CNC compared to Handmade

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Forum topic by JasonLoasching posted 04-05-2021 07:35 PM 729 views 0 times favorited 39 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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16 posts in 21 days

04-05-2021 07:35 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I am Jason Loasching, a college student attending Texas A&M University-Commerce. I am tasked with writing an ethnography for my English 1302 class led by Mr. Radzinski. I chose to do mine over woodworking. I want to ask you one final question. You don’t have to answer but I would appreciate it if you would.

• How does using CNC machines differ from doing hand crafted woodworks?

39 replies so far

View SMP's profile (online now)


3826 posts in 964 days

#1 posted 04-05-2021 07:43 PM

One looks like a robot made it. One looks like a skilled craftsman made it.

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367 posts in 25 days

#2 posted 04-05-2021 08:05 PM

Don’t forget about Shaper Origin, which is a handheld CNC machine that gives you the best of both Worlds. I personally own one and use it a lot. My projects start by hand, get shaped by Origin, and then are finished by hand.

I find that Shaper overlaps with hand crafting very well. Unlike traditional, gantry-style CNC, if I need to make an adjustment on-the-fly, I can make it right there on the router’s touch-screen and not suffer any downtime having to rewrite G code.

If a material is not cooperating, I can likewise adjust on-the-fly without risking a robot completely destroying my project, the stock, or worse, itself.

-- Devin, SF, CA

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3773 posts in 2856 days

#3 posted 04-05-2021 08:20 PM

One looks like a robot made it. One looks like a skilled craftsman made it.


Excellent description I would like to add one will have sprit and one will have none.

-- Aj

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1788 posts in 2708 days

#4 posted 04-05-2021 08:44 PM

Agree. Hand crafted has just a slightly different look. Can’t say it is imperfection as some can be incredible, but it is identifiable. How the grain shows through when scraped instead of sanded maybe. A vague immeasurable, but more “human.” Maybe it is the little tell-tale scribes from laying out the dovetails. Maybe the fit of a tenon that was carefully back-beveled and trimmed. Maybe in the design where edges are eased “just right” and curves are more complex. For more ornate work ( not my thing) with carvings, no CNC can match the look of a good carver.

Now one can always rough stuff CNC and then finalize and fit by hand.

View 987Ron's profile


850 posts in 375 days

#5 posted 04-05-2021 08:47 PM

Agree with Aj2 and SMP. CNC could not replicate a 1700’s Pennsylvania Spice Chest or a Chippendale piece of furniture. Hand cut dove tails and such are individual and not perfect, thereby character evolves.

-- Ron

View CWWoodworking's profile (online now)


1678 posts in 1237 days

#6 posted 04-05-2021 09:39 PM

Depends on what functions your talking about.

A lot of joinery will look no different nor will it function differently. CNC usually does it faster and more repeatable.

With things like carving, most like the imperfections of it.

View paulLumberJock's profile


64 posts in 257 days

#7 posted 04-05-2021 09:47 PM

I think CNC stuff is fine. When people say “By hand” do they mean no electricity.. like a molding plane?
Or does “By hand” mean you can use a table saw, hand guided router, etc?
Because there’s really no difference in appearance between a CNC made thing and a tablesaw/hand router.

Most people can not tell the difference between mdf and solid wood, so of course they can’t tell the difference between a table top that was hand planed or ran through a power planer and sanded. or flattened wtih a CNC and then sanded..

How does it differ? When you use a CNC, you spend a lot of time on CAD drawing the part and on CAM generating the tool paths. Then you have to be careful to do all the prep work correctly (homing the axis, making sure the wood to be cut is secure).. Then you push the button, and if you didn’t make a mistake , it comes out perfect.

By hand? Well, it’s just a different kind of skill. You have to make sure the board is against the table saw fence as you push it through.. “By hand” is actually more dangerous, so you have to be careful. “By hand” can sometimes be more enjoyable as a hobbyist. It all depends. When I make dovetailed drawers, I put them in the CNC and they come out perfect in minutes. so I love that. Other people really enjoy cutting dovetails by hand and have invested a lot of time in that skill and are proud of their results. They would not enjoy cutting them on CNC.

It’s all personal perference, really. I hope that helps.

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5012 posts in 2281 days

#8 posted 04-05-2021 09:55 PM

Still plenty of “hand” work involved with most CNC productions. Assembly/finish can often be as complex or greater than the stock cut out. Of course there are plenty of CNC products that just are not realistic to do by hand (cue up the Duck’s puzzles).

Items with complex curves in large quantities comes to mind. Some people like the tedium, others just want to be as efficient as possible.

It’s all part of the world of flexible manufacturing. Consider the humble automobile. Still done by hand for small quantity productions of exotics, but when there is lots of identical parts in quantity, CNC/automation is hard to dismiss.

