set you back about $16,000 [source: Tormach]. But that price does include a long list of accessories; the PCNC 1100 Mill itself costs $7,480, and you can mix and match your extras. And it's not as expensive as it could be; During the design process, the people at Tormach worked to keep this personal CNC affordable, as well as easy to use.
Read about another type of tool that can be found in the "Prototype This!" toolbox on the next page.