A Handheld CNC Router

Over the last few years, the state of the art in handheld routers has been tucked away in the back of our minds. It was at SIGGRAPH in 2012 and we caught up to it at Makerfair last year. Now, it’s getting ready for production.

Originally called Taktia, the Shaper router looks a lot like a normal, handheld router. This router is smart, though, with the ability to look at a work piece marked with a tape designed for computer vision and slightly reposition the cutter in response to how the user is moving it. A simple description doesn’t do this tool justice, so check out the video the Shaper team recently uploaded.

With the user moving the Shaper router over a work piece and motors moving the cutter head, this tool is able to make precision cuts – wooden gears and outlines of the United States – quickly, easily, and accurately. Cutting any shape is as easy as loading a file into Shaper, calling that file up on a touch screen display, and turning on the cutter. Move the router around the table, and the Shaper takes care of the rest.

Accuracy, at least in earlier versions, is said to be on the order of a hundredth of an inch. That’s good enough for wood, like this very interesting bit of joinery that would be pretty hard with traditional tools. Video below.

Thanks [martin] for the tip.

32 thoughts on “A Handheld CNC Router

    1. With an handled router, if you go from up-cutting to climb cutting, the router snap of your hands in a split second.
      I have done it once with a 1kW router, never again, and I was lucky (no break parts, even on operator).

  1. well this video shows exactly “nothing”, where is the product? it only shows a visualisation of what should be going on on the routers display and a moving head, but not the outcome

      1. There are a lot of videos in youtube about this, even in the prototype stage. Also in one of the last maker faire you could try it out. Search before call something a fake

        1. Yup. I got to play around with it at Maker Faire and they had plenty of examples of cuts around the booth. It’s legit. They’re still working on the software and tweaking things, but it’s just about there. Really cool product.

  2. The video look more like a concept than anything else.
    I would I’ve liked to see a real routing taking place, with the end result.
    Their video doesn’t show any “recoil” from the spindle moving on its own in the wood (and it can be quite strong).

  3. Great demo – love the interface.

    This approach could have advantages over a CNC router tables in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. But it also seems to have some really tricky control challenges that aren’t present in CNC router tables.

    A big difference between hand routing vs. a cnc router table is that hand routing can actually be a lot more ‘rigid’ and take bigger cuts. That’s because the operator doesn’t deflect like the structure of the cnc router table (and the router base is more rigid, and your arms dampen vibrations that cause harmonics in the support structure). I had to explain this to a friend whom I was helping with a project – he couldn’t understand why the cnc router table couldn’t take anywhere near the cut that he could while hand holding the very same router and bit.

    So if the drive mechanism in this gizmo is well engineered (rigid, etc), it could leverage those characteristics.

    One challenge I see is the user’s response to unexpected tool feedback and the resulting force vectors. When you use a power tool (or any tool), your brain expects certain resistance and our muscles respond by providing a countering force. When you bear down into the work, you have a good idea what it will feel like and do when that router bit contacts the wood. But if the router shaft starts following a CNC path, the force will be inconcsistent in ways our brain is not expecting and cannot predict. That could be a major challenge in developing a product like this. How quickly can their control system detect and respond to feed and placement jerks and noise? Those corrections might tend to create a feedback loop, and that loop might need active dampening.

    Another challenge I see here is the need to take roughing cuts vs. finish cuts, and how that is handled. I just don’t see how it is viable to take it all in one cut, in many cases. There are also considerations in regard to the heat of the tool bit. Wood chips do not carry away the heat like metal chips do. Wood also does not absorb heat well. Most of the heat goes into the tool bit. That can destroy the bit and burn the work piece.

    1. A handheld router “more rigid” than a CNC router machine??? Yes if you are comparing it to a shapeoko or similar class of small belt driven cnc machine. Having used a CNC router that will cut through 3/4″ plywood in one pass at couple hundred IPM. I think not!!! I wouldn’t even attempt that with my big Porter cable hand held router.

  4. OK I have to give them that is seriously cool and there probably are some good applications for it even if I suspect those applications would be fairly niche. Like if you needed to do some CNC work out in the field, you probably don’t want to cart around a full CNC system. It’s also nice that it isn’t limited to any specific work area as long as it has QR guides.

    Still It sorta seems to sit in a strange limbo. It really feels professional but at the same time it sorta feels like the best fit would be for more casual use. Like for someone who was doing just enough that making a actual jig just isn’t quite worth it. Tho for some reason I don’t get the gut feeling that this is going to reflect a more casual price point.

      1. One can buy a Handibot now. Though I’d think this Shaper would be considerably less expensive. It seems it would have to be because I think the Handibot would work for a lot wider variety of tasks.

  5. When they say that it has accuracy down to 1/100th of an inch in a single pass, I just can’t believe it. Having run a router by hand freeform in the past, the “kick” of the tool as it cuts through uneven spots in the grain of the wood is not linear or predictable and produces forces that can change direction and magnitude VERY rapidly, more rapidly than the rotational speed of the tool……

    They could use fancy software and hardware to try to compensate for this on a rough scale, and it could certainly have better accuracy than a similar cut by hand, but I wouldn’t think that wood is a uniform enough medium to allow cutting tools with rotational blades like this to approach 1/100th of an inch accuracy. The wood itself bends out of the way of the cutting tool, the tool induces forces in itself as it cuts through uneven grain that cause motion of the router and/or workpiece…. There’s just so many variables.

    The lack of the allegedly easy and miraculous performance of this device makes me be skeptical of the advertising claims.

    1. that was supposed to be “The lack of video or photo documentation of the allegedly easy and miraculous performance of this device makes me very skeptical of the advertising claims.”

  6. I dont understand why it needs the stickers. Couldnt you just have some kind of stationary positioning block that you stick somewhere on your workpiece, using light or ultrasound or radio for positioning?

  7. Rant time. This has literally been in development for over 4 years. How is it that such a great idea can get stalled so badly? Christ, silicon valley can f*** up some products. I remember seeing a perfectly 100% working prototype on video back in late 2011-2012ish. It doesn’t take 4 years to fully flush out the GUI and make production die cast housings for the thing. They need to get some engineering managers that can produce and get this thing to market at the cost point it needs to be at- which is roughly $600 imo (a good Dewalt router costs $150 and the rest of the parts here in mass production are only a few hundred dollars as well which still gives them a good margin if they have been properly designed and sourced for volume production). But I highly suspect that their launch will be delayed further and the final pricing will be more like $1000 which pits it out of the normal week hobbyist’s budget.

    That Applied Science video is great in that I see progress but the part about it using SVG files and color coding to determine tool path side???? This is so non-standard it makes me wonder if the people designing this have ever set foot in a CNC machine shop before. It better be able to load standard DXF files or pre-processed g-code. If it is crippled by a proprietary preparation software (like those shit 40w laser cutters you find on Ebay) it will disqualify this product in the professional market.

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