Combining CNC and Engraving Tutorial

Here’s the reason I haven’t been posting the last several weeks – I’m learning CNC (Computer Numeric Control milling). Here are my latest successful efforts (emphasis on the successful…). The desert ironwood skull is inspired by a similar one by Jim Wirth ( to provide me with something more complex than the comparatively simple seahorses. You should also check out his sales site at: Some cool stuff there.

I’ve been curious as to how well modern CNC machines can mill things in order to help with my engraving business. I’m intending to use the CNC as the stepping off point for further engraving and embellishment

, and hoping it will save some time up front by roughing out deep carvings that I probably wouldn’t attempt any other way.

Above is my little desktop Nomad 883 CNC mill, by It comes with enough software to do some pretty decent modeling, and the software you need to control it with for both Mac and Windows.

Above is a fairly small moose antler rectangle that I modeled with the included software and cut using 1/8th and 1/16th inch diameter endmills, and a really tiny 1/32 inch diameter end mill for the teeth.

Above, I’m CNCing the moose antler skull-thingy. Had a small technical difficulty I’ll have to sort out, so I finished a little of it by hand. Awesome little machine!

I’ve finally decided on using Fusion 360 CAD/CAM software (free for small shops – for the 3D work

, and Carbide Create (included with the machine) for 2.5D. 1/8 inch square end mill for the facing and roughing, and a 1/16 inch ball mill for the final. I’m still trying to figure out which of the several cutting strategies Fusion 360 gives for best operation. And I’m not too concerned with the mill marks, since eventually I’m going to be doing this in metal and forging the remaining surfaces, as well as engraving embellishments to go far beyond what the mill is capable of.

Moose antler pendant and earring suite. Petroglyphs – good times today! The earrings are about an inch tall. All three parts were cut simultaneously on the Nomad 883 mill from a single piece of moose antler.

Here’s one in brass. I’ll be doing something on the other side, then enhancing everything with hand engraving techniques.

Above is the little mill in action. The brass rectangle is about 2 inches tall. Fun, and challenging!

Above, I’ve sculpted away the little artifacts left by CNC. Milling marks seem to be the chief limitation of using CNC for really fine work.

I added a spiral handprint on the reverse side. The front side is finished by forge sculpting the skull, engraving the tiny details and texturing the flat surface. We’ll call this one done… I learned a lot! I think this will eventually become very useful to me. There is a pretty steep learning curve here, between the software and the milling machine. Fusion 360 is an extremely comprehensive CAD/CAM system with lots to learn. I have done some shade tree machining in the past, so that proved very helpful with the milling machine and workholding. Also, my past dabbles in 3D computer modeling didn’t hurt me any… Overall, I’m very pleased with what I’ve managed to do in a pretty short timespan and look forward to much more challenging work in the future.

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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2 Responses to Combining CNC and Engraving Tutorial

  1. Anna says:

    I love to see CAD and CNC design coming together with art in such unique ways! The future for sculpture will be exciting!

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