So the standard CNC question. Can you make money with a CNC machine? Quick answer, YES!
This is probably the most asked question out there in the CNC world and for good reason! Their is a lot of conflicting information out there about whether or not you can make money with a hobbyist or home CNC machine.
The first problem I like to address is, and this is just Royce keeping it real, where are you getting your CNC?
I’m not trying to crush dreams by any means, but CNCs are expensive. Sure, I see videos all the time that say, “I made $$$, on this simple project!” Ummm, yeah. But what about overhead? My machine was $3k, for the machine. No bits, dust collection, rental space, etc. Making wood signs will take you years to pay off just the machine.
Some hard realities of making a home CNC hobby a business.
But I am not here to sway you from becoming a CNC business. Their is PLENTY of work out there. I see a lot of guys buying or bidding contracts for small cut-out pieces. This type of work can be very lucrative if you know what you are doing. Running your machine 10+ hours a day, makes money!!!
Flipside, making high end customer signs can bring in bank as well. When you look at the niche market of craft beers for example, a really nice 4’ x 6’ sign can run a couple thousand. The issue there is that market is generally going to want SKILL. Check out Veteran Wood Co. Guys like Mike are what you are really up against in this market. They are skilled, driven and don’t do this as a hobby. It is a 9 to 5 job, and to be honest, more like a 8 to 8 job some days. The things he makes, point blank, you are not going to make these in your first year on CNC. It takes tons of time understanding your machine, software, consumables, etc. Even just understanding the type of wood is a huge issue for something that big. And!!! You have to either know someone looking for a sign or have a marketing and branding scheme that people can find. That’s a trick, because their are a lot of us out there.
The Good News
The Pro’s have the high end internet sign business fairly well locked down, but local folks are always looking for local folks. The big signs are obviously expected to be perfect and in the beginning, you honestly won’t be able to deliver that. Learning about how vector lines come together and what that does to the bit as it cuts just takes time. Honestly, I don’t know how you would teach it.
So, this is probably not the spot to start. What I have seen work great but has a lower per item return is the holiday niche items.
Last year in particular the Halloween Pumpkin genre DOMINATED.
These little super easy crafts sold like crazy in the coming months to Halloween 2021. Most people were selling them 3 for $50, and when you consider the cost of a cedar slat and the time to mill it, the profit is somewhere around $44. That is not bad by any stretch of the imagination. Will this be a fad again this year, who knows. I actually think it will be.
Another cool tip for the pumpkin box is to offer, finished (painted) and unfinished options. Many crafty parents don’t want to make the mess with carving pumpkins but are more than willing to paint the boxes with their kids.
Finding a niche in the CNC machine world to make money with
Sometimes, I will tell you that that in this business you will get luck. When I was starting off someone asked me if I could make kitchen cabinets with my CNC and software (I used Fusion 360) and with a hungry growl in my stomach I said yes.
It took a hell of a lot of work, and learning, but I did it and firmly established my name in the area I work.
So, can you make money with a hobbyist CNC machine?
Are you going to be able to immediately quit your 9 to 5 job and live off the CNC? Probably not. It is possible, but so is winning the lottery. If you have the ideas and the work ethic it is just like anything, it SHOULD pay off. I argue the first couple years you are probably just going to be paying for the equipment- but that is true in many business start-ups.
If you want to know more about getting into CNC, I have a blog for that too. Check out my BLOG or “What it actually took to run my CNC.”
As always folks, keep moving forward and have a great day.
Hill Country CNC & Woodworking
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