CNC Machines live in that mysterious world of the professional metal shop. You've got to be a pretty intense dude to have one of these things in your garage. What they are is automatic cutting systems that work through a computer program. Draw something in a CAD program, load it over to the CNC machine and it carves or cuts out the shape. These things are usually massive and some of them are even encased in a large chamber with a constant oil spray to lube up the cut.
So anyway, Torchmate, a well-respected name in the CNC world has recently released a smaller version of their popular machine. This new one, the 2x2 has a much smaller bed and is intended to be a user-friendly version of their larger machines, one that will hopefully appeal to the average Joe hobbyist. They were nice enough to send us one to play around with for a while and we happily agreed.
We should make it clear right off that bat that before using the Torchmate, we were only vaguely familiar with CNC machines...we'd seen them in action and had been involved in projects where they needed to be implemented for one reason or another, but as far as our actual hands on time goes...well...not a whole lot. Our CAD experience wasn't a whole lot more advanced either. We were familiar with the program and had indeed used it a few times, but we were by no means an expert. In the Torchmate 2x2 promotional material we read informed us that, like we said, the machine is accessible to hobbyists and (we supposed) first time CNC users. We saw ourselves as the guinea pigs of this second group. Our cluelessness would serve to test out how well Torchmate presented their item for the everyday knucklehead.
The CNC Machine has a few main components; the machine itself, the electronics unit, and the computer program. The 2x2 can be set up with a plasma cutter or a router. We don't have a plasma cutter, so we went with the router option and our Bosch Colt fit perfectly in the clamping arm. Actually, we read somewhere the the router arm attachment is specifically designed for the Bosch Colt.
Without getting into too many details (and there are millions of them), we were up and running in no time at all. It was actually kind of shocking how quickly it took us to load the program, set the machine up, and get one of the tutorials going. The package comes with a little test pattern to make sure that everything is working properly and seeing the router slide around the table on its own was enough to make us dive into the tool.
The Torchmate is available with two CAD programs (at an additional cost), one is a basic one that carries the Torchmate name, the other is much more advanced and is intended for the more complex items. If you're not familiar with CAD, think of it sort of like PhotoShop in that you can learn the basics in no time, but if you want to dig into the pro level, there's no end of the digging you can do. The capabilities of the thing are pretty crazy.
For our purposes, we puttered around with signs and things like that. Simple stuff. And it wasn't all that difficult to get the general grasp of things. Again, it happened much faster than we were expecting.
The Torchmate CNC program (which is what communicates the cutting pattern to the electronics box) is easy to use and, as with the CAD program, you can dive in a little or a lot. All of the instructions are well laid out and easy to understand and cross reference. Torchmate has managed to make it all very user friendly.
So the 2x2 is basically a shrunken down CNC machine, one that is sized for a garage or a small workshop (or the back of a truck for transport to the jobsite), and with all of that comes a shrunken down price. The Torchmate 2x2 sells for just under $3000. This doesn't include the router or the water table or the CAD programs, but those can easily be had as extras. It's a solid chunk of change, no doubt, but if this type of thing is something you'd be serious about getting into, this is a place to start (and possibly finish, depending on your needs). As for us, we re-crated the machine and sent it back to Torchmate, confident that we only scratched the surface of its capabilities.
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