View Loren's profile


11156 posts in 4706 days

#9 posted 04-05-2021 10:14 PM

CNC and other computerized machinery has made competing with large cabinet outfits difficult. Some places employ cheap labor and produce cheap cabinets. There are always shops cropping up in any big city that will try to bang out these sorts of kitchens. Some places use CNC and melamine to produce low to high end European style cabinetry, which you can do without a CNC machine too.

High end clients will pay for one-of-a-kind work. They may not care if CNC was employed but high end work often shows hand work.

It’s a big topic.

View metolius's profile


355 posts in 1789 days

#10 posted 04-05-2021 10:57 PM

I might think of it like music.

Musicians use the tools they need to make the music that’s inside their head. For some it has to come from a computer. Others abhor it.

The rhythmic precision and pitch / tone perfection might be perfect for a purpose, or maybe it will lack a needed feeling and leave the tones flat faced and mechanical.

I think computer controlled machining has a place is in mass production and precision specialties like wooden gears and screws.

Some crafts can really be eye catching with the precise repetition that CNC can deliver on a big scale.
Yet, much CNC work is flat and mechanical, without human engagement.

Anyhow, my office desk came from IKEA , woodworking’s king of CNC production.

-- derek / oregon

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19 posts in 1053 days

#11 posted 04-06-2021 12:11 AM

CNC requires the design upfront, usually with exact dimensioning, and hand-crafted work is adaptive, with options to adjust a part to fit or desired grain pattern. Hand work can be done without digitized plans. However, CNC cuts can be performed with high-quality craftsmanship. CNC parts can also be made oversized, so they can be shaved down to precise fits. Similarly, hand-crafted work can be batched in such a way to be more productive than CNC. CNC productivity shines for standardized, plywood and panel stock, with CNC saws and automated material handling. But, one of the main assumptions for CNC is that the stock is prepared to meet starting specifications.

The other aspect of hand-crafted work, the craftsperson usually gets smarter and more productive with time, and can apply the learning to other, related work. I suppose AI is coming to woodworking eventually – but most of us love woodworking because of that kind of learning, and how our imaginations are inspired by forms in nature, the wood, and stories of our pals.

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573 posts in 245 days

#12 posted 04-06-2021 12:22 AM

... an ethnography for my English 1302 class …

• How does using CNC machines differ from doing hand crafted woodworks?

- JasonLoasching

It seems you want a personal (cultural) description instead of technical. metolius hits it exactly right to me. Some of us like the process of making almost everything by hand, others of us like to get to the finished product most efficiently. Socially, there seems to be greater value in high quality-hand made, but there is also appreciation for the latest, novel technical advances, in this case CNC.

I had to look it up.
“Ethnography: The scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures.” – Oxford Dictionary on

-- Mike (near Boston) ... Laziness is the mother of invention, necessity is the mother of exhaustion - me

View Madmark2's profile


2524 posts in 1647 days

#13 posted 04-06-2021 12:25 AM

There is such a thing as a price vs volume graph. There are two opposite operating points. High volume/low cost and low volume/high cost.

CNC (which I’ve used extensively and love) is the high volume/low cost tooling. The CNC is optimally used performing gang runs of small items (think a dozen routers in a grid on a large gantry). Smaller scale units can route multiple MDF panels at once. Economies of scale apply. The tooling is run by relatively unskilled operator. Long runs of identical items are the rule of the day. The NRE (Non Recurring Engineering) is spread over a large run.

CNC shops often have large staffs specialized in certain operations. Operations occur in parallel.

This is like swimming with sharks because anyone with the same rig and gcode can duplicate the work exactly and it becomes a race to the bottom on price and quality.

Hand work is done in a shop without dedicated tooling. One or two skilled operators (usually a journeyman and an apprentice/helper) do all operations sequentially and individually. Jigs are set up and torn down as needed. The operators are generalists and can operate every tool in the shop both hand and power. Production runs are generally under a dozen and many different items are crafted. Many items are “one off’s”, fully burdened for all NRE costs. Production time is variable, it takes the time that it takes. End pricing is wildly variable from item to item.

No matter what the economic conditions are someone has $$$ for quality work. If you have the skills, you can operate at the high dollar/low volume realm.

Most of us operate somewhere between these two limits. Not perfect work but good enough at the volume and price point.

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

View Kelly's profile


3505 posts in 4003 days

#14 posted 04-06-2021 02:21 AM

I call BS on the claim “looks like a robot made it vs ….”

There are crafts people out there, past and present, who take/took time to make their work look perfect, and pull it off. Too, MANY CNC products were duplicated off original works in, seemingly, in infinite numbers.

I am thankful for CNC. People who could afford to pay a workman for his hire can enjoy things they, otherwise, could not enjoy.

A friend has a CNC and using it is an art in itself.

View becikeja's profile


1172 posts in 3872 days

#15 posted 04-06-2021 12:04 PM

Your entire paper can be wrapped up in one word. SKILL
That’s it. Both don’t require much to dabble. But both require a great deal to master.

-- Don't outsmart your common sense

